Parco di San Giovanni is one of the “green lungs” of Trieste. Established in 1908 as home to the psychiatric hospital, it was intended as a “modern and free” oasis in the center of the city where patients could live a life within an “open door system” in the serenity of the Park. The goal was to create an environment where many architectural styles converged and structures were interspersed throughout, 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 different sites for housing, 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 leaving the hospital and confines of the park, prompting the installation of barbed wire fencing around the property to keep the patients contained.
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 to which patients were subjected to, he advocated and succeeded in the dismantling of psychiatric hospital in Trieste and eventually across Italy, adopting innovative and inclusive approach to dealing with mental health issues and restoring to patients their dignity.
Today many of the architectural structures in the park continue to be used to actively serve the healthcare needs of the city’s residents and the University of Trieste. Several, including the old mental hospital are in the process of being restored and repurposed. 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 with beautiful mosaic work and cheerily painted facades.
Overall, 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 Park also features a little bar, cafe’ restaurant called Il Posto delle Fragole.
The lower part of the park is where you’ll find the antique roses, including the “Liberty” collection, whereas at the upper part of the park, is the Rose Garden, inaugurated in 2009 and designed by Vladimir Vremec. The Garden is one of the largest in Italy, and home to almost three thousand varieties of roses, and six thousand individual rose plants ranging from Gallic roses, Damascus, Chinese, Bourbonian, Floribunda, Tea hybrids, Modern, Shrubs and Climbing. There are also roses named after famous people, including Chopin and Audrey Hepburn. The roses also represent different historical periods, with an important number of hybrids from the 1920s, 40s, 50s and 60s. “Our roses follow a vast time line,” explains the rose garden’s designer Vladimir Vremec. The journey starts from the nineteenth century, passes through the twentieth century and reaches today. “Visitors – adds Vremec – find Danish, English, Scottish, Spanish, American, Japanese roses and Eastern European roses from Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia.”
The collection represents the best of current as well as heirloom specimens, including roses that are no longer available commercially.
One can drive to the park or take the 9 or 4 bus and it is a definite “Must See” in Trieste.
Lower Entrance: Via Giovanni Sai, 34126 Trieste
Higher Entrance:Via Edoardo Weiss, 34126 Trieste
For more information please check out their website at: http://www.parcodisangiovanni.it/