A white castle perched on a promontory overlooking the blue expanse of the sea surrounded by a thick vegetation growing evenly on a slope: an extraordinary location that still translates Maximilian of Hapsburg’s aspiration to embrace infinity.
Reflecting the artistic cultural context of the mid-19th century – a time when Trieste was experiencing one of the most exciting phases of its history – the Miramare complex was commissioned by the younger brother of Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria, Archduke Maximilian of Hapsburg. This aristocratic residence overlooking the Adriatic Sea, on the edge of a green expanse offsetting the whiteness of the building’s Istrian stone and the blue of the sea, is a combination reflecting the complex personality and cultural tastes of its commissioner, who chose this rocky karst area almost devoid of vegetation on the Grignano promontory at a short distance from the city. Surrounding the Gothic Revival castle, in homage to the eclectic taste of the time, the extensive Miramare park (22 hectares) was intended to enhance the natural beauty of the site and express the quintessentially Romantic longing for infinity. A feeling that in keeping with the positivist ideas of the time was harmonised with a scientific purpose, which in this case was botanical research. In addition to the impressive efforts carried out to remove the rocky boulders originally on the site and the construction of a vast network of paths, a great deal of work was put into planting not only native tall trees but also several species from other parts of the world brought to Trieste following the botanical expeditions led by famous naturalist Alexander von Humboldt. Many exotic species introduced here have adapted to the climatic and geomorphologic characteristics of this area that is often lashed by the bora wind. Over time, the wish of Maximilian – who was crowned Emperor of Mexico and then shot there in 1867 – to make the green area accessible to the public has been honoured. With the construction of the coastal road to Trieste during the 1920s, two tunnels were dug into the slope on which the park lies. A trench section was also created where the Castello di Miramare’s monumental gate was inserted, whereas previously the residence could only be accessed from the sea.
Following the latest renovations, the formal layout of the garden overlooking the gulf adjacent to the castle has regained its original appearance as envisaged by the Archduke and his designer Josef Laube, later replaced by Anton Jelinek. The statues effectively marking the main viewpoints are mainly weatherproof zinc replicas of famous classical statues manufactured in Berlin by the Moritz Geiss foundry.
The small port
This landing place situated the end of a row of steps surrounded by flowerbeds and greeneries once gave access to the castle’s court of honour guarded by a sphinx looking far into the horizon.
The park features a “Coffee House”, a “Casa Svizzera” chalet by a swan pond, and even a miniature version of the main residence known as the “Castelletto”, plus several other outbuildings, such as greenhouses, aviaries, gazebos and iron pergolas – all additions that are typically found in elaborate Romantic landscape gardens.
Inside the castle
The tour of the rooms and halls of the Castle of Miramare is a must-see, with its lavish interiors, the throne room especially, capable of evoking the splendour of a princely residence, offset by the sobriety of the Archduke’s private rooms; the design of his bedroom overlooking the sea, for instance, was inspired by that of a ship cabin. Also of interest is Maximilian’s library containing valuable volumes on the subject of gardens.
Marine Protected Area
At the foot of the Miramare promontory lies a fully protected 30-hectare marine area where environmental conservation and scientific research are paired with intensive educational programmes. The ancient stables of the castle, built between 1856 and 1860 by engineer Carl Junker, are home to the Immersive Museum of the Marine Protected Area, introducing visitors to the marine biodiversity of Miramare and the Gulf of Trieste.