Men to the right, women to the left: Europe’s last segregated beach


TRIESTE, Italy – In Trieste, a former Iron Curtain outpost near Italy’s border with Yugoslavia, the end of the Cold War and the European Union’s expansion have erased decades-old barriers between East and West.

But one partition in the north-eastern Adriatic port still stands proud: the white wall that divides men and women at the Bagno Alla Lanterna and makes it, according to locals, Europe’s last gender-separated beach club.

“It may be a paradox, but this wall makes us more free, rather than less,” Sabrina Pecchiari, an elementary school teacher and a regular at the establishment, told dpa during a recent Sunday visit to the packed beach.

The Bagno, known to locals as “El Pedocin,” was founded in 1903 when Trieste was under Austro-Hungarian rule. It remained an institution throughout the city’s turbulent 20th century history, including two decades of Fascist rule and the 1947-54 Anglo-American occupation.

Men and women were originally kept apart by a fence, eventually replaced by a wall. It came down down only once, in 1959, when it was moved to accommodate the expansion of the women’s area at the expense of the men’s.

“Women love this place because it gives them privacy,” Micol Brusaferro, a journalist who has written two books about the Pedocin, told dpa. “With no men around, having a few extra kilos or legs not perfectly waxed is not a problem,” she said.

In a chauvinist country where appearances matter and women are under pressure to look good at all times, El Pedocin provides a break from social mores: there, even 80-year-olds can go topless or wear G-strings if they so wish, Brusaferro said.

Men, on the other hand, appreciate El Pedocin “because it gives them a break from their pestering wives,” according to Gianmarco, who did not give dpa his surname. His father Elio, standing alongside him, nodded in agreement.

Open all year round and attracting up to 3,000 people per day in the summer, the beach club is also cherished for being a short distance from the city centre and for its affordability: entry is only 1 euro (1.15 dollars).

The Pedocin nickname is said to come either from the Trieste slang for mussels – pedoci – or for lice – pedocio – to mark the earlier presence of a mussels farm or the time when Austro-Hungarian troops would use the beach for their personal hygiene.

Pensioners make up most of the clientele, but the resort is popular also with children – who can zip around the male and female sections until the age of 12 – and workers looking for a quick getaway on their lunch break.

Teenagers and young adults tend to prefer beach clubs where they can mix with the other sex, but many Trieste girls are known to start sunbathing at the Pedocin to work up their tan before the summer flirting begins.

As well as children, the segregation rule does not apply to lifeguards. One of them, 25-year-old woman Francesca Azzarelli, joked that “when you separate men and women, sometimes you bring out the worst in them.”

“On one side [the men’s] you get quite a lot of macho jokes, grandpas asking for mouth-to-mouth resuscitation; on the other there’s a lot more bickering: we recently had to intervene to break up a fight about someone stealing someone else’s shade,” Azzarelli said.