I’m back from my very last trip to Pula! I spent almost a week in the Istrian county and it actually was my very first time of enjoying Croatia for longer than just several hours. I travelled by bus from Innsbruck to Triest in Italy (8 hours instead of the promissed 6 …), and then another 2 hours by car from Triest to Pula. The whole journey felt like the-never-ending-trip. And to be honest, I had some thoughts of flying to Asia instead – it will probably take the same time that I can spent in the bus just to go somewhere in Europe …
Anyway, I had a great week in Pula! I was surprised by how Italian this city looked like, how friendly the people are, how good I actually can understand the Croatian language, how delicious the food is, … and what an amazing Football team the Croatians have! This was the week of the World Cup Finals and the whole Croatia went totally crazy! It felt like the 4th of July in the USA … the whole week long! Every day, every hour somebody was singing a Croatian song and was celebrating the Croatian Victory! I’m a huge football fan, so I could not have chosen a better week to experience Croatia as in the last week of WM 2018!
Despite the football fever, today I’ll share with you my favourite must-have-seen places in Pula. Enjoy!
Arch of the Sergii
What is an ex-roman town without a Triumphal Arch? Probably not a successful one in the past! Well, Pula has its own Triumphal Arch, known as the Arch of the Sergii and also as the Golden Gate. The arch was built during the Hellenistic period of Mediterranean history (between the death of Alexander the Great and the arising of the Roman Empire).
The Arch was a present to Pula from the Roman family Sergii which had maintained its mastery in this region through the centuries. The 8-meter-high Arch was erected by Salvia Postuma Sergi (the wife of Sergi) during the late 1st century BC. The Golden Gate was built in the Corinthian Style with a significant influence of the Hellenic art of Asia Minor. This style was very popular during the reign of Augustus.
La Plaza or the main square in Pula is called “Forum” (it sounds Italian, right!). The Forum is located in the middle of the old town, also very close to the sea. The square was built in the 1st century BC, during the early ages of the Empire.
Back in the days, the Forum was the heart of the city and nowadays it is still kind of the most buzzing spot for tourists. Here you can find the religious, administrative, and commercial side of Pula. If you are looking for the tourist center, Pula Info (Pula +) is also located right next to the City Hall. In the northern part of the square, you can spot the temples which, back in the days, were dedicated to Jupiter, Juno and Minerva. Today, only the back wall of these temples is visible, while one other temple – the Temple of Augustus – remained completely preserved.
Temple of Augustus
Located on the Roman Forum, you can visit one of the most famous sightseeing of Pula – the Temple of Augustus. The Temple of Augustus is the only one fully preserved sacral monument of all three that were built here during the 1st century. The temple was dedicated to “the goddess Roma (the personification of the city of Rome) and Emperor Augustus, son of divine Caesar, the father of the homeland”.
In the year of 1944, the temple was hit by a bomb during an Allied air raid, which almost totally destroyed it. Its reconstruction followed 3 years later. Outside the temple, there is a beautiful roman cella and antechamber facing the Forum. Inside the square edifice, there is a small room. Nowadays, this small room is a history museum (a lapidarium) where you can see some interesting Roman sculptures found in Pula’s area.
Something that I found thanks to my YouTube research on Pula, is the very well hidden Agripinina Kuca (Hous of Agripinina). This archaeological site is situated in a closed housing complex between Sergi Street and Francis of Assisi Street, on the southeast part of the antique Roman forum.
This archaeological site has some very interesting and old story (3000 years!) to tell. Archaeologists have found some traces from Venetian times (6th century) and Etruscan ceramics from 3rd century BC. Historians believe that during the reign of Emperor Claudius the empress Agrippina Minor was living here. Agrippina was a Roman noblewoman, the wife of Claudius, the sister of Caligula (well known for his cruelties), and the mother of Emperor Nero (who, according to some stories, killed her).
The most impressive building in Pula is the amphitheatre known as the Arena. Arena Pula is located at the beginning of the historic centre and old town of Pula. The Amphitheater was built by the Romans during the reign of Emperor Vespasian (who also built the Roman Colosseum) in the 1st century AD. During that time the city of Pula was the regional centre of Roman Rule.
Pula Arena’s capacity in the 1st century AD was for about 26,000 spectators! Its longer site is ca 132 m, and the shorter one is ca 105 m. Its walls (32 m high) are still quite well-preserved today. Pula Arena is one of the 6th largest surviving and well preserved Roman amphitheaters in the world.
The largest ancient building in Istria is open for visitors every day and sometimes it hosts concerts, operas and ballets during the evening. In the summer months the Arena is used for festivals and performances and was even the site of 2 outdoor hockey games featuring professional hockey teams from the KHL.
During the 17th century, the famous French architect Antoine de Ville decided to work on his next project called Fortress Kaštel. The fortress is situated on a hill in the centre of Pula. For its construction, the architect used stone from a large Roman theatre.
Due to its perfect position, the fortress was always used for defence of Pula’s bay and port. The Venetian Fortress is a great place if you’re looking for some amazing city views of Pula and its bay. Nowadays, inside the castle, you can visit the Istrian Historical Museum, which offers a collection of more than 75000 objects.
Floor Mosaic The Punishment of Dirce
Another hidden gem in Pula is the mosaic (12 m x 6 m) of the punishment of Dirke which was found near the Church of St. Mary Formosa after the bombing during WWII. The mosaic represents the mythological scene of the “Punishment of Dirce”. During the 3rd century, this mosaic covered the floor of a central room in a Roman house.
The only Cathedral in Pula was built between the 4th and 5th century by the Romans. Pula’s Cathedral was named after the event of Mary’s Assumption. Historians believe that the church hosted a temple dedicated to Jupiter Conservator in Roman times. Another assumption is that the relics of some important saints, including Thomas the Apostle and St. George were buried here.
The so-called Porta Gemina, also known as the Twin Gates or Dvoina Vrata is a double arched gate, built at the end of 2nd century AD by the Romans. Nowadays, the Porta Gemina is the entrance of Pula’s Archaeological Museum.
Back in the days Pula was surrounded by walls. Porta Gemina was one of the 10 gates that provide entrance into the town. Most of the other gates were destroyed during the 19th century.
Nowadays the Sacred Hears is a newly renovated museum and gallery located in the former Church of the Sacred Hearts that was built by the nuns of that holy order in 1908. After bombing the city during the WWII, the church was almost destroyed and it closed its doors to visitors till 2011. In 2018, the Sacred Heart is still the latest museum and gallery space in Pula.
The best getaway during the summer months – Pula’s Zerostrasse! The Zerostrasse represents a system of underground tunnels that stretch below almost entire Pula. The tunnels were built during the WW1 for protecting people in case of bombing.
The tunnel system consisted of shelters, funk holes, galleries and passages. It is assumed that the system consists of around 10 kilometres of tunnels (between 3 and 6 m wide and 2.5 m high) and galleries that can welcome around 50000 people. There are many entrances which were carefully planned to provide a regular air flow. In the tunnels, the average annual temperature is between 14 and 18 degrees!
The Church and Monastery of St. Francis
Besides the grumpy lady on the door, this place is amazing! The Church of St. Francis was built during the 13th century in a late Romanesque style with Gothic details. Inside the complex, there is a beautiful garden with hundreds of roses and small turtles, a cloister, a church and a beautiful room with an ancient Roman mosaic to see.
Lower Kamenjak and Medulin Archipelago
Croatia is a favourite summer destination in Europe! Many people (mostly from Germany, Austria, and Nederland) are travelling to Pula between June and September in order to enjoy the beautiful Adriatic Coast. The most famous beaches near Pula are located on the Kamenjak Peninsula (Cape Kamenjak), also known as the Peninsula of Premantura.
The Kamenjak Peninsula is 9 km long and is the utmost tip of Istria. Its coastline is 30 km long – here you can enjoy numerous valleys, bays, beaches and capes. The Kamenjak is divided into Upper and Lower Kamenjak and also includes 11 unhabituated small islands (Bodulaš, Ceja, Trumbuja, Fenera, Šekovac, Fenoliga, Levan, Levanić, Škoj of Premantura, Škoj of Pomer and Porer).
Kamenjak is a well-protected area with untouched nature, wildlife, amazing flora and fauna, idyllic rocky beaches and crystal clear water. You can even spot some Dinosaur Footprints in the Kamenjak National Park!
Have been to Croatia? What are your favourite cities, beaches and sights? I’ll be grateful if you leave them in the comment section <3
Enjoy the day!