In 1914, Trieste is a multi-ethnic, multi-faith city of approximately 250,000 inhabitants. It is the second largest city in Austria and the third largest within the Habsburg Empire. As the main Adriatic port for goods and passengers, Trieste is a thriving hub and at the height of a financial and construction boom, its industries and shipyards providing employment to tens of thousands of workers. The majority of the population speaks the local Trieste dialect and Slovenian, but there are also Croats, Serbs and Germans. There are also many outsiders from the nearby Kingdom of Italy commonly referred to as regnicoli, mainly from the regions of Friuli and Veneto, dwelling in the city with their families.
The war puts the whole city on hold, industries and construction sites cease their activities, shipping traffic comes to a halt and the city’s men leave for the various fronts. With the outbreak of war, the city, which is extremely close to the front, is almost completely depopulated. Local authority autonomy ceases and a military regime is installed. Bombs fall on Trieste, which is now severely lacking supplies; with the increasing scarcity of food, now strictly rationed, the black market flourishes and poverty and hunger abound, necessitating public aid initiatives.
In 1921, Trieste is officially annexed to the Kingdom of Italy.
With the dissolution of the Habsburg Empire in various nation states, Trieste’s role as a major economic and financial hub and mediator with its natural hinterland comes to an end; with port traffic significantly diminished, local industries struggle to re-establish themselves, and immigration, a characteristic of the city prior to the war, also ceases. Compounded by its peripheral position vis-à-vis the rest of the Italian economy, Trieste thus experiences a particularly difficult post-war period.