Trieste at war

1914 War


Following the murder in Sarajevo of Habsburg Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophia (28 June), war is declared by Austria-Hungary on Serbia (28 July).

Able-bodied men leave for the war. The government welfare service and citizens’ charities distribute supplies and aid to the widows and families of recalled soldiers.
To guard against food shortages caused by the allied naval blockade, food rationing is implemented along with the stockage of various materials and resources.



1915 Riots


The black market increases due to food deprivation. In April, public riots against unjustified price increases and the lack of bread are quashed by the police.
The declaration of war by Italy (23 May) provokes protests against Italians: while the Imperial authorities abandon the city fearing an Italian landing, the crowd assaults and burns the newspaper
Il Piccolo, destroys the headquarters of the National League and Ginnastica Triestina sports-ground, also plundering cafes and shops owned by Italians.

The city is depopulated due to the second mob draft and the departure or internment of some 50,000 Italian workers resident in the city.

1916 Propaganda


Human lives, suffering and money are the price of war.
Propaganda called on the people of Trieste to finance the war effort through loans and the collection of funds for the wounded and the war widows and orphans. Cinemas and theatres staged patriotic performances.
In the Piazza Grande the authorities encourage the public to buy and apply nails to the wooden statue of a sailor (the so-called
Omo de fero (iron man), as occurs in many cities of the Central Powers. 21 November, Franz Joseph dies, succeeded by his great-grandson Charles I.



1917 Hunger and Bombs


The worst time for the war-torn city commences; targeted from the air and sea by Italian aircraft and artillery. The hospitals are full of the wounded who are also treated in public buildings, schools and hospital ships.

Food deprivation increases infant and general mortality; misery hits the middle classes in particular, not accustomed to poverty, while the surrounding area can draw on the resources of the countryside.
Despite everything, thanks to breaking through the Isonzo front between Plezzo (Bovec) and Tolmin and the invasion of Friuli and part of Veneto (October-November), the propaganda machine glorifies the inevitable “final victory” to come.

1918  Italy arrives


After Caporetto, the war moves further away; misery and deprivation increase not only in Trieste but across the entire Habsburg Empire. The corona loses value, commodities are exchanged via barter, strikes and demonstrations erupt against the high cost of living. The Austria-Hungarian offensive on the Piave fails in June; Gabriele D’Annunzio flies over the city before launching propaganda leaflets on Vienna.

In order to fulfil the national aspirations of his people, Charles I plays the federalism card, with Trieste as a “free city”. After initial resistance on the Piave front, under pressure from the Italian army (October-November), the Austro-Hungarian army finally crumbles and many regiments flee the front. Charles I abdicates and flees into exile; on 3 November (Armistice of Villa Giusti) Italian troops reach Trento and Trieste. The task of governing the city, abandoned a few days earlier by the Austrian authorities and overseen by a hotchpotch public health committee that is unable to curb looting and violence, is handed over to General Carlo Petitti di Roreto.



1921 Annexation


Between November and December 1918, approximately 160,000 former Italian prisoners arrive in Trieste, hospitalised in dire conditions at Porto Franco and various other parts of the city, as well as many native Trieste soldiers of the now defunct Empire. Devoid of any resources, the city survives thanks to the aid and canteens of the Italian army.

Exodus of Germans, Serbian-Croatians and some Slovenians, in the face of the mass return of Italian workers previously resident in the city and a substantial number of immigrants from the Kingdom of Italy. Revolutionary forces and the early fascist movements intersect in a climate of comprehensive economic stagnation, with trade and economic activities in a struggle to regain momentum.

Public order is shattered by the fire at the Balkan Hotel, headquarters of certain Slovenian organisations, and the destruction by fascist groups of the headquarters of the socialist newspaper Il Lavatore (July 1920). The following September, the red district of San Giacomo responds with an armed revolt causing death and injury, which is quelled by military units.

In 1921, Trieste and Venezia Giulia are annexed to the Kingdom of Italy.