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Trieste Province

The Carso

High above Trieste’s coastline is a narrow ribbon of jagged rocks eroded by rain and wind, plunging fearlessly into the sea. Called carso in Italian, this “karst” landscape of limestone and dolomite conceals an underground world of vast caverns, carved by the waters of the Timavo River, which runs below ground for much of its course from Slovenia to the Adriatic Sea. Throughout these miles of subterranean streams and tunnels, centuries of dripping water have sculpted grand stone palaces and carpeted the ground with tall, rocky pillars.

lace wigs ukAbove ground on the plateau lie acres of evergreen forests and flower-strewn ravines. The land is peppered with large sinkholes, called doline, that have been caused by collapsed cave vaults. Here, the warm sea breeze meets the chilling, northeasterly bora wind, producing a convergence of Mediterranean and Alpine climates. Oak and spruce mingle with citrus and olive trees, while the landscape is blanketed with vineyards. Only one body of water flows above the plateau —the Rosandra Stream. Slicing through the deep gorge of the Val Rosandra near the Carso’s eastern border, these waters once supplied the ancient Roman colony of Tergeste via a seven-mile-long aqueduct.

The Carso comprises over fifty villages and about twenty thousand residents, most of Slavic origin. Isolated by the surrounding terrain, the Carsic people have sustained their own cultural identity and character, one that is unique to Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Street signs are written in both Italian and Slovene, and the Slovenian newspaper Primorski Dnevnik is sold throughout the province.

Countless traditional customs are celebrated here, such as the Nozze Carsiche, or “Carsic wedding,” which takes place in August every two years. This rite is based on the traditional marriage ceremony of the late 19th century and today attracts thousands of observers. The festivities last four days, beginning with the bachelor and bachelorette parties, followed by the transport of the dowry to the groom’s house. The party culminates on Sunday with the wedding ceremony at the Santuario di Monrupino, where around five hundred people participate, all dressed in traditional costume. This is followed by a bridal procession to the town of Rupingrande, where the bride is given away to the groom’s family at the Casa Carsica, an 18th-century Carsic-Friulian house that has been converted into an ethnographic museum.

Throughout the Carso countryside, farmhouses open their doors to the public for wine tasting and the sale of other artisanal products. Called osmizze, these temporary roadside taverns are indicated by a frasca—a leafy cluster of branches hung above the door. Tables are set up inside the courtyard —traditional Carsic homes had stone walls built around a central courtyard as protection from the fierce bora winds—and villagers gather to sample the local vintage and feast on homemade cheese and salumi. The custom began in 1784 with an imperial decree that allowed peasants to sell their excess wine and produce in an unlicensed restaurant for eight days each year. The word osmizza is thus derived from the Slovene word osem, meaning “eight.