Istria is the western most county of the Republic of Croatia, and it is the largest Croatian peninsula. For Central European countries Istria is the nearest tourist destination to the seaside. It borders the Republic of Slovenia to the north, and to the west shares the sea border with the Republic of Italy., Its surface covers the area of 2.820 km’, making a triangle from the river Dragonja on the west part, down to Cape Kamenjak, the most southern point of Istria, and to the east up to the massif Učka, with the highest point of 1.396 m above sea level.
The Adriatic Sea washes all three sides of the Istrian indented coast, which extends across 445,1 km, being twice the length of the Istrian road line. The western Istrian coast is 242,5 km long and together with the coastline of the islands and islets stretches out on a 212,4 kilometres surface. Istria is traversed by the 45th parallel of latitude north, and thus the Istrian peninsula is situated just in the middle of the north hemisphere, or midway between the equator and the North Pole. The weather conditions are
characterized by the mild Mediterranean climate, with warm and dry summers and mild pleasant winters. The sunshine amounts to 2.388 sunny hours on the average yearly. Because of the long, mostly sunny days, the longest insolation on the Istrian beaches is 10 hours daily during the summer time.
There are several characteristic winds in Istria, as bora, a fierce cold northerly wind blowing southwards and bringing cloudless sky, sirocco, a hot wind blowing from the south bringing the rain, and mistral, a landward breeze blowing from the mainland to the sea. Along the coastline and on the islands there prevails the landscape with pine trees and green Mediterranean bushes, with a great number of holmoaks and strawberry trees. Woods cover nearly one third of the Istrian territory. The lowest sea temperature is in March varying between 9 and 11 °C, and the highest sea temperature is in August reaching 24 °C. The average sea salinity amounts from 36 to 38 °/C.
The mild climate enables pleasant stay in Istria during the whole year. Spring time is particularly suitable for recreational stays for lovers of cycling, mountaineering, free climbing, spelunking, air sports, and diving. Summer time is advisible for staying in the renowned tourist resorts along the coast.
Tourists wistful of active vacation in the months of June, July and August, with sunny days and the worm sea, are offered numerous and particularly attractive happenings with different amusements and public entertainment. The Indian summer, in late autumn, is stunningly fascinating in Istria. In September and October, when the temperature is still pleasant for staying at the seaside, one can enjoy the incredible colours of the well preserved and genuine Istrian landscape.
Strollers can relax in the enchanting environment and fresh air, enjoy the hospitality of the Istrians, participate in mushroom picking, almost all over Istria, or in the event of Marunada, the gathering of marron chestnuts in the area of Lovran.
By going on various interesting excursions turists will realize that a day is always too short for discovering so many Istria’s peculiarities. In winter, when days are shorter and colder Istria does not lose its allurement. Istrian people during the colder period will also warmly accept their guests, with whom will gladly have a chat beside the fireplace, while drinking wine and enjoying good food.
THE CHARM OF ISTRIA
One special land, in the shape of a peninsula, lies there where the nearest southern regions begin, the closest to northern Europe. Rough arid harsh, full of hard stone in the interior, but also full of sunshine and warmth, green and charming on its western edges around which the blue sea washes that is Istria. Istria is an unique ancient land, the biggest peninsula in the Croatian area of the Adriatic Sea. Its name is derived from the Illyrian tribe Histri, who were the first known inhabitants living in this part of the North Adriatic before Roman occupation.
Its steep rocky shores are lapped by the sea of the Kvarner Bay on the eastern side, and of the Trieste Bay on the western side. This attractive Mediterranean region represents the harmony between the difference of two parts, two ambiences, two ways of life, two tourist attractions.
These areas are: the coast, where a valuable antique heritage has been preserved enriching holidays and recreational possibilities, and the interior with its medieval inheritance and numerous excursion points. Istria, being the most developed destination in Croatia, can cater for more than three hundred thousand tourists daily, which is more than the number of permanent residents. Accommodation is comfortable, sports and recreation facilities varied, service is of a high quality, culinary specialities are wellknown everything is adapted to the various requirements and possibilities of local and foreign visitors.
Istria is one of 22 Croatian counties with its seat in Pazin. The county consists of nine towns (Buje, Buzet, Labin, Novigrad, Pazin, Porec, Rovinj and Umag) and 29 communities being the local authorities of administration and selfgovernment.
This is an area of natural beauty developed owing to the specific social needs, changing during the centuries and adapting to political, economic, social and geographical requirements.
THE GEOGRAPHICAL AND COMMUNICATIONS SITUATION IN ISTRIA
The region of Istria is divided into three geographical areas: White, Grey and Red Istria. White Istria encompasses the area of northern Trieste karst and the highest parts of Cicarija with the Ucka mountain ( 1.396 m). This is an area of scarce vegetation with the exception of the above mentioned highest Istrian mountain. Although it is known for abundant rainfall it lacks water. Water disappears quickly in the ever thirsty karst underground. The name originates from the huge stone areas of karst. Greylstria includes all the central part of the peninsula characterised by river valleys and flysch rocks while water and vegetation are more abundant here.
The biggest Istrian rivers have their sources here: the Mirna, Rasa and Pazincica. The name comes from the grey colour of this area in winter but also from the predominating clay layers in the soil.
Red Istria is the most populated part and also the most fertile, encompassing the western and southern littorals known for their indentation and the wide plain which descends gently towards the sea. The name derives from the red soil. The steep valleys divide this part of Istria into four smaller areas named after bigger towns: Bujstina, Labinstina, Porestina and Puljstina. Istria is situated between 44.32′ degrees northern latitude and 12.29′ degrees east longitude with a surface of 2.820 square kilometres and with more than 204 thousand inhabitants. Smaller groups of islands also belong geographically to Istria, the most important being the Brijuni Archipelago with 14 islands, proclaimed as a national park in 1983. Besides the Brijuni National Park, which is an unique monument of nature, Istria has other protected rarities and reserves of vegetation: the Motovun wood, the park of Zlatni rt in Rovinj with about 70 varieties of trees, Lim Bay, Pazin Cave…
Climate in Istria
Istria is characterised by a special form of the Mediterranean climate in consequence of the Istrian geographical latitude, its position in front of the Alps and the cyclonic air currents that come from the west and go towards the interior of the mainland over the Northern Adriatic.
The summers are not too hot and winters are somewhat cold as expressed in mean temperatures in the main tourist cen-tres. In summer, the gentle wind “maestral” (NW) blows softly, while the northern wind “bura” (NW) blows in winter decreasing the temperature and bringing cold weather.
On the Istrian coast the sun shines from 2.300 to 2.400 hours per year. Due to the influence of the hilly terrain, the interior of Istria has lower temperatures and more rainfall.
Istria is a region of beauty and tradition, the destination for numerous tourists, attracting them with its natural characteristics, its rich cultural heritage, a favourable communications position, a mild Mediterranean climate and numerous interests for tourists in one word everything is adapted to the tastes of the guests.
Conditions of the Istrian coast and the littoral sea
The sea has always been the basis for the economic development of Istria, the source from which it has derived its richness, its way of life and its tourist future. The picturesque and attractive Istrian coast is 540 km long.
There are great differences between the lower and less well indented western coast and the eastern Istrian coast with its steep inlets. Numerous promontories, pebble coves and beaches washed by the clean sea, and attractive small hidden places follow on one after another from the Kamenjak promontory at the southernmost tip of the peninsula.
An unique bay characterised by special hydrogeological features the Lim Channel (12 km long) is situated on the western Istrian coast, while Pula Bay, one of the most beautiful and protected bays of the Adriatic, lies on the indented south-western coast of Istria. Salinity in the Adriatic is between 36 and 38 per mille.
The salt content is lower in the north due partly to the weaker intensity of evaporation, and also the great quantity of fresh water brought to the sea by the Italian rivers.
The littoral area has accepted all the challenges of modern tourism, while the luxurious Istrian ambience provides many recreational activities, comfort, quiet and delightful holidavs for all.
Relief of Istria
The contours of the Istrian peninsula are very attractive and varied. The mountain massifs of Ćićarija and Učka extend in the northeast. The lime stone complex of the bare Ćićarija is abundant in karst phenomena, while the Učka mountain, with the highest peak on the peninsula (Vojak 1.396 m), is wooded and much more attractive being an unique natural ambience for recreational and excursion facilities.
To the west of Ćićarija and Učka there extend the Middle Istrian hills where river valleys, fields and coves alternate with numerous rises and picturesque hills.
Tourists can especially enjoy the canyon like valleys of the rivers Mirna and Raša and ‘acropolis’ settlements perched on the steep conical elevations. Pazin Cave to which the small river Pazinčica sinks in the middle of the peninsula is a special attraction.
The form of the relief from Middle Istria towards the south-west becomes more gentle. The low relief of the Istrian littoral allows the building of tourist recreational, and catering facilities as well as sporting attractions.
Istrian flora and fauna
The vegetation of the Istrian peninsula has adapted itself well to the climatic conditions and characteristics of the terrain. The green Mediterranean vegetation predominates along the coast.
Hundred years old woods of littoral pine cover big areas along the beaches, and there are tourist and sports attractions from Savudrija and Umag to Pula and Medulin.
The ‘maqis’, consisting of holmoak, arbutus and other plants, is mostly spread along the eastern Istrian coast. The middle areas of the peninsula are richer in deciduous woods of oak and sweet chestnut, gardens, orchards, vineyards and olive groves, some cultivated from ancient times.
The Motovun wood in the valley of the Mirna river is full of oaks and ashtrees with some fertile corners where truffles are abundant. Tall woods of beech and oak cover large areas of the Ucka mountain.
The Istrian region is well populated with various animals, many vineyards; they are the pride of Istria birds, insects and spiders, while the sea is rich in fish, shell fish and oysters. Wild cats, wild boar, and deer inhabit the higher areas while the golden eagle flies over the mountains of Učka and Ćićarija.
The vegetative and animal world in Istria makes a natural whole with the landscape and environment. Animals and plants brought from other regions have also adapted themselves to their new climate and become a part of this vivid whole.
THE HISTORY OF THE ISTRIAN PENINSULA
According to archaeological finds, the first traces of human life on the Istrian peninsula originate from prehistory or the Early Stone Age. The Illyrian tribes of Histri settled on Istria about a thousand year before Christ, and the peninsula was named after them. The first conflicts of Illyrian tribes and the Romans began in the middle of the 3rd century BC and lasted, with short interruptions almost two centuries.
The Romans finally defeated them and those that remained became slaves. The Romans established their own colonies, introduced Roman law and Latin as the official language. The towns of Buzet, Labin, Porec, Pula, Rovinj and others were founded in this period. After the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century, Istria was ruled by the Goths, and from the middle of the 6th century it came under the rule of the Byzantine Empire which lasted until the 8lh century, when this territory was occupied by the Franks.
The Slavs began to penetrate in the 8th century, but the strongest Slavonic colonisation occurred in the 9,h and lO* centuries. As the Croatian state, which expanded at that time as far as the Raska, became weaker, the Franks occupied Istria again in the 11lh century. However Venice, a strong opponent, began already to interfere in Istrian life in the 10th century, and it completely conquered Istria in the 12″1 century.
When Istria was divided into two parts – Venetian and Austrian – in the 15th century, it remained so until the fall of Venice in 1797. This division did not influence the development of Istria in a positive way. Frequent conflicts in the 17th century, invasions by the Turks and fugitives from the Turks in other areas, plague epidemics, poverty, poor years, all devastated Istria. Napoleon occupied Venice in 1797 and thus put an end to the mightiest state in the Adriatic.
By agreement with France and Austria, Venetian Istria was joined to Austria. In the war of 1805 between France on the one side and Austria and Russia on the other, Napoleon was the victor so that Istria came under French occupation. However, after Napoleon’s defeat in Russia and Europe, and the peace treaty made in Vienna in 1815, Istria as a whole came under Austrian rule.
This lasted until 1918. On the basis of the armistice treaty made on November 3,1918 between the allied forces, Italy occupied the Istrian peninsula and some other Croatian regions.
The mass participation of the Istrian people in the antifascist struggle in the Second World War resulted in the victory and liberation of Istria from centuries long occupation. Finally, the People’s Liberation Board made the historical decision in Pazin on September 13,1943 to unite Istria with Croatia.
After the liberation, Istria continued its social and economic development. It was an integral part of socialist Yugoslavia until 1991, when Croatia finally became an independent, democratic state.
THE CULTURAL HERITAGE IN ISTRIA
Istria has preserved its continuity of human life and work from prehistory until the present day. Numerous hill forts (“kasteljeri”, “gradine”) mostly from the Iron Age speak about the human existence here in prehistory. Ancient monuments are also a valuable heritage: the Roman Amphitheatre, Augustus’s temple, Forum, Hercules’s and the Double Gate, The Triumphal Arch of Sergijevci in Pula.
The Basilica Euphrasiana in Poreč is a valuable monument to Byzantine culture with amazingly rich wall and floor mosaics. Necropoli in the vicinity of Buzet, Motovun, Roc, Zminj and Dvigrad speak about the culture and presence of the Slavonian (Croatian) population which inhabited both the towns on the coast and the interior of the peninsula.
From the 10th century on, Istria was under a strong Glagolitic influence which is evident from the Plomin Glagolitic inscription (11th C), the Supetar fragments with Cyrillic and Glagolitic inscriptions (12th C), the Grdo selo fragment (13th C), the Hum graphite (12th C) and the Roc Glagolitic elementary reader (about 1200). A valuable medieval Glagolitic document is also the Istrian Distribution written between 1275 and 1395 – an extensive document written in Glagolitic script which established the boundaries between the possessions of the patriarch of Aquileia, the duke of Pazin and Venice. Romanesque and Gothic art styles found their expression in wall painting and architecture.
The frescoes of Svetvincento, Hum, Kanfanar and Drague have been preserved. The Gothic style bequeathed rich painting and architecture. Especially beautiful are the frescoes in the church of St Mary on Skriljinah in Beram signed by the master Vincent from Kastav (1475), then also in Lindar in the church of St Catherine, the parish church of St Nicholas in Pazin, in the church of St Rocco in Drague, in the chapel of the Holy Trinity and in the chapel of St Anthony in Zminj… Fine examples of Romanesque and Gothic building art are the Franciscan church in Pula, the Baroque style then developed in all church of St Anthony in Roc, St Eufields of art and life. This is evident in phemia (Fumija) in Gracisce.
The both sacred and secular architecture. The most beautiful sacral monuments are the facade of the parish church in Motovun, the churches in Vodnjan, Labin, Fazana, Pazin, Groznjan, Zminj, St Peter in the Wood… One of the characteristics of Istrian churches are the Baroque “golden altars”, especially in Boljun and Plomin.
Examples of Baroque secular architecture are present in the town loggias in Motovun, Labin, Veprinc, the town fountain (“sterna”) in Buzet, and beautiful family houses and palaces. Classical art, with its high stylistic requirements, left few remains in Istria which was devastated and impoverished at that time.
Several family houses in Porec and the facade of the cathedral in Pula were built in the classical style, while the churches in Vizidan and Visnjan were renovated in the classic spirit. Istria is an unique area where three different European cultures interwove: Roman, German, and Slavonic, leaving a deep influence on the culture of its living and artistic heritage.