About Istria

Istria is indeed a feast for the eyes. Its streams flow to the sea through deep valleys and gullies which bring to mind the ancient local myths about giants. Rolling hills overlook the fields and valleys with little towns perched on the peaks, recalling some old paintings. The view is splendid: white-topped mountains, lush wheat fields, plateaux, valleys, vineyards and olive groves on hillsides, and, finally the sea. As you get to know Istria you will notice more and more enchanting details: church facades and portals, tiny village alleyways with their specific architectural touches, the babble of a stream, the blossoming cherries. Everything is warm–hearted and friendly here: nature, towns and people.
Location
The westernmost county of the Republic of Croatia The largest peninsula of the Adriatic
Area
2.820 km2 (triangle Dragonja, Kamenjak, Učka)
Population
206.344 (2001.)
Language
Croatian
Coast Length
445 km (well-indented coast is twice as long as the road one) The western coast of Istria is 242.5 km long, with island 327.5 km. The eastern coast of Istria is 202 km long with the pertaining islets 212 km.
Sea
The lowest sea temperature is in March ranging from 9.3°C up to 11.1°C. The highest sea temperature is in August when it reaches 23.3°C and 24.1°C. Salinity amounts approximately to 36-38 pro mille.
Rivers
Mirna, Dragonja and Raša
Vegetation
Istria is the largest green oasis of the North Adriatic. The coast and the islands are covered with pine woods and easily recognizable green macchia. The main specimens of macchia are holm oak and strawberry trees 35% of Istria is covered with forests.
Administrative Centre
Pazin (9.227 inhabitants)
Economic Centre
Pula (58.594 inhabitants)

History of istria

Traces of prehistoric people in Istria

istra The first traces of prehistoric people on the territory of Istria date back to the period of the Lower Palaeolithic. The stone hand axe made by early man is about 2 million to 800,000 years old and was found in the vicinity of Pula, in Šandalja Cave. Finds from the Upper Palaeolithic (40,000-10,000 BC) were found at the sites of Šandalja II and St. Romuald's Cave in Lim Bay. In St. Romuald's Cave (11 km from Vrsar and 9 km from Rovinj) a large number of bones belonging to over 40 animal species were found, such as bones of the cave bear, cave lion, leopard, cave hyena, wild horse, large deer, snow hare etc., which were mainly the game of prehistoric people-hunters of that time. The discovered tools are proof of the existence of early man from the Old Stone Age, whereas the cave itself is a speleological attraction with cave decorations, bats and other animals. It was named after St. Romuald who in prayer and meditation spent three years in this cave, from 1001 until 1004. Numerous other prehistoric finds from the Neolithic (6,000-2,000 BC) prove the changes in life style, when prehistoric people instead of only hunting engaged in raising cattle and planting crops. Techniques for making tools and weapons became more complicated and people discovered how to make pottery.

Romans in Istria

rimljani The Romans introduced a new type of organization in Istria, just as throughout entire Europe they were the first to start the urbanization, building roads and connecting towns, thus greatly encouraged the development of trade. Istria is famous as a region rich in high quality stone, a fact well known to the Romans, so today there are numerous places along the west coast of Istria that were once Roman quarries from which stone was taken to erect their magnificent buildings. The Amphitheatre of Pula was also built from local lime stone. The Romans brought the exploitation of stone nearly to perfection through the new way of building, stone dressing, decoration, etc. Large parts of the best land were turned into state properties (ager publicus) which were then peopled by Roman colony and retired soldiers-veterans. Many estates belonged to emperors, members of their families and friends. They erected villae rusticae which served as homes or summer residences and for manufacturing various products. Numerous sites, nearly 300 classical sites have been registered in Istria; speak of the kiln workshops and those for the production of earthenware, for making and dyeing cloth, brickyards and workshops for amphorae of which the one in Červar near Poreč supplied amphorae for emperors.

Pula
Most of the preserved Roman monuments are found in Pula. The Temple of Augustus dedicated to goddess Roma and Emperor Augustus was built between 2 BC and AD 14. It stood in the Roman Forum, also the name of the present day square, where a small collection of Roman sculpture made of stone and bronze is now displayed. Hercules' Gate was incorporated into the ancient city walls, probably the first monument that the Romans erected after coming to Pula, as well as the Twin Gates named for the two arches and built between the 2nd and 3rd centuries. The Triumphal Arch of the Sergi, drawn even by Michelangelo when he visited Pula in the 16th century was built in Corinthian order about 30 BC. Particularly interesting is the Small Roman Theatre within the city walls, as distinguished from the large one which stood outside the city walls, but has not been preserved. The magnificent Amphitheatre, used primarily for gladiator fights, was built during the Emperor Vespasian rule in the 1st century. It was constructed in the form of an ellipse and could embrace about 20,000 spectators. The underground rooms of the Amphitheatre house the permanent exhibition 'Olive and Wine Growing of Istria in the Classical Antiquity' with reconstructions of machines for producing olive oil and wine (mills, presses and vessels) as well as numerous amphorae used for oil and wine transportation.

Brijuni Islands

There are numerous archaeological sites with Roman remains on the Brijuni Islands. In those times Brijuni belonged to only one owner whose economic basis was the commercial production of salt and building stone at the local quarry. On the eastern coast of Veli Brijun, at Verige Bay, the largest Roman residential complex in Istria was found. It consisted of a villa rustica as the nucleus of the complex, peristyle of a representative area, two atriums surrounded by rooms and portico with loggias 80 m long and 6.2 m wide which ended with a large terrace with a magnificent view of the sea and entire bay. Three temples were dedicated to Neptune (god of the sea), Mars (god of war), and probably Venus (goddess of love). A large portico connected the temples with the library. There were also thermae, terraces and gardens. The complex displays a refined unity of architecture and landscape and the high level of Roman builders' artistic skills.

Poreč

The town of Poreč is exceptional because of its urban layout. In the 2nd century BC it was a Roman castrum, a military settlement with a regular physical arrangement with two characteristic main Roman streets - cardo and decumanus. The rectangular arrangement of Roman streets is still perfectly visible whereas decumanus remains the main longitudinal road even today. In this street today, there is the Regional Museum of Poreč whose interesting exhibit covers everything from prehistory until the 19th century. Roman exhibits are particularly represented. The Marafor Square stands in the one time Roman Forum and on its western side are the remains of three temples: Neptune's, Diana's and the so-called Large Temple.

Byzantine period

bizant The period of Roman rule which lasted over five centuries ended with barbarian invasions and migrations of Germanic Goths who finally in 476 managed to upset the already weakened West Roman Empire. However, after some thirty years Justinian, emperor of the East Roman Empire, restored the Empire so the period of Byzantine rule in Istria lasted until 751. While conquering territories on his way from Constantinople to Ravenna in northern Italy, which became the new western capital in 535, he erected a number of magnificent buildings, the most splendid among them being in Poreč on the Istrian peninsula. The period of Byzantine rule brought Pula and its surroundings a rich cultural and artistic life. Maximian, Bishop of Ravenna (native of Veštar, south of Rovinj) commissioned the building of a grandiose three nave basilica of which today only one of the two memorial chapels in the form of a Greek cross remains. Owing to the lovely ornaments in marble, mosaics and stuccoes the basilica was named St. Maria Formosa. Just like the basilica, both chapels were decorated with floor and wall mosaics. According to the legend, Maximian found buried treasure while plowing which he then gave to Emperor Justinian who in return awarded Maximian naming him a bishop.

UNESCO heritage

The Euphrasian Basilica in Poreč, built in 553, is part of UNESCO's universal cultural heritage while Pula's classical monuments and medieval frescoes in small churches, the works of local masters, are awaiting to be listed.

Euphrasian Basilica

Poreč has one of the most magnificent early Byzantine churches in Europe called Euphrasius' Basilica after Euphrasius, the Bishop of Poreč who in the 6th century commissioned the building of a grandiose three-nave basilica on the site of an earlier church. In 1997 the entire complex of Euphrasiana (church, baptistery, atrium and the former Bishop's Palace) was entered on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Particularly interesting are the magnificent mosaics in the apse, as well as marble slabs with mother-of-pearl and multicolored stone incrustations. The first sacral structure on that site was Maurus' Oratory built in the second half of the 3rd century (part of the mosaic has been preserved) as one of the first places for the congregation of Christians. Maurus was the first Bishop of Poreč and martyr, and is today the patron saint of Poreč and its diocese. In the period of the bloodiest persecution of Christians during the rule of Emperor Diocletian he was executed together with the entire clergy of Poreč. His relics are today kept in Euphrasius' Basilica. For more than 40 years, traditionally, during sumer months, the basilica in Poreč has been the ideal place for classical music lovers. Renowned musicians from Croatia and abroad perform there and the concerts are thematic and set according to certain events (year of Bach etc). The atrium of Euphrasiana is the setting for chamber music concerts on the harpsichord.

Medieval towns

gradovi In the first centuries of the early Middle Ages various barbarian tribes invaded Istria. The invasion of the Avars and Lombards lasted for a brief period and they did not remain in Istria, but the Slavs spread throughout the peninsula and settled in many parts of its interior. In 788 Istria became part of the Franconian state that introduced the feudal system, encouraged the settling of the Slavs, often on land owned by towns. Thus, towns began to lose their autonomy (based upon classical legal norms) and their power declined, whereas at the same time the power of the Church increased, since the rule of Charlemagne depended on it. As a result of the decrease of power of the Franconian state and its division into smaller territories, Istria first became part of the Italic Empire, in 952 part of the duchy of Bavaria, in 976 it became part of the duchy of Carinthia, and finally in the 11th century it became an independent region under the jurisdiction of the church, i.e. Patriarch of Aquileia (northern Italy) and partly under German feudal families. Various interests (Church, German nobles,Venetian Republic) constantly led to new clashes, plunder and destruction throughout the entire Istrian peninsula. The unprotected peasants were those to suffer the greatest damage. Towns in the interior of Istria were most often situated on the very hill tops, a position offering a natural protection. Due to frequent attacks of neighbouring feudal lords or Venice, the towns added a fortification system consisting of town walls and numerous towers and fortresses, often with a drawbridge. Although it resembled a fortress from the outside, the medieval town was intertwined with winding streets that followed the circular arrangement of the walls, whereas the nucleus of town life was the church and square. Town loggias began to appear in the late medieval period, with the strengthening of urban culture. This was the meeting place of townspeople, place where decisions were reached by the town authorities. They were used for all forms of public life. If loggias were located outside the walls beside the entrance towers or gate, they offered shelter to passengers when the town gate was closed. Towns, especially the coastal ones with predominantly Latin autochthonous population aspired to autonomy that would enable further development and progress. However, the feudal system opposed such aspirations. During the 11th and 12th centuries, freed partly from the oppression of feudal lords, gradual economic development began, which was in some degree a result of the Crusades. That period is marked by the development of olive and wine growing, fishing, salt production and other trade, particularly maritime trade. The progress and development of coastal towns did not suit Venice, the city-state that aimed at becoming the major maritime and trading force in the Adriatic. To ensure free navigation for their ships along the eastern coast of the Adriatic, and stay and supply in ports, the Venetians made every effort to take control of all major points along that route. Finally in the 15th century they managed to gain control of all Istrian and Dalmatian towns (except Dubrovnik).

People and customs

obicaji The people of Istria have always been farm labourers, but what they really engaged in was defined by the configuration of the surrounding land. In the mountains of Ćićarija Istrian people were humble shepherds, proof of which are numerous folk proverbs: Ovaca bez pastira ne da ni mlika ni sira. (Sheep without shepherds yield neither milk nor cheese) Ki čuva ovcu, čuva i vunu (He who tends sheep, also keeps wool). In the middle of this little continent grey soil dominates, which is difficult to cultivate, but beneficial. This very soil has borne the Istrian-plowman. Southwest Istria, of deep red soil, is the area of excellent winegrowers, who are surrounded by their empire of Malvasia, whereas the coastal part of the peninsula has always been known for fishing: Ki spi, ribe ne lovi. (Those who sleep, catch no fish.) Istrian women have always been self-sacrificing and had the entire house on their back, not only its four corners. For example, when they set out to fetch water from faraway springs, while carrying it home in vessels called brente on their backs, they knitted along the way so they wouldn't idle away their time. The old trades that Istria was noted for have almost completely disappeared today - such as the two crucial crafts - stone carving and pottery. In the first one stone is roughly cut but in the other clay is delicately shaped into vessels. Now and then the people of this Peninsula would provide entertainment with music and dance. But, their song is hard, atonal, archaic and is sung in two voices. Instruments - ancient, shepherd's: roženice, mih, duplice… The most popular dance is balun, whereas the folk costume is simple, two-colored - brown and white. Istrian man is easily recognized - he is sweet-natured, diligent, patient, somewhat distrustful and careful, unhurried, with a hidden strength. He forms acquaintances easily, but true friendship a bit harder, then it is life long. For him honesty is of utmost importance - he keeps his word and that is the basis of all communication and coexistence: Vo se veživa za roge, a čovik za besidu. (An ox is tied to his horns, man to his word) And if you happen to meet him on one of the village paths, whether young or old - he will always greet you first and look you sincerely in the eyes.

Istrian house - hiža

hiza The characteristic old Istrian house - hiža is made of stone, with walls having pointed-up joints and roofs topped with half-round tiles. Added to the front part of the facade is nearly always a baladur - staircase leading to the residential part of the house. In the largest area called konoba (cellar) there is an open fireplace ognjišće, the soul of every hiža where food is prepared... An integral part of every old Istrian house is a šterna, stone well where rainwater is collected from the roof.

Drystone walls

suhozid People who lived in these areas some hundred or more years ago cultivated land daily. Very often they had to take it away from the stone, which they afterwards collected and used for enclosing their plots. On the solid rock base larger stones were laid down and then smaller ones were arranged towards the top. This explains the origin of kilometres of drystone walls which are a unique sight today. There are coarse ones with uneven sides, as well as those built of smaller stones, whose smoothness will surely remind you of a sculpture. The Istrian drystone wall indeed is a sculpture, since it embodies the very best of both man and nature.

Kažun

kazun Kažun is a small field hut that provided shelter, built using the dry wall technique - stone laid up without mortar. Apart from offering shelter it was also used for checking fields and vineyards before the harvest. The origin of the kažun isn't related to a specific ethnic group, since these structures are much older than any known colonization of the Istrian Peninsula. Such huts are mostly found in the southern and western parts of Istria and are surely the most popular Istrian symbol.

Traditional costumes

odjeca Ethnographic museum of Istria preserves, and actively collects textile artefacts. The main parts of the collection are Istrian traditional costumes. Wedge pattern is characteristic for the north and east Istria women costumes which is connected to Gothic period. That way of sawing is replaced by sawing the women dresses from waistcoat and skirt. Around the waist, women were wearing pas or kanica. On the head women were wearing facol, facul (kerchief) usually rakaman, nagažan - nicely embroidered, or later made of industrial textile. There were two different kinds of mail trousers: brneveke - white cloth (fabric caled sukno) trousers ankle length and tight, and brageše - shorter, wider trousers of brown cloth. Feet were covered with socks - bičve, holjevi, škafuoni, škafuonice, and men wore foot-cloths, kalcete, nazuvke. They wore strapped softsoled footwear, and latter shoes, postole.

Story of Istrian souvenirs

suvenir Original Istrian souvenirs are items which, regardless of their simplicity, tell us much about Istria and its people. They attract great attention as they are a perfect combination of traditional culture and modernity. In search of the best way to express Istria's special features, producers of these souvenirs have often turned to traditional heritage, so that kažuni, folk costumes, earthenware jugs bukalete, traditional houses, Istrian instrument sopele, different types of tools, goat and Istrian ox boškarin are just some of the many motifs taken from the fields, wine cellars and chests that have found their place at fairs or stalls as typical souvenirs.

Fairs in Istria

sajam Fairs are the life-blood of every small town and in Istria they have kept to their traditions - every town has its own fair and a specific day on which it is held. Beside its main role of bring together vendors and buyers, every fair has its own identity and uniquely represents the spirit of tradition, here you can find almost everything – buying, selling, bargaining, socialising... in an atmosphere redolent of history.
Bale, Barban - second Saturday on the month
Buzet - first Friday and third Thursday
Labin - third Wednesday
Motovun - third Monday
Pazin - first Tuesday
Svetvinčenat - third Saturday
Višnjan - last Thursday
Vodnjan - first Saturday
Žminj - every other Wednesday on the month

Green Istria

zelenaistra Istria has laid out its wonders in the garden of the Mediterranean, at the foot of the Alps. The blue Adriatic Sea washes its shores, and the towns strung like pearls along the coast: Umag, Novigrad, Poreč, Vrsar, Rovinj, Pula, Rabac - the towns that have made Istria a famous destination. But there is also another Istria, a hidden Istria, whose treasures are also worth exploring - the inland heart of Istria, green Istria, a land between dreams and reality, a land of beauty and peace of history and clean, unspoiled nature. Its towns and its people will bid you welcome and let you share in their spirit and the times long gone. Welcome to the land of history, beauty and vitality!

Towns in the interior of Istria

unutrG Ancient Istrian towns were built on the peaks of the hills: today they are treasure troves of antiquity. For centuries they have stood on the hilltops, crowning their beauty. Their thick walls witnessed the arrival of master builders and artists who added to their splendour. The doors to these ancient towns are always open, and the church bells beckon the visitors to enter. There are flocks of doves in there, men chat in the streets, and children play in the shade of ancient lime tress. The sun bathes the tranquil scene in a golden glow.


Istria special - Countryside

agrotur If you wish to feel the atmosphere of good old country households, wholesome dishes of the traditional cuisine, romantic hearths and scented wine cellars, discover the charms of country tourism, small family-run rural hotels and homesteads. Through the enjoyment in the noble drops and home-made food while sitting on wooden benches under a rosebush or next to the hearth, you will taste all the gentleness of Istria and the beauty of it inhabitants' lives. When the birdsong wakes you in a warm cosy bed of a traditional Istrian country house, you will feel that everything has an air of tranquility and that time goes by at a slower pace. The view from the window will open on fields, vineyards, olive-groves and gardens; gentle scenes which reflect the work of hard-working hands. If you feel like it, you can mount a horse and go for a ride through the woods nearby. When you get to know these households, you will feel as if you have strolled into an idyllic scene of country life right off the canvas of an old painting.

Blue Istria

plavaIstra Life along the coasts of Istria has always been closely linked to the sea. Seafarers found shelter in the coves' embrace, fishermen respected such mysterious wide open spaces throughout their entire life, travellers discovered new loves in its harbours. And they will all agree on one thing - the beauty of the Istrian landscape has enchanted many a traveller convincing him to stay and have a new start… Sail with us along Istria's azure coast, set out with the rays of sunlight from the east slowly towards the west, plunging into picturesque Mediterranean motifs - coves and beaches, small boats floating peacefully, awaiting in the beauty of solitude. On the hilltop in the distance you can see Labin, town that has proudly protected its citizens inside its walls for centuries, and below it lies glittering Rabac spreading along one of the loveliest beaches in Istria. And then further on, until the southernmost tip, Cape Kamenjak, protecting the western coast where you are first greeted by millennia-old Pula. Look around and cherish the view of the city and its magnificent Arena before you are seduced by the Brijuni archipelago. When you set off once again after this breathtaking sight, the beauty of Rovinj calls out from the vast blue horizon, spinning you through its narrow winding streets and twirling you into the warm embrace of Lim Bay. There, you will be invited aboard the boat which, accompanied by melodies and flavours of the Mediterranean, takes you to Vrsar's Sestrice and then on to the beaches of Poreč. Along the way be sure to greet the bathers and surfers, and if you happen to see a buoy, it means that somewhere around, in the silence of the azure, divers are exploring some other worlds. If you continue north, all the way to Savudrija, you will be guided safely into port by the oldest lighthouse standing by ancient Neapolis, one-time seat of the diocese, and present-day Novigrad. And at the close of the day, in Umag you will hear the enchanting Venetian sounds of its queen of instruments. Take a break in the mandrač, characteristic small Istrian boat harbour. There, along the coast, fishermen are repairing their nets, each of them absorbed in thought about past times. The deep lines on their faces reveal memories of wind and sea, salt and storms. They will be glad to tell you tales of the sea, accompanied by tasty pilchard and a glass of homemade Malvasia.