‘Just as the human body is made up of cells, so the Temple of Monte Grisa
is made up of concrete ribbed hexagons’
By Dario Lorenzini
The brutalist National Temple ‘Mary Mother and Queen’, the Santuario Mariano di Monte Grisa, is in equal measure both a strange and fascinating design. This is a church and memorial whose design dominates on a mountainside above Trieste. It was built between 1963 and 1965 and inaugurated in 1966 by architect Antonio Guacci
inspired by the sketches of Bishop Antonio Santin.
Images Dario Lorenzini
Both inside and out, the only decoration of this concrete sanctuary is the hexagonal ‘M’ module which repeats on the facade, the ceiling and even brought into the design of the doors. A perfect M, evoking the memory of Mary everywhere. The Temple is made up of two different liturgical halls. The darkest is the lower one, its space is simple and not particularly striking. When one encounters the upper one, it is all the more stunning.
The Thematic M Shape, the honeycomb
Repeats of the thematic M shape can be seen on the concrete ceiling, a hexagonal modular structure. Light floods into this upper hall, highly unusual in shape, through wonderful glass windows, creating a game of triangles on the opposite walls.
The design is simple, yet powerful. There is no decoration, everything is parred down to what is necessary which adds to the impact. Guacci was little-known in Italy. He added power to his project by repeating the hexagonal design from the building’s base to its apex. The design repeats ad infinitum.
‘The Temple of Monte Grisa is the essence of architecture:
giving body and shape to a wonderful space’
A key element of the design was its location, high on the mountainside, positioned to be seen both locally and beyond Italy’s border. Trieste, a city in the south-east of Italy, is in close proximity to Austria.
At the time of the building of the church, Yugoslavia was also a neighbour across the border. Trieste had at one time been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, ‘Hapsburg Trieste’, and in the aftermath of WW1, in the reconfiguring of Europe, from 1920 it formed part of modern Italy. Concerns about the impact of Tito’s Communist Yugoslavia would have played a role in the decision to build, at the height of the Cold War, a structure that would clearly be seen from across the border.
Bear in mind the design was based on the sketches of the Bishop who had witnessed the birth of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The geopolitical landscape changed on the 27th April 1992, when the communist government in Yugoslavia was dissolved.