Lloydian vapors. How the dockyard of Campo Marzio came into being

12.09.2020 – 08.00 – The history of Trieste’s industry appears to be linked to two main factors; first of all, the port with its gradual evolution from a selling-port to a port for the handling of goods, and secondly, an urban development limited by the presence of the Karst edge.
Consequently, with the notable exception of the Punto Franco Nord (Old Port), the heritage of industrial archaeology in Trieste had to deal with demolitions and reconstructions, linked to the need to update the plants during the 20th century.
The complex of buildings in Campo Marzio, in this framework, represents an exception to the rule: warehouses, stables and workshops partially preserved from 1830 to 1880 are still used today either as a storage area or as “stables” for modern steeds, like cars and motorcycles.

The first settlements in the area date back to the 1830s when the Austrian Lloyd’s Navigation Company (1833) decided to equip itself with its own workshop and foundry.
The first ships had been built in the English shipyards and in the Panfili shipyard, but soon Lloyd moved the construction “in house”, assigning the area of Campo Marzio as operational center.
The main interlocutor in this regard was an English entrepreneur, John Iver Borland.
After gaining experience in the grain trade at the end of the 18th century, Borland had dedicated himself to the industry, becoming the first steam “baron” of Trieste, during Restoration.

With a small army of 800 workers employed, Borland radically remodeled the area of lower Chiarbola: he built the square and the boulevard of Sant’Andrea, “overcoming” the hill behind it; he set up the Piazzale dell’Artiglieria; and he was the first to start the construction of today’s Via Franca.
Borland’s vision was not limited to urban planning, but saw in Trieste the same potential that had allowed the growth of the great English industrial cities. It was not by chance that he defined Trieste as a “second Liverpool”. Borland thus proposed to Lloyd to build two large warehouse/barns that he would later offer for rent with an annual rent fixed at 6000 florins (17th January 1838).

Borland then used the waste material exploited in the excavation of the hill of Sant’Andrea to lay the first bases of Viale Romolo Gessi.
For the service of the workshops and foundry Borland also mobilized the English workers who therefore played a role as masters for the Italian workers, forming a first nucleus of expert craftsmen and mechanics. It was an integrated system because next to the warehouses and workrooms, the entrepreneur ordered to erect a pier with goods handling equipment and a crane that would allow the sea-connection, necessary for a shipping company. The Borland pier, as it was called, was then demolished in 1884.

The first buildings were therefore the two large warehouses on the left side of the road, followed by a workshop and a foundry. A first map, dated January 25th, 1838, shows the warehouse still existing at n.6 and another one, next to it, under construction. A map of 1842 shows three new buildings on the right side, next to the 2 warehouses on the left side.
Borland had taken a gamble, trusting in the future of the Austrian Lloyd. In fact, the works in the construction of the Androna Campo Marzio and Chiarbola took place through loans that he counted to repay through the allocation of public works.
But this did not happen; and Borland went bankrupt. It is not by chance that after this misadventure he always forbade his three sons to go to the “ungrateful” Trieste. While the Lloyd’s arsenal continued to work, the completion of the right wing of the Androna Campo Marzio slowly continued.

At first, there was the project of a canopy (1852), then a stable designed by Eng. Vallon, on the estate owned by Demetrio Economo (1872) and finally, in 1883, the “multifunctional” project of a stable with a barn above and a barrel factory that included housing for families on the underneath.
In general, after this last arrangement, the street of Androna Campo Marzio has remained almost unchanged: the functions have changed, but the workshops and “stables” are still today places of work or storage.
The stables and sheds have masonry with large sandstone blocks, horizontal structures and roofs with wooden trusses, circular openings and balconies on the facade and cast iron pillars in the interiors. Solid and robust structures with a “rough” grace, typical for this time.

The warehouse n. 1, at the house n. 6 of the Androna, still has a beautiful decorated main door, surmounted by the inscription “Siderurgica Commerciale” (Commercial Steel Industry). This was the first storehouse built by Borland, which was reworked several times.
The building next door, the Warehouse n. 2, at n. 8 of Androna Campo Marzio is better preserved.
Exceptionally, after some years of neglect, the place can be visited thanks to the exhibition “Passion for Space” by the Austrian architect Peter Lorenz.

You can admire the large stone walls, with sandstone arches, as well as the walkways and wooden structures. The building rises in height; literally an industry cathedral. The bare walls, however, hide the fineness of wrought iron from the windows. It seems that it was used as a workshop for boilers.
Turning to the left side of the Androna, the last workshop, overlooking the university campus of the Faculty of Humanities, was the stable and shed designed by Eng. Vallon. A small building, but designed down to the smallest detail, with neoclassical taste. Going back to n. 3 of Androna Campo Marzio, in the FIAT workshop, it is possible to look up and discover, set in stone, a bas-relief representing a horse’s head.

But how did the dockyard work? What did it feel like to be there?
Francesco dell’Ongaro offers a vivid description of it in the liberal newspaper “La Favilla” (June 9th, 1839): “Already Trieste sees a nascent dockyard, which cannot fail to flourish promptly, after much care and interest by the directors of Lloyd and mainly Mr. Alessandro Toppo, who, having visited the best shipyards and the renowned English workshops, is for every respect worthy of presiding more closely over this new establishment”.
“This quite large workshop is situated towards Sant´Andrea where the mountain was forced to retreat to give rise to the recent construction of Mr. Borland. It would be inappropriate to expect to see a foundry already capable of giving us these immense vessels that form the main part of the machine and much more than expected to see the dockyard populated by Italian artists alone. In our workshop, however, there is no lack of vast stoves and anvils that will give us the anchors and large boilers that most often need to be repaired and reintegrated; there is no lack of a foundry for the bronze, and long bronze and iron cylinders come out of the lathe and long parts of no small importance in steam machines, and that until now were paid dearly for elsewhere”.

Francesco dell’Ongaro’s observations highlight an industry still linked to a craft model, far from the standardized rhythms of the last quarter of the nineteenth century. In this context, the emphasis on the “parts” in the “steam machines” plays an important role. At this stage of industrial development, the factory was not able to produce all the parts of an engine for steamships by itself, but thanks to the “homemade” production of single components, Lloyd drastically reduced costs, acquiring the know-how which before was a privilege of the British.

[Sources: Diana de Rosa, I monumenti del lavoro: aspetti dell’archeologia industriale a Trieste e Monfalcone, Trieste, Edizioni Villaggio del Fanciullo, 1989
Zeno Saracino, The “second Liverpool”: the English community in the Habsburg Trieste, Trieste All News, 6 October 2018]

Author: Zeno Saracino