Reprinted from: http://www.oldandsold.com/articles13/travel-150.shtml
Ports - Trieste And Pola
(Originally Published Early 1900's)
Trieste stands forth as a rival of Venice, which has, in a low practical view of things, outstript her. Italian zeal naturally cries for the recovery of a great city, once part of the old Italian kingdom, and whose speech is largely, perhaps chiefly, Italian to this day. But, a cry of "Italia Irredenta," however far it may go, must not go so far as this. Trieste, a cosmopolitan city on a Slavonic shore, can not be called Italian in the same sense as the lands and towns so near Verona which yearn to be as Verona is. Let Trieste be the rival, even the eyesore, of Venice, still Southern Germany must have a mouth.
We might, indeed, be better pleased to see Trieste a free city, the southern fellow of Lubeck, Bremen and Hamburg; but it must not be forgotten that the Archduke of Austria and Lord of Trieste reigns at Trieste by a far better right than that by which he reigns at Cattaro and Spina. The present people of Trieste did not choose him, but the people of Trieste five hundred years back did choose the forefather of his great-grandmother. Compared with the grounds of which kingdoms, duchies, counties, and lordships, are commonly held in that neighborhood, such a claim as this must be allowed to be respectable indeed.
The great haven of Trieste may almost at pleasure be quoted as either confirming or contradicting the rule that it is not in the great commercial, cities of Europe that we are to look for the choicest or the most plentiful remains of antiquity. Sometimes the cities them-selves are of modern foundation; in other cases the cities themselves, as habitations of men and seats of commerce, are of the hoariest antiquity, but the remains of their early days have perished through their very prosperity. Massalia," with her long history, with her double wreath of freedom, the city which withstood Caesar and which withstood Charles of Anjou, is bare of monuments of her early days. She has been the victim of her abiding good for-tune. We can look down from the height on the Phokaian harbor; but for actual memorials of the men who fled from the Persian, of the men who defied the Roman and the Angevin, we might look as well at Liverpool or at Havre.
Genoa, Venice herself, are hardly real exceptions; they were indeed commercial cities, but they were ruling cities also, and, as ruling cities, they reared monuments which could hardly pass away. What are we to say to the modern rival of Venice, the upstart rebel, one is tempted to say, against the supremacy of the Hadriatic Queen? Trieste, at the head of her gulf, with the hills looking down to her haven, with the snowy mountains which seem to guard the approach from the other side of her inland sea, with her harbor full of the ships of every :nation, her streets echoing with every tongue, is she to be reckoned as an example of the rule or an exception to it?
No city at first sight seems more thoroughly modern; old town and new, wide streets and narrow, we search them in vain for any of those vestiges of past times which in some cities meet us at every step. Compare Trieste with Ancona; we miss the arch of Trajan on the haven; we miss the cupola of Saint Cyriacus soaring in triumph above the triumphal monument of the heathen. We pass through the stately streets of the newer town, we thread the steep ascents which lead us to the older town above, and we nowhere light on any of those little scraps of ornamental' architecture, a window, a doorway, a column, which meet us at every step in so many of the cities of Italy.
Yet the monumental wealth of Trieste is all but equal to the monumental wealth of Ancona. At Ancona we have the cathedral church and the triumphal arch ; so we have at Trieste; tho at Trieste we have nothing to set against the grand front of the lower and smaller church of Ancona. But at Ancona arch and duomo both stand out before all eyes; at Trieste both have to be looked for. The church of Saint Justus at Trieste crowns the hill as well as the church of Saint Cyriacus at Ancona; but it does not in the same way proclaim its presence. The castle, with its ugly modern fortifications, rises again above the church; and the duomo of Trieste, with its shapeless outline and its low, heavy, unsightly campanile, does not catch the eyes like the Greek cross and cupola of Ancona,
Again at Trieste the arch could never, in its best days, have been a rival to the arch at Ancona; and now either we have to hunt it out by an effort, or else it comes upon us suddenly, standing, as it does, at the head of a mean street on the ascent to the upper town. Of a truth it can not compete with Ancona or with Rimini, with Oranges or with Aosta. But the duomo, utterly unsightly as it is in a general view, puts on quite a new character when we first see the remains of pagan times imprisoned in the lower stage of the heavy campanile, still more so when we take our first glance of its wonderful interior. At the first glimpse we see that here there is a mystery to be unraveled; and as we gradually find the clue to the marvelous changes which it has undergone, we feel that outside show is not everything, and that, in point both of antiquity and of interest, tho not of actual beauty, the double basilica of Trieste may claim no mean place among buildings of its own type. Even after the glories of Rome and Ravenna, the Tergestine church may be studied with no small pleasure and profit, as an example of a kind of transformation of which neither Rome nor Ravenna can supply another example.
The other ancient relic at Trieste is the small triumphal arch. On one side it keeps its Corinthian pilasters; on the other they are imbedded in a house. The arch is in a certain sense double; but the two are close together, and touch in the keystone. The Roman date of this arch can not be doubted; but legends connect it both with Charles the Great and with Richard of Poitou and of England, a prince about whom Tergestine fancy has been very busy. The popular name of the arch is Arco Riccardo.
Such, beside some fragments in the museum, are all the remains that the antiquary will find in Trieste; not much in point of number, but, in the case of the duomo at least, of surpassing interest in their own way. But the true merit of Trieste is not in anything that it has itself, its church, its arch, its noble site. Placed there at the head of the gulf, on the borders of two great portions of the Empire, it leads to the land which produced that line of famous Illyrian Emperors who for a while checked the advance of our own race in the world's history, and it leads specially to the chosen home of the greatest among them. The chief glory of Trieste, after all, is that it is the way to Spalato.
At Pola the monuments of Pietas Julia claim the first place; the basilica, tho not without a certain special interest, comes long after them. The character of the place is fixt by the first sight of it; we see the present and we see the more distant past; the Austrian navy is to be seen, and the amphitheater is to be seen. But intermediate times have little to show; if the duomo strikes the eye at all, it strikes it only by the extreme ugliness of its outside, nor is there anything very taking, nothing like the picturesque castle of Pirano, in the works which occupy the site of the colonial capitol. The duomo should not be forgotten; even the church of Saint Francis is worth a glance; but it is in the remains of the Roman colony, in the amphitheater, the arches, the temples, the fragments preserved in that temple which serves, as at Nimes, for a museum, that the real antiquarian wealth of Pola lies.
The known history of Pola begins with the Roman conquest of Istria in 178 B.C. The town became a Roman colony and a flourishing seat of commerce. Its action on the republican side in the civil war brought on it the vengeance of the second Caesar. But the destroyer became the restorer, and Pietas Julia, in the height of its greatness, far surpassed the extent either of the elder or the younger Pola. Like all cities of this region, Pola kept up its importance down to the days of the Carlovingian Empire, the specially flourishing time of the whole district being that of Gothic and Byzantine dominion at Ravenna. A barbarian king, the Roxolan Rasparasanus, is said to have withdrawn to Pola after the submission of his nation to Hadrian; and the panegyrists of the Flavian house rank Pola along with Trier and Autun among the cities which the princes of that house had adorned or strengthened. But in the history of their dynasty the name of the city chiefly stands out as the chosen place for the execution of princes whom it was convenient to put out of the way.
Here Crispus died at the bidding of Constantine, and Gallus at the bidding of Constantius. Under Theodoric, Pola doubtless shared that general prosperity of the Istrian land on which Cassiodorus grows eloquent when writing to its inhabitants. In the next generation Pola appears in somewhat of the same character which has come back to it in our own times; it was there that Belisarius gathered the Imperial fleet for his second and less prosperous expedition against the Gothic lords of Italy. But, after the break up of the Frankish Empire, the history of medieval Pola is but a history of decline. It was, in the geography of Dante, the furthest city of Italy; but, like most of the other cities of its own neighborhood, its day of greatness had passed away when Dante sang.
Tossed to and fro between the temporal and spiritual lords who claimed to be marquesses of Istria, torn by the dissensions of aristocratic and popular parties among its own citizens, Pola found rest, the rest of bondage, in submission to the dominion of Saint Mark in 1331.
Since then, till its new birth in our own times, Pola has been a failing city. Like the other Istrian and Dalmatian towns, modern revolutions have handed it over from Venice to Austria, from Austria to France, from France to Austria again. It is under its newest masters that Pola has at last begun to live a fresh life, and the haven whence Belisariust sailed forth has again become a haven in more than name, the cradle of the rising navy of the united Austrian and Hungarian realm.
That haven is indeed a noble one. Few sights are more striking than to see the huge mass of the amphitheater at Pola seeming to rise at once out of the land-locked sea. As Pola is seen now, the amphitheater is the one monument of its older days, which strikes the eye in the general view, and which divides attention with signs that show how heartily the once forsaken city has entered on its new career. But in the old time Pola could show all the buildings which befitted its rank as a colony of Rome. The amphitheater, of course, stood without the walls; the city itself stood at the foot and on the slope of the hill which was crowned by the capitol of the colony, where the modern fortress rises above the Franciscan church. Parts of the Roman wall still stand; one of its gates is left; another has left a neighbor and a memory.
Travelers are sometimes apt to complain, and that not wholly without reason, that all amphitheaters are very like one another. At Pola this remark is less true than elsewhere, as the amphitheater there has several marked peculiarities of its own. We do not pretend to ex-pound all its details scientifically; but this we may say, that those who dispute—the dispute still goes on—about various points as regards the Coliseum at Rome will do well to go and look for some further light in the amphitheater of Pola. The outer range, which is wonder-fully perfect, while the inner arrangements are fearfully ruined, consists, on the side toward the town, of two rows of arches, with a third story with square-headed openings above them.
But the main peculiarity in the outside is to be found in four tower-like projections, not, as at Arles and Nimes, signs of Saracenic occupation, but clearly parts of the original design. Many conjectures have been made about them; they look as if they were means of approach to the upper part of the building; but it is wisest not to be positive. But the main peculiarity of this amphitheater is that it lies on the slope of a hill, which thus supplied a natural basement for the seats on one side only. But this same position swallowed up the lower arcade on this side, and it hindered the usual works underneath the seats from being carried into this part of the building.