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May 3rd 2019

About old buildings and battlefields

Yesterday was my last morning in Trieste. Again it was sun-drenched. After another copious breakfast with the good espresso I walked to the railway station to buy a single fare ticket to Gorizia for the next part of my trip. At half past eleven the train left – it took me past all spots I had been or hiked in the past few days. A last view to the Adriatic Sea felt like a goodbye…

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Trieste: on the way by train to Gorizia a last look at the Adriatic Sea

Around half past noon I arrived in Gorizia; it felt very familiar. I stayed in another hotel than the last time: Best Western Gorizia Palace. The hotel is part of an international chain, but the atmosphere is pleasant and personal – and they speak English well, a thing I find very convenient to be honest…

After the check-in I went into town, just to enjoy the fine weather. In the town centre the extent to which Gorizia has grown over the centuries into a cultural and especially a multicultural centre is visible in all buildings and statues in parks and on squares: many writers, poets and scientists have been born, have risen to high levels and have died here. The town of Gorizia – or called Görz in Austrian times – was then and is still situated on an intersection of languages and cultures. Some of the important people are: Graziadio Isaia Ascoli, an Italian philologer and linguist (1829–1907) who grew up in and got inspired by the multilingualism in town, Carlo Michelstaedter, an Italian writer, poet, painter, illustrator and philosopher of German-Jewish descent (1887–1910) and Maximilian Fabiani, a trilingual Austrian-Italian-Slovenian architect who has designed many buildings in Gorizia and the wide surroundings (1865–1962). Ascoli’s and Fabian’s statues are in a park in the town centre, Michelstaedter’s statue is placed on the way to the Castle on the hill.

I would have liked to go to the Castle by a forest path, but that turned out to be impossible due to construction works. So I had to make a detour and saw several signs pointing not only to the University of Trieste, Gorizia Branch, but also to the “Lourdes grotto”. That arose my curiosity, so I walked along with a crowd of young people into the direction of the University building. The grotto is an accurate copy of the original Massabielle grotto, being also 10 metres high and 18 metres wide. The Marian statue has been donated by the then Head of the Seminary. This green environment was peaceful.

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Gorizia: the “Lourdes Grotto“ from 1936 near what is now the University building

In the evening I went out for dinner in an Italian restaurant, Antica Osteria al Sabotino, that I had already seen in the afternoon on my tour through town. On the inside it turned out to be a kind of private restaurant in which was place for 20 people at seven or eight tables. One table wasn’t set – it was the regulars’ table. When I arrived at 7 o’clock, of course for Italians at a very early hour, and I was seated at a table from which I had a good overview, a foursome from the neighbourhood got in to have a glass of wine and a (loud) chat. The patrone joined them for a moment. In the meantime a glass of Friulano had been put in front of me, which tasted very good. The starter was a piece of roasted baguette with a warm slice of sausage from the region; the “melanzane alla parmigiano“, the eggplant lasagne so to say…, as entremets was followed by pork fillet with red wine sauce, made of the famous wine from the Collio, the Terrano, combined with the here also popular sweet-sour onion compote. Polenta in the shape of a wedge of cake was served with it, which was very light and had a nice taste of thyme and rosemary. A Merlot-Cabernet from the Collio was good company to the dish! Meanwhile it was past eight o’clock and the regulars had left the restaurant… At half past eight I left as well and walked back to the hotel – the evening air was still pleasantly warm.

Today’s weather was completely different: it was overcast and grey, chilly and rainy. More rain was forecasted… In regard hereof I haven’t carried out my initial plan to continue Stage 5 of the Yellow Trail of the Via Alpina from the point where I had stopped last year, Cormóns, and from there to Albana (and back). I made a trip to the Monte Calvario, a hill to the west of Gorizia, instead. There are several memorials to commemorate the First World War. In one way or another there is no escaping from clear memories of “wars” in these parts of the country…, not in and around Trieste, and especially around Gorizia neither: Gorizia has been in the middle of the battleground in 1915 and the following years. Originally the Monte Calvario was called Podgora.

On this rainy day I set out to the footbridge over the Isonzo following about the same route as last year. Sometimes there were downpours, so the rucksack was covered and the umbrella opened. This time I passed by the fire station – the architect had apparently had the funny hunch to give the grout between the natural stones of the walls a fire-red colour…!

From the footbridge towards the part of Gorizia called “Piedimonte”, literally meaning “at the foot of the mountain”, I already spotted my destination: the Monte Calvario, which emerged from the mist of the rain in all shades of green.

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Gorizia: view on the Isonzo river and the Monte Calvario from the footbridge

While I walked at first over the main road on the right bank of the Isonzo, and later on over a narrower paved road into the direction of the Monte Calvario, the rain was still falling. Going uphill I gave it a thought that the rain doesn’t bother when and where it falls – the people are the ones to consider the rain to be a blessing or a curse… In the First World War the rain fell on all sides of the frond, on the side of friends and of enemies and into the trenches – where it became a curse. I was walking here in the rain in peace, and I felt an immense gratitude for that.

The paved road wound towards the top through the woods of beeches with their bright green leaves. There were several side paths through the woods, as signs indicated to the memorials on the mountain as well, but the footpaths had been turned into little streams by the rain and the branches were hanging low over the path heavy with the many rain drops. I didn’t like that idea, so I followed the paved road along the slopes of the tranquil mountain. At first I arrived at a memorial plaque for the young writer Scipio Slataper from Trieste (1885–1915). In 1912 he had written the novel “Il mio Carso” (My Karst), in which he showed his enormous literary talent. It would be his only work: he died on December 3rd 1915, just after the de Fourth Battle of the Isonzo. A few month before he was been drafted for the army. On the memorial there is not only a small plaque for him, but also for his son “Scipio secondo“, who was born a few months before his father’s death and who had fallen in 1943 in Russia. In a small park with large and smaller cypresses a fence made of barbed wire was placed.

Further uphill a lane with a beautiful pavement, but (still) covered with a lot of dead leaves led to another memorial: an obelisk for the Italian soldiers who had fallen here on the Monte Calvarioduring the battle in 1915. Here also two large cypresses rise up hight.

From there it only took a few minutes to the large Obelisk which is standing on a big square seamed with more cypresses. Around the square many memorial stones are put in place. On the square plinth plaques are fixed, a. o. with the names of the army units that have fought here. On one of the plaques is written: “non lagrime chiedono i morti ma qui chiamano i viventi a imparare come si ami la patria“, meaning such as “the dead do not ask for tears, but they call out to the living to love their country”. In the meantime the rain had stopped and the sky had somewhat brightened up.

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Gorizia: view from the square on the Obelisk on the Monte Calvario in memory of the fallen Italian soldiers

A long avenue with cypresses was leading to the open space with the memorial of the “Tre Croce“, three large, grey crosses on a plinth of dark natural stone, symbolising the notion of “Calvary”. From this point there is – even with this hazy weather – a nice view on Gorizia to the east and on the Collio in the west. A wide fire bowl was standing nearby. Here again the importance and power of the notion of “peace” occurred to me, but also the awareness that “peace” is something vulnerable and how much we have to be engaged to keep that peace, to begin with in our own heart and head…

From this point a forest path led downhill, over which I returned in Piedimonti after more than half an hour. On the way to the pedestrian bridge I passed by another memorial, this time for the Second World War. I liked the statue of white concrete very much: the way two clenched fists changed into two hands, opened wide.

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Gorizia: in the quarter Piedimonte a wreath is laid at the memorial for the Second World War

Behind the memorial a small path led into the direction of the river. A large sign indicated that swimming is not permitted. I went investigating and arrived indeed at the bank of the Isonzo. I was able to walk along the bank towards the rapid! There the path was a dead end, so I had to go back to the memorial and from thereon to the bridge. The boulder eroded by the water on which I had been standing, was even visible!

Back in town I passed by the “Mercato Coperto” which according to the plaque on the wall had been opened in 1927. From the outside the building doesn’t look quite spectacular, except the two small turrets and a colourful tile panel. Once inside there was a high hall with white stucco and a lot of light falling through the arched windows, placed on top of the walls. Today not many stalls were filled, but the goods on offer were mouth-watering: strawberries, asparagus, fresh vegetables and herbs. I also spotted the “bruscantoli“, the young sprouts of hops I had seen in and around Trieste. It was at the moment I was there rather quiet.

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Gorizia: at the Mercato Coperto not only wild asparagus is sold, but also young shoots of hop

Seeing all those goodies had aroused my appetite a bit, so I went for cup of espresso at Caffè Garibaldi, an establishment that is in business since 1900 and still has all the style elements of that period. It was far too cold to sit outside, but that didn’t matter: the interior is really authentic, with the large chandelier, the panelling and the decorations on the ceiling. The serviced was friendly, the coffee good and the “Insalata verde” (cherry tomatoes, feta and green olives on ice berg salad, on which olive oil and balsamico vinegar should be sprinkled to which I had given in, tasty. Also tasty was the glass of a Ribolla gialla, a crisp, but full-bodied white wine from the Collio! Around this time of the day most guests walked in to drink a cup of espresso or a glass of wine and to have a chat with each other of with the owners, standing at the bar.

Strengthened by this lunch I would like to see still one aspect of Gorizia: the Trgovski Dom, the “House of Commerce”, designed in 1903–1905 by Maximilian Fabiani for the Slovenian minority in Gorizia with the intention to turn it into not only a commercial centre, but also into a cultural centre. It is standing on the corner of the Corso Verdi and the Park, in which also the Fabiani’s bust is placed. The huge and robust looking building is quite different of the elegance of the “Casa Bartoli” in Trieste with the strings of falling leaves from 1905 that has also been designed by Fabiana!

The Trgovski Dom is a clear example of the movement of art Sezession, a form of Jugendstil, Art Nouveau. This building has also known quite a turbulent history. After the First World War the Fascists have set fire to the building, destroying the interior. This was meant to be a symbolic gesture: the Fascists wanted to bring harm to the Slovenian community and to force them to Italianate. In the 1930s the Fascist Party have taken the building ver for their meetings. After the Second World War and the liberation by the partisans it has been renamed into the Ljudski Dom, the “House of the People” and opened up for Italians as well as for Slovenes. Between 1950 and 1980 the Lega Nazionale, also active in these parts, has used this building for their social and cultural activities, like the beautiful theatre hall, the Petrarca Hall. From then on the building deteriorated more and more. In 2014 renovation plans have been made, that are being carried out now. This was clearly visible and hearable… The big front doors were open. I went inside, where in the hall an illustration was hanging on which the Trgovski Dom was shown in its early years. The only difference between now and then is the size of the chestnut trees! Going on I came through a side door into an impressive stair well with marvellously designed bannisters. Through the door at the other side I saw a large pile of reed and stucco lying on the floor. That was a familiar sight: during the renovation of my former house, dating from the same period (1912) similar “piles of trash” and clouds of dust had occurred! It was nice to notice that nowadays there is an renewed understanding of the importance to renovate these historical houses.

When I returned in the hotel, it had started to rain again. I had however spent a nice day with the emphasis on the beautiful and the valuable things people can create, but unfortunately also with a view on the hardship people are capable to inflict upon each other.

Here my adventure in this part of Italy comes to an end. Tomorrow I will be travelling to Slovenia, a country I am going to discover!