An Englishman in Trieste: Richard Bassett On His Life-Long Love For the City by The Adriatic 

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Interview: Maria Kochetkova

Photography: Richard Bassett

What’s your story with Trieste? How did you end up here?

Richard: I first came to Trieste in the summer of 1978. After graduating from Cambridge in 1977, I had been working as a freelance journalist and musician in Graz and suddenly had a week of free time before returning to England. A train took me to Ljubljana for two rainy nights and another train then deposited me on a gloriously sunny July lunchtime at Trieste Centrale. I walked to the Molo Audace where there was in those days a small tourist office and was directed to a modest albergo (Citta di Parenzo) by a charming lady called Mietta Shamblin. Back in a rain swept Autumnal Bournemouth I felt a tremendous desire to return to Trieste and was pleasantly surprised to see one day an advertisement in The Times for an English teacher in Trieste. I responded and was offered the job and so began in January 1979 a four decade long love affair with the city.

Sounds intriguing. Did you make a lot of interesting acquaintances while in the city? 

I was fortunate to run into Mietta again early on during my stay, buying some stamps at a tabacchino near the Piazza Unità. After the initial surprise, she grabbed my arm and took me straight to the Bar Danubio where I was introduced to her Aunt Myrta Fulignot, widow of the great Triestine portrait painter, Guido Fulignot. Seated at a nearby table was an elegant lady,  the poetess Lina Galli, who handed me a copy of her latest writings on the earthquake in Carnia. At another table was the writer Giorgio Voghera and his friend Piero Kern, a retired businessman. Over the coming weeks they became lifelong friends.


When I moved from the British School to take up a position at the University of Udine later that spring and needed to move to a new flat, Myrta introduced me to countess Blanka de Korwin, an Austrian aristocrat who had lived in Rome during the Mussolini years where she was feted as the wife of a Giustiniani prince. Later she had remarried the finance minister of King Zog of Albania and had suffered terribly when the communists had taken over that country at the end of the Second World War. In the late 1950s she had been included in a resettlement of Italian citizens from Albania and had returned to her mother’s flat in Trieste’s XXX Ottobre. Here she occasionally rented a room to visiting academics and so I became her lodger and then after many months a loyal friend. She was without doubt one of the major influences on my spiritual and emotional development.

You were really lucky to run into so many prominent characters. 

Definitely. Another impressive figure whom I met at that time was Geoffrey Banfield (Goffredo de Banfield). I had a developing interest in the Habsburg army and navy and had read of Banfield’s exploits as the Eagle of Trieste during the First World War. When we met early one morning in his fine study in the Tergesteo, he offered me a glass of Stock brandy despite the early hour and gave me an essay on the navy, the first sentence of which I have never forgotten: “A naval training is the most demanding formation of any man can ever experience”.

You keep coming back to the city after so many years. Why are you so drawn to Trieste?

I was only just 23 when I encountered these personalities, an age when one is very profoundly impressed. They remained good friends for several years and that is probably what continues to draw me back to the city. They have without exception passed away but the city reminds me of them and is part of what was undoubtedly an important part of my education.

The media says it’s the “golden time” for Trieste right now. Would you agree?

Trieste today gives the impression of being a rather more lively place than it was in the 1970s. The end of the Cold War and the arrival of Schengen has in many ways reconnected the city with its hinterland but one senses that it remains economically subdued. Hard to talk of a golden era for the city when “El Tram d’Opcina” is not working, though.

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Maria Kochetkova
Editor-in-Chief of InTrieste, Maria writes about culture, politics and all things Trieste in-between capo-in-b and gelato breaks. Email her at



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