Parco di San Giovanni originally housed the psychiatric hospital of Trieste which was established in 1908. The goal was to build a “modern and free” oasis in the center of the city where patients could live a life within the “open door system” in the serenity of the Park — creating an environment where many architectural styles converged and structures were interspersed throughout the park so that the patients never felt constrained or sequestered or institutionalized. The result was a sort of self-contained eco-system with many structures in the park resembling villas and rustic houses offering diferent sites for houseing, treatment, work programs etc. The “ideal’ was to provide a calming and normalizing environment for the patient and not isolate them for the “safety” of the general citizenry. Unfortunately, this “utopia” quickly unraveled due to the fact that many patients tried and succeeded in escaping the hospital and thus a barbed wire fence was promptly erected around the property to keep the patients within the confines of the park.
Tragically, like the majority mental health institutions of that era, many of the patients were misdiagnosed, subjected to treatments and conditions that today are considered inhumane. In fact, it is here in Trieste, in the 1970s, that a revolution in mental health treatment took place, thanks to the efforts of famed neurologist & psychiatrist Franco Basaglia. After seeing the less than ideal conditions the patients were subjected to, he advocated and succeeded in the dismantling of psychiatric hospitals across Italy.
Today the park is still home to several health management centers ranging from administration services to focused care centers. The University of Trieste also has several departments there and it is also home to a number of Co-op groups. Now a multi-use space open to all, Parco di San Giovanni offers a rich calendar of events; from the Horti Tergestini, a springtime garden show/market to the flowering season of the Rose Garden which is accompanied by music, literary and performance art events & wine tastings and The Lunatico Festival a summer event featuring concerts, performances and lectures.
Situated in the heart of the park is a delightful little restaurant called Il Posto delle Fragole that acts as the hub for many of the events held year round.
San Giovanni’s “mission statement” is as follows: to become a symbolic place… where one can test new ways to “use” the city: not so much … to solve functional or practical problems, but as a place where diversity is celebrated. A laboratory for the city of the future: striving not for conformity, but rather, coexistence and cross-pollination of different cultures. A broad, socializing perspective, where diversity is seen as a precious asset to preserve and sustain. This is in sync with the spirit of Trieste, which, as a Port city, has always been open to accepting and incorporating cultures, ethnic groups and religions derived from very different parts of the world.
Parco di San Giovanni is one of the “green lungs” of Trieste with architectural remnants of the old hospital; some still abandoned, some in progress of being restored and others still actively used. There is a magical quality in the layout which does give you a sense of the utopia that was intended at its start. There are beautiful plantings, specimen trees, arbors laden with cascading wisteria, climbing roses and an english style garden and interspersed throughout, nostalgic looking buildings and follies. The park covers about 54 acres and houses 40 buildings of various sizes, connected to each other by an internal road network with two main accesses from the city, open to both cars and pedestrians.
The Rose garden was inaugurated in 2009 and boasts nearly 5000 varieties of roses making it one is one of the most important in Italy. The collection presents the best of current as well as heirloom specimens, including roses that are no longer available commercially. There are roses dedicated to famous people, historic roses and unusual specimens. There are many varieties obtained from European breeders such as English, German, French, Dutch and others but also American and Japanese. Many Italian roses specimens are difficult to find today.
One can drive to the park or take the 9 or 4 bus and it is a definite “Must See” in Trieste.
For more information please check out their website at: http://www.parcodisangiovanni.it/