After leaving Florence, the next thing I had in mind was the medieval Slovenian city of Piran, so I was heading in its direction. I wanted to visit also the Trieste Golf sea villages and was driving relaxed on the seaside road, still in Italy, when I spotted the Castle of Miramar.The castle is located in the North of Italy, in Grignano, the Golf of Trieste, 5 km from city Trieste and 152 km from Venice, close to Slovenia.
I stopped instantly, and looked for the way to get closer, to park and to run to see it. It was like a love you were sure it would be strong, passionate and meant for you.
After leaving the car, I walk in small, whispering steps on the Riviera of Grignano, watching the people drinking their coffees, or just inhaling the sea breeze.There is a relaxed atmosphere everywhere…sailors emerge from the boats where they have slept the night and stretch their hands to the sky to welcome the beautiful day ahead.
The sea is calm, the sun is gentle, temperature is 21°C , and a mild breeze kisses my bare skin, my hair and the lips…. I later read, that there is a special kind of wind here, called Bora, particularly intense in the high and middle Adriatic. It can be both gentle and harsh, sometimes sweeping people of their feet when blowing with 150 km/h.
After passing by a fisherman who was painting his boat with lots of care and color, I spot the stairs going to the Miramar Castle. I did not know what to expect, as, as you know, I do not plan my journeys in advance. I love the surprise element. And surprise it was.
A stone paved path leads to the gates of the park, and the moment I went in,
I knew there is a lot to discover as every corner was welcoming: red-painted benches in every corner, arranged so that they would give absolute privacy, no matter on which park alley you choose to sit. But I couldn’t sit, not yet. I felt I needed to get to the castle first, so I passed in hurry trough the gardens reaching to the heart of the park where the Castle of Miramar was given its rightful place. There is a Wow spot, under an old chestnut tree, where, after walking trough the park, the Castle reveals itself to the eyes for the first time. I was also its victim and so were many others I watched coming, after me…Of course I couldn’t help but smile with joy, because the wow moment became a wow state of mind for the whole 6 hours I have spent in the gardens of Miramar.
I personally wanted to know what had happened between those walls, who laughed here, who cried and why. So, I have read as much as I could find about it. And this is the reason why it took me so long to write this post. I wanted to tell you the story.
The beautiful, white castle sits on the coast’s edge and faces the Adriatic sea. It comprises of the castle and an overwhelming 22 hectares of parks and gardens, abundant in rare plants, sculptures and ponds. Maximilian, the Archduke of Hapsburg chose this spot after finding shelter here from a storm. He was charmed by it. He found it void of vegetation, but he envisioned a royal residence at sea.
Miramar Castle was commissioned in the second half of the 19th century by Maximilian as a residence for himself and his wife, Charlotte of Belgium. Remember these names, they are kind of important.
Who was Charlotte of Belgium?
She was the daughter of the German Prince Leopold of Saxe – Coburg (1790–1865). Her father had lost his first wife, the Crown Princess Charlotte of Great Britain, in childbirth. She passed away after 50 hours of labour and a still birth and Leopold remained heartbroken for many years.14 years later, for political reasons, he remarried Charlotte’s mother, Louise Marie of Orléans (1812–1850), a daughter of the French King. Leopold never forgot his first wife, although Louise Marie admired and loved her husband. Historians say he continued to search for her in every woman he met. In fact, in 1828 he had an affair with a young actress who looked exactly like Crown Princess Charlotte. Leopold and his wife had four children: Charlotte and her three brothers. But they lost their mother to an illness, when Charlotte was 10 years.
Our Charlotte was a charming, attractive and beautiful girl with black hair, dark eyes and slim figure. She was intelligent, full of life, serious, dutiful and her behavior was always dignified. Actually she took very much care of her dignified appearance until the very end. At the age of 13, she already read Plutarch and she was 16 when she fell in love with prince Maximilian of Austria (1832–1867).
How did this love happen?
In the summer of 1856 the 24-year-old Habsburg Archduke Maximilian, a brother of the charming Franz Joseph, the Emperor of Austria, visited Brussels. He was handsome and witty. Maximilian shared with Charlotte his liberal, idealistic ideas and this is what she liked about him. She fell instantly in love.
Soon after, Maximilian asked Leopold I for the hand of his daughter. Although Leopold wanted another prince to be his son-in-law, he allowed 16-year-old Charlotte to make her own choice. She chose to marry the one she loved.
With Maximilian being appointed Viceroy of Lombardy and Venice, they moved to Trieste, on Christmas Eve of 1860, right after they married. Since they were both fond of nature and the sea, the royal couple decided to build a wonderful castle on the Grignano gulf, in the Adriatic sea, as their home. The architect Carl Junker was in charge with the project and quickly had the ground floor finished. Charlotte and Maximilian moved in immediately, although the work was still underway on the upper floor.
A portrait of Maximilian and the political context
Although the Italians were unhappy about being under Austrian rule, they highly valued and appreciated Maximilian’s diplomacy and ideas. Gifted with uncommon intelligence, from an early age Maximilian showed great interest in the arts and sciences, particularly botany.
Charlotte longed to be useful. And the occasion came, six years after they have married, in 1863, when Napoleon III of France offered the Crown of Mexico to Maximilian. He hesitated, but Charlotte, however, pushed him to accept the proposal, even if for Maximilian it meant to renounce to his rights to the Austrian throne.
They have travelled 40 days to reach Mexico, and when they did, were received with little enthusiasm. In Mexico City they moved to the filthy and neglected castle of Chapultepec, as all Mexico was bankrupt.
The Mexican conservatives supported Maximilian, who had liberal ideas, while the liberals preferred the elected president, Benito Juárez. Maximilian’s ideas were great, and revolutionary but ahead of his time. One year later after his arrival in Mexico, Maximilian lost the pope’s support, because he decreed a guarantee on the freedom of religion. Then the next year Napoleon III refused to give Maximilian any further financial support, despite his earlier promise. As a result of American pressure and his fear of Prussian aggression, Napoleon also announced the withdrawal of his troops from Mexico, which was a huge blow.
Charlotte refused to give up and travelled back to Europe to meet Napoleon who avoided meeting her. She confronted him 3 times though and in their third and final conversation Napoleon told her the withdrawal of the French troops was final. Charlotte was reported to have lost her mind after this. She laughed, wept, held monologues and talked incoherently and was secluded to Miramar.
Although Maximilian wanted to return to Europe and announced his family in Vienna that he would return home soon, in the end, he did not. His family underestimated the seriousness of the situation in Mexico and his mother, Sophie of Bavaria, wrote firmly: “I must still wish that you hold out in Mexico as long as you can with honor do so.” So he did stay in Mexico, and was soon captured. On the morning of June 19, 1867 however, Maximilian was led out on the hill near Querétaro and executed.
It’s construction was almost entirely supervised by Maximilian. He intended to cast an intimate charm over the whole castle and its domains. The furniture, arrangements and settings are still the ones chosen by Charlotte and Maximilian.
For The Park of Miramar, with a surface of 22 hectare, large quantities of soil were imported from Styria and Carinthia. Nurserymen, mostly from the Lombardy – Veneto region, obtained a rich variety of tree and shrub species, many from abroad. Maximilian’s intentions was to build an experimental centre for the reforestation and acclimatization of rare botanic species. Some of the species did not survive, but Max personally oversaw the garden, enhancing it with plants, including quite unusual ones, brought from all over the world.
Maximilian constantly kept up with the work and never stopped being interested in his garden even when he had moved to Mexico. He sent back to Trieste numerous species of trees. Miramar Park is also home to the WWF’s Natural Reserve of Miramar.
What happened to Miramar after Charlotte and Maximilian?
In 1867, with Maximilian’s death and Charlotte’s departure for Belgium, Miramar became the occasional residence of the Hapsburg family.
Empress Elizabeth, known as Sissy visited the castle at least fourteen times between 1869–1896. On March 22, 1900 the Chapel at Miramar saw the wedding of the Hungarian nobleman Elemér de Lónyay and Stefania of Belgium. On March 1914 the Prussian Emperor William was a guest here; two months later he was assassinated in Sarajevo.
After the restoration in 1929 the museum was opened, to be closed afterwards on the arrival of the Duke Amedeo of Savoy-Aosta, who lived there from 1931 to 1937.
During the Second World War, the Germans turned the castle into a training school for officers, and the furnishings were removed and kept safe in various buildings of the town.
New Zealand troops took possession of the Castle, in 1954 followed by the English, and finally the Americans, who stayed there from 1951 to 1954, when Trieste was returned to Italy. In 1955 the Park was opened to the public.