The legend of the “Lady in White” is a common one around the world. Often, it refers to the ghost of a woman who, in life, has suffered abuse or unbearable tragedy so as to deprive her of peace in the afterlife. Even Trieste has its “lady in white” — in fact — there are even a few variations on the legend of La Dama Bianca di Duino.
The most popular version maintains that a long time ago, there lived in the Castle of Duino an evil Knight and his gentle and virtuous bride.
The Lady loved her husband very much and forgave him all of his misdeeds, and hoped to soften his heart with her loving words. The Knight, however, despised his wife and was annoyed by her sweet ways, so, he devised a plan to kill her. One evening he lured her outside the walls of the castle onto a narrow ledge overlooking the sea, his evil plot was to throw her down onto the rocks below. She soon realized his intent, but it was too late. She tried to beg for mercy, but she fell to her death. It is said that her stifled cry and soul remained “petrified” in the rocks below. In fact, in that spot where she fell stands a white rock formation that resembles a veiled woman, the woman in white — La Dama Bianca.
From that day, at the “witching hour”it is believed that she begins to wander the grounds and rooms of the castle. It is said that she appears and disappears 3 times in the night, passing through closed doors, wandering from room to room until she finds the room where her infant son used to sleep.
There, the she stays, in silence, until dawn when she returns to her rock, where her pain and sorrow turn her back into stone once again.
Another version actually names the “woman in white”, (although there is nothing to support or confirm this person actually existed) . Her name supposedly was Esterina de Portole. This version was told to the Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke, (who was a frequent guest to Duino Castle) by his dear friend, Princess Marie of Thurn und Taxis. It was a story Marie’s mother used to tell her. There once lived a young noblewoman by the name of Esterina de Portole, whose fair complexion earned her the name, “The White Lady”. Esterina was married to a jealous and evil man who imagined that everyone wanted to steal her away from him. Consumed by this paranoia, he, in a rage, flung her out of a window of the tower onto the rocks below. She struggled to climb back up but died and there on the spot turned to stone. She too, it is said, haunts the castle searching for her infant child. (This story was cited in the e-book, Rainer Maria Rilke. Alla ricerca dello spazio interiore del mondo, tra arti figurative, musica e poesia. E-book edit. EDUCatt Università Cattolica, 2014)
This same book cites yet another, more romantic and ancient version: A young, fair princess with “green eyes that look like the sea”by the name of Duna, 13, fell in love with a wild young boy, Rein, 15, from the fishing village below the castle. Her father, King Aquillio, did not want his noble daughter to be with a common fisherman and so he told the boy he must journey out to sea on his little fishing boat during a terrible storm. The boy unable to refuse his King, set sail. Days passed and Rein did not return. Duna, in her desperation climbed down to the rocks below the castle to watch the sea for any sign of her love, in the hope that he would return to her. She never wavered, and she remained there so long embracing a large rock, that eventually, she melded into the rock, turning to stone herself.
We cannot confirm which of these stories is the official one, or, for that matter, who exactly is haunting the Castle of Duino, however, many confirm that they have witnessed a candelabra moving through the halls and rooms of the castle and doors opening by themselves. They believe it is the ghost of the “White Lady” who wanders in despair throughout the castle.