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 wascooked, 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
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!
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.
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.
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!!
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.
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
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.
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
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
At the far end of the peninsula is the Hotel Riviera, the
first Austrian-owned hotel in Poreč. The story goes that
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.