MOLO AUDACE AND THE GHOST OF THE SAN CARLO

The Molo Audace is perhaps one of the most iconic piers in Europe, if not the world. Jutting out in front of what is the largest piazza facing open water, it hides a secret … buried beneath it is the relic of the old San Carlo, a large merchant ship which it is said to have carried carried 70 cannons.

After years of service, the San Carlo was retired and was left to languish in the bay of Trieste. In 1740 the San Carlo sank, but only partially, as it hung on the edge of the water resting on the rocks of the sea floor. The masts and sails remained visible and over time became unsightly, tattered and covered with algae. In 1743 it was decided to remove the ship but it proved to be a difficult, expensive and in the end, useless task as the ship was lodged in the mud and efforts to remove it were further hampered by all of the munitions and hardware on board. In 1752 it was decided that the rotting keel of the San Carlo would serve as a foundation for the construction of a pier, in what was to become the first step in the establishment of the Austro-Hungarian port.  Huge boulders, sand and gravel were taken from the old San Pietro mine in Roiano and dropped on top of the corpse of the San Carlo, creating the rough outline of a pier that would be called Molo San Carlo and which was then connected to the mainland by a modest wooden bridge.

According to local historians quoted in an article in the local paper, Il Piccolo; “in 1762 the length of the pier reached about 76 meters to which was added the length of the outcrop of rocks  in front of it equal to another 55 meters. In 1771, measures were taken to reenforce and restructure the pier and in 1778 the pier was extended by another 19 meters.  In 1860 and 1861 the rocks jutting out at the end of the pier were buried under more gravel and sand in order to extend the pier even further and the drawbridge that connected it to the mainland was removed and the gap closed. The final size of the pier was of 246.50 meters in length and 25 meters in width. In 1905, however, the pier lost about 20 meters in length due to the enlargement of the promenade area on the banks.” The magazine of the time, Istria reported that “The pier soon became the favorite place for strolling; and it was the custom of the ladies, after going around the square and strolling under the porticoes of the public palace, to go out and take in the fresh air on the pier which was scattered with fine gravel”.

Truth be told, the pier more likely smelled of wet wood, fish and of goods and foods in transport. One imagines that voices in every language could be overheard and it certainly must have been exciting to witness the hustle and bustle of the merchant and passenger traffic.  Umberto Saba, the Triestine writer penned an ode to the pier of San Carlo,  and in the final stanza he says, “Sai che un più vario, un più movimentato porto di questo è solo il nostro cuore” (“the only more varied and bustling port is our heart” —  not an official translation). From San Carlo, the steamship Carolina would take passengers between Venice and Trieste and soon after the steam ships of the Lloyd Adriatico would dock here bringing passengers and goods all over the world.

An interesting story as recounted by local historian, Edoardo Marini “One August evening in 1812, while the public strolled about enjoying their ice cream, the earth shook as if by a terrible earthquake: the Danae, a French frigate anchored opposite the molo San Carlo, blew up. The window panes of the houses closest to the port shattered and some doors flew open due to the air gust caused by the explosion. The explosion was so strong that in Opicina, the paintings inside the church broke away from the walls. A piece of the frigate ended up on the roof of the theater. The entire crew of 350 men died there and their bodies were fished out of the waters of Barcola “.

On 3 November 1918 the torpedo ship Audace docked at the pier. Audace was the first Italian military ship, after the fall of Austrian rule, to dock in Trieste. Audace (Boldness) had a dynamic and powerful ring to it. For a city that had been under the yoke of foreigners for so long it needed a symbol with which to declare its victory:  In 1922 the pier San Carlo was re-christened Molo Audace  and in 1925 the bronze wind rose, “molded using the metal from enemy ships”,  was affixed to the end of the pier on a column of white stone.  The actual anchor from Audace can be viewed today at the base of the Faro della Vittoria, while the ship Audace is now a diving site off the coast of Pag island in Croatia after having been sunk by the British (it had been seized by the Germans and re-commissioned as TA-20), it rests at a depth of 80 meters. 

The molo, remains to this day a busy and bustling place filled with tourists, couples, photographers and sunset lovers but now, the only ships that dock there are by exceptional permit for events like La Barcolana. It is still favored for promenades whether it be a beautiful sunny day, or a windswept Bora day, or a day in which the Alps are clearly visible across the sea.  The pier is truly an emblematic piece of Trieste and the indisputable heart of the city.

Many photos in this piece were located on a wonderful FB group  Trieste di ieri e di oggi and their blog TRIESTE DI IERI E DI OGGI  covering the essential history of the city provided mostly by private citizens and families who share photos, memories and documents. Please check out their sites.

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