On the Adriatic coast outside Trieste stands the Castello di Miramare, surrounded by its 22 hectares of landscaped gardens. The coastline here has been designated a marine reserve, with its headquarters and visitor centre housed in the estate’s Castelletto or “Little Castle”.
From 1856 onwards Austrian architects, craftsmen and gardeners crafted a private idyll here for the Austro-Hungarian Archduke Maximilian and his wife Charlotte, a Belgian princess. Manicured gardens and shady woodlands complement the extravagant castle, whose mid-nineteenth century furnishings remain largely undisturbed. The young Habsburg aristocrat, younger brother of the Emperor Franz Josef, had relished his earlier posting as commander-in-chief of the Austrian Imperial Navy, so some of the downstairs rooms were designed to resemble ship’s cabins.
In 1864, with his fairytale castle barely complete, Maximilian grasped an opportunity to become Emperor of Mexico, then gripped by civil war. The offer, orchestrated by the scheming Emperor Napoleon III of France, proved to be a poisoned chalice. Mexicans were in no mood to welcome a transplanted European monarchy – and nor was the neighbouring United States.
Maximilian was soon abandoned by the French, although it seems his own extravagances contributed to the collapse of the so-called Second Mexican Empire. On 19 June 1867, Maximilian met his end in front of a firing squad. Charlotte suffered a nervous breakdown, never recovered her sanity and would never again occupy Miramare Castle.
In 1930 the Castle’s upstairs rooms were renovated in the taste of the day as another dashing young aristocrat and his family prepared to move in. Amadeo, Duke of Savoy-Aosta, was a tall, handsome prince of the ruling Italian House of Savoy and an accomplished flying ace. The glamorous couple won the hearts of the people of Trieste, particularly when their two children took up places in a local nursery school.
In 1937, with war looming again, Amedeo was appointed Viceroy of Italian East Africa by the dictator Mussolini, becoming the commander-in-chief of the Italian forces then occupying Libya, Eritrea, Ethiopia and much of Somalia.
Sadly, Amedeo too would also meet a premature end, far from home. Forced to surrender to superior British forces, the Duke was interned in a prisoner-of-war camp in Nairobi. There he took ill and died shortly afterwards, reportedly suffering complications from both tuberculosis and malaria. Italian dreams of an African empire had also come to an end.
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