One of the iconic symbols of Trieste, the Castello di Miramare sparkles like a pearl on the Triestine coastline. Built in the mid 1850s by Carl Junker as the seaside residence for Archduke Ferdinand Maximillian of Habsburg (brother of Emperor Franz Joseph) and his wife, Charlotte of Belgium, it boasts a 54 acre English style garden filled with waterways, pools, pathways and small buildings and is rich with plant specimens collected by Maximillian during his expedition on the Novara. The name, Miramare, pays tribute to the the royal residence in Pena, Portugal — Miramar– of Prince Ferdinand of Saxony.
Miramare is filled with rich and elegant furnishings of the time that reflect both Maximillian’s rank, pedigree and his love of the sea. The castle, steadily supervised by Maximilian, was finally completed only after his departure in 1864 for Mexico where he was appointed Emperor, and where, after a brief reign, he was executed by firing squad in Querétaro in June 1867.
Located on the property, facing the lovely port of Grignano is the famous Gartenhaus or Castelletto where the royal couple resided during construction of the main residence. It is here where Charlotte returned to from Mexico after suffering the loss of her beloved and before returning forever to Belgium.
Miramare continued on as a vacation residence for the Habsburgs; between 1869-96, the castle was frequently host to Franz Joseph’s wife the Empress Elizabeth, better known as Sissi, and he also stayed there in September 1882, on the occasion of an official visit to Trieste. On March 1914 Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne, had the Prussian Emperor William there as his guest; a mere two months before he was assassinated in Sarajevo.
With the start of WW1, all of the Castle’s furnishings were shipped to Vienna, but when Trieste was given to Italy so was the title to Miramare — an agreement reached with Austria allowed the return of all the original furnishings — with the condition that it serve as a Museum, which in fact opened to the public in 1929.
In 1931 however, Miramare was designated as the home of the Duke Amedeo of Savoy-Aosta, who lived there from 1931 to 1937 while he headed Italy’s first air division in Gorizia. At that time most of the original furnishings were stored in the Castelletto to make way for the preferred modern tastes of the Duke who favored the “rationalist” style.
During WW2, the Germans took over the castle making it a training school for officers, and again the furnishings were removed and stored throughout the city of Trieste. This designation of use in some way may have saved the Castle from bombardments.
Finally, in 1945 the New Zealand Troops took possession of the Castle, followed by the English, and finally the Americans, who stayed there from 1951 to 1954, when Trieste was returned to Italy. It reopened to the public as a Museum in 1955.