Oftentimes, whilst doing the most ordinary of things here in Trieste, I see something or go somewhere that reminds me of the extraordinary history of this city and the amazing generosity of the great old families of Trieste.

Recently I needed to seek out a physical therapist for a problem with my back and I was referred a PT who works out of I.T.I.S. (Istituto Tecnico Industriale Statale) where the University leases space for its Physical Therapy students. As I arrived early, I followed the signs for the coffee shop; they led me to a grandiose atrium lined with a vast quantity life-sized marble sculptures and busts of “benefactors”.  Apparently this old building was once an Institute for the poor of the City.

The gallery itself represents one of the most important collection of works by sculptors (both local and foreign) famous at the end of the 1800s who were often commissioned by the wealthy elite to create pieces for their homes as well as for the burial their final resting places. The walls in the atrium are lined with immense marble plaques listing even more benefactors’ names. Needless to say, I was surprised and curious about this unlikely find. Lucky for me, my visit coincided with an exhibit showing photos of what this building was once used for and who had been its residents.

Construction began in 1855 and in 1862 the building was inaugurated as a center for the sick, the poor, orphans, and the elderly. Still today it serves as one of the city’s headquarters for Social Services, providing services such as Assisted living, and community out reach as well as serving as a Nursing Home.

Long ago, the first organizations to offer aid to the needy were the churches who through the encouragement of charitable donations collected alms for the poor. In Italy, the churches eventually established the “lazzaretto” as a place of confinement and isolation for carriers of contagious diseases, especially leprosy and plague.  It is believed that the origin of the name “lazzaretto” may have been derived from the leper Lazarus – protagonist of the evangelical parable who was venerated as the protector of people affected by leprosy. Another theory is that word the instead recalls the first hospital in Venice,  Santa Maria of Nazareth, whose name, for subsequent phonetic distortions, had been transformed from Nazareth into nazaret and finally into lazaret. In seaside cities like Trieste, the lazzaretto became a quarantine center for goods and people from countries of possible infection who were ordered to spend a certain length of time, often forty days, segregated from the general population (hence the term quarantine).

Two Lazzaretti were built in Trieste: the first between 1720 and 1731 in the area of ​​Campo Marzio named “San Carlo” and built in honor of Charles VI of Habsburg (1685-1740).  San Carlo was a fortified citadel, with everything from a hospital, to a cemetery, and a the Church and a perimeter wall surrounded the area. The lazzaretto was operated by the church from 1723 until 1769 (a piece of it became the Museo del Mare the other buildings were demolished by the Allies during the war). In 1769 it was replaced with the second lazzaretto over in the Roiano district, named Santa Teresa in honor of Empress Maria Teresa, which was funded by taxes levied on wine and goods rather than solely charity.  

Eventually, Emperor Joseph II  abolished religious associations who sought to provide aid to the poor and instead ordered the creation of a new institute to help the needy. Named the Institute for the Poor, it provided services, care and housing for the infirm and orphans. Subsequent political upheaval due to the occupation of Trieste by Napoleonic forces, led to the suspension of these activities until 1818 when, thanks to Domenico Rossetti an new initiative was born.

Domenico Rossetti (for whom the Politeama Rossetti was named) was born in Trieste on March 14, 1774, son of a wealthy merchant and aristocrat from Trieste who had received the title of count in 1775 by Maria Teresa of Austria. Rossetti studied law in Vienna and returned to Trieste, where in 1804 he began to practice as a lawyer. In 1813, after the Napoleonic domination of his hometown, Rossetti was appointed a member of the military tribunal. In 1817 he was appointed civic prosecutor and in 1839 he became president of the city council. (He also responsible for spearheading the effort to solve the water supply problem in Trieste by undertaking exploration of caverns in search of natural water sources.)

Among his many important contributions to the city,  his General Institute for the Poor of Trieste  La Pia Casa dei Poveri was one of the most important and longest lasting. It began with the decommissioning of the former barracks located in the current Viale Miramare. With 400 beds and work rooms it could accommodate a good number of needy citizens and cut down on the number of  street beggars. In 1852, to make way for the construction of the Southern Railway station, he moved the Institute to a temporary location in the district of Chiadino (in the current Via Settefontane). On 29 June 1862 it again changed location and name, with the inauguration of the large building on via dell’Istituto now called via Giovanni Pascoli; the idea was to streamline assistance to the poor, children and the elderly, with the support also of medical staff while increasing external outreach. The new building had 800 beds, cafeterias, classrooms, and work rooms. This marked the transition from simple charity to a working and efficient welfare system; undertaking the task of confronting the inherent problems created by poverty.

It is thanks to the great families of Trieste that funding and city planning was formed to help create this Institute to tackle firsthand the problems of income inequality and create programs to educate, assist and mainstream the less fortunate by providing them with medical, educational, nutritional assistance and housing when necessary.

It is said that in its early days, the Institute was supported not only by the wine tax, but with taxes charged for public balls and paying a fee to the institute for a funeral, guaranteeing in return an accompaniment of the elderly and children to join in the funeral procession. the coffin. The bourgeoisie usually contributed with dances, games and charity lotteries.

Local writer and expert on Trieste of the 1800s, Zeno Saracino writes, “the Baron Pasquale Revoltella participated in his own way, inviting all the seven hundred guests of the Pia Casa for dinner once a year on Fat Thursday,  for a meal worthy of a king. It is said that at the end of the meal a gargantuan pie would be served — it was so big that required four waiters just to bring it to the dining room. After the meal, the guests would play bingo with prizes.

The  warehouses of the Generali also contributed to the Institute, providing sacks of groceries, from coffee beans and other comestible goods, “damaged” during transport.  The Institute also boasted a small collection of livestock which were fed with scraps donated from taverns and restaurants and delivered by cart. In fact, the “boba de l’Istituto” was a  sort of fortified soup which included legumes and meat from the animals raised there.”

The photos below were taken from the 1920s-40s by Francesco Penco, famous local photographer known to have documented the most important events of that time in Trieste.

From July 1940- October 41 the building was requisitioned to be used as a Military Hospital resulting in the subsequent displacement of the patients, resulting in the transfer of minors to the Collegio di San Giusto and eventually the Building designated as a nursing home, administrative offices and training facility which it still is today.


ITIS Via Pascoli, 31, 34129 Trieste TS

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