SARONNO, Italy - The Italians are mad. Il Sole 24 Ore, the country’s leading financial newspaper, recently published its annual list of the 100 most livable cities in Italy and their number one pick was Trieste. What a shock. Trieste sits on the border between Italy and Slovenia and is probably the least Italian city in all of Italy. Last year it was number five on the list and irate readers wanted to know how it managed to move up five slots in just one year. Actually what they wanted to know is why it was even considered in the first place.
Piazza Unita' D'Italia, Trieste
One reader, complaining about the editor’s choice, asked how it was possible for Trieste to be the most livable city in Italy when the Triestini have the highest percentage of suicides in all of Italy. And, wrote another reader, to add insult to injury, they don’t even speak Italian. They speak a variation of the Venetian dialect in the city and just one kilometer outside of the city they speak Slovene.
I can’t argue with that, but in all fairness Trieste is very nice. I was there once, a long time ago back in my travelin’ days. We took the train from Venice to Trieste on a whim. It’s about a two hour ride, and what I remember most was that the train was practically empty. Of course there was a war going on not too far away from there at the time but still, you wouldn’t think that would drop the tourism rate to zero.
Rotonda Panzera, Trieste
The city is elegant, the café’s are beautiful, especially those around the port, but truthfully I didn’t feel like I was in an Italian city. What was missing was that Italian frisson, that special, elusive something is that makes me so happy to get back to Italy after a weekend in Lugano, Switzerland. And I’m not saying that Lugano isn’t nice, it is, and they also speak Italian, maybe not better than but almost better than the Triestini. The truth is that in spite of its Roman heritage, Trieste wasn’t part of Italy until 1954. Up until then it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which is where other readers thought it should have stayed.
Perhaps the readers of Il Sole didn’t realize the survey wasn’t the usual “best city to live in” kind of survey that measures school quality and parks, but rather a snapshot of the most eco-friendly city in Italy which only makes sense when you know that the survey was done in collaboration with the Ministry of the Environment. What was measured was the quality of the air and the number of days the cities sustained acceptable pollution levels.
Arch of Ricardo, Roman Gate 33BC, Trieste
It's a wonder Milan is on the list at all but it somehow managed to jump nine points from last year’s list and come in fifth beating out Rome which was eighteenth on the list after having dropped five points. The majority of the top ten cities were in the central-northern part of Italy, except for Bari. Here’s the list:
7. Reggio Emilia
Because of the number of angry emails the editors received they decided to print a small editorial that said that the end of the year classification is really just a pastime they print for the amusement of their readers. They know that every year the small towns walk away with all the high marks while the big cities like Milan, Rome and Turin, which are in a constant state of change and flux trying to better themselves, end up on the bottom of the list. It’s normal, they said. Look at the New York Times. When the Times editors tried to put together a list of their own, New York came out as the least happy city in America.
Fountain of Neptune, Trieste
That was as much a surprise to the New York editors as Il Sole's list was to the Italians. But if nothing else at least now I know why Italians shrug their shoulders so much.