Friday, June 26, 2009

Exploring--Croatia's Istrian Peninsula--Roman Ruins in Pula & Rovinj

Pula is perhaps the best-known destination in Istria, a Croatian peninsula hanging into the Adriatic Sea. Pula is a bustling, modern port city with several successful shipbuilding companies. The busiest ferry from Venice disembarks here, bringing tourists and business people. However, Pula appeals to tourists mainly for its ancient attractions.
Here, extensive Roman ruins remain, including an intact Roman temple and a portion of a second temple (which now forms the back wall of a newer city building), 2 remaining city gates (of the original 12), and ongoing excavations of more Roman buildings and other ancient treasures. We saw a new archaeological excavation at a mid-city site where an unlucky businessman had invested in the building of a parking garage--until construction digging revealed the remains of Roman structures.
One photo above shows a city gate that was commissioned by a wealthy Roman woman to honor a military hero in her family. The proud Latin inscription asserts, "Silvia of the Sergius family paid for this with her own money." All these Roman buildings are now in the central city among alternative music shops, cafes, court houses, apartment buildings, public schools, and parks.
By far the most notable Roman site in Pula is a huge amphitheater, a small portion of which is pictured above. For those of you who have read my other Eastern European travel posts, notice our knowledgeable and fun-loving Rick Steves tour guide, Saso Golub, walking toward us in the photo, sporting sunglasses & his ever-present day pack. Although Saso had provided extensive background on Pula as we rode there, Croatian law stipulates that every tour group must hire a local guide on location. In Pula, our local guide, the energetic Marjam, gave us her fascinating, rapid fire take on the history and present day life of Pula. Thus, we benefited from the insights of two excellent guides, here and at all other stops in Croatia.
The Roman amphitheater in Pula is the 6th largest remaining in the former Roman Empire. However, some of our fellow travelers, who had been in Rome, thought it looked as large as the Colosseum there. The main reason for this structure's impressive impact is the fact that it is one of the most fully intact of the amphitheaters left. Almost the entire surround with arches, most of the stone seating, and 2 of the original 4 towers are still standing. Built around A.D. 80 into the slope of a hill, the stands held more than 25,000 cheering fans for "sporting" events until the 5th century, when gladiator battles (with or without exotic wild animals) were outlawed. Marjam vividly described the spectacles, including the heavy smells of sweat, blood, and bodies. The odors were somewhat mitigated by rainwater collecting basins at the top of each tower--mixed with fragrant essential oils, this water was sprayed over the frenzied crowd.
During our free time, my husband and I wandered through the city to a harbor side park, looking out over pleasure boats and large ships.
On our drive back north to our hilltop hotel in Motovun (see previous post), our group also stopped for some leisurely strolling time in the romantic, very Italian-looking old town of Rovinj, which is pictured above. Again, being pleasure sailors ourselves, we were drawn to the harbor and the sparkling views of the Adriatic Sea.
Question of the day: Do you most enjoy travel with an educational component, complete relaxation, or some of each?


  1. I'm a museum rat, so I love the educational/cultural stuff. The Husband would say I don't know how to relax... So I've started bringing jewelry making tools and components for when we're hanging at hotels. To me, creating jewelry is (usually) relaxing.

  2. You and your husband are a lot like the two of us when we travel. I am happy to visit a museum or other cultural attraction on my own, at least sometimes, while he does something else.

    It's great that you enjoy creating your jewelry while you're away. I sometimes draw and take lots of reference photos for possible future paintings, but have not (so far) tried traveling with painting supplies.