This year marks 300 years since the birth of Maria Teresa Walburga Amalia Christina of Austria, of the House of Habsburg. Born in Austria on May 13, 1717, she was the sovereign of Austria, Hungary, Croatia, Bohemia, Transylvania, Mantua, Milan,  Galicia & Lodomeria, the Austrian Netherlands and Parma. By marriage, she was Duchess of Lorraine, Grand Duchess of Tuscany and Holy Roman Empress.

Schooled by Jesuits and destined to rule (thanks to her father’s “pragmatic sanction” which allowed a female heir to inherit the throne), at 23, Maria Teresa took on her role as Empress.  She was lucky enough to find a consort in  Francis Stephen of Lorraine whom she deeply loved and who loved her. He carried the title of Francis I, Holy Roman Emperor and Grand Duke of Tuscany, though she effectively executed the real powers of those positions. Together they founded the Habsburg-Lorraine dynasty and had 16 children of which Marie Antoinette was one of the more famous, Leopold II and Joseph II, who was credited with modernizing many of Maria Teresa’s politic views and positions.

Italy, having been divided and under the rule of many foreign powers for centuries, certainly does not look favorably to past occupations. However, in Trieste there is a sense of looking back longingly to a time when things “worked” — when Trieste, they say, was at it’s peak, and that time was under the rule of the Austria. It sometimes makes me laugh as I don’t believe anyone in town (despite the remarkable longevity of the people living here) actually lived in those times although evidently, some families were chagrined at their lost status and the deterioration of the economy when Trieste was ceded to Italy after WW1.

Maria Teresa is viewed with reverence by the Triestine people as a sort of benevolent ruler who, albeit she never set foot in Trieste, was responsible (with the help of her son Joseph II) in turning the City into a vibrant, diverse, cosmopolitan port city.

Trieste began as a port and trade hub in the 17th century when Emperor Charles VI, Maria Teresa’s father,  declared the city a duty and tax-free port . But under the reign of Maria Teresa of Austria, the city experienced a marked growth and the start of a particularly rich era.

Under her direction, the port of Trieste was expanded and made deeper. As the only sea port of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Trieste became home to wealthy and adventurous entrepreneurs in the shipping, import, finance and insurance industries. In turn these men financed expeditions and explorations. Wealthy merchants not only got wealthier, but they shared their wealth with the City, establishing many charities and trusts.

During her tenure, Maria Teresa’s introduced several laws under the “Codex Teresiano” (P.Mieli) including the abolition of torture and the death penalty, the official recognition of divorce (P.Mieli), the introduction of vaccines and mandatory schooling. Among the most important was the 1782 Edict of Tolerance allowing different religious communities to practice openly and establish their own places of worship. Maria Teresa was also responsible for the establishment of the first orphanage and the Ospedale Maggiore.

The influence of the Austro-Hungarian rule was so strongly felt and appreciated that up until 1912, up to 70% of performances at the theaters in Trieste were in German and it is a language still spoken by many here.

Today, Trieste’s economic “bread and butter” continues to be the Port of Trieste: a trade hub with a significant commercial shipping business, busy container and oil terminals, and steel works. The oil terminal feeds the Transalpine Pipeline.  The sea highway connecting the ports of Trieste and Istanbul is one of the busiest RO/RO [roll on roll-off] routes in the Mediterranean.

The thriving coffee industry in Trieste also began under Austria-Hungary, with the Austro-Hungarian government even awarding tax-free status to the city in order to encourage more commerce. The Port of Trieste is also Italy’s and the Mediterranean’s (and one of Europe’s) greatest coffee ports, supplying more than 40% of Italy’s coffee.

Maria Teresa was an exceptional and enlightened monarch strongly linked to the development of Trieste and a visionary role model that the city still looks to for inspiration to be able to imagine, create and achieve new goals in the European economy, international trade and science.

Trieste this year celebrates the monarch’s 300th birthday. All year long Trieste honors Maria Teresa with several events :

  • An exhibition on “Court Dresses in Eighteenth Century Portraits” at the Sartorio Museum opens on May 12, the eve of the Empress’s birthday.
  • A Lecture on” Maria Teresa and Family Relationships” will be held on May 17 at the Istrian Society of Archeology & History.
  • Book Presentation “Venice and Trieste: On the routes of wealth and fear ” May 25 at the Gopcevic.
  • A series of Tuesdays nights in August at the Lapidarium, for “Archeology at Night” dedicated to Johann Joachim Winckelmann,  the German Art Historian and Archeologist recognized for his work by Maria Teresa.
  • Other events can be found on the “Trieste Estate 2017”  website as well as on the billboards (in Piazza Verdi and in the San Giusto Castle).
  • A International Conference on “Trade, Relations and Practices at the time of Maria Teresa of Habsburg” will be held on October 19th and 20th at the Magazzino delle Idee  presented by the Department of Political and Social Sciences of the University of Trieste.
  • Further events are still “under construction”  including one with the Numismatic Club of Trieste and  another with the House of Cinema with a look at “The Europe of Maria Teresa” in Cinema will be presented between May, June and September at the Revoltella Museum.


Here is a cute “info” clip by the local newspaper, Il Piccolo on the 10 reasons why Trieste loves Maria Teresa

Paolo Mieli (Milan, February 25, 1949) is an Italian journalist and essayist who deals mainly with politics and history.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s