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April 30th 2019

Nature along the coast and a cave in the mountains

Yesterday, April 29th, I set off to finally complete the Stage B3 of the Yellow Trail: last year on May 14th 2018 I took the wrong direction somewhere between Prosecco and Sistiana and arrived at the railway station of Bivio d’Aurisana in the pouring rain. At the same railway station I started in good spirits for the end of the stage. Now I had the opportunity to have a look at the marble quarry of Cava Romana through the gate and over the fence… The quarry extended over hectares, and many metres into the depth! The large excavator looked rather small in comparison…

In Sistiana Mare a nice walk to Duino Castle started, the Sentiero Rilke, the Rilke Footpath, named after the Bohemian poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875–1926), who had often walked over this path along the cliffs. There is a small information centre about the natural reserve around the Duino cliffs that has been put under protection in 1996, and a large information panel where many interesting subjects are mentioned. The natural reserve covers a little more than 100 hectares and extends from a small strip of land in the Karst (where the footpath is running), along the steep limestone cliffs and into the see. In this special habitat live rare plants and animals. For instance the Karst knapweed (Centaurea karschtiana) with purplish flowers, that only grows here against these limestone rocks just above the waterline. It needs the spray of the sea water. Here also is the most northern point where the Sardinian warbler (Sylvia melanochephala) can be found. I haven’t spotted this variety of warbler, but many, many swallows! The area also is of interest because it forms the transition from the Mediterranean to the Middle-European climate. At the start a sign mentioned the text “Zona Wilderness” and the indication that continuing wold be at one’s own risk.

Quite some climbing has to be done over the large boulders of limestone, but the impact of erosion on the steep rocky slopes can clearly be seen. At a certain moment the headland on which the Duino Castle is built, came in sight.

Walking over the Rilke-Trail I passed over totally barren stretches of land, with only flat limestone, but also over parts with a lot of scree and a somewhat lost pine. Approaching Duino the landscape turned more into a green and lush area. There I found a large group of parasitical orchids with beautiful rusty-brown flowers on a yellow stem: a variety of the Broom-rape family (Orobanche gracilis), which doesn’t grow in the Netherlands. A very striking species, which I have seen last year only when it was dead.

A short time later I came near the Duino Castle. Now I could see better the enormous dimensions of the castle! It dates from the 14th century. The ruins of an older castle (from the 11th century) are still standing on another outcrop of rock. In the Second World War the Germans have used the cliffs as ideal watch-posts. They have applied concrete re-enforcements, which are still visible. The Castle has been heavily damaged in the First World War and afterwards again rebuilt. In the Second World War the Castle has been used as a training centre for the SS. The castle is still privately inhabited, but is during the summer months open to the public.

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Duino: view on Duino Castle dating from the 14th century

About a quarter to four I finished the walking trail, that lead to the Castle gate. There was the bus stop for Line 44, that took me back to Trieste. The bus didn’t take a straight route, but drove through many small hamlets and larger places, like Prosecco, that I knew from previous bus trips. The landscape is very beautiful now and many trees and shrubs are in bloom, so it is not visible right away that there is a lot of poverty in this hinterland and in many ways neglect and decay…

In the evening I have been to the “Buffet di Pepi” again, where this time I chose the sauerkraut as a side dish, and grated horseradish over my steamed pork fillet. The Terrano wine was quite warming!

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Trieste: Pork fillet with sauerkraut, mustard and horseradish and red Terrano wine at the “Buffet di Pepi”

Today I returned to Duino – Line 44 hobbled again through the surrounding area. The last quarter of an hour I was a “fare evader”: meanwhile I know that a ticket entitling you to a 60 minutes bus ride should be stamped just before the bus leaves and not as soon as you get onboard… I started at the Duino Castle and slightly struggled to find the route into the direction of the small village “Villaggio del Pescatore”. This time I walked through wealthy streets until I arrived in the free outdoors. There it was pleasantly warm already. I met some people, who armed with a sharp knife were busy cutting off green stems: it looked very much like very thin green asparagus. Yesterday in a supermarket I had spotted a pre-packed box of the same vegetable: cime di lupollo, the young shoots of the vines of the common hops! It is a real vegetable of spring time that can be eaten as green asparagus, baked of in the risotto. Sometimes they are called “asparagi selvatici” (asparagus of the forest) or “bruscandoli“. The sprouts of the root are apparently edible, but they taste quite bitter…

After an while I had a view on the industrial zone of Monfalcone, but also on the sea. During a descent towards sea level I passed a large panel near a fenced woody rock landscape: the paleontological excavations of Villaggio del Pescatore. In 1994 skeletons of dinosaurs (Thetyshadros insularis) have been found in the rocks and in the sea. Inside the fence an elderly gentleman was sitting in the sun with a rather dusty coverall. Fortunately his English was excellent and he was able to tell a lot about the history of the two dinos that with great endearment are called Antonio and Bruno. Antonio is for nearly 90% complete – Bruno for 70%. He is still folded in half across a narrow piece of rock and no-one knows for sure where his tail is… Both dinosaurs that have lived some 70 million years ago, were herbivores: that can been noticed at the beak. When Antonio died, he was lying on his back with his legs upright: that is why these have been found first. The skeleton has been broken in several spots by the movement of the rocks. The gentlemen told me also that he still finds smaller of larger fossils in the rocks scattered around – only a quarter of an hour before it has been a piece of a small vertebra! He had to encircle it with a pencil, otherwise he wouldn’t be able to retrace it. He couldn’t tell whether it could be one of the missing parts of Antonio or Bruno. It was quite possible that they are parts of the skeletons of alligators, crocodiles of other animals from that period of time. This kind gentleman had told me such an extraordinary story with such a passion for this subject! I have thanked him warmly for his explanations.

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Villaggio del Pescatore: a copy of the dinosaur “Antonio”, as he has been cut out of the rocks – the original is in the Natural History Museum in Trieste

The village Villaggio del Pescatore (literally Village of the Fisherman) is not very special, except for the large marina for pleasure boating. Many people were already busy to prepare their boats: the boating season will start soon. This orange tree, just standing in someone’s garden shows that I was in really southern regions!

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Villaggio del Pescatore: at this house an orange tree is growing in the garden

After a walk over the paved road along a somewhat shabby boat renting company (it is possible to rent a boat without a “senza patente“, a licence), dilapidated villas, a lot of overhanging green and singing birds I saw light blue water shimmering through the trees. I had arrived in the little town of S. Giovanni al Timavo. Here is the mouth of the river the Timavo which at this point resurfaces again from the Karst mountains after having been flowing over a distance of 43 kilometres (as the crow flies) underground. The Timavo springs in the east of Slovenia on the border with Croatia –there the river is called Reka. It disappears near Škocjan, Slovenia, deep into the Karst mountains. Research is still done about the course of the river and whether the water that comes out of the mountain in S. Giovanni al Timavo contains only water of the Timavo itself or also from other underground rivers, like the Soča/Isonzo. With a length of only two kilometres the Timavo is just the shortest river in Italy! The sky blue colour is characteristic for rivers in Karstic areas.

Various sources from the Greek and Roman Antiquity show that S. Giovanni al Timavo already was a well-known place, surrounded by myths, but also supported by facts and historical sources: the river Timavo/Reka formed the border between the Roman and the Illyrian Empire. There has also been a Roman temple. It was fascinating to see how at several spots the water just flows out of the overgrown rocks, in a tiny stream and hoe that develops into a wide river! This place is magic.

Near the “Risorgive del Timavo“, the “resurfacing of the Timavo”, a church has been built, of which the oldest part dates back to the 4th century: it would have been founded by a group of pilgrims on their way home from Jerusalem who had stopped here to rest. Only a century later the church had become too small to offer a place to all pilgrims, so it was enlarged. Today’s church dates from the 15th century. The bell tower has been built against the church in the 18th century. During restauration works after the Second World War in which the church has been severely damaged, not only remarkable frescos from the late Middle Ages have been discovered, but also some “graffiti” from 1500: a pilgrim has left in the ancient Slavonic alphabet a kind of “I was here!“!

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S. Giovanni al Timavo: near the river Timavo is the Chiesa di S. Giovanni in Tuba, of which the oldest part dates from the 4th century AD

Something I would like to see during this part of the stage, was “Mythra’s Temple cave”, which is situated higher upon the mountain slope of the Monte Ermada, between the motorway and the railway. Therefore I had to climb a rather steep, winding and stony path. At a certain point I spotted, looking towards the northwest, … mountains, with snow-capped tops! That was a nice view.

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S. Giovanni al Timavo: on the way to the Mythra Temple cave a panoramic view on the Alps!

After a while I noticed a side path, leading to Mythra’s Temple grotto. It was fenced with a gate that was locked. I could have a good look inside ‘though. There was an information panel next to the entry of the cave, saying that this temple cave was discovered in 1963 by a group of researchers, focussing on excavations and research of the prehistoric Karst. It is the only Mythra cave in Italy. It is assumed that the cave has been inhabited since prehistoric times, but that from the beginning of the 1st century AD until the 5st century AD construction activities have been deployed in Mythra’s Temple. No sources in writing about such temples are known, so the many finds in this temple, such as a (destroyed) shrine, oil lamps and large quantities of coins, complement the knowledge about the Mithraism. The god Mithra was an Indo-Iranian god, whose worship possibly reaches back to the second half of the second millennium BC. He was considered as an important god of the heavens, connected with light, the good and agreements. His name could mean something like “agreement” or “mediator”. His name was Hellenised to Mythras. The cult became known in Rome. A mystery cult developed that was increasingly popular in the first centuries AD. The cult rituals and various forms of initiation took place in caves or underground temples, mithraea, of which the temple here in Duino is a special specimen. Eventually this Mithraism was outreached by Christianity with which it shows similarities.

I was able to make a reasonable photograph of the picture how Mythra’s Temple could have looked.

Once again back on the main track, I continued my route back to Duino. This was the end of the first part of Stage B4… In Duino I got on the familiar Line 44, that dropped me off about 18.00 o’clock at the railway station of Trieste.

In town I ate a nice grilled tuna steak with a sesame crust and sweet-sour onion compote (very much “from here”!). After the meal I went to the waterfront once more. The sunset was beautiful.

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Trieste: a beautiful sunset over the Adriatic Sea