Diversity, size and wealth testify to Istria's history, which has been a meeting point of many peoples and their cultures. As our faces are the best indicator of the journey of our lives, cultural monuments are the witnesses to Istria's turbulent history, which you can see in every town, village and hamlet in Istria. This has been further confirmed by the prestigious Lonely Planet tourist guide, which in 2011 named Istria as the 2nd of 10 regions to visit in the world.
Liburnians, Histrians, Greeks, Celts, Romans, Ostrogoths, Byzantines, Lombards, Croats, Franks, Venetians, Austrians, Italians and Slovenians left a trace of their presence, customs and work, a trace today's people of Istria wish to preserve and build upon through many cultural and historic monuments, which are proud witnesses of the region's thousand-year history.
The impressive prehistoric sites that testify to the settlement of first populations have been found in the gravel by the Šandalja cave near Pula. This is why, as historians have claimed, the Istrian peninsula is the proof that Homo erectus started to build the foundations of the future civilization of the Old Continent, later named Europe, on this very spot.
Many remnants of material culture are left from the Illiryan age and can be found all over Istria. The most famous remnants are Illyrian fortified settlements on hilltops, built in the dry stone wall technique by using large blocks; Monkodonja by Rovinj is one of the most famous of such sites.
Cultural and historic monuments not to be missed
The cultural tissue of the Istrian peninsula is mostly embodied in ancient Roman monuments, which are the starting and end point of every tour of Istria. The Pula amphitheatre is the most famous and most important monument and the symbol of Pula; it used to be the venue of gladiator fights, and due to its form and impressive size, it is considered as one of the best preserved Roman ampitheatres in the world. In the centre of Pula, on the main town square of Forum, you can see a well preserved Roman temple dedicated to the goddess Roma and the emperor Augustus, whose name it carries. The unmissable triumphal monument made of large stone blocks, also located in Pula and often called the Golden Gate, has been erected in honour of three brother of the Sergii family, who performed top clerical duties and is known as the Arch of the Sergii.
The Euphrasian Basilica is a globally recognized inspiration of rich cultural heritage, which UNESCO placed on the world cultural heritage list in 1997. This is why Poreč, where it is situated, is the main place for sightseeing.
Rich cultural heritage discovered through medieval art
The history of medieval churches such as St. Barnabas church in Vižinada, St. Foška church in Batvači, St. Martin church in Lovreč and St. Margaret church near Vodnjan can be seen in their walls, which bear depictions of scenes from the Bible, but also of universal issues of the human destiny painted as Istrian frescoes. The special jewel of medieval wall painting is the Dance of Death in the little church of St. Mary near Beram. Your sightseeing tour must also include Istria's largest church, the church of St. Blaise in Vodnjac, which houses a collection of sacral art comprising 730 pieces dating back from 5th to 19th century, but also preserved mummified bodies of several saints.
Be sure to visit the Glagolitic Alley, an important remnant of the Glagolitic influence on medieval art and writing and honouring first Slavic scripture, the Glagolitic alphabet, which was used to write down an important part of Croatian literature in the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries.
Round off your stay in Istria by strolling though historic old towns of the Istrian hinterland and coast, boasting traditional rural architecture with dry stone walls and kažuni, which represent only a small part of the rich cultural heritage and testify to the one-of-a-kind cultural and artistic history of Istria. Treat yourself to picturesque historic views of the landscape of the heart-shaped peninsula from a terrace or a balcony of an Istrian villa or apartment exuding warmth, tradition and charm.