Thursday, May 03, 2007

Pula, capital of Istria

The legend of the Argonauts describes the pursuit of the Colchidians after the ship Argo and the Golden Fleece. The subjects of the king of Colchis gave up further pursuit after the death of their king's son. Fearing that they would be punished for his death and the failure of the quest if they returned to Colchis, they decided to settle where the prince had died. Pula therefore became not only a harbor of refuge to the Colchidian fugitives, but also their place of exile. The most famous geographer of the antiquity - Strabo - claims that this is how Pula was founded and according to this legend, it was about three thousand years ago. top

In the Illyrian period, until the arrival of Roman legions, Pula was no more than the surroundings of nearby Nesactium, the political, administrative, military and religious center. As a result of intensive colonization, good trade routes, as well as the importance of its military position, Pula took over the leading position.
Numerous trades developed in that period: stone cutting for the many buildings in Pula and its surroundings, agriculture, viticulture, olive-growing, fishing and pottery for the transport of olive-oil, wine, wheat and fish. In the Roman Imperial period (1st - 3rd centuries) the greatest classical monuments in Croatia were built in Pula.

From the upper circular street one of the perpendicular paths leads to the top of the central hill of the city where a star-shaped castle with four bastions was built in 1630. Wishing to protect the city and its harbor, because of it great significance in maritime trade in the North Adriatic, the Venetians commissioned the building of the Castle from the French military architect Antoine de Ville. This was most probably the site of an earlier fortress dating from the pre-Roman and Roman period. The Histrian hill-fort was primarily built for defensive purposes, whereas in the Roman period a small military garrison was stationed here.

In 1150 Pula swore allegiance to the Republic of Venice and accepted all the obligations towards it - to pay tribute, to build and equip galleys, to support it in wars, etc. Pula was thus bound to Venetian economical and political aims, which defined its development for the next few centuries. During the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries Pula was attacked and conquered by Genoese, Croatian-Hungarian and Habsburg armies, causing the devastation of numerous medieval settlements and villages.
Besides the war calamity, the population of Pula and Istria was decimated by numerous epidemics of plague, malaria, typhoid and small-pox.
As a result of the dilapidation of monumental buildings, ruined economy and decimated population Pula fell into disrepute. Nevertheless, due to its geographical position and the importance of its harbor for trade routes, Pula simply could not disappear. The town was saved by organized Croatian and South-Slav settling.

After the revolutionary year 1848, the Austro-Hungarian Empire realized the importance of Pula's harbor and started an intensive development of a huge naval port and shipyard. This resulted in the gradual settlement of Pula and within 50 years the population increased from 1,126 people to about 40,000.

Pula was still described as a village cut off from the rest of the world, but later on vast sums were invested in the sewage system and infrastructure. Eventually the investments transformed rural Pula into a prosperous town. With the new railway Pula gradually took over the role of Trieste and Rijeka as the main port for Dalmatia. This enabled Pula to develop two functions at the same time - the military and trading one. Under the protectorate of Vienna the official language in Pula was German, but Italian remained the everyday language in use among numerous social classes, while the use of Croatian very soon completely disappeared.

The city was fortified by walls and was entered through some ten gates. The greater part was destroyed in the beginning of the 19th century, so that only some of the gates have been preserved until today. The Triumphal Arch of the Sergi is situated at the end of the street (Via Sergia) leading eastwards from the Forum. This triumphal arch leaned against the city gate (Porta Aurea) so that only its western, visible side was richly decorated. This monument was erected at the end of the 1st century BC by Salvia Postuma Sergi with her own money in honor of three members of her family who held important positions in Pula at that time. According to the inscription on the arch, the monument was constructed between 29 and 27 BC. For centuries this impressive Roman monument has attracted the attention of famous artists, especially Italian ones, such as the great Michelangelo. Heading north there are two other remaining city gates: the Gate of Hercules and the Twin Gates.

I thought the contrast between satellite dishes and 2000 year old building was amusing.

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