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Istria

Istria, the largest peninsula in the northern Adriatic Sea lies between the Kvarner Bay next to Rijeka and the Gulf of Trieste and covers an area of approximately 3,500 square kilometers. Istria is a name that can be traced back to the Histri, those who settled the region. The around 260,000 inhabitants, who are usually referred to as Istrians, are a population of people with different backgrounds: Slovenes, Croats and even a small minority of Italians in the West. Most of the population dwells along the coastal region and therefore, the inland is sparsely populated. The largest town on the peninsula is Pula and the smallest settlement is Hum. Hum is even the smallest settlement in the world with around 30 residents. Although small, its medieval city center is a large tourist attraction. The local residents speak Slovenian/Italian, Croatian/Italian, or only Italian.

The first human traces in Istria can be traced back to the Paleolithic era about a millions ago. When the Romans first came to the peninsula many millennium later in 221 B.C., they met the Histri, a tribe of the Illyrians who dominated the area as swashbuckling pirates. Despite strong opposition, the Romans conquered the peninsula in 178 B.C. They built well-fortified settlements and from these circular oppida, numerous towns, such as Labin and Motovon later arose. Along the Istrian coast, during the rule of Emperor Vespasian Via Flavia around 80 A.D., there was a connection built to the city of Trieste. In many places, the Roman road has stretches that have remained unchanged and still carry the road's ancient name.

The Lombards came to Istria in 568 A.D. and then the Slavs (Slovenes and Croats) invaded. In 789, Carloman, the son of Charlemagne, subjected the peninsula under the Frankish empire and in 1040, Henry III converted the peninsula into a Margraviate of the Roman Empire. In the 14th Century, Istria came under Venetian rule- a status which lasted four centuries long. This history is where

Istria, the largest peninsula in the northern Adriatic Sea lies between the Kvarner Bay next to Rijeka and the Gulf of Trieste and covers an area of approximately 3,500 square kilometers. Istria is a name that can be traced back to the Histri, those who settled the region. The around 260,000 inhabitants, who are usually referred to as Istrians, are a population of people with different backgrounds: Slovenes, Croats and even a small minority of Italians in the West. Most of the population dwells along the coastal region and therefore, the inland is sparsely populated. The largest town on the peninsula is Pula and the smallest settlement is Hum. Hum is even the smallest settlement in the world with around 30 residents. Although small, its medieval city center is a large tourist attraction. The local residents speak Slovenian/Italian, Croatian/Italian, or only Italian.

The first human traces in Istria can be traced back to the Paleolithic era about a millions ago. When the Romans first came to the peninsula many millennium later in 221 B.C., they met the Histri, a tribe of the Illyrians who dominated the area as swashbuckling pirates. Despite strong opposition, the Romans conquered the peninsula in 178 B.C. They built well-fortified settlements and from these circular oppida, numerous towns, such as Labin and Motovon later arose. Along the Istrian coast, during the rule of Emperor Vespasian Via Flavia around 80 A.D., there was a connection built to the city of Trieste. In many places, the Roman road has stretches that have remained unchanged and still carry the road's ancient name.

The Lombards came to Istria in 568 A.D. and then the Slavs (Slovenes and Croats) invaded. In 789, Carloman, the son of Charlemagne, subjected the peninsula under the Frankish empire and in 1040, Henry III converted the peninsula into a Margraviate of the Roman Empire. In the 14th Century, Istria came under Venetian rule- a status which lasted four centuries long. This history is where the coastal towns get their Venetian flair from. This flair especially manifests itself in the narrow alleyways of historical city centers. Those places also included under Venetian-Istria rule are, among others, Pula, Porec, Rovinj, and Umag.

At the end of the 18th Century, Austria occupied the peninsula. From Austrian rule, the peninsula was then ceded to France in 1805 and then subsequently to the Kingdom of Italy. Later, the Austrians reconquered the land and Istria in 1815 was then again part of the Austrian Monarchy. In a census taken in 1910 of the 386,463 inhabitants, 43% were Croats, 38% Italians, 14% Serbs and 4% of other descent. After the First World War, Istria was returned to Italy in 1919. After World War II, a large portion of Croatia was given for the founding of Yugoslavia and a small section of northwest Croatia fell to the Slovenes. After the collapse of Yugoslavia in 1991, Croatia and Slovenia become independent countries. There are, however, still disputes to this day about the exact demarcation of the two regions of Istria. 

The Croatian part of Istria, a region with 2,813 square kilometers full of beautiful beaches and charming, beautiful countryside attracts a large number of vacationers. This region is subject to the County of Istria and has its principle administrative headquarters in Pazin. Located in the south, the cultural and economic center of the area is the city of Pula with 57,000 residents. Before Istria to the west, lie the Brijuni Islands, where the Dobrika Bay and the Byzantine castrum can be found and to the east lies the island of Cres.

The seaport city of Koper, the center of the Slovenian coast with about 25,000 inhabitants is located about 20 kilometers south of Trieste. Tourists hardly recognize the inland as a possible holiday destination. In both countries the schools are bilingual-Croatian/Italian and Slovenian/Italian- as well as most city and street names. For example Pula is also displayed as Pola and Koper as Capodistria.

Geologically, the Istria peninsula is largely comprised of limestone and naturally, during the Roman period, it was often used in the construction of buildings, such as the amphitheater in Pula. Due to different soils, the region has been divided into and is represented by three defining landscape zones: the white, the gray and the red. The white color is an indication of the uppermost area of Istria in the east and consists of pale limestone rock. From here the highest mountain in the region, the Vojak in the Ucka range, rises up towards the sky with 1401 meters. The gray area is in the middle of the region and has many clay soils. The hilly landscape is so dry and rugged that the area stays sparsely populated. The red region, a low-lying plateau with Terra Rossa soils, extends from this area to the western coastal zone. The coast of the peninsula is highly segmented with some estuaries, such as the Lim Channel on the west coast. The coast reaches far up into the interior and is recognized for having a fjord-like character.

When it comes to economic importance, one must look to the coastal cities. Keeping with tradition, tourism today keeps this area as economically busy as it was in the 19th Century. The port city of Pula is especially popular with tourists and is the center of Croatian Istria. Tourists can except to find an opportunity for every taste, such as dancing in hip nightclubs or strolling through the picturesque streets which are lined with many moments from Roman times, such as the large amphitheater which is the landmark of the city. Here, tourists walk where gladiators once fought. Also worth a visit are the Arc de Triomphe, the Temple of Augustus and the Forum.

Tourists come to Istria, however, primarily for the swimming. On the Slovenian coast, which is 46 kilometers long, one can easily book trips to Koper, Piran, Izola and Portoroz. All along the 537 kilometer long coast there are many landmarks in the Croatian part of Istria:

Umag and Savudrija delight with their lighthouses and their peculiar habit of hanging their fishing boats on wooden scaffolding. 
Novigrad charms with the steeple of the medieval parish church of St. Pelagius.
Porec has the the famous Euphrasius Basilica of late antiquity, the Byzantine period that is, and the Baredine Grotto, while also being an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Rovinj is Istria´ s most beautiful city. Its three-nave Baroque church of St. Euphemia triumphs over the city.
Medulin lies on the southern point of the peninsula and attracts tourist to its beautiful, sandy Bijeca beach as well as to the Kap Kamenjak Natural Park, which is famous for its unique flora and fauna. In addition, there is the small offshore peninsula of Vizula, which is best known for having one of the most important, ancient archaeological sites in Croatia. Of particular interest is the Roman villa which most likely belonged to Constantine the Great.  
On the east coast of the Croatian region of Istria lies Rabac. Rabac boasts having beautiful and easily accessible pebble and sand beaches.

Every single beach resort has its own special charm and they are all ideal for cultural holidays, pets, family and couples looking for a romantic atmosphere. There are also numerous offers throughout the country for people who are interested in doing sports during their holidays.

Visitors can also explore the cliffs, the pebbled and sandy beaches on the peninsula of Istria, which provides great accommodation possibilities, and numerous other interesting sights. Not to forget, Istria has plenty of gastronomy, various opportunities for strolling, shopping and nightlife, and even offers boat trips to the surrounding areas. Children can be found, among others, in the Aqua Park or climbing at their own risk in the forest near Porec. If you can't find them there, then you should check on one of the Brijuni Islands, where the former summer residence of Tito is located, and in the safari park amongst the exotic animals and plants. You can also find fossilized dinosaur footprints on the beach. On the Kvarner Islands of Cres in eastern Istria you can even observe wild vultures.

For an interesting day trip, you can take a drive to Nesactium- an antique city ten kilometers east of Pula . Here, you can visit the archaeological park located on a hill next to Viazace and see many of the Roman ruins made of Istrian limestone. Popular destinations for tourists are the middle and the northern regions of Istria because their  prominent hills give the landscape and its villages a special charm. The most beautiful places in the interior are Motovun, with its magnificent medieval old town where an annual film festival is held,  and the cites of Kanfanar, Svetvincenat, Buzet and Buje. In Kanfanara the deserted ruins of the former city of Dvigrad is a must see.

The population in this region has survived for decades on tourism, agriculture, and through working local industries. In addition, the vineyards are highly operational in this area. The grapes which are pressed include the bright red Teran and the yellow-greenish and slightly bitter tasting Malvasia. Motovun is also popular for the truffles that can be found there. Truffle aficionados consider these excellent truffles as one of the finest in the world. The Emperor Ling is also another mushroom that is a specialty of the region of Istria.

Two further major resorts are Labin, which lies above Rabac on the east coast and the inland-located city of Beram. Beram is well- known for its Gothic frescoes in the sanctuary of St. Martin's Church which probably dates back to around 1430 and for its grandiose dance of death cycle in the little Church of our Lady. There are other remarkable monuments inland often dealing with small churches, impressive, interesting histories, or interior architectural features. In the fields, you can find many ancient building blocks (KAZUNS) scattered about the fields. These are what is left of the former stone protection huts which were built in ancient times by shepherds and farmers.

The peninsula of Istria excites visitors not only with its numerous opportunities for recreation, but also because of its mild climate. There is an annual average of 2,380 sunshine hours, the summers are not too hot, and the winters are mild. The coldest month sees a temperature of about 6 degrees Celsius in February and the warmest month of July reaches temperatures of about 24 degrees Celsius. The average temperatures over the year lies at around 14 degrees.

Around the Istrian peninsula are well-developed roadways. The main roads are the A8 and the A9: two highways which form the Istrian Y. The A9 connects the port city of Pula in the south with the Slovenian border. The junction for the A9 and the A8 leading to the east lies next to the city of Kanfanar. Besides the two highways near the coast, there is a main road as well as various branches and networks of country roads.  

 

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