The Istrian Peninsula and The Millenium Truffle

The Istrian peninsula is divided into 3 geophysical parts:  the north and north-east mountainous zones with the Karst at the foot is White Istria because of the limestone which covers most of the ground.  The southeast hilly region where erosion has uncovered grey rocks is known as Grey Istria, and the lowlands of the west and south coast which have red soil, is Red Istria.  Among other things, the Istrian Peninsula is known for its white truffles.  The largest truffle in the world was discovered near Livade by Giancarlo Zigante and his dog, Diana.  The white truffle weighed a staggering 1,310 kilos! The family decided not to sell the truffle - instead, they named it "Millenium" and used it to prepare dinner for 100 (lucky!!) guests in order to promote truffles in the region.  Before the truffle was cooked, a mold was made and the truffle and immortalized in bronze.  The bronze replica can be seen in the Zigante store in Livade.  The Family continues to be involved in the sale and processing of truffle and truffle products.  It's a name recognized the world over. 

We had driven from Opatija in the east all the way round the peninsula to Pula in the south and Poreč on the west coast.  While the towns and cities of Istria are filled with history and Old Towns with their unique architecture, we also went by Rasa, the "youngest" town in Istria.  Rasa was built to house miners and in its heyday the town housed over 10000 inhabitants.  It's a self-contained community with its own schools, hospital, cinema and sport facilities.  The Church of St Barbara was built in the shape of an upturned coal wagon with the bell tower resembling a miner's lamp. The town's foundation stone was laid by Mussolini in 1936 and the whole project, which was designed by a single architect, was finished in 547 days!  The town contains some of the finest examples of Fascist architecture


Pula hasn't got the charm of other old town rivieras but it does have a really well-preserved roman amphitheater which is the 6th largest in the world.  We walked around taking pictures.  I stood in the middle of the arena, which in the days of gladiators, was filled with sand to absorb all the blood (the word arena comes from harena which means sand).  It was a curious feeling.  I pictured what it must have been like for the gladiators who had to fight to the death with man or beast.  I saw the archways through which the animals would come through and shivered.  Only two out of four towers surrounding the amphitheater had survived.  The towers had water reservoirs at the top which sprayed the audience with water to keep them cool - talk about air-conditioning Roman style!

One of two surviving towers The beasts entrance

These days the amphitheater hosts the likes of Placido Domingo or some rock band, with a seating capacity of around 5,000.  One could only imagine what the ghosts of gladiators past would think!  There's a museum in the subterranean hall mostly featuring the traditional methods of olive oil and wine making.  There is a centuries olive press and a wine press and tons of amphorae on exhibit.

These amphorae reminded me of a certain friend's Byblos jumper.....
Olive grinder Wine Press

From the amphitheatre we walked to The Cathedral which was built in a combination of the Roman and Venetian baroque styles.  Further along we arrived at the Forum, or main square where we saw the Temple of Augustus (destroyed in WWII and rebuilt), and the Town Hall which was built in typically Dalmatian mish-mash of styles:  Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque, -  representing the history of the building, and of Pula.

The Forum Temple of Augustus Town Hall
Roman Mosaic Floor

Our guide took us through the main drag and through some shops and out of nowhere we came upon a two millenia old roman floor mosaic which was discovered by workers cleaning up bombs after WWII.  The floor was about 6 feet below today's street level.  When treasures such as these are unearthed they take precedent over building projects....this made investments in re-development projects risky propositions. If you were going to build a shopping mall for instance, you'd better pray there's no temple ruin buried deep on your site!!

Arch of Sergius Underside of arch showing eagle with evil snake in its talons Have a latte with James Jorce
Ahhhhh.......! Yes, clams again......I love them!

Back on the main drag we walked through the Italian quarter of Giadini - the street is shaded by trees planted by Napoleon to shelter his troops.  Coming out of the shade we continued on to the Arch of Sergius.  The Arch was erected by a woman to honour her husband; brother-in-law and father-in-law.  This fact was proudly proclaimed in an inscription on the Arch:  "Silvia of the Sergius family paid for this with her own money".....way to go, Silvia....being a woman she knew how to economize.  Only the visible side of the arch was ornamented!  To the left of the Arch we saw a familiar face (enjoying a latte) at the Cafe Uliks.  Oh, it's James Joyce, or rather, a bronze likeness of him.  Joyce visited Pula with his girlfriend in 1904.  He taught English to Austro-Hungarian naval officers at Berlitz but he hated his job and grew bored with Pula.  Less than a year later he moved to Trieste.

Benedictine Monastery Twin Arches

Across the way from Pula are the Brijuni Islands which many believe to be paradise on earth.  Legend has it that when God created earth he created paradise at the same time.  The Devil, being jealous, decided to destroy paradise by cutting open the sack of an angel containing rocks.  The rocks fell on paradise and broke it into many pieces.  The angel managed to salvage the little pieces of paradise and put them into sea where they were protected by the surrounding waters.....ta da...the Brijuni Islands were born!  Well, Tito obviously thought there was something to the legend, he made Brijuni into his own personal health retreat.  The Brijuni Islands are unique in their own micro-climate - the islands are known for their abundance of flora and fauna and the resort has, for years, been the playground of the rich and famous.


Porec is another old town riviera known primarily for the 6th century mosaics in its Euphrasian Basilica - considered to be among the best in the world, and its "blue-flag" beaches (beaches with crystal clear waters). 

Entrance to basilica Remnants of Mosaic The Six Commandments
Ceiling of the Baptistry
Baptismal Font Original Mosaic Floor
Entrance to Baptistry Beautiful Mosaics in Apse Bishop Euphrasian's Mark

Walking down Decumanus Street (main street) we arrived at the Byzantine styled entrance of the Basilica complex.  The complex comprises the basilica, baptistry and the Bishop's Palace.  It was built in the 3rd and 4th century over the site of a church dedicated to St Maurus.  The foundations and mosaic floor of the older church has been preserved.  The mosaics in the apse depicting Our Lady with child; angles; Saints; St Maurus and Bishop Euphrasius, among others, were stunning. 

As you enter the complex, the atrio surrounded four porticos is on the left.  The baptistery and baptismal fountain is housed in an octagonal building.  Just inside the entrance of the basilica we saw the original mosaic floor of the old church - it was much lower than the present floor of the basilica.  The Bishop's Palace is now a museum exhibiting mosaic fragments from the older church.

Lion House Porec Theatre
Romanesque House Decumanus Street

Leaving the museum, we went southwards on Decumanus to look at some Venetian gothic palaces.  The Lione Family House dating back to 1473 has stone lion heads under its windows.  It's an example of a Venetian "Triforium" with three gothic windows and a Renaissance portal. At the end of the street is a pretty wood and stone Romanesque House built in the 13th century.

Yellow Building on the left is the Hotel Riviera Pentagonal Tower Serenissimo Round Tower

At the start of Decumanus Street are two defence towers:  the Serenissima Round Tower and the Pentagonal Tower On the right side of the Serenissima tower is beautiful Poreč Theatre.  At the far end of the peninsula is the Hotel Riviera, the first Austrian-owned hotel in Poreč.  The story goes that Mr Klein, an influential hotelier from Austria who had hotels all over Istria, wanted to build a hotel in Poreč.  Unfortunately, he was refused a construction permit and a building site, so he did what any billionaire developer would do......he bought a piece of the sea from Lloyd's, reclaimed it and built his hotel on it!  The Hotel Riviera has since then become a symbol of Poreč tourism.

Copyright 1998 - 2013 May Lee.  All Rights Reserved.