Had he chosen to live in Venice, Florence, Rome, Milan, Florence etc, I would have felt right at home. But James Joyce lived in Trieste, 116 ks NE of Venice.
Trieste was one of the oldest parts of the Habsburg Monarchy from the high Middle Ages until the end of WW1. And it had been a very beautiful Adriatic port. So in his years there, Joyce witnessed the last years of the city's Austro-Hungarian glory and saw the impressive buildings that had belonged to prosperous Habsburg merchants.
Presumably because of its unique location, Trieste was a cosmopolitan city loved by Bohemian artists and writers.
Bronze statue of Joyce, canal bridge in Trieste
map of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Trieste is marked with a cross
When James did manage to make a regular income, it was because he was working for the daily paper, Il Piccolo. At other times, he worked as an English teacher at the Berlitz language school and was an English tutor to some wealthy Triestine families.
Joyce breakfasted on presnitz at the Pasticceria Caffè Pirona
Now there is a Literary Trail. Modern visitors can walk between the eight houses that Joyce lived in during his Trieste life and to dozens of his favourite haunts. His happiest years were spent in #4 Via Bramante, near some elegant steps leading to the Basevi Gardens. The upper floors of a different palazzo have been converted into a hotel called Hotel Victoria, recently opened. It is described as a "literary hotel" because Joyce was once a tenant there.
Trieste's funicular tram
Joyce loved high bourgeois coffeehouses like the Caffè San Marco, still evocative of Viennese elegance, and the Caffè Stella Polare near the Canal Grande. Pasticceria Caffè Pirona was Joyce’s breakfast place of choice, an historic Art Nouveau bakery still in business. Apparently Joyce was passionate about presnitz, a horseshoe-shaped pastry stuffed with raisins and walnuts—a house specialty since Alberto Pirona founded the shop in 1900.
Via San Nicolò was where the Joyces lived above the Berlitz School which employed Joyce. Next door is the Umberto Saba Antiquarian bookshop, still in business.
I was not surprised to read that Joyce frequented the Teatro Verdi to watch opera, but alas he was limited to the cheapest seats. What WAS surprising was that Joyce enjoyed different centres of religious architecture. As the main port of the mighty Austro-Hungarian empire, Trieste embraced many different cultures. One of Joyce's favourites was the exotic Greek-Orthodox church of San Nicolò with its twin towers facing the sea. Many of his most friends and students were from the even more exotic Jewish community, which was confident enough to open a beautiful synagogue in Via San Francesco d'Assisi. Joyce's timing was perfect - he could watch every step of the synagogue's construction process (1908-12).
Trieste synagogue, built between 1908 and 1912
World War One must have been a difficult time. Although Joyce was too old to be a soldier himself, it must have been galling for him when his students were called up to fight in a war between Italy (and the Allied Powers) versus Austria-Hungary (and the Central Powers). So in 1915 the Joyces moved to Zurich, a neutral city that became home to exiles and artists from across Europe. They didn't return to Trieste till 1918.
The Austro-Hungarian Empire did not dissolve until the end of the war and many of its border areas were disputed among its successor states. In November 1918, a treaty was signed to end hostilities between Italy and Austria-Hungary. Trieste was occupied by the Italian Army and the city was formally absorbed into Italy.
James Joyce died in Zurich in 1941 and was buried there. Nora died in 1951 and was buried alongside her husband. Stanislaus died in Trieste in 1955, and was buried in the Trieste cemetery. None of the bodies was repatriated back to Ireland.
Despite our perhaps preconceived ideas, Literary Traveller said it was Trieste that claimed James Joyce. Trieste was more significant than Dublin, which Joyce immortalised in Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses; more than Zurich where he was buried; more than Paris where he wrote Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake. I have not read John McCourt’s book The Years of Bloom: James Joyce in Trieste 1904-1920, but it may be very helpful.
James Joyce Hotel, Trieste