San Sabba: Evoking a Sense of Space

From the original page:

The Seaside Factory: 

a universe severed from the rest by tall walls


08.45 – A Seaside Factory



The iron door is already open…swallows voices all around me.  It looks like the place is waiting, so let me walk inside.



The walk gave me the impression of  loosing my vital space…of walking in a different place, one with its own air and time…one where I am expected not to need much space.

The walls delimiting the factory’s perimeter are rather tall…and the place is deserted, but for the guardian – Aldo.

Whilst I am waiting for visitors, I  give a look to the material I was offered in the office: the history of the Mill. Well, now you know, this was a mill; in fact, a Rise Mill.

The place changed since the time if was first built up.


This is the entrance I walk in as it looked long before WWII;  as you can see there was an entire courtyard that now is missing, but replaced by the tall walls guiding the visitor to the internal court. The next photos is taken sometime later, in 1966,  and let us see the actual entrance to the factory.


So….how big was this place? How many people were actually working in this place? I will have to wait for the historian to come back to have an answer. 

In the mean time, something almost impossible to find: one of the original Rice Mill logo.


Such a sweet logo;  a bit of history to start to coagulate  this arena’s personal history.If you are interested, the logo was found in: 

Trademarked in Trieste -A collection of century-old trademark designs is a feast
for the eyes—and documents the birth of branding 
by Jonathan  Taylor

Amazing! I cannot stop staring at it,  the logo is so romantic. (as I found out, it can be found in its original paper format – Pilatura del Riso del Litorale SpA, trademark no. 616, 1901. – .in the Register for the trade marks (registro dei marchi) of the  Camera di Commercio di Trieste.

I continue to see a dream of grandeur and international business behind this factory’s creation, in spite of today’s  sadness. If you were here with me, you could  see layers and layers of different times; as if the factory had been revamped periodically, re-decorated as a different kind of factory, so to say.

Yet, it seems as if it went from glorious to sad.  The place is scarred as a face, as a  body; as if it was forced into something it was not born for. It is slashed into a form that only recalls its original body. It is silent but not mute… somehow. It is like an old person, falling apart, but ready to talk, to be discovered and understood. Its defenses are put down;  can one see what it tries to tell?

What happened to this place? What kind of calamity transformed it from a proud Rise Mill  into this? What is this?


10.00 People are coming in.

Why are people coming in?

No, I am not interested just into the history of the place, which I will inexorably narrate; I want to know why are they coming in, what for?

What are they looking for coming here nowadays? What is this place giving them? What is this place today, really?

Here an extract from my notes, taken on the spot:

“It could be a simple factory where the swallows live. Their cry, their joyful flying in the open yard, nothing else to be seen. The traffic is outside, like the murmur of human life, distant. The guardian speaks of football with a boy; a woman from Sicily is here with her family, she insisted to come and see: “The first time, I walked out of here in pieces, I did not know.” She said to me.



After a while, I have just recorded some other ‘tourists’, a guide arrives; a tall young man with a group of twenty or so.  He stands in the middle of the yard, in spite of the hit, and starts narrating in English about the fact that in this corner of the world most of the people have one grandfather that was a freedom fighter, the other could have been a fascist as well. He happens to have both grandfathers who fought as freedom fighters, is he Slovenian? I wonder, I ‘ll ask.  He is Dr. Borut Klabjan, born in Trieste from Slovenian parents and working at the University of Primorska, in Koper, Slovenia – some five kilometers from the Trieste, Italy.

I guess it is about time to let you know: this factory was built between 1898 and 1913 and it was a Rise Mill as I said – up to this time the city of Trieste belonged to the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, and it was its major and unique port. The city was multi-ethnic, multicultural and busy in any kind of commerce one can imagine – business stretching from Trieste to Istanbul and to the Americas.  After the First World War the city was given to Italy; the factory seemed to become a platoon for Italian soldiers. In 1943, after Italy decided to leave its association with the Nazis, the city was invaded by the German troops, and the factory was immediately individuated as a perfect spot for a Polizeihaftlager,  police detention camp. The following decisions created what is today known as La Risiera di San Sabba, concentration and extermination camp – there weren’t other clearly classified extermination camps  in Italy, even if there were many Italian concentration camps created by the Fascist , starting in the 1920s.

There has been a process in 1975/6. However, Domenico Maltese,  how the magistrate that directed the debate noticed,  a distinction was made between the so-called “innocent victims” and “guilty victims” that was acted out from the investigation onwards.

This point  has been one of the most controversial aspects of the whole process because the sentence which condemned the only accused Nazi still alive at that time –  in absence – was pronounced only for the crime of killing and cremating in Risiera a high but not precise number of Jews and civilian prisoners (the innocent victims), and not for the thousands of fighters for freedom who found the same terrible death in here.

What is more,   I found out recently this info; the interview  taken with Dominico Maltese was for a radio documentary by Andrea Giuseppini,  produced by independent radio Radioparole, 2003.

For the historical details, please visit the page Historically Speaking.

So what did I see so far?



1) People and looted things were gathered in these building, divided by floor.

p1020495b2) The factory was much bigger than what is left today: the warehouse was large, as well has the space where to hold people in captivity.

p1020332b3) One of the 17 cell’s doors built to ‘store away’ people.


4) Inside the cells….


5) Iron doors…


Special Tribunals – Tribunali Speciali – would send you to the Risiera and to death if you were considered a problem to the regime – This is Bobek, sent to death in 1941 by the Tribunali Speciali in Trieste.

Being a Slav speaking the language in Italian territory would also be a problem , since 1919;  this would also be linked automatically with being a collaborator of the freedom fighter. However, any kind of resistance by any subjects –  Italian or belonging to any other nationality still existing on the territory from the time it was part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire  – would be  punished. Here is the photo of a group of Slovenes taken to prison by the Italian Fascists.


..and some soldiers in the Camp.