Walking around Trieste, one often stumbles upon a beautiful building that has been shuttered for many years, if not decades… relics of a once vibrant past when the city was the epicenter of trade and culture as the port city of the Austrian Empire. Often one hears descriptions of these once great palazzi; the beautiful frescoes that supposedly still survive in the unusual Rotonda Panciera, a circular building at the foot of the Citta’ Vecchia. Or the famed Palazzo Carciotti, an azure-domed gem in the heart of the waterfront that was once a private home, then designated for public offices which saw the destruction of many of the artistic and architectural treasures within.
Another one of these buildings was the imposing Palazzo RAS in Piazza della Repubblica. Once the headquarters of the pre-imminent insurance powerhouse, Riunione Adriatica di Sicurita’ (RAS) that was founded in Trieste in 1838 while the city was still under Austrian rule. The founder, Angelo Giannichesi, was originally from Zante in Greece, and his marriage to the Triestine heiress, Despina Ralli, gave him the trifecta; power, nobility and wealth.
The RAS HQ was commissioned in the early 1900s and the famed architects, Ruggero and Arduino Berlam (also designers of the Synagogue of Trieste, Scala dei Giganti, Faro della Vittoria and Palazzo Aedes – the red brick building belonging to GENERALI on the waterfront) built the palazzo between 1909-1914 and also created the Piazza della Repubblica so that the building would benefit from a wider vantage point a piazza would offer.
During the period of the fascist racial laws, the president of RAS, Arnoldo Frigessi di Rattalma, of Jewish heritage, had to step down and leave the direction of the company to Enrico Marchesano. After the war, Arnoldo Frigessi regained control of the company while Marchesano became president of IRI (Istituto per la Ricostruzione Industriale). RAS eventually moved its headquarters to Milan in 1947 and eventually the company changed hands until landing in the Allianz portfolio.
A little over two years ago, rumors began to circulate that the long-shuttered building would be transformed into a hotel. Soon, scaffolding went up and restoration began, under the strict supervision of the Belle Arti Commission, to ensure that the architectural treasures inside would be preserved.
Thanks to Allianz who, together with Hilton and HnH Hospitality and Carron Construction, undertook this monumental project, a languishing treasure has been revived. And after 2 years of anticipation, the Hilton Hotel (DoubleTree) Trieste opened for business last week, unveiling the extraordinary marvels within.
The hotel covers 17,000 sq meters (almost 183,000 sq feet) across 5 floors and boasts an internal courtyard which can be seen from the panoramic elevators.
The building is as imposing from the outside, with its ornate cornices, statues, Panduri, balustrades as it is inside with delicate and intricate iron works, towering marble works, rich wood paneling and exotic tile work. It is the perfect blend of old world elegance in the main salons (reminds me a little of the grand rooms of Downton Abbey with beautiful color palettes and textures) and all the modern amenities and style and creature comforts that one would want in the guest suites and spa.
Trieste’s Hilton DoubleTree is a 4-star hotel with 125 rooms of which 25 are suites with incredible historic architectural details. The most beautiful is #229 on the second floor which was once the lounge for RAS employees. The spa, sauna and turkish bath are located on the fourth floor along with a fully appointed gym — unlike at other hotels in Trieste, these will only be open to guests of the hotel. The hotel has provided 600 jobs to the area.
The DoubleTree brand of the Hilton line is “homey” and that is underscored by their tradition of offering a chocolate chip cookie to guests at check-in. While the Trieste Hilton will respect this tradition, the hotel already reflects a higher standard than what we’ve been used to…
The opening of this hotel underscores the renewed belief investors have of the potential of Trieste to regain its once indisputable mantle of greatness as the international gateway to Mittle-Europe. Trieste not only connects Western and Eastern Europe but, thanks to the increased activity and importance of the Port of Trieste (now the leading port of Italy), it now also serves as an essential link in the “Silk Road” and Belt and Road initiatives linking Trieste to the Far East.
Add to that the increased popularity of the Barcolana regatta and the upcoming ESOF where Trieste will be the European City of Science 2020, the city is poised for a massive renaissance. The local authorities just have to deliver on promises to facilitate tourist travel to the area by increasing the number of flights to the region (Lufthansa has just signed to add more flights to Germany), add high speed rail access, finish the highway expansion, and firm up plans to increase establish a Cruise hub at the port.
It’s a lot to hope for but these are signs that the future for Trieste looks bright.
In the meantime, we locals can book the Hotel for special occasions, or just enjoy lolling about at the bar or try out Novecento, the hotel’s promising new fine dining restaurant.
Hilton DoubleTree Trieste
Address: Piazza della Repubblica, 1, 34122 Trieste TS
Phone: 040 971 2950
Despina Ralli was also Greek. Her family was from Chios.
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