Trieste was one of the oldest parts of the Habsburg Monarchy. In the 19th century, it was the most important part of one of the Great Powers of Europe. As a prosperous seaport in the Mediterranean region, Trieste became the fourth largest city of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (after Vienna, Budapest, and Prague). At the end of the century, it emerged as an important hub for literature and music. It underwent an economic revival during the 1930s, and Trieste was an important spot in the struggle between the Eastern and Western blocs after the Second World War. Today, the city is in one of the richest regions of Italy, and has been a great centre for shipping, through its Port (Port of Trieste), shipbuilding and financial services.


The area of Trieste’s Old Port, Punto Franco Vecchio (PFV) was created by the Imperial Austrian Government between 1875 and 1883, to enhance the potential of the docks of the Port of Trieste after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. It was then one of the greatest efforts of modernisation of a commercial port in the Mediterranean basin.

The original structure of PFV, and subsequent modifications, has been substantially retained, adapted for the transportation of goods and the direct linking of the piers and docks with both the national and international railway system. This collection of warehouses have an historical and architectural value drawn from the era of “industrial imperial” European nineteenth century as well as several structural and technological solutions that were very much avant-garde for that time.

For decades, the PFV of Trieste has played a key role in the economy and the port and the Northern Adriatic, allowing a huge and intense exchange of goods with the markets of the South-Eastern Mediterranean and, through the Suez Canal, the East. The system of the Porto Franco has been favourable for maritime traffic, placed in the already unique geographical location and geopolitical port of Trieste. However, during the second half of the last century, particularly after the breakthroughs in storage techniques and the loading and unloading of goods, the PFV began to reveal a substantial inadequacy. The commercial port of Trieste, looking for larger areas of maneuver for carriers to transport containers and bulk goods, has in the meantime found new locations in the south-east the coast.

Many of the warehouses of the PFV, now defunct, having suffered a progressive phase-out, until arriving to the state of almost total abandonment that characterises today many of the buildings and the open spaces of PFV. This is a divestment that has been accelerating since the crisis that hit in the 1970s and 1980s across the north-Mediterranean ports, unable to respond promptly to the new demands of maritime trade.

Fortunately today, after years of neglect, there are new conditions of recovery of the port of Trieste, re-opening the possibility of a dynamic modernisation of the Punto Franco. It is a rare resource in the urban landscape of the Mediterranean and European cities; a resource that has remained for a long time underexploited.