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High up on one of the most sumptuous and imposing palaces in the Piazza Unità, facing the sea in Trieste, there is the inscription “Lloyd Triestino” in large letters. This glamorous building still bears witness to the great power of the historic enterprise which, founded on the 2nd August, 1836, remains the oldest still-active shipping company even though its name was changed to Italia Marittima a few years ago and ownership has passed to the Taiwanese Evergreen group. In the XIX Century, Trieste, the chief city and port of the Giulian region which was then part of Austria, became the obvious gateway between European and Eastern markets, thanks to its strategic geographic position. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 brought enormous benefits to the Lloyd of Trieste. Regular passenger and cargo routes were started to the Middle and Far East, reaching parts of the Red Sea, the Indian peninsula and China and Japan. Other regular intercontinental sea-lanes enriched the company’s offer after the Great War (1914-18), such as the Australian route, reinforcing the established lines which the Lloyd Triestino was already operating before the conflict, such as the service to the Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and Egypt. After the Italian colonial adventure in Africa in the inter-war years, the regular routes to the new dominions were also entrusted to Lloyd Triestino. In the 1970s, competition from the airlines forced the Lloyd, like most other shipping companies, to close down its passenger services, withdrawing its glamorous liners and replacing them with container vessels. Although it is now a much lesser enterprise than it was in its glory days, the company still bears eloquent witness to the great seafaring tradition of the Adriatic city of Trieste.

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After an uncertain and ill-omened period during the Napoleonic wars and occupation, Trieste staged a rapid resurgence with the support of the government in Vienna and thanks to the development of its harbour and the enterprise of its commercial and shipping interests. It was in this prosperous time of renaissance that the steamer Carolina I entered service in 1818, just weeks after the first steamer ever launched in the Mediterranean Sea (the Ferdinando I of Naples). It was only a matter of a few years before, in 1829, Josef Ressel successfully put to sea in the Gulf of Trieste the first propeller-driven steamer, the Civetta.

In the years between the launch of these two distinctive and important vessels, a group of insurers and tradesmen in Trieste founded the Lloyd Austriaco, copying the example of Lloyd’s of London and its later French imitator; the purpose of this new undertaking was to gather and record information on the shipping industry, its vessels and routes and on the insurance industry. Therefore, one of its earliest activities was the publication of a periodical paper, “Il Giornale del Lloyd”, to collate and promptly diffuse the shipping information it was continually gathering. When the Lloyd started operations, the market was suffering following a period of famine and economic depression and also because it was a turbulent time of political instability in the Middle East. However, the recovery in the markets from 1835 onwards convinced the Lloyd’s shareholders that they should set up the so-called seconda sezione: this “second section” was devoted to the operation of steamships, starting with the purchase of the properties of John Allen, the former English owner of the Carolina I. Growth was tremendously rapid and within a remarkably short space of time the Lloyd had become one of the largest shipping groups in the World. 1837 saw the entry into service of Lloyd’s paddle-wheel steamer Arciduca Lodovico, the first of ten newbuilds which had been ordered by the company. In 1842, two large and luxurious paddle-driven sisterships Imperatore and Imperatrice were launched in Trieste and, during that same year, a regular cargo and passenger line was opened to Dalmatia, the Greek islands, Egypt, Turkey and ports in the Black Sea.

1849 saw another milestone in the Lloyd’s history, when a third section was created: the sezione letteraria was mainly devoted to cultural activities. Its main target was the publication of periodicals and books on different educational and entertainment subjects intended for a wide public. To achieve this purpose, Lloyd’s set up one of the largest print facilities in the whole of Europe: printing technology and specialised manpower brought in from abroad gave life to an extremely interesting part of the history of the Lloyd company, lesser known than some of its other activities but making a substantial contribution to the development of culture among the Italian-speaking public.

A close connection soon developed between the promotion and marketing office of the navigation section and the printing and publishing interests and in a matter of a very few years many illustrators, painters, artists, writers, etc. gravitated around the Lloyd’s large and modern print shop, originally headquartered in the still-existing “Tergesteo Palace”. In 1852, the company ordered three 850-ton sisters Fiume, Jonio and Smirne from British shipyards, the first iron-hulled and propeller-driven merchant vessels to fly the Austrian flag. However, the following year, the board of directors and the main shareholders voted for work to commence on the establishment of an in-house shipyard in the Sant’Andrea area of Trieste. It was intended for the dry-docking, maintenance and revamping of the whole fleet but in 1865 it moved into shipbuilding with the launch of its first new steamer, the Austria. In the coming years, many passenger liners – progressively bigger, more and more powerful and sumptuously decorated – slid down the slipways of what was known as the “Arsenale del Lloyd”. In 1886, the 50th year since the foundation of the navigation section was celebrated by the commissioning of two sister flagships, the Imperator and the Imperatrix, which were a crowning achievement for a fleet which now consisted of no less than 84 ships with a total tonnage of 120,000 tons. In 1907, after a few successful pleasure voyages, the Lloyd Austriaco decided to convert one of its steamers, the 1886-built Thalia, into a full-time “pleasure yacht” (the term cruise ship was not yet known), intended to provide vacations at sea – the Mediterranean in Winter and the North Sea and Norway In Summer. The Thalia proved to be a huge success and was amongst the very first examples in history of passenger ships devoted exclusively to cruising.

The cover of a menu of the steamer Saturno dated 10th March, 1900 (calcographic print in 3 colours and golden metallic ink)