The history of the fascinating castle in the north-east of Italy
Miramare Castle can seduce visitors with its suggestive position even before they can admire its architecture. Its position seduces with views of the Gulf of Trieste, the Karst Plateau behind it, all around an enchanting Italian-style garden decorated with statues and exotic plants. Its name is the Italians form of the Spanish “mirar el mar”, which means “looking at the sea”. The visitors can reach it from the centre of Trieste, a city with a Mitteleuropa charm located in the extreme north-east of Italy, 10 kilometers from the border with Slovenia, through an avenue that stretches along the coastline. The walk to get to the castle, especially if the sea is stormy, and the sky covered with clouds, takes the visitor back in time. It is the perfect prelude to an enchanting view.
The departure for Mexico
Miramare Castle has a fascinating history. It was built between 1856 and 1860, based on a project by the architect Carlo Iunker. It was commissioned by Ferdinand Maximilian of Habsburg, Archduke of Austria and later Emperor of Mexico. He wanted to live there with his wife, Princess Charlotte of Belgium. This magnificent love nest, however, witnessed a sad fate. The couple moved to the manor in 1860. During their stay, they also hosted the archduke’s brother, Franz Joseph Emperor of Austria, and his wife Elisabeth of Bavaria, better known as Princess Sissi.
However, in 1864 Maximilian and Charlotte had to leave for Mexico, where the archduke became emperor and assumed the name Maximilian I of Mexico. In Latin America the emperor did not have a simple life. The Republicans immediately opposed his government, up to the point of shooting him in Querétaro, in central Mexico. The painter Manet, immortalised the shooting of the emperor, which took place in 1867, in a splendid painting, The Execution of Maximilian (1867-1868).
Carlotta's return to her beloved Miramare Castle
In the meantime Carlotta, given the Mexican political instability, had returned to Miramare. After her husband died, she showed signs of mental health disorder. She dies in Belgium in 1927, never fully recovering. The castle was not completely uninhabited. Even after the shooting of her brother-in-law, Princess Sissi often returned to Trieste. She always chose “the castle overlooking the sea” as her residence, the last time in 1882 on an official visit. On that occasion, the sumptuous halls of the building returned to shine. In 1955 Miramare was declared a State Historical Museum; both the interior and the park are open to visitors.
The fusion of different art trends characterises the architectural style of the castle, including the German Renaissance and the Dutch Rococo, with the white Istrian stone facade to make it peculiar. Also, the interiors are superb: gold inlaid ceilings, luxurious upholstery and chandeliers, nineteenth-century armour, precious porcelain, oak wood decorations, French furniture, paintings by Italian masters and exotic weapons. The castle also houses some paintings by Carlotta and a portrait of her. Also, the view of the Gulf of Trieste from its panoramic terrace is a dream.
Next to the castle there is a square with a fountain in the middle; below this spot you can see the small port from which Maximilian sailed for Mexico. An Egyptian sphinx was placed to decorate the pier: it is the only remaining testimony of the archduke’s collection of Egyptian artifacts.
The park or Miramare Castle
Maximilian of Habsburg designed the garden surrounding the castle, about 55 acres. You can stroll along paths covered with leachate admiring the archduke’s collection of plants and trees. In the park you can find above all cedars of Lebanon, Mexican and African firs, sequoias and cypresses, Chinese wisteria and rare flowers. Classical statues and fountains alternate with vegetation.
In the lower part of the park, by leveling the land, a well-kept Italian garden was created. Lush boxwood hedges delimit its boundaries. Inside there are evergreen plants from all over the world combined with local vegetation. In such eclectic botanical experiment, it is a pleasure to take a walk looking for a gentle sea breeze.
In the upper part of the park, close to the Karst slope, there is a more wooded area, with tall trees that should reforest the entire coast of the Gulf of Trieste. Along an uphill avenue, you can arrive at a pitch with period cannons, where a Castelletto (small castle) stands in a panoramic position. This is one of the best points from which to photograph the Miramare Castle and the coast. The Castelletto hosted Carlotta and Maximilian when the manor was still under construction. Today there is a team of restorers. From the pitch, climbing a stone staircase, you can reach a square, where a bronze statue portrays the archduke who is looking at the sea.