The position of Istria is also its uniqueness. The unique position and mix of different influences have led to the creation of special culture and landscapes.
It is important to understand the history of Istria in order to understand the origin of the wealth of Istrian culture and its specialty, and where traces have been left by Slavs, Romans, and Germans.
Beautiful area of Istria surprising at every turn. No matter how many times you have visited Istrian Peninsula, it will always surprise you with some of the details you haven’t noticed so far.
What makes Istria so special and attracts a lot of attention are a small, fortified towns on the picturesque hills. One of such towns is Zavrsje.
It is located on the right side of the river Mirna, west of Livada. Life on this hill began thousands of years ago, and the first evidence date back to Roman times, from which they have discovered graves with the Latin inscription and the remains of a Roman road that led to the fortified city. However, the first mention of the city appears in the 1102 year.
The old core of Zavrsje is registered as cultural goods of the Republic of Croatia. The relatively little village has even three churches. Thus, the parish church of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary the first building you’ll see when you arrive in Zavrsje, as it is located at the very foot of the city, outside the city walls. This church is known for its organs dating back to 1740. A few meters away from the castle is the church of the Blessed Virgin Mary of St. Rosary. This is a church that is in its possession had a great fortune like silver lamps and golden chalices. The most valuable chalice was the one from 1476, which was sold to build a new church. Today, this chalice is located in the Louvre Museum in Paris.
But the greatest monument of this small town is the belfry of the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary of St. Rosary. This 22-meter-high bell tower was built at the time when Venice dominated by this area. Though it served as a church bell tower, it was a watchtower from which the soldiers watched the surroundings. Therefore, it is not surprising that the belfry does not have a classic ending with a pyramid. This is a proof of the harsh history of this part of Croatia. But the biggest uniqueness of this tower is the fact that is declined 40 centimeters to the north. The tower began to lean in the 18th century, and only when is attached with five metal rings was prevented from further tilting and so is preserved. The picturesque small town with its attraction can stand alongside the better-known Italian city of Pisa.
At the very top of a steep hill, just above the river Mirna, this tiny little town is located. Motovun is the city with the best preserved medieval fortresses and proudly dominates the valley of the river Mirna.
Although the history of the city begins before the Roman times, Motovun is best known for its medieval features. The most interesting building is the Church of St. Stephen, which is located on the city square, and next to the church itself is the bell tower from the 13th century.
Motovun is characterized by a phenomenal offer for everyone, from historical research, sporting events to gourmet bargains, and don’t forget a dose of fresh air while eating truffles and drinking top quality wines.
The richness of Istrian culture and its most beautiful heritage lies throughout the magical Istrian peninsula, and probably the most prominent of all is the city of Rovinj. Panorama of Rovinj with the Church of St. Euphemia and the bell tower in the center is one of the most striking symbols of Istria and Istrian peninsula. The beauty of Rovinj has attracted many artists since ancient times, and the magical views of the city, preserved old houses and picturesque narrow streets are just a part of the inspiration for the artists.
Amongst these streets are a special place in Grisia where artists are traditionally gathered.
In Novigrad, in one of the city galleries, the main models are the models of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy ships. The Novigrad town is located on the peninsula as well as most coastal towns in Istria and has managed to preserve much of its old architectural heritage, including imposing walls.
Much of the preserved cultural heritage of the Istrian coast was built during the Venetian rule, as evidenced by the symbol of the Venetian lion on many historical monuments, such as in Bale, a small place in the south of Istria. Venetian culture is evident in many other facilities, not only in urban areas but also in rural areas, which is famous for numerous holdings of the nobility.
The central city on the west coast of Istria is Porec, a beautiful place on the Istrian peninsula. At the same time, according to the number of tourists, is the most powerful tourist center. In Porec is located the most valuable cultural and historical monument in Istria, the Euphrasian Basilica. The Euphrasian Basilica is the only monument of cultural heritage in Istria which has included in the World Heritage List of UNESCO. The Basilica was named after the bishop Euphrasie and was built in the sixth century.
Pula is the largest city on the Istrian peninsula and is situated in the far south. At first glance, you will not get the impression that there is an incredible amount of cultural wealth in it. But, this is only the first impression and fortunately is not lasting. When you enter in the city center, Pula will immediately impress you with its monumental and conservative Pula amphitheater, which witnesses the extraordinary importance of Pula and Istria since ancient times. This is the sixth largest Roman amphitheater in the world and is one of the best preserved.
The Amphitheater was built at the time of Emperor Vespasian in the first century AD and its appearance remained almost unchanged for two thousand years. It was used to be an arena for brutal gladiator battles, which was able to watch up to 20,000 people. Today, amphitheater serves as a tourist attraction and a favorite stage for various events, mostly the music performances – from classical music and ballet to rock concerts, because of the unique atmosphere and acoustics of the arena.
Apart from the amphitheater in Pula are also a number of other monuments from the Roman period, such as the Slavoluk Sergijevac in the very center of the city. In Pula is also one of the most important museums in Croatia – the Archaeological Museum of Istria. It contains the largest amount of archaeological finds in Istria from prehistory to the Middle Ages.
Magical Groznjan is rejuvenated to young people because it houses the International Cultural Center of Croatian Music Youth. Now, imagine a settlement that has about 750 inhabitants (all) and about 20 galleries and art studios. Let’s go to Groznjan because Groznjan is a city of artists and artistic souls.
Apart they decorating the Istrian hills, most of these small towns also stand out with magnificent vantage points, from which, as in Buzet, can enjoy the magic of the interior of the Istrian peninsula.
Istrians like to praise themselves that in Istria is the smallest city in the world – a tiny Hum with only 17 inhabitants. Hum is known for the Glagolitic Alley – seven kilometers long road decorated with sculptures of stylized letters of the old Croatian Glagolitic script.
Maybe you did not know, but the interior of old churches and palaces in the interior of Istria offers a lot of interesting things. Particularly attractive is the interior of the Church of St. Blaise in Vodnjan with the mummies of saints from the time of the beginning of Christianity.
Labin is the only bigger town in the east of the Istrian County. This once mining town is located on a plateau near the sea at 300 meters above sea level. It is famous for its old part of the town on top of the hill and its strong artistic tradition. Labin is rich in museums and galleries, and the most popular are the Town Gallery and the Gallery of Sculptures outdoors.
Pazin is dominated by a monumental castle above the scary Pazin Cave, which inspired great Jules Verne for his novel “Mathias Sandorf”. The castle dates back to the early Middle Ages. According to many in the castle is the home of the most attractive museum in the entire county – the Ethnographic Museum of Istria. It houses a valuable collection of folk costumes that clearly show the specialty of Istrian folk heritage.
Svetvincenat is another in a series of beautiful old towns on the Istrian peninsula, where the central square “Placa” stands out. The Renaissance Square dominates the castle of Grimani as a symbol of this town, as well as a church and a series of houses of the same style.
Buje is famous for one of the most famous wine roads in Croatia that have as many as 23 famous wine producers. It is not a negligible pleasure exploring the paths of olive oil, too, where you can find out all about the production and processing of this precious divine fruit.
Brtonigla offers quite a different holiday. A holiday full of traditions beginning with the vineyard, wine cellars and, finally, abundance on the table. Vineyards and olive groves surround the roads that lead to the woods, far from modern life. Brtonigla offers the best of the Istrian interior – parks and caves, picturesque hills, history in the form of preserved churches and archaeological excavations.
As I write this article I’m thinking of all these picturesque small Istrian towns. Thinking about the vineyards that surrounding fortresses and churches, rich history, all these migrations of different peoples and cultures that even the Cerovlje couldn’t resist.
Fazana is a starting point for the National Park Brijuni. As well as in other cities, and here you can see the remains of the culture of the Romans and Byzantines, Venetians and Austro-Hungary. The charms of Fazana are certainly in the squares and the houses lined one to the other in the old core of Fazana.
One of the greatest peculiarities of this small Istrian town is its structure, or division of the city in the districts, each of which has its own square with the church. In Gracisce is now mainly engaged in agriculture and rural tourism.
The uniqueness of Lovran despite his undoubted beauty is geographic location and proximity that can be used for one-day visits to national parks Plitvice, Brijuni, Risnjak, and the island of Krk, Cres, Rab, neighboring Slovenia or even go to Venice in Italy.
Opatija is located in the Kvarner Bay, at the foot of beautiful Ucka Mountain. What you cannot fail to notice is the spirit of the 19th century which is present everywhere around Opatija. Opatija is a mirror of the refinement and elegance that makes it a unique destination on the Adriatic.
Oprtalj is one in a series of small picturesque towns in central Istria, situated on a hill, and has been mentioned since the beginning of the 12th century. Besides the Romans, Germans, Venetians, French, Austrians, and the Italians, Venice is the one that left the greatest trace in architecture, which you’ll see with your first step in Oprtalj. There is a legend connected with Oprtalj and that is that St. Jerome was born in Zrenj (near Oprtalj), the saint who is best known for translating the Bible into Latin.
This area is extremely famous for truffles, good olive oil, and wines.
Close to Vrsar and Porec is Sveti Lovrec – one of the best preserved medieval fortified towns in Istria. This settlement was named after the Church of St Lawrence and dates back to 8th century, while the Romanesque bell tower with it was annexed in the 11th century.
Sveti Petar u Sumi (St. Peter in the Forest) is a place that was built on the site of the old Benedictine monastery in the 17th century. For this place is connected a legend that says that the image of Our Lady Cestohovske wept tears of blood. The painting is still preserved in the Church of St. Peter and Paul in Sveti Petar u Sumi.
More about Istria can be found on the official website of Istria. Don’t miss to visit Istria!