Crossing Borders in Gorizia

A flying visit to Gorizia en route to its Slovenian equivalent Nova Gorica

Piazza Transalpina - Where the Iron Curtain Fell

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by fizzytom on June 5, 2010

Being Slovenia-junkies the place we most wanted to see in Gorizia was the Piazza Transalpina. If you don’t know the history of the Piazza you might think it’s a very ordinary looking place but it certainly isn’t!

In 1947, the town of Gorizia was split in two (not at all equally!) with the Italian territory getting the bulk of the town, and only a very tiny part going to Slovenia, or more correctly then, Yugoslavia. The Yugoslav President, Marshall Tito, proclaimed that a new town would be developed on that side: it is now known as Nova Gorica. While this sounds rather simple it was not: many families were divided when the partition took place.

There isn’t actually a great deal at the Piazza Transalpina but it’s an interesting and indeed useful place to visit for a couple of reasons. The first is that there is a train station there and this connects you with one of the most dramatic railway journeys in Slovenia, the often breathtaking route between Sežana and Jesenice, right up in the north of Slovenia in the Julian Alps. It’s a very scenic electric line which is quite secondary within the Slovenian rail system but certainly worth a ride if you have time.

The station building dates from 1906 and is very handsome. It was the second train station for Gorizia, the first being Gorizia Centrale or, as it is sometimes known, Meridionale. This station was built so that there would be a route from the Adriatic coast up into Austria that did not go through Udine, thus saving time. When the division took place, the Yugoslav side got this train station.

The official border with the customs post is about a mile down the road but that is on a busy main road so it is much better to come up to this Piazza to have the opportunity to do that thing beloved of many travellers – standing in two countries at once. A mosaic by Trieste artist Franco Vecchiet marks the border and commemorates Slovenia’s accession to the European Union in 2004. The central part of the mosaic replaces the old boundary stone and the design of the mosaic represents the peaceful explosion that resulted in the fall of the Iron Curtain.

Next to the station on the Slovenian side there’s a massive car-park. You might wonder why this is when the line is relatively minor. The reason is that during the Cold War Slovenians would drive to the border, park up and cross over to go shopping in Italy. These days the traffic tends to go the other way with Italians crossing over to use the casinos in Nova Gorica: the three main hotels in Nova Gorica are attached to huge casinos, one of which is reputedly the largest in Europe. Ironically there are now lots of empty shop units in Gorizia while Nova Gorica has a shiny new shopping centre: the shoe is definitely on the other foot.

Inside the train station there’s a small museum that charts the history of the Gorizia region between 1945 and 2004.

There is a bar in the train station that has some outdoor seating looking onto the square. On the Italian side, there’s a hotel that has a terrace and a restaurant and bar. At last passengers departing early or arriving late at this train station have somewhere to stay. In 1947 when the town was divided, the station and its hotel ended up on different sides of the border.

It’s a twenty minute walk through a pleasant residential area from the centre of Gorizia to the Piazza Transalpina. There’s also a bus service that runs between the Gorizia Centrale and Transalpina stations which runs through the centre of the town.

Gorizia Castle - A Trip Back to the Middle Ages

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by fizzytom on June 4, 2010

We were heading for Nova Gorica from Udine, another city in Friuli-Venezia and decided to stop for a few hours to explore Gorizia before crossing the border and a visit to Gorizia’s impressive castle was our chief activity.

Gorizia has two train stations although, strictly speaking, one is located in Slovenia. They run on different lines so you can’t really get them mixed up. The castle is situated roughly between the two stations and as a bus service links the two stations and passes near the bottom of the hill on which the castle stands, you can easily access the castle from which ever station you arrive at (if you do visit by train of course). Coming from the Slovenian "Transalpina" station the castle is on your left as you pass through the centre of Gorizia, and on your right if you come from Gorizia Centrale. If you’re driving you can drive right up to the castle entrance. We visited on a Sunday morning in early May and there were parking spots available but I’m not sure whether it would be that easy in the height of summer, or later in the day.

The exact date of the founding of the castle is not certain but it’s clear from its appearance that it dates from medieval times and has had various alterations and additions made throughout the centuries. Likewise it has changed ownership on many occasion, too numerous to list here.

If you don’t want to go right inside the castle it is possible to explore the walls and ramparts without paying an admission fee. This is worthwhile because it’s a lovely walk up to the castle and the views are pretty good from the castle walls. Himself is a big fan of castles so there was much clambering around before we went inside.

In the office we were given our tickets and a leaflet in English (the assistant knew without asking that we were English – those knotted handkerchiefs are a dead giveaway) which comprised a plan of the castle and some information about the castle and the exhibits inside. There is meant to be a route around the castle but the lighting inside was so poor that I couldn’t see the leaflet well enough to follow the route, while the arrows were few and far between.

The exhibits form the Museum of Gorizia in the Middle Ages and this is displayed by means of a series of rooms containing furnishings, art and costumes of the period. I especially liked the kitchen and the dining room but on the whole, for someone who visits museums and castles a fair bit, there was little that was particular to this location that made the exhibition stand out.

I would say that this is a good place for families to visit because, although it is in some respects architecturally unusual, it is in other ways a typical fairytale castle that I know children of a certain age (at least the ones I know) would find quite exciting. The rooms cluster around the central Lancers’ Courtyard and are accessed through the arches of the cloistered walkways. There are replicas of medieval weapons and siege engines around the exterior of the castle while inside there are plenty of turrets and towers to explore – perfect for curious kids.

The Knights Hall contains a collection of replicas of swords and pikes but interested me hardly at all. I was more interested in the music hall which contained replicas of ancient instruments, exquisite pieces made by hand. The leaflet said you could listen to "suggestive melodies" (how typical of Italians!) but there were none to be heard when we were there, suggestive or otherwise.

The Palatine Chapel is worth a few minutes to admire the collection of paintings from the Venetian School and partial sections of Romanesque frescoes but I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t better lit.

Unfortunately the information given in the leaflet was (when it was light enough to read it) minimal and there were very few captions around the exhibitions. There were no guides around the castle as you walked round the rooms. As a result our visit was really just a case of walking round without really feeling educated or informed. It may be helpful to also visit the Provincial Museum which is situated near the castle and contains an eclectic series of exhibitions, some of which touch on the period covered by the castle.

We both agreed that we would with hindsight have been just as happy to have walked the hill and walked round the exterior of the castle. Admission costs (I think; it doesn’t say on the tickets or the website) €5 for adults which I think is appropriate given the content.

Gorizia is a very tourist friendly city with many interesting and handsome buildings and attracts lots of day tourists who come over from Slovenia and Austria as well as from the Trieste region of Italy. I would recommend a look at the castle but I don’t think it’s essential to tour the interior.

Due to the nature of the building the castle isn’t wheelchair accessible and contains lots of stairs.

There are no facilities other than toilets but there are places to buy refreshments close by.
Gorizia Castle

Gorizia, Italy

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