Italy- The Castle of Miramar

Miramar

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.

amillionworldsAfter 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.

Grignano
Grig­nano

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.

Amazon statue in Miramar

A stone paved path leads to the gates of the park, and the moment I went in,

amillionworldsI 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?

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.

The Castle

MiramarIt’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.

statue in MiramarFor 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.

Miramar promenada

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.

 

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