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Trieste's Friuli-Venezia Giulia region is a sliver of coastline across the Adriatic Sea from Venice. Any glance at a map will show you that it would probably be part of Slovenia today were it not for the border juggling that followed World War I. Though primarily known for the shipping industry and naval yards around the Habsburgs' old port city of Trieste, this region was actually a major center of both ancient Rome and the Dark Ages' Lombards.

The Friuli-Venezia Giulia region comprises Venezia Giulia, of which Trieste is the capital, and the much larger Friuli, with Udine as its capital. There's an interesting inverse proportion between the size of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia's most interesting centers and each one's era of domination over local affairs. Rule by the sprawling free port and current capital of Trieste dates back only through Austro-Hungarian control and the 16th century. The midsize city of Udine held the patriarchy and regional power from the 13th century, until it came under Venetian control in the 15th century. Udine had wrested that patriarchal seat, and control of it, from what is today the oversize town of Cividale, where in the early Middle Ages the Lombards inaugurated their ruling system of duchies. Even the sleepy backwater town of Aquileia, with its ruins and early Christian mosaics, once held a position of power as the fourth-most-important city of the Roman Empire.

Almost every town in the region has a museum or two devoted to the Risorgimento and/or World War I. Well worth a visit to help understand the history of this region (a history, unfortunately, rarely explained in English), these museums trace the Italian national movement from its mid-19th-century beginnings through the intense fighting that took place in Friuli's mountains to the border disputes involving the line separating Italy from Yugoslavia. Even then, these disputes were not always happily resolved. The Treaty of Paris plopped the national boundary right through the town of Gorizia. It wasn't until later compromises in the 1970s that the line was finally moved over so that only Gorizia's eastern suburbs, just beyond the medieval Castello's hill, remained Slovenian (called Nova Gorica).

Regional Cuisine -- The cuisine of Friuli-Venezia Giulia ranges from the firmly Alpine mountain fare of the borderland Tirol to some exotic and hard-to-pronounce variations reflecting the region's mixed cultural heritage, coastal region, and Slovenian slant. Among these are cevapcici, Trieste's signature meatball dish; jota, minestrone with sauerkraut; and brovada, a secondo that combines turnips, grape skins, and pork sausage -- a farmer's supper if ever there was one. The town of San Daniele produces what is widely acknowledged as the best prosciutto in all of Italy -- no small claim.

Friuli wines (celebrated on the website www.mtvfriulivg.it) range from local varieties such as the common tocai, sweeter verduzzo, malvasia, and beefier collio to more international grapes such as merlot, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc, all the pinots, and chardonnay.