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Istria is the home of stunning architecture. Make sure to know what to visit.

Istria is the home of stunning architecture. Make sure to know what to visit.

Frescos, cathedrals and mosaics for architecture lovers

In our previous text about architecture in Dalmatia, we introduced you to some of the most famous and impressive buildings everyone should see when visiting Croatia during the holidays.
If you decide to spend your time in the northern part of the Croatian coast (Istria), we will give you numerous tips on what to see if you are an architecture lover.

With some historical background and interesting facts about the buildings, we will present in this article, you will surely be ready afterwards to prepare your check list on what to visit while staying in one of our beautiful houses in Istria! Hopefully you will get a lot of knowledge about Croatia´s rich architectural heritage.

Probably the first idea that pops in your mind when you think about this beautiful peninsula, is the Roman amphitheater in Pula. So let´s start our architecture journey there. Pula is also the biggest city in Istria (find out more about this ancient city here). This magnificent amphitheater is the biggest of its kind in Croatia and it can host 23 000 spectators. With its elliptical shape and the arena in the middle, it was used for bull and gladiator fights in the past. Nowadays it is still open for numerous concerts and cultural events- one of them is the famous Pula film festival.

The arena was built during the reign of emperor Vespasian at the same time as the famous Colloseum in Rome. It represents one of the most preserved monument of ancient architecture in Croatia with its 4-column tower amphitheater. It is the only amphitheater in the world, with all three Roman architectural orders completely preserved so it lands on the 6th place among the Roman amphitheaters in the world. Pula´s amphitheatre was built in limestone of Croatian origin. Two times it almost faced complete demolition, but luckily it had been saved in 1583 from the Italian senator Gabriele Emo, and afterwards in 1632 by the French military engineer A. De Ville.
This amazing building is also the only preserved sample of an architectural transition from a wooden-type to a walled amphitheater.

The imposing walls and remains of the catacombs of the Arena in Pula

One thing you will surely come across (at least at the souvenir shop) is a little natural architectural wonder. The small, stone cottages, called kazun are round houses with cone roofs, mostly used by shepherds to rest in the fields or hide from rain. They have been built entirely from stone, used as a construction and binding material. This technique is called dry stone walling and since 2018 it is on UNESCO´s list of intangible cultural heritage. Most of them are located around Vodnjan, representing a special version of an outdoor museum preserving the ancient Mediterranean architecture.

Kazun - ancient stone house & traditional trademark of Istria

Maybe you thought the famous amphitheater is the oldest example of architecture in Istria. Well, you are wrong! The oldest building is the Gate of Hercules, also located in Pula. The gate is more than 4 m high and the door frame is made of properly carved stone blocks. Today this is the entrance to the residence of the Italian community in Pula.
While in Pula, you should also take a look at the Augustus forum, located in the old city center. The impressive building you can see there is the Augustus temple, originally dedicated to goddess Roma and the Emperor Augustus. The frieze on the upper part is decorated with motives of acanthus wreaths, fruits and birds. In the temple you can see a collection of ancient sculptures from Istria, with marble imperial statues. Also, you shouldn't miss the Triumphal Arch of Sergius with its harmonious proportions, fine reliefs and Corinthian capitals.

Augustus Temple in Pula: ornate, grand and beautiful example of a Roman ruin

One of the most important sacral architecture monuments (also a part of UNESCO´s heritage site) is the Euphrasian Basilica in Porec. It dates back to the 4th century as an excellent example of early Byzantine architecture in the Mediterranean region. Some main characteristics of Byzantine architecture are round arches and golden mosaics, presented in their graphic simplicity. This three-nave basilica was built in two main periods, before and after the bishop Euphrasius. The church owes its name to the bishop, who is considered to be the protector of Porec city. He rebuilt and redecorated it, mostly with mosaics, which is what it is most popular for today. Also, he built the marble colonnade with capitals whose arches are embellished in relief. Since the 6th century it looks mostly like today including the atrium with the baptistery and the first part of the church built in the Pre-Euphrasian period.

The most striking feature of the Euphrasian Basilica in Porec are its mosaics

Since we already mentioned frescoes, you should visit a little, but significant church. The Church of St. Mary of Skriljinah (next to little town Beram) is a Gothic church famous for its interior which is keeping the celebrated “Dance of Death” scene. It was finished in 1474 by the Master Vincent from Kastav. You should visit it while staying in one of our beautiful houses in central Istria. This is a representation of the so called “Danse Macabre”, a medieval allegory on the universality of death. The little church witnesses one of the earliest recorded examples of the Danse Macabre! In this masterpiece you can see merchants, knights, noblemen and even the pope dance with death. Moreover, the procession is led by a skeleton playing bagpipe!

Moving from sacral to urban architecture, we recommend visiting Rovinj. The beautiful Mediterranean town with a lot to see - its heritage museum, baroque palace and archaeological findings (find out more about it here). Not all Istrian cities date back to prehistoric periods. One has a specific and interesting story. The foundation stone of the little town Rasa was laid on in August 1936 by Benito Mussolini. The town was created and built for coal miners who worked nearby. That is why most of the buildings look the same, as they presented the houses for the miners.

Just to mention some modern references at the end of our architectural tour. Istria has a strong sense of modern and contemporary architecture, as well. The importance of architecture is also being showed during the days of architecture in Istria. Numerous events being held for over a month tackling urbanism challenges and promoting architecture. If you want to see modern and contemporary architecture, Rovinj is the place to be - admire Hotel Eden (19th century) or Hotel Lone.

Visit Istria, stay in one of our beautiful villas and check out the stunning architecture!

Marta Lucic

+385 1 222 70 50