We had no idea what to expect when we arrived to the city of Pula. It was simply a coastal city with a few Google Maps thumbtacks that we had labeled “want to go”. We definitely had no idea that we would receive a history lesson from this wonderful Croatian city.

This is one of the things we love about traveling. The places we visit are living encyclopedias of history where you can literally see and experience the history first hand. In Pula we saw history from the Roman era, Republic of Venice, Austrian Empire, and the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

Extent of the Roman Republic

When you look at a map of the extent of the Roman Republic in 200 B.C., it becomes more understandable why the coast of the Istrian Peninsula, of modern-day Croatia, has so many Roman structures.

Map of Pula with sites visited

Our day tour of the city included some various Roman sites, the Pula Fortress Castle, Zerostrasse, and the Pula Arena.

Our first history lesson was passing through the Arch of the Sergii which was created to commemorate three members of the Sergii family that participated in the Battle of Actium. The construction of the arch was from 29-27 BC. As we passed under the arch, we both marveled that we were walking on the same stone tiles that Romans walked on over 2,000 years before us.

After walking through the Venetian apartment-styled homes of old town, we continued up the many steps to reach the Pula Castle Fortress.

Pula Castle Fortress

This fortress was build by the Republic of Venice in 1630. The French military architect, Antoine de Ville, designed it as a quadrangular plan with four star-shaped bastions at the corners. This fortress protected both the port and the city of Pula from naval warships.

After passing through the entrance, we went straight to the white-colored tower to enjoy the 360- degree views from the commanding viewpoint.

The grounds featured various historical collections and public artwork by local Croatian craftsman and artists, including this interesting sculpture of three obelisks that featured scenes from the area, all textured and sculpted from ceramic.  

Museum of Istrian History

The fortress also houses the Museum of Istrian History. I found the displays about WW2 to be quite interesting, especially since I didn’t learn much about the struggles of the eastern front of Europe during my limited U.S. history education.

Although Yugoslavia declared its neutrality during WW2, German and Italian invasion, occupation, and partition occurred. In April of 1941, Germany and Italy established the Independent State of Croatia, which included Bosnia & Herzegovina and portions of Dalmatia. A fascist puppet government was established under the leadership of Ante Pavelić and his fascistultranational organization of Istaše. Pavelić and the Ustaše persecuted many racial minorities and political opponents during the war, including Serbs, Jews, Romani, and anti-fascists Croats.

A flag of the Socialist Federal Republic (SFR) Yugoslav Italian minority. Slap a red star on your countries flag and you have a new symbol of the SFR to rally behind.

The country of Yugoslavia was decimated by WW2. Over a million people were killed with 53 percent of them being civilian deaths. In comparison, Russia lost over 26 million people. The United States lost just over 400 thousand. The death rate of WW2 on the eastern front was staggering.

Zerostrasse Underground Tunnels

These tunnels were built during WW1 to provide a shelter for citizens and emergency equipment in case of air raids. The system of tunnels consisted of shelters, trenches, ammunition bunkers, and communication passages.

The underground tunnels below the castle fortress could shelter nearly 6,000 people, while the capacity of all shelters in Pula, could shelter more than 50,000 people – nearly all the of the town’s inhabitants.

The center section of the tunnel has been converted to an interesting museum that highlights life in the early 20th century. Speakers fill the tunnels with sounds of horses walking over cobblestoned streets, and the noise of the relatively new invention, and problems, of the automobile.

Old Town Pula

One of the most enjoyable things we did in Pula was to walk around and “window-shop” in all the various shops and small markets.

Local artists have created everything from jewelry, illustrations, books, postcards, and fashionable accessories that capture the essence of life in this relaxed coastal city.

We even enjoyed one of our favorite balkan meals – Cevapcici with fries. It’s especially good with flatbread.

There are many Roman era sites around Pula including the Temple of Emperor Augustus (shown above), the Communal Palace, a mosaic depicting the punishment of Dirka, a small Roman theater, and the Door of Hercules. However the crowning gem of Pula is the Roman Amphitheater (Pula Arena).

Pula Arena

The Pula Arena is one of the best preserved Roman amphitheaters, and is the only one to have four side towers entirely preserved. It could accommodate 23,000 spectators that sat around the arena separated by iron fencing. The fighters and animals would be released from gates and passageways that connected below the arena area. 

Each of the four towers had cisterns that were filled with perfumed water that was sprinkled on the spectators. Large sails also protected them from the sun or rain.

The Pula Arena continues to be used today for various events including concerts, operas, ballets, and even reenactments of the battles that occurred here during Roman times.

The Pula Arena includes a small museum located underneath the arena area. This area used to be where the wild animals were kept before the battles. Visitors could come into the viewing area and see them before they were released into the ring.

This area is now dedicated to explaining how olive oil was made and distributed throughout the Roman Republic in these clay ceramic jars.

Lighting Giants

Our final destination in Pula was to witness the Lighting Giants. At sunset these giant cranes come alive with thousands of colors.

This unique attraction was created by world famous lighting designer Dean Skira, and seemed like a fitting end to our wonderful day exploring the beautiful city of Pula.

Episode Video

Next Blog Post

Join us next blog post as we share more of our travels through Croatia! We’ll ride along the western coast of the Istrian Peninsula, and enjoy a short stop in the coastal city of Rovinj.

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03 Sep 2020

1 Comment on “A History Lesson from the Coastal City of Pula, Croatia

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