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Trieste is wonderful, every bit as intriguing as the most fanciful places ever created by the Austrian novelist Joseph Roth. Today Trieste is the place where Italy rubs shoulders with Slavic world, but still a place that has a hint of Mitteleuropa. T he bus to Muggia Vecchia chugs up the hill, low gear all the way. It lurches round hairpin bends, occasionally heading straight for Slovenia, but always at the very last moment making a sharp turn back towards Italy.
Muggia Vecchia is a tiny remnant of Istria that is still part of Italy. For many Italians, Istria is today a state of mind, a slice of Adriatic territory over which armies have tangled and politicians have tussled. But for those who live in Trieste, Istria is far more. It is their backyard. The hilltop at Muggia Vecchia is a place for Sunday afternoon excursions.
The Triestini ride the ferry over the bay, then take the bus up to Muggia Vecchia. They clamber over the ruins of old Muggia, a defensive mediaeval hilltop settlement.
The excursionists gaze north over the bay to Trieste, the port city framed by the high limestone plateau that is the backdrop to all Trieste life. What would Trieste be without that dry and difficult karst hinterland? It is a city squeezed between the limestone hills and the sea, a city that is not quite east, and not quite west, a place that like Berlin helped shape the geographical imagination of the Cold War.
What an enormous burden for poor Trieste to have to shoulder — all those political and doctrinal confrontations tumbling over the karst and flowing down into the streets of Trieste. If there is a single spot, one specific patch of ground where Italy meets the Slavic world, it is Muggia Vecchia.