ISTRIAN TOWNS AND VILLAGES
Pula and its Arena
Although not officially, Pula, a city situated on the southernmost edge of Istria, has always been the main city of this westernmost Croatian region, its economic, administrative and cultural center. The origins of urban life in Pula are associated with the ancient Roman period or, more precisely, the middle of the 1st century B.C. The Roman province of Pietas Julia bloomed during the reign of Septimus Sever at the end of the 2nd and the beginning of the 3rd century A.D.
The largest and most significant cultural and historic attraction of Pula is the internationally famous Amphitheater, popularly called the Arena. The Arena is the largest and most preserved monument of ancient architecture in Croatia built in the middle of the 1st century B.C.
The firm ancient foundations on which Pula rests today can be noticed almost at every step, but mainly in the heart of the city. The small city Forum includes the Temple of Augustus (Augustov hram), ruins of the Temple of Diana (Dijanin hram), the Municipal Palace (Komunalna pala?a) that represents the entire architectural history of Pula, from Ancient, Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance periods to Baroque. The narrow city area also includes the ruins of Roman walls and Hercules’ Gate (Herkulova vrata), the medieval fort called Kaštel, the Roman Theater, valuable religious buildings and the main city square called Portarata with a triumphal arch, a former city gate.
Brijuni National Park
Although the Istrian and the entire Croatian coast can boast a truly fascinating number of island groups, large lone islands, medium-sized and small islets, only some of them have grown into world-known tourist centers thanks to their historic and aesthetic values.
The Brijuni Islands, the famous string of islands on the southwestern coast of Istria, have grown into a famous tourist center. In 1983 the Brijuni Islands were proclaimed a national park encompassing 14 islands and islets. The largest and most developed ones are the Veliki Brijun and Mali Brijun Islands. They really offer a lot to the visitors: a zoo and a safari park with animal species from all over the world, fascinating landscapes and authentic Mediterranean vegetation.
The archaeological sites include the pre-historic complex on a hill called Gradina, traces of human existence from the Early Neolithic period, ruins of a Roman country mansion in the Veriga Bay, a Byzantine castrum, the Byzantine Basilica of St. Mary (Bazilika Sv. Marije) and numerous other sites. Besides being a must-see tourist attraction, the Brijuni Islands are today a natural venue for numerous cultural events.
Pazin is yet another Istria’s administrative center situated in the heart of the region within a valley bearing the same name and surrounded by natural elevations on all sides.
Its demographic growth is closely associated with the medieval fort called Kaštel, first mentioned in 983. In spite of unfortunate historic events, the fort remains highly preserved to this day. It is a true cultural and historic attraction and venue for numerous cultural events. The Kaštel was the center of a settlement that expanded with time.
The town of Pazin today has a population of 5,000 citizens and, among other cultural and historic attractions such as the Church of St. Nicholas (Crkva Sv. Nikole) and the Franciscan Monastery, it aslo boasts an extraordinary natural attraction, the Pazin Pit (Pazinska jama), where the Pazin?ica River sinks into the ground. Apart from being a true speleological treat, it is associated with an interesting literary fact. Inspired by the charms of the Kaštel situated above the pit, Jules Verne wrote a novel called Mathias Sandorf in 1885.
Pore? and the Euphrasian Basilica
Pore?, one of the main tourist centers in Croatia, settled between the mouth of the Mirna River in the north and the Lim Channel in the south, in the center of the western coast of Istria. Like Pula, Pore? too grew on firm ancient foundations. The Roman province of Julia Parentiumo was at first a fortified Roman camp. The ruins of forums and temples bear witness to that fact. The main Pore? attraction however stems from the Early Byzantine period. We are referring to the three-nave Euphrasian Basilica (Eufrazijeva bazilika), the most preserved monument from the said period in Croatia with Old Christian floor mosaics dating from the period between the 2nd and 6th centuries A.D.
Umag is yet another tourist center situated on the northwestern coast of Istria. The present-day old town resembling a peninsula used to be an island, just like the old town of Rovinj. At the very entrance to the old town, there is the Church of St. Rocco (Crkva Sv. Roka) dating from 1507 with an extraordinarily painted wooden ceiling from the 18th century.
Motovun is the most famous among the numerous true gems of the Istrian inland. A miniature monumental town or medieval fort resting according to the legend “in the hands of giants” on top of the 277m-high hill. It was built in the 12th and 13th centuries.
The town is characterized by a classic, medieval arrangement of streets and rich architectural heritage: the town gate with a tower, the town loggia, the Parish Church of St. Stephen (Župna crkva Sv. Stjepana) and the Renaissance town palace on the main town square where the Kaštel Hotel is situated today.
A fairytale, almost surreal view from the Motovun walls reveals the Mirna River valley and the surrounding vineyard-covered landscapes that will leave no one feeling indifferent.
The famous Motovun Forest that stretches for kilometers along the Mirna River Valley is one of only a few world's natural habitats of underground mushrooms known as truffles. The truffles are a highly-praised and expensive delicacy of intense smell and taste. Specially trained dogs are used to find them. The Motovun area is also famous for the tradition of growing grapes and producing top-quality Istrian wines, the red Teran and the white Malvasia.
Grožnjan, a village quite similar to Grožnjan, is located only 15 km from the sea, on top of a 228m-high hill. Medieval by origin just like Motovun and no less beautiful, Grožnjan has in the past fifteen or so years become a center in which culture is felt on every corner.
The traditional jazz festival featuring renowned modern performers, a few traditional music and art workshops of international character focusing on on-the-spot creative work and a range of other events organized from early spring until late fall make this village an even more special place. Those craving authentic wine&dine experiences will also be satisfied here. Apart from several dozens art galleries, Grožnjan also offers modernly equipped tasting facilities allowing you the chance to taste authentic, top-quality olive oils, wines and truffles. Bon appetite!
Among the highly positioned fortified towns on the hilly northern section of the Istrian peninsula, we should also mention Buje.
Considering the immediate vicinity of the border with neighboring Slovenia and its strategic position on 222 meters above sea level, Buje has born the title of the Guard of Istria (Istarski stražar) since ancient times.
The first traces of human existence on this and the surrounding hills date from the Copper Age. This area is also famous for the tradition of growing olive and grape varieties and production of authentic, top-quality olive oils and wines.
Žminj is a quiet village in which the climatic influences of the Mediterranean and continental Istria meet.
Each summer at the end of August, Žminj, a village only 25 kilometers from Rovinj, traditionally hosts the most popular folk festival in Istria, the picturesque Bartulje.