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A hilltop town on the Gulf of Kvarner, now a suburb of the Croatian city of Rijeka. First inhabited by an ancient Illyrian tribe, who named it Tarsat, the settlement has grown around a fortress first erected in Roman times, taking advantage of Trsat's location commanding the Gulf.

Modern Trsat (that's 'Ter-sat', for the less Slavonically inclined) is strikingly different to the fishing villages and resorts strung along the rest of the Gulf, and is lined with small cottages in typical Habsburg pastel which almost suggest a seaside village in Cornwall. (But not Portmeirion, heavens no.) A recent addition to Trsat, the Dom mladosti (or Hall of Youth), is Rijeka's venue for major conferences, concerts and sporting events.

Aside from the castle, the Church of Our Lady of Loreto is the village's centrepiece and the oldest devotional site in Croatia, ever since the Virgin Mary's house, taking flight from a Saracen attack in 1291, made a three-year stopover atop Trsat hill en route to its final resting place in Loreto, Italy. (The Wicked Witch of the East ought to have been more careful; the skies are clearly getting crowded.)

Pilgrims to the church traditionally climb to Trsat up a 538-step staircase built in 1531 by Petar Kružić, the commander of the Uskok corsairs then helping the Austrians to fight the Ottoman navy in the Adriatic. If they're feeling particularly penitent, they can make the climb on their knees, but for the less religious, the #1 bus is an acceptable door-to-door alternative from the centre of Rijeka.

During the middle ages, Trsat belonged to the Frankopan dukes, one of Croatia's great noble families until the last of the dynasty was executed for his part in the rebellion of 1671. The dukes dedicated another church to St. George, and built a Franciscan monastery next to Our Lady of Loreto, into which the monks moved in 1448.

Among the highlights of any visit to Trsat, the monastery contains a spectacular votive chapel to which the faithful whose prayers have been answered by Our Lady bring hand-made gifts related to the nature of the prayer: normally paintings or tapestries, but pride of place in one corner of the chapel belongs to a six-foot candle emblazoned with the Croatian coat of arms, the šahovnica,

Entirely covering the chapel walls, the gifts depict an array of Rijekans raising themselves from their sickbed or falling off ladders into the miraculous arms of the Virgin Mary. In keeping with the maritime heritage of the Croatian coast, drawings of the ships aboard which loved ones were saved from storms also abound. The monks seem to reserve eye level for the more recent offerings, but sharp eyes will still pick out the occasional gift dating back to the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes and even Austria-Hungary.

Trsat Castle, often simply called Gradina, was largely destroyed in the earthquake of 1750 but lovingly restored by an Irish-born Austrian general, Laval Nugent, whose passion for archaeology convinced Francis I to let him take it off his hands. The dashing Nugent repaired the central part of the castle and added a neoclassical folly, Mir Junaka (The Peace of the Hero), which now contains a small museum dedicated to the general. By the looks of his portrait, he was a dead ringer for Simon Callow.

Gradina stayed in the Nugent family until 1922, when Nugent's great-granddaughter Ana was unable to pay her debts and sold the fortress off to the Italians who had occupied Rijeka after World War I. Once Rijeka returned to Yugoslavia, the castle was opened to the public, and today is the venue for a number of cultural events during the summer.

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