An extraordinary venue

The exhibition is housed in premises restored by the Trieste Port Authority as a museum venue and is part of a project funded by the European Union to create a cultural hub comprising the Centrale Idrodinamica, which provided the motive power to all the cranes in the Porto Vecchio, Magazzino 26, and the Sottostazione Elettrica.

The venue was chosen by the Municipality of Trieste together with the Trieste Port Authority to showcase these historic premises, which also provide ideal conditions for exhibiting the Lloyd collection and additional material from other public and private archives.

The Centrale Idrodinamica

At that time Trieste’s Porto Vecchio – the old port – was designed with cutting edge technology. The heart of this complex system of buildings and machinery was the Centrale Idrodinamica – the hydromechanical power plant – which provided the motive power to all equipment through a grid of high-pressure pipes that reached every nook and cranny of what was then called “Der Neue Hafen” (the new port).

The Centrale Idrodinamica building, which dates back to the mid-19th century, stands out within the port of Trieste, as it was built for a very specific function: energy production. The revolutionary, almost violent evolution of this technique, the invention of steam engines, and the constant need for energy production led to an increasing consumption of raw materials. Increasingly task-specific machinery – such as cranes or lifts – was required for port work, along with new methods and techniques. All of this needed energy, and thus new power plants to ensure the port could function – if needed – 24 hours a day.

Given its location, size, and position, the Centrale Idrodinamica was a typical industrial building. Simple, essential, and most of all functional, it needed to ensure a well-organised interior, generators placed in the proper locations, and the full use of the energy produced without compromising the building’s stability and viability, while providing a safe and well-planned working environment for its employees.
The main building was divided into three parts according to function: to the left was the converter substation, the central part housed the boiler rooms, while to the right a symmetrical, tympanum-shaped wing housed the engine room and the two thermal energy accumulation towers. The building was adapted when steam-powered transmission was abandoned in favour of electrification in 1936, and when electric groups were adopted, thus abolishing individual engines for single pieces of equipment or machinery.

The Porto Vecchio

In the public eye, the Port of Trieste is closely linked to the international fame it achieved in the first decade of the 19th century, when it was the leading port in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the seventh largest port in the world and the second one in the Mediterranean after Marseilles in terms of cargo handling. The origins of the port’s good fortunes date back to the early 18th century, when Emperor Charles VI granted it the status of Free Port. Ever since, the Port of Trieste has continued to enjoy a free port regime.

By the second half of the 19th century, thanks to railway links with Vienna, the Port of Trieste increasingly revolved around transit, which led the Hapsburg authorities to embark on the first major effort to enlarge the port: the area currently known as the Porto Vecchio and designed by Paul Talabot was built between 1868 and 1883.