Perched on a hill overlooking the harbour area and keeping watch over the hinterland is the fortress Trsat, which has stood guard over the city since Illyrian times. Trsat is the site of the first settlement of Rijeka, inhabited since prehistoric times. It’s one of the best known symbols of the city. You may also notice from a distance the elegant spire of a white church. Trsat is a complex comprising the fortress and church, a Franciscan monastery, a smaller church, a sports hall and exhibition centre (where many concerts are held), landscaped park gardens and a charming huddle of houses. It’s a serene place to linger over a coffee, and the ecclesiastical heart of Rijeka. The church, St Mary of Trsat, has been a shrine to the Virgin Mary and a place of pilgrimage for hundreds of years. The story goes that when, at the end of the 13th century, the Crusaders were taking Mary’s house from Nazareth to Loretto, where they would set it up as a pilgrim shrine, they stopped and rested at Trsat. A church was then built on the site by the Frankopans (who played a large role in the entire development of Trsat), which became a place of pilgrimage. The church contains a great number of renowned religious paintings and a 14th century icon of Our Lady, reputed to be miraculous. It was presented to Croatian pilgrims in Loretto, and is venerated to this day. For more on the church and its sacral art collection see below. The fort has had many facelifts over the centuries, notably by local influential families, the Frankopans of Krk, the Captains of Bakar and the Hapsburgs. The last and most romantic alterations were made by Irish-born Count Laval Nugent, a commander of the Austro-Hungarian empire, who eventually made his home here and established a museum. Sadly, the museum no longer exists. There are attractive underground spaces (one of which once housed prison cells) which are now used as exhibition spaces, and apparently a secret passageway leads to the Rječina river. The Grecian style Nugent family mausoleum is also now a gallery space. The fort is well worth visiting for its architectural beauty and the stunning views over Rijeka and the Kvarner Gulf. It’s part of a chain of defences across the mountains that protected the Roman Empire from barbarian invasion. You can reach Trsat using the 16th century stairs of Captain Petar Kružić – the traditional route for pilgrims. Before you start complaining, pilgrims often climb them on their knees as a mark of devotion. But if it’s hot or you’re feeling parky, you can also reach Trsat by road from the east of the centre, or take bus No.2.