Nature and history in the Miramare Castle Park
Right outside Trieste you can enter the oasis of the Miramare Castle park, and spend pleasant hours surrounded by vegetation. It is an unmissable stop, just six kilometres from the capital of the Friuli Venezia Giulia region. It is no coincidence that it is the most visited castle in the entire North East. What is particularly attractive is the park, which overlooks the sea from above, creating a meeting of green and deep blue. An out-of-town excursion where nature plunges into history.
Love at first sight
It was Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian of Habsburg, who fell madly in love with the spectacular location, commissioning the entire Miramare Castle complex in the mid-1800s. The park and historic residence stand on the promontory of Grignano, a rocky spur overlooking the bay, like a lookout. In Maximilian's time, it was a karstic territory, completely parched, but the Archduke was not daunted by the difficult task of transforming a barren heath into a lush garden.
From 1856 onwards, he started the building work on the mansion and the complex task of reclaiming the land to make it suitable for planting. Maximilian moved into the newly completed residence in 1860. He lived here for a long time with his wife Carlotta, Princess of Belgium, choosing the name Miramare, from Spanish mira el mar, “look at the sea”. Another noblewoman was strongly fascinated by this place: his sister-in-law Elisabeth of Bavaria, the famous Princess Sissi, who was a frequent guest.
English gardens and exotic species: the green area
Twenty-two hectares of parkland surround Miramare Castle. Maximilian of Austria expressed his preference for non-European plants, supplied by nurserymen in Lombardy-Venetia, while soil was brought from the regions of Styria and Carinthia. When the nobleman found himself in Mexico, where he died in 1867, he personally sent some species to enrich the parterre.
Besides the engineer Carl Junker, two personalities later took care of the botanical aspect: court gardeners Josef Laube and later Artur Jelinek, who also managed to plant exotic species, despite the adverse climate of Trieste, where night frosts and bora wind are not uncommon. Today, the park has two distinct zones. The first, to the east, is a grove of trees and delightful ponds, paths and gazebos, in the romantic style of English gardens. The second faces south-west, better protected from the wind; it houses an Italian-style garden and several flower beds, including the daffodil garden, which blooms exuberantly in spring.
Open to the public like the entire park, Miramare Castle can be visited inside. On the ground floor are the private flats of the princes, on the upper floor the state rooms. The sumptuous Throne Room is currently used as a hall for concerts and exhibitions. The residence is furnished with furniture, precious objects, paintings and canvases. Set apart from the main building, the Stables, once used to house horses and carriages, were restored in 2018 and one wing now houses BIOdiversitario Marino (BioMa), the Immersive Museum of the Protected Marine Area of Miramare. A café is available to visitors, as well as a bookshop.
Already on arrival, passing through Porta Bora and along Viale Miramare leading to the Castle, you breathe in a nostalgic atmosphere of times gone by. It is worth taking a slow walk along the winding paths and under the pergolas to the greenhouses with their original iron structures. Moving around the park, there are many encounters: Orante, a bronze male statue, then a copy of Venus of Capua and Apollino, an adolescent version of the god. The fountains provide coolness on hot days, as do the ponds and the larger Swan Lake.
In the square with the cannons donated by Leopold I, King of the Belgians, you can breathe in all the power of the Austro-Hapsburg Empire, while in the halls of the castle, you can almost see the young Princess Sissi twirling at a ballroom party. The library has a thick scent of history. And under the oleanders, near the Serre Antiche, one's thoughts turn to the court gardener Anton Jelinek, because they were just recently planted following a precise wish of his that emerged in old correspondence. He did not succeed because the temperatures were too cold, but here they are today, in his honour.