FOLKLORE: BORA, THE LADY OF TRIESTE

I experienced my first Bora in Trieste, at night. We had a forecast that the wind would pick up in the evening and, never having experienced it before, I admit I was a little excited and a little nervous having heard many stories about its strength and unpredictability.  It began slowly but by the time we went to bed, it had started in earnest. I remember laying there and listening. At times it raged outside and then went suddenly silent. And then, it was as if it was trying to cleverly and quietly pick the shutters open, and when unsuccessful, rattled them mercilessly.  There was a mischievousness to it that surprised me and spooked me.

It is no wonder that there is rich folklore around the Bora and that it is revered and beloved by the Triestine people.  I imagine that depending on where you grew up along the Eastern Adriatic coast the tales about the origin of the infamous Bora wind differ. These are the ones I’ve heard of while living here in the Trieste area.

BORA – The Woodland Nymph:

The fairytale and tells of a nymph named Bora that lived among the caves of the Carso mountains. During the summer, when the men were out working the land, she would blow a cool breeze over them to give them relief from the summer heat. Then, one day, greedy evil men decided that they too wanted to live among the beauty of Bora’s Carso and they came up and built a settlement there. As if this wasn’t bad enough, one of these men, came upon Bora’s lover in the woods and killed him. From that day forward Bora swore to be an enemy to all men and for this reason she blows violent gales against them and their possessions.

BORA – The Witch of the Carso:

In this story, Bora is a mischievous witch that lives in the caves of the Carso with her son Borino. When Bora blows it is strong and dark, when Borino blows it is a little less destructive but a nuisance nonetheless. In the winter months they venture out of their lair to wreak havoc and lash out furiously against anyone and anything that gets in their way. Icy and violent strikes are meted out on people and property alike — nothing is spared. It is said that the people once tried to seal them up in their cave but were unsuccessful and so, still today, with the arrival of the winter season, they unleash their antics against the city of Trieste.

The Myth of Bora and Tergesteo:

The story takes place a long long time ago. The Wind, Aeolus, would run around the world with his children, the youngest of whom was the beautiful and impetuous Bora. One day the merry band happened on a verdant plateau that descended steeply to the sea. While Wind was busy watching the rest of his brood, Bora wandered off to play and wreak havoc among the clouds.  She soon grew tired and went to rest inside a nearby cave where she came upon the hero Tergesteo, an Argonaut who had just returned from a quest, and who had sought refuge in that cave from the tempest Bora had caused. Tergesteo was strong, handsome and very different from any other she had seen — he was nothing like her brother Winds, or the Sea, or the Earth. For both Bora and Tergesteo it was love at first sight and the two spent seven wonderful days of tempestuous passion in that cave.

When the Aeolus became aware of Bora’s disappearance (it took so long for him to notice because his children were many and all very restless) he rushed to look for her. Searching high and low, he asked everyone if anyone had seen his beloved Bora; he asked the Sea, the Earth and the Heaven, until one cloud who was particularly grumpy due to the fact that Bora had teased him relentlessly, revealed she was hiding in the cave with Tergesteo. The Wind sought out the two lovers, and seeing them together in embrace he unleashed his anger which was so violent that it tossed poor Tergesteo about killing him.

The Wind then ordered Bora to rejoin the rest of the group but the unhappy lover categorically refused. Tears flowed from her eyes which amazingly quickly transformed into rocks — she was crying was so much that the Carst plateau was quickly becoming covered with them. Mother Nature intervened to convince Wind to let Bora be, yet the poor girl would not stop crying. Then the Earth, concerned about the excessive presence of all those stones that were beginning to spoil the landscape, told Bora that she could stay there on the plateau that was now littered with evidence of her despair. And Heaven, not to be outdone by Earth, with the help of the Sun and the clouds, promised to allow her to relive her seven beautiful days of love once a year. Then, and only then, did Bora stop her crying. The Earth decided that from the blood of Tergesteo sumac would grow, which, since then, every autumn turns the Carso hills bright red; the Sea gave orders to the waves to wash over the body of Tergesteo covering it with shells, starfish and green algae: Tergesteo was then raised up to the sky, higher than all the other hills. The first men who settled on this hill, built a “Castelliere” (fortress) with Bora’s stone tears and named the town that grew around it, “Tergeste” in honor of Tergesteo. Tergeste then became known as TRIESTE and it is here that Bora, now the “lady of Trieste”  spends her days– in the same spot which saw the beginning and the end of her first and only love. Sometimes she is bright and sunny remembering the days of passion with her lover and sometimes she is dark and stormy crying over the loss of her beloved.

cover illustration by Rene Faraguna local Triestine Artist

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