Castello di Miramare

sights / Architecture

Lonely Planet review

Sitting on a rocky outcrop 7km from the centre, Castello di Miramare is Trieste's elegiac bookend, the fanciful neo-Gothic home of the hapless Archduke Maximilian of Austria.

Maximilian came to Trieste in the 1850s as the commander-in-chief of Austria's imperial navy, an ambitious young aristocrat known for his liberal ideas. After chancing upon Miramare's site while sailing, he decided to build a home there. In 1864, while work was still in progress, he was talked into taking up the obsolete crown of Mexico, but after Benito Juárez re-established republican rule in 1867, Maximilian was shot by a firing squad. His wife, Princess Charlotte of Belgium, was so stricken with grief that she spent the rest of her life believing Maximilian was still alive, and only briefly returned to live at Miramare.

The house has remained essentially as she left it, a reflection of Maximilian's eccentric wanderlust along with the various obsessions of the imperial age: a bedroom is modelled to look like a frigate's cabin, there's ornate orientalist salons and a red silk-lined throne room. Upstairs, a suite of rooms used by the Anglophile military hero Duke Amadeo of Aosta in the 1930s is also intact, furnished in the Italian Rationalist style. Amadeo proved as ill-fated as Maximilian: appointed viceroy of Ethiopia in 1937, he was to die five years later in a British POW camp in Kenya.

Maximilian was a keen botanist and the castle is set in 22 hectares of gardens , which burst with the colour and scent of rare and exotic trees.