Saturday, January 31, 2009

Rovinj (Croatia)

Rovinj (Croatian)

Ruvèigno (Istriot)

Rovigno (Italian)

One of the most beautiful towns on the Istrian coast, Rovinj (Croatia), a city of 15,000 inhabitants, is an active fishing port and tourist resort.

Rovinj is one of a handful of towns in which the rare Istriot language is still spoken (it is estimated that only +-1,000 speakers remain). Originally the peninsula on which the old town lies was an island, separated from the mainland by a channel, which was filled in 1763. The Rovinj Archipelago includes 22 islands, one of which (Santa Katarina) extends into the harbor. Rovinj enjoys a Mediterranean climate with subtropical vegetation.

Rovinj attracts a sizable number of foreign tourists, especially Austrians and Germans, although the recent proliferation of low-cost flights to the area from London has resulted in a noticeable increase in tourists from the UK. During the summer a high speed ferry service connects Rovinj with Venice.

From 1283 to 1797 Rovinj was one of the most important towns of Istria under the Venetian Republic. The city was fortified by two rows of walls with three town gates. Close to the pier one can find an old town gate (Balbi's Arch) dating from 1680, and a late-Renaissance clock tower. The old town is dominated by the church of St. Euphemia and its Italianate tower (campanile).

After the fall of Venice and the Napoleonic period, Rovinj was part of the Austrian Empire until World War I. The city then belonged to Italy from 1918 to 1947, when it was ceded to Yugoslavia; during this period, most of the Italian inhabitants fled. Today three quarters of the citizens are Croats, and only 16% are Italian.

The 4-star Villa Angelo d'Oro Hotel reflects the traditions of its Austrian owners:

Restaurant Monte (below) inside and out.

The streets of the old town are cobbled with smooth, white stones:

Katarina Island seen from the tower of St. Euphemia church:

A picturesque courtyard in the old town:

Friday, January 30, 2009

Bora (winter wind)

The cold bora wind affects the entire Istrian Peninsula. It is a katabatic wind, like the Santa Ana in California and the Mistral in the Mediterranean. Katabatic winds are downdrafts that carry winds from higher to lower elevations. In this instance, the heavier (colder, denser) air over the Alps is carried by gravity down to the warmer, lighter air over the Adriatic.

Above: the mean streets of downtown Trieste, Italy, during the occasion of a bora wind.

The bora, which occurs most ofter in winter, affects Croatia, Slovenia and Italy. It blows in gusts. On March 15, 2006, a gust was clocked at a bridge in Croatia at more than 155 MPH (235 KPH). The bora can last for several days at a time and usually occurs several times each year (on average about 40 days a year). Coastal towns are built densely with narrow streets, in part because of the wind. Buildings in several towns and villages in Slovenia and the Italian province of Trieste have stones on their roofs to prevent the roof tiles from being blown off. It is not uncommon to see entire rows of motorcycles and mopeds blown over onto their sides in Trieste.

Chains and ropes are occasionally stretched along the sidewalks in downtown Trieste to facilitate pedestrian traffic; there is a danger of being blown off one's feet and into traffic! (click to enlarge photo)

Italian: bora
Slovene: burja
Croatian: bura

Trivia: The Volkwagen models Bora, Sirocco and Passat are all named after winds, with the insinuation that their cars "move like the wind."

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Muggia & San Dorligo della Valle

Muggia is a municipality (“comune” in Italian) immediately south of Trieste, Italy. It has a 7-mile-long coastline along the northeastern Adriatic, forming the northern extremity of the Istrian Peninsula. Muggia shares a border with Slovenia to the south. The western limit of the comune is home to San Rocco, a spa port that today houses a pleasure craft harbor and luxury hotel.

Although Muggia can trace its origin back to the 7th century BCE, the most important date in its history is 1420, when Muggia was incorporated into the Republic of Venice. Much evidence of its association with the Serene Republic can still be seen today, chiefly in its dialect, cuisine and architecture. The main square around the town hall and Cathedral of Saints John and Paul (c. 1263) is a true “campiello” (see photo above). The church has an unusual scalloped white stone facade that incorporates a tracery rose window with Mary and the infant Jesus sculpted in its center.

After the fall of the Venetian Republic in 1797, Muggia became part of the Austrian Empire, developing an important naval construction industry that flourished until after World War II. The neighboring city of Trieste was the principal port of the Hapsburgs.

Muggia has a crenelated 14th century castle that was restored by its current owner, sculptor Villi Bossi (see photo below). There is a celebrated annual Carnival (carnevale muggesano) that engages most of the town’s citizens, who act out religious allegories while dressed in elaborate costumes.

San Dorligo della Valle is a comune that lies due east of Muggia. It also shares a border with Slovenia. Unlike Muggia, which is populated almost entirely by ethnic Italians, 70% of the inhabitants of San Dorligo della Valle are ethnic Slovenes.

Photo: The hilly Karst region of San Dorligo della Valle.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Poreč (Parenzo)

Set along the western coast of the Istrian Peninsula, Poreč (Italian: Parenzo) is almost 2,000 years old, and is centered around a harbor protected from the Adriatic Sea by the small offshore island of Sveti Nikola (St. Nicholas). The town's population of approximately 12,000 resides mostly outside the historical center.

The old town's streets are paved with smooth white stones.

In 1267 Poreč became the first Istrian city that chose to become part of the Venetian Republic, and Venetian architecture can still be seen all around the ancient streets of the old town sector.

But the most important historical structure is the sixth-century early Byzantine Basilica, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1997. Built in 553, the Euphrasian Basilica is named after Bishop Euphrasius of Poreč, who in the 6th century commissioned the building of this grandiose three-nave basilica on the site of an earlier church. The Euphrasiana complex is comprised of a church, baptistry, atrium and the former Bishop’s Palace. Of particular interest are the mosaics in the apse, as well as marble slabs with mother-of-pearl and multicolored stone incrustations.

The first sacred structure on the Basilica’s site was Maurus’ Oratory, built in the second half of the 3rd century (portions of the mosaics have been preserved) as one of the first places for corporate worship by Christians. Maurus was the first Bishop of Poreč, and is today the patron saint of Poreč and its diocese. In the period of the bloodiest persecution of Christians during the rule of Emperor Diocletian, he was executed together with the entire clergy of Poreč. His relics are housed today in Euphrasius’ Basilica.

For more than 40 years during the summer months, the basilica in Poreč has been a venue for classical music concerts. Renowned musicians from Croatia and abroad perform there. The atrium of Euphrasiana (see photo below) is the setting for chamber music concerts, notably those incorporating the harpsichord.

Poreč: Sunset over the Adriatic

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Hum, Croatia

Hum, a hilltop medieval town on the Istrian peninsula of Croatia, holds the record as the smallest town in the world, population 17-23 (varies). Located in northwest Croatia near the Slovenian border, Hum is one of the rare preserved and untouched examples of urban development inside medieval walls. Since the 11th century up to the present moment, no completely new structure has been built except for the 19th century Italian school. Older structures have been altered, most notably a bell tower addition in 1552 and a new facade added to the church of St. Jerome in 1802.
 The entire town consists of just two streets and two churches. The sole restaurant Humska Konoba serves smoked meats with sauerkraut and signature doughnuts for dessert; there are frequent lines out the door formed by curious and hungry tourists who wish to enter the ancient and atmospheric stone and wood structure. They serve biska, a local grape brandy.

It must be noted that Hum is not a village, but a genuine town with elected officials and a town government. As such it is considered the smallest town in the world.

Each year on the Day of Hum all men from the parish elect their prefect in the municipal loggia according to the old tradition, by engraving votes on a wooden stick known as raboš. The town prefect is responsible for his parish, for settling disputes among residents and imposing penalties for disorderly conduct in Hum and the surrounding villages. The election is followed by a folk festival in which traditional dishes and homemade wine and brandy are featured. The local home-made brandy, biska (made from grape-brandy, mistletoe and four herbs), is based on a two-thousand-year-old recipe.

Hum is also the mecca of Croatian Glagolitism where you can see the first monuments and trace the very beginnings of Croatian literacy, as well as get to know the old Croatian alphabet Glagoljica. The Aleja glagoljaša (Glagolithic Avenue) is a series of 11 monuments dedicated to the Glagolitic script, placed along the 4-mile route between Roč und Hum. This set of monuments was erected between 1977 and 1981 to celebrate and preserve Glagolitic script, a 9th century alphabet devised by Saints Cyril and Methodius. All 34 letters also have a word meaning and numerical value. The script for the letter K also means “how” and the number 40. The Glagolitic script became disused in general in the 15th century, but lasted in small coastal pockets of Croatia until the 19th century.