Trieste was one of the most important ports in the Mediterranean in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when it was the principal outlet to the sea of the Habsburg Empire. The city became part of Italy in 1920, and its shipyards subsequently flourished, building, amongst other vessels, the liners Rex and Conte de Savoia. The Manfalcone yard still builds cruise liners, and although the importance of the port has diminished, it remains one of Europe’s principal centres for coffee trading.
The museum reflects the city’s complex maritime past. It originated as a collection established by the local fishing association in 1888, which was first displayed to the public in 1904. Its location has subsequently changed several times. It includes a large collection of ship models, displays showing the importance of fishing in the Adriatic, and whole floors devoted to life on wooden sailing ships in the nineteenth century, and to the development of steam ships. One gallery relates to the work of Josef Ressel (1793-1857), the Czech who pioneered the use of screw propulsion in ships, who was granted his principal patent in 1827, and developed his ideas in Trieste. Another displays the work of Guglielmo Marconi (1874-1937), and includes some radio equipment from his ship the Elettra, from which he despatched some of the first wireless telegraphs. The museum has an extensive library and archive.