Thursday, May 03, 2007


There are not many such beautiful and exciting dead towns located so near an urban area like Dvigrad in Istria. There are numerous remnants of towers, castles and ancient cities, but Dvigrad is absolutely unique. It was not destroyed by some military power, or devoured by fire; it was rather abandoned by its inhabitants to undergo its solitary death. The ruins remain as a warning to the passers-by, and as an example to its visitors and guests of what Istrian Medieval towns looked like.
The history of Dvigrad is usually seen in its remains - the ruins. But those very ruins, those great stones, long to unfold its story to the unexpected guest.
Dvigrad is situated in Draga - a deep valley that stretches from Pazin to the sea, ending in a sea chanel - Lim. Lim served as a border between the Pula and Porec territories. In prehistoric times and in the classical period a way ran through the Draga valley connecting the coast with the inland of Istria. Dvigrad - as its name implies - consists of two towns. Today, only one town can be seen on the norhtern side of the valley, and it is in ruins. Parentin, that used to stand on the other side of the valley, cannot be seen at all. Only the plateau has remained of the other town. Dvigrad already existed in prehistoric times, and its history can be traced through archeological finds and later through the written documents. As a part of the Roman province of Istria, Dvigrad stood on the borderline between the Pula and Porec “agri”. That was an excellent position, since very important roads crossed here. According to the archeological finds, as long as the Roman Empire prospered, Dvigrad thrived as well. And when the great Roman Empire finally perished under attacks of the barbarian tribes, the Istrian towns began to wither away, especially after they were afflicted by the terrible and devastating diseases that were quite common in that unhealthy region such as the one around Dvigrad.

After a terrific toll was taken among Istrian population in the 6th and 7th centuries through various epidemics and wars, new peoples started to inhabit Istria - the Slovenes and Croats. No government was established by this time,and the land was in the state of neglect. The Benedictine monks, that could already be met in the Lim region in the early Middle Ages, started to cultivate the neglected land.
At the beginning of the 14th century, the Aquileian patriarchs fought fiercely against Venice that had already gained considerable influence on the west coast of Istria. The well known aristocratic family from Pula, the Castropols, got involved in this battle siding with Goricias dukes who fought as patriarchs’ lawyers. During the heavy clashes between Genoa and Venice, Dvigrad was besieged by the Genoese admiral Paganin Doria who sacked it in 1345.
In the year 1383 in the battles that followed, Dvigrad was reconquered, but this time by the Venetians, who burnt it, slaughtered its population and took the relics from the basilica of St. Sophia to Sveti Lovrec Pazenatički. In spite of that, Dvigrad did not become their possession. Systematically enlarging their dominion in Istria, the Venetians tried to bring under their influence all of the bigger and stronger Istrian towns, either by promises or by violence.
Dvigrad came under the rule of Venice in 1413. The Venetians nominated a nobleman chosen among the aristocracy of Koper, who reigned over the town. The town was obliged to pay him an annual tax of 390 liras. Dvigrad prospered during the first century under the Venetian rule. After that, this region was frequently afflicted by plague, and almost incessantly by malaria, which caused an increase in the mortality rate, and a considerable reduction of the population of Dvigrad.
The span from the middle of 1544 till the end of the century was a period of endless clashes between the Venetians and Austrians. The inhabitants of Istria were unsafe in their villages and towns. After the Venetinan-Austrian war in 1615, and the Uskok attacks, Dvigrad went through some very difficult times. It was besieged by the fierce Uskoks who, being unable to capture it, revenged themselves on neighboring villages burning, plundering and devastating them.
About the year 1630 the town was completely deserted. Only a few very poor families remained, awaiting their town's dissolution. In 1650 bishop Tommasini visited Dvigrad, finding only three families there. When the church of St. Sophia got abandoned in 1714, the town was left to its inexorable fate. The house walls crumpled, the town walls collapsed, the well was polluted. Snakes, weeds and underbrush moved into the town. It has remained so until today.

We can enter Dvigrad through the city gate which has remained intact, and we reach the lower town which was protected by the first ring of the city wall. Following the way that Dvegrajci (as the inhabitants of Dvigrad are called in the Istrian memoirs) used to take for centuries, we arrive at the second gate, built in the second ring of the city wall. That's how the town was actually entered: from one gate to the another. We follow the way up to the third and the last gate, passing by an enormous guard tower situated in the southern part of town. Throught this gate we finally reach the centre of Dvigrad.

On this highest position, as on a living rock, the early Christian church of St. Sophia was erected. It dominated the town due to its height, width and beauty. It had three naves, and in its centre, leaning against the pillars of the middle nave, a pulpit was constructed in the 13th and 14th centuries. The pulpit’s brim was decorated by beautiful reliefs. The most remarkable of them is the relief depicting St. Sophia holding one town in each hand. This is the symbol of Dvigrad. At the beginning of the 19th century the basilica collapsed, the roof fell in, and from that time on, this magnificent building has completely deteriorated. At the end, the question remains how much longer this deceased town will bear witness to the time, how much longer it will take before it has completely perished.

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