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Trieste: New Challenges and Opportunities in the Relational Dynamics between City and Port

Trieste : nouveaux défis et nouvelles opportunités pour les relations entre la ville et le port
Gabriella Pultrone
p. 129-134


The case of Trieste is particularly significant in the study of the relational dynamics between the city and the port, above all if the changes that have occurred over the last two decades in the geopolitical and economic context and the following aspects are taken into account: EU enlargement towards the East; an increase in the traffic flows between East and West and between North and South; a shift of the economic barycentre and the new central role of the Mediterranean sea; EU policies and envisaged reinforcement of pan-European infrastructural networks; impacts on port cities in terms of policies, plans and projects. After reconsidering the role of the port in the formation and development of the city, the current situation offers new opportunities but also presents challenges that will have to be overcome in order to acquire a strategic key position in the relations between the Mediterranean basin and Central and Eastern Europe, which have been searching for a delicate equilibrium between global and local levels.

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1 - Ongoing changes and prediction of possible scenarios

1The considerable transformations that have taken place over the last twenty years are gradually shifting the European political barycentre. Since 2007, the EU has consisted of twenty-seven countries and, as a result, its border has been undergoing such significant changes that entire geographical areas, which have long been in a marginal position, can now acquire a new central role. Large East-West and North-South traffic flows and new scenarios related to the wider issue of the redefinition of the relations between EU and Mediterranean countries are envisaged. This is due to the creation of a free exchange area by 2010. Yet, the achievement of this favourable opportunity is not automatic since it depends on a series of factors, such as the strengthening of the various infrastructural networks and the choices of cooperation between countries aimed at achieving common objectives of cultural growth and economic development.

  • 1  Trieste, capital of the Region Friuli-Venezia Giulia, is also the capital of a Province which, ove (...)
  • 2  Schengen Agreements refer to a treaty involving some EU member states and third countries. First c (...)

2Ongoing dynamics can give a greater importance to the Adriatic area and to its ports as vital centres of trading activity between Central and Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean countries. Nowadays, the Adriatic Sea –Fernand Braudel’s sea of intimacy and what Predrag Matvejevic considered as the most consistent maritime region having, from analogy, all the problems implicit in the study of the Mediterranean area as a whole– is considered as a “multimodal corridor” allowing for the implementation of combined transport within the trans-European connections envisaged by the Maastricht Treaty. Some port cities, such as Ancona, Venice, Trieste, Capodistria and Fiume overlook from its upper arc: their functions/vocations are to be connection poles between maritime and land transport and junctions of a complex set of territorial relations. And since the development of transport depends on not only the quality of the port facilities but also the use of new technologies and the strengthening of multimodality, only a wider view of the problem can assure a real prospect of growth for the Adriatic Sea and its ports, particularly, since the city of Trieste1 is no longer on the margin of the Western block. It can therefore renew its historical strategic role within the new markets, above all towards Slovenia and Hungary, as well as towards the other countries of Central and Eastern Europe. The recent enlargement of the “Schengen space”, with the entry of nine new countries, of which Slovenia is one, is also a tangible sign of the will of integration. Thus, it will be easier to coordinate innovative projects in economic, cultural and research macro-sectors, without neglecting security problems2. It is also necessary to mention the growing importance of the maritime traffic through the Mediterranean Sea from Central Europe to the Middle and Far East.

3How is the city preparing to face this new challenge? What is the relation between global and local dynamics? What is its impact on urban policies and transformations? What are the critical and risk factors apart from the interesting opportunities? These questions mark the beginning of a journey which firstly provides a short description of the main historical phases of growth that took place in Trieste and its port, then proposes how they will be reintroduced within the wider framework of the European policies, looking in particular at transport. Following this, it identifies local choices, aiming to adjust Trieste to its new envisaged role through programmes, plans and projects, and finally comments on some salient aspects emerging from this paper (fig.1).

Fig.1 - Pan-European Corridor V running trhough Europe from Lisbon to Kiev.

Fig.1 - Pan-European Corridor V running trhough Europe from Lisbon to Kiev.

Source: in TuttoLimes, 1993‑2005.

2 - Historical role of the port in the phases of formation and growth of the city

4Ports have always represented a characteristic element of the environmental, that is to say, territorial, landscape and town planning, context of the towns and regions hosting them due to the following factors: the considerable space taken up by port activities; the port-oriented structure of the historical urban network; the importance of negative external effects such as water and air pollution due to the port industries and the congestion of transport running through the urban area. Although city-port relations follow similar dynamics in the different urban contexts where there is a strong link with the sea, it is necessary to remember that each place is characterized by a specific identity, expressing its geographical, historical, cultural and socio-economic peculiarities.

5Thus, the Imperial Order issued by Emperor Charles VI of Austria in 1719 establishing Trieste and Fiume as Free Ports was of great importance for the franchises granted to the traders and goods enjoying the Emperor’s protection, provided that they did not clash with the citizens and goods of the state. This way of trading attracted many different ethnic and religious groups which benefited from the free trading facilities provided by the state authority. This was the beginning of a process which transformed Trieste rapidly from a village into a cosmopolitan and multi-ethnic city serving a wide Danubian-Balkan hinterland. The change of the economic and social features resulted immediately in physical and functional transformations leading to the widening of the port structures and to urban expansion, which could still be found in the scheme of the three planned quarters (Teresiano, Giuseppino and Franceschino) alongside the original old town centre (Città Vecchia).

6Up until the xixth century the city and its port had similar functions and urban infrastructures in spite of the continuous transformations that the coast underwent in order to modify the existing facilities to the growing economic and commercial needs. Due to the expansion of the port activities, more available space was needed, and this was gradually taken from the sea to allow for the creation of new facilities in the north - today’s Porto Vecchio, near Borgo Teresiano and in proximity to the railway station, which was built in 1857. The latter played a crucial role in connecting the port with the hinterland, despite the difficulties tied to the presence of the Karstic upland. Other economic activities such as primary and tertiary industries and bank and insurance institutions were added to the typical port activities; that is to say, the loading, unloading and storing of goods.

7In the xixth century, in spite of the changeable international, historical and political events, Trieste continued to link Mitteleurope and the Mediterranean area. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 created new favourable opportunities and, at the same time, an enormous transformation in international trade took place: the ease and speed with which information and goods circulated allowed manufacturers and users to enter into direct contact for business purposes, and port cities focussed on the rapid transit of goods by sea and land rather than continue to be a permanent emporia (fig.2).

Fig.2 - The City and Port of Trieste (today’s Porto Vecchio) in a map kept at the Civico Museo del Mare in Trieste (ante 1885).

Fig.2 - The City and Port of Trieste (today’s Porto Vecchio) in a map kept at the Civico Museo del Mare in Trieste (ante 1885).

Source D. R

8The “warehouse city” changed into a “port city”, where flow prevailed on reputation and traders were replaced by shipping agents. The free port, extended to the whole city, became superfluous and was limited to the docks and the adjoining warehouses. Between the late xix and the early xx centuries commercial and industrial growth resulted in the development of the port beyond the urban borders, with the extension of docks and the proliferation of primary industries. Just after the First World War and the annexation to Italy, the relation between Trieste and its historical hinterland was broken up. The city went through a crisis that resulted in a demographic reversal, transforming its once historical central role into a marginal one and creating difficult relations with its borderlands. However, the presence of the port continued to have a considerable influence on the city’s economy and the port facilities were further transformed and extended.

  • 3  The Port of Trieste is a landing place of international economic importance (L. 84/94), recognised (...)

9In the post-war period the relation between the city and its port broke up because of the innovations brought about in the sector of maritime transport, demanding more extensive areas that were found in the southern area of the city, towards the Bay of Muggia3. Porto Vecchio’s facilities were almost completely abandoned since they had become unsuitable for the new requirements. However, international events that have occurred over the last decade such as EU enlargement, implying the development of the concerned countries through sustainable economic, social and environmental interventions, have produced favourable prospects for the city, and maritime transport seems to be the most compatible with sustainability requirements. Thus, once again Trieste has the chance to play the geopolitical role of a “connection area”, in a territorial and economic, but also cultural and social context.

3 - EU infrastructural policies and creation of new opportunities

10European integration is being carried out using various tools among which transport networks are undoubtedly a priority. Networks need junctions, interconnections and relations so that local systems can develop, coexist and enhance their identity, benefiting from the opportunities of the new European space. Corridors are meant to be used as connection networks to which other networks, such as productive, cultural, environmental, institutional and service networks, must be linked. The strategy of European corridors pursues the objective of identifying routes and transnational infrastructures that can favour the circulation of people and goods, as well as the mobility of capital, services and ideas, thus contributing to overcoming physical and organizational national barriers. From this point of view, the implementation and strengthening of a corridor network appears indispensable. Among such corridors it is important to mention the Adriatic and Danubian Corridors and, transversally, Corridors V and VIII, both conceived as integrated systems of connection infrastructures and axes of strategies for developing the territories they run through: essentially, they must be like sponges, like permeable paths that can establish relations with the space they run through. The Adriatic Corridor reintroduces the idea of the Adriatic Sea as a transfrontier region, a basin of culture and trade and a communication channel between the parties of a vast geopolitical system. In the past the high returns from its ports, with ships arriving four to five days earlier than in Northern European ports, were hampered by problems, not only by the lack of an adequate railway and road infrastructure network that could make integration and multimodality effective, but also political, economic and juridical factors. Therefore, it was indispensable to implement the most suitable strategies to overcome these problems. In this context the ports of the Upper Adriatic Sea became important. They have started implementing several cooperation programmes, though it will be necessary to work hard to avoid local competition and to define a single port entity with distinct specializations in the different ports, able to face the competition of Northern European ports.

11Trieste is directly concerned by Corridor V (fig.1) which, though being related to the problem of enlargement towards the East, is a projection of the EU initiative towards the Mediterranean Sea. This projection is not only for transport and infrastructures, but also to help predict a medium-long term vision of the economic and spatial relations of the continent and the resulting reinforcement of the peripheral areas. The enlargement could be a great opportunity, but also a particularly difficult challenge to face if the time of completion of the planned works is not observed. Therefore, it is crucial to reintroduce the infrastructure policies of the Adriatic area by intervening on longitudinal and transversal corridors, strengthening intermodal junctions and the port network, and also promoting a series of great urban systems along infrastructural routes.

4 - Programmes, plans and projects for a future-oriented city

12Looking at the latest events it is possible to understand how programmes, plans and projects of various extent must cope with not only the need to manage the ongoing changes and the possibility to envisage further scenarios of change, but also to measure themselves against supranational transformations. A careful analysis portrays both the concluded and ongoing experiences that are the elements of innovation and critical factors. The Variant n.66 to Trieste General Master Plan, approved in 1997, underlines the idea that the new town planning tool must identify the role of the city according to the new economic opportunities resulting from the new international political scenario. The new events, resulting in progressive outsourcing of productive functions, the end of demographic growth, and a change in the geopolitical conditions of the North-East border, are indispensable conditions needed to define the objectives to be pursued within a decade. In addition to trade and industry, other themes related to the most important objectives are road networks, where interventions to improve connections between the Province of Trieste, other areas of the Friuli Venezia Giulia Region, Slovenia, Croatia and other international destinations will take place; the port, which will consist of reinforcing the trade and tertiary functions of the city through re-using vast derelict areas in Porto Vecchio, expanding the Porto Nuovo docks and creating a ferry terminal with supporting facilities, and scientific and technological research will play a crucial role in the internationalization processes. Ten years after its approval, which had been solicited by committees and associations demanding a better criteria of respect for the natural environment, landscape, urban liveability and the involvement of citizens in approving town planning choices, the municipal council passed a draft of new directives for a new variant of the General Master Plan.

  • 4  Prusst is a planning tool for a vast area aiming at promoting a programme of urban and territorial (...)

13The will to promote favourable opportunities also emerged from the Prusst, which was approved in 19994. This raised some particularly urgent urban and territorial issues, such as the regeneration of the waterfront, mobility and reputation and the re-using of derelict areas, which also concerned barycentric urban areas. The Programme also proposed interventions included in the other planning tools recently adopted by the Municipal Council, thus assuring their consistency.

14Among all the policies, plans and projects making Trieste a “laboratory city”, the one that stands out is the Strategic Plan. It was proposed in 2001 by the municipal with completion in 2010, and whose aim was to assess the effects of any interventions already underway as well as directing future choices. Its objective was to improve the competitiveness of the city in the new geopolitical context, although its peculiarity was that it was drawn up at the end of an administrative term and its policy was based on that of the local government that governed from 1993 to 2001. The possible “visions of success” in the 2011 scenario have given Trieste the following roles: to become a city of knowledge; a crossroad city; a city of solidarity; a metropolitan city and an integrator of systems. Moreover, since the future of a city depends on all the joint actions of a multitude of public and private subjects, the task of the Strategic Plan was to create a vision shared as extensively as possible by all those who were able to define and implement the main initiatives. Unfortunately, it was a missed opportunity since the municipal administration, succeeded at the end of 2001, abandoned the plan thereby eliminating its basic intention of creating an administrative continuity independently from the political one.

15One of the most significant town planning projects to reintroduce the city onto the international scene was the “International Competition for the Regeneration of the Waterfront”, promoted in 2001 by the Municipal Council along with the Port Authority and Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio. Its aim was to make the waterfront an integral part of the city and to restore the shores to their connective role between the different public and private functions of the historical buildings in the area and the immediate vicinity. Today it appears as an urban system characterized by the presence of some notable functional and infrastructural elements (Porto Vecchio, Piazza Unità, Stazione Marittima, Area della Lanterna) where it is possible to translate the objectives into project proposals. This concerns the accessibility to the shores, the coexistence of vehicle and pedestrian flows…, with specific interventions on several buildings and urban areas destined to multiple functions. The project, which ranked first for the elaboration of the Master Plan, was conceived by the group coordinatedby Franco Zagari, while five more winning projects concerned crucial urban junctions. Moreover, although the context is different for organization and language, if they were implemented, they could help contribute to restoring dignity to an area that has not been upgraded for a long time and to reopening an interrupted connection between the city and the sea (cf map of Master Plan in Urbanistica no123, 2004).

  • 5  The Port Plan, then in force, was still that of 1958, partly modified by the 1984 Port Area Use Pl (...)

16These same objectives are also being applied to the regeneration of the Porto Vecchio area, whose decline corresponds to the start of a topical thirty-year debate on its re-use. The latest proposal arises from a 2005 appointment through which, after the adoption of the Variant to the Porto Vecchio5 Master Plan by the Port Authority, the Board of Directors of the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Trieste, in agreement with the Port Authority itself, has entrusted Systematica SpA with the task of redesigning Porto Vecchio under the supervision of Norman Foster & Partner. It concerns an area of about 700,000 sq.m., of which nearly 2/3 are unused, which has great potential to transform the shore system into a large urban park. The functional and operational strategic plan comes from analysing the influence and demand of the project area, taking into account the other transformations of the city and its territory. The transformation plan includes a series of interventions aimed at making the area accessible in the short term; the Master Plan proposes a ten-year programme to be gradually enriched through low investment initiatives, such as fashion and sailing, focussing on promoting the existing heritage and repositioning the city in the European and Mediterranean context.

17Finally, one of the most notable projects concerning Porto Nuovo is the Logistic Platform, whose implementation includes wharf construction in the area to the south of the city between Scalo Legnami and Ferriera di Servola Ironworks, and is an area of 247,000 sq.m., 140,000 of which are covered with pools of water. The “Logistic Platform of Trieste” has been included among the pre-eminent interventions of national interest identified within the Legge Obiettivo 443/2001, “Delegation to the Government in matters of infrastructures and strategic productive settlements and other interventions for the relaunching of productive activities”. The intervention is meant to widen the existing operational areas serving the port through the transfer of the activities still present in Porto Vecchio to the new platform, which should dramatically reduce the heavy traffic from the so-called Grande Viabilità Triestina through the S. Andrea promenade and along the Rive.


18The reorganization of maritime transport over the last decades has brought about a real revolution causing ports to become more complex junctions and dynamic elements in a logistics system demanding effective services and rapid intermodal exchanges. Peace, integration and the progressive EU enlargement towards the East will gradually lead to an intensification of transversal and longitudinal traffic. The role of port and urban poles as junctions in a network extending towards the spaces to which today’s city is tied, is becoming more important. Thus, port cities represent interesting case studies for their rich transport infrastructures and privileged places for the observation of ongoing processes.

19In this context and due to its location at the natural crossing of the Adriatic Corridor and Corridor V, Trieste has the possibility of renewing its historical connective role between Central and Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean Sea. The interactions of the city-port territory have created a fertile ground of study in a context where the port is projected towards a global dimension and, at the same time, is strongly rooted in the local territorial context and urban settlement it interacts with. On the one hand, programmes, plans and projects underline once again the importance of the position of the city, whilst on the other hand, they highlight the complex relations between the actors of urban transformations, administrators, technicians and citizens. Some effective project proposals could arise from these relations if they were part of a consistent programme; unfortunately, this was not always the case and was sometimes the reason why the project itself was ineffective. However, only through the construction of a comprehensive vision and a shared medium-long term strategic plan for the future of the city, is it possible to promote interventions capable of having significant effects on the territories to be used as a network of actors and public, private, institutional and social subjects. In particular, port areas can assure new central roles and develop activities for the functional and qualitative reorganization of the city as a whole, although it is of the utmost importance that its approach evaluates the impact that the envisaged interventions could have on the territory, landscape and environment.

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1  Trieste, capital of the Region Friuli-Venezia Giulia, is also the capital of a Province which, over a total area of 211.82 sq. km, has about 260.000 inhabitants, of which around 231.000 live in the town.;

2  Schengen Agreements refer to a treaty involving some EU member states and third countries. First created outside EU law, they have become part of them through the Treaty of Amsterdam and today are an integral part of the EU Treaty (Treaty of Maastricht).

3  The Port of Trieste is a landing place of international economic importance (L. 84/94), recognised by the EU as a EU free port.

4  Prusst is a planning tool for a vast area aiming at promoting a programme of urban and territorial policies in order to pursue joint and integrated development of the different systems composing of the town: physical, environmental, economic and social.

5  The Port Plan, then in force, was still that of 1958, partly modified by the 1984 Port Area Use Plan.

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List of illustrations

Title Fig.1 - Pan-European Corridor V running trhough Europe from Lisbon to Kiev.
Credits Source: in TuttoLimes, 1993‑2005.
File image/jpeg, 1.8M
Title Fig.2 - The City and Port of Trieste (today’s Porto Vecchio) in a map kept at the Civico Museo del Mare in Trieste (ante 1885).
Credits Source D. R
File image/jpeg, 2.6M
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Electronic reference

Gabriella Pultrone, « Trieste: New Challenges and Opportunities in the Relational Dynamics between City and Port », Méditerranée [Online], 111 | 2008, Online since 01 June 2010, connection on 25 March 2017. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/mediterranee.2857

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About the author

Gabriella Pultrone

Ricercatore, Facolta di architectura, Universita degli studi mediterranea di Reggio di Calabria,

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