Arena – Amphitheater
The most famous and important monument, the starting and ending point of every sightseeing tour is the Amphitheater, popularly called the Arena of Pula, which was once the site of gladiator fights. It was built in the 1st century AD during the reign of Emperor Vespasian, at the same time as the magnificent Colosseum in Rome.
The ground plan is elliptical, the longer axis measuring about 130 m and the shorter one about 100 m. Gladiator fights took place in the central flat area called the arena, while the spectators could sit on the stone tiers or stand in the gallery. It is believed that the Amphitheater could seat about 20,000 spectators. Local limestone was used for its construction. In the Middle Ages it was the site of knights tournaments and fairs.
Today, it is the venue for many different events – Pula Film Festival, various concerts, opera, ballet, sports competitions… since its capacity is about 5000 spectators.
Every week during the summer months, the Arena hosts gladiator fights as part of the historical and entertainment spectacle “Spectacvla Antiqva”.
The underground passages, once used by the gladiators, nowadays host a regular exhibition of viticulture and olive growing in Istria in ancient times. The exhibits include reconstructions of machines once used for the production of olive oil and wine (mills, presses, vessels) and amphorae used for storing and transporting olive oil and wine.
The Amphitheater is situated outside the old city walls because of its size and geographical configuration. The road that leads to the center was constructed during Emperor Vespasian, after whom it was named – Via Flavia. Even today it represents one of the main city roads.
Temple of Augustus
The Temple, situated in the Forum, is dedicated to goddess Roma and Emperor Augustus. It was constructed between the year 2 BC and AD 14 when the Emperor died. According to its shape it follows the typical pattern of temples.
The function of the Temple changed through the years: with the ending of the pagan ancient era its original pagan function ceased and the temple was afterwards used as a church, granary, and in the beginning of the 19th century it was a museum for stone monuments.
In 1944 it was hit by a bomb and completely destroyed. It was reconstructed between the years 1945 and 1947 and nowadays it houses a collection of ancient stone and bronze sculptures.
The other twin temple, of which only the back wall is preserved, is believed to have been constructed at the same time and in the same style and was called the Temple of Diana.
Triumphal Arch of the Sergi – Golden Gate
The “Golden Gate” was erected between the years 29 and 27 BC by the Sergi family, in honor of three members of the family who held important positions in Pula at that time.
This triumphal arch leaned against the city gate Porta Aurea thus called because of its richly ornamented arch or gilded elements. The gate and wall were pulled down in the beginning of the 19th century as a result of the city expansion outside the city walls.
The Arch was constructed in Corinthian style with strong Hellenistic and Asia Minor influences both in the method and ornaments. As the eastern side was not visible it has remained for the most part uncarved, while the western, town side is richly decorated. Today numerous cultural performances, theatrical and musical, are held on the square next to the Arch. The adjacent street is a shopping area.
Historical and Maritime Museum of Istria
At the highest hill in Pula, at an altitude of 32.4 m, between the sea and the hills Arena, Zaro and Sv. Mihovil, the adapted Venetian fortification, houses since 1961 the Historical Museum of Istria, founded as the Museum of the Revolution on December 31, 1955. The Historical Museum of Istria – Museo Storico dell’Istria carries out its activities as a public institution. Presently, it is a County institution that keeps part of the national and universal heritage, from the High Middle Ages until the recent history directly or indirectly presenting it to the public by means of permanent or temporary exhibitions or publications.
From the upper circular street one of the perpendicular paths leads to the top of the central hill of the city where a star-shaped castle with four bastions was built in 1630. Wishing to protect the city and its harbor, because of it great significance in maritime trade in the North Adriatic, the Venetians commissioned the building of the Castle from the French military architect Antoine de Ville. This was most probably the site of an earlier fortress dating from the pre-Roman and Roman period. The Histrian hill-fort was primarily built for defensive purposes, whereas in the Roman period a small military garrison was stationed here. Today the Castle houses the Historical Museum of Istria.
House of Croatian defenders
The Marine Casino was built in 1872 according to the plans of Viennese architect L. Baumann, as a place for leisure and entertainment of Austro-Hungarian officers and their families.
The second building of this complex, a representative palace, was built 40 years later. The main hall, once also called the “Winter Garden” with pairs of Doric fluted columns and glass ceiling led to the ballroom and concert hall, terrace, garden and surrounding park, which today is the venue for many concerts, assemblies, exhibitions, fairs, dances and balls.
Small Roman Theater
On the northeastern slopes of the central hill of the city, below the Castle are the remains of a Roman theater: in addition to the Amphitheater, Pula had two other theaters during the Roman period. The larger one, which has not been preserved, was situated outside the city, on the slopes of Zaro hill (Monte Zaro), south of the city walls. The other theater known as the Small Roman Theater was situated within the city walls. The remains of scene, semicircular orchestra and tired section for the audience have partly been reconstructed. Below the theater is the building of the one-time German Royal Gymnasium, which in 1930 became the Archaeological Museum of Istria. Today the museum displays a rich collection of prehistoric, classical and early medieval monuments found in Istria.
Archaeological Museum of Istria
By collecting stone monuments in the Temple of Augustus in 1802, marshal Marmont began the founding of the museum collection in Pula. However, the discovery of stone, ceramic and metal objects in Nesactium was the basis for founding the Museo Civico (City Museum) in Pula in 1902. After the seat of the “Società istriana di archeologia e storia patria” had been moved and with the transfer of the archaeological inventory from Poreč to Pula, the Museo Civico was integrated with the National collection (stone monuments) and the Poreč Regional Museum (Museo Provinciale) into one regional institution. Therefore, in 1925 the Museum of Istria (Il Regio Museo dell’Istria) was founded in the present-day museum building. In 1930 the museum opened its doors to visitors, and a guidebook in Italian was published. This exhibition, along with minor changes, was open for the public until the end of World War II, when many objects were transferred to Italy during the Anglo-American administration.
Chapel of St. Maria Formosa
It is one of the two chapels built in the 6th century as part of a large Benedictine abbey demolished in the 16th century. The floor and walls were decorated with mosaics, some of which are now in the Archaeological Museum of Istria. It was built in the style of Ravenna churches, the only difference being the use of stone instead of brick. Due to its dimensions, method of construction and good state of preservation, the Chapel represents an extraordinary architectural masterpiece of its time.
Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas
Built in the second half of the 6th century, with a typical Ravenna-like polygonal apse, the church was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. After its radical reconstruction around 1200, it was assigned to the Greek Orthodox community in Pula in 1583 formed by immigrants from Cyprus and Nauplion: Today it belongs to the Serbian Orthodox church. It keeps the iconostasis of the Greek master Tomios Batos from the 18th century, valuable icons and other objects.
Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Within the city, along the main street that from Flavia Street leads to the Forum, stands the Cathedral of Pula. It was built at the site where Christians gathered already in the time of their persecution (until the 4th century). With the ages it grew larger and assumed its present-day shape in the 5th century. It had an elongated oblong shape whose interior was divided by two rows of columns. The area around the altar was in the north, defined by a semi-circular podium with stalls for the clergy. In front of the altar area, behind it and around the very altar, still lie fragments of the floor mosaic from the 5th – 6th centuries, with memorial inscriptions of worshippers who paid for the decoration of the specific surface.
After the Arsenal was founded in 1856, Pula faced a period of intensive building, marked by the construction of new buildings mostly related to the activities of the main naval port of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy: from the Naval hospital and Naval cemetery to numerous barracks of the Hydrographic Institute, Marine Casino, military and civil buildings, residential buildings for officers and civil servants, as well as residential buildings for workers and lower grade clerks.
Church and Monastery of St. Francis
On the slope of the hill between the Forum and the upper circular street, lies the monastic complex dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi, built in the 14th century at the site of a previous cultic edifice. The Franciscan community was first recorded in Pula in the 13th century. The church was built in 1314 in the late Romanesque style with Gothic ornaments, as a firm and simple building of the preaching Franciscan order. The finely cut stone blocks used for building the walls speak of the skilful masters who took part in the construction.
The main square of classical and medieval Pula is situated at the foot of the central hill, in the western part of the city close to the sea. The coast where the Forum was constructed in the 1st century BC had to be filled up to gain a larger area. The Forum was the nucleus of city life, its religious, administrative, legislative and commercial center. On the northern part of the Forum stood two twin temples and a central one dedicated to Jupiter, Juno and Minerva. Today only the Temple of Augustus has been fully preserved while of the second temple only the back wall, built into the Communal Palace in the 13th century, is visible.
Gate of Hercules
It stands between two, most probably medieval towers, of simple construction built of uncarved stone blocks. At the top of the damaged arch, although hardly recognizable, is a carving of the head of Hercules and his club. Close to the club is a damaged inscription, most interesting in the historical context since it contains the names of two Roman officials, Lucius Calpurnius Piso and Gaius Cassius Longinus to whom the Roman Senate had entrusted the duty to found a Roman colony at the site of today’s Pula. Thus, between 47 and 44 BC Pula was founded as a settlement with urban features. Since the upper circular street passed though this gate, the axis of communication was obliquely placed with respect to the direction of the city walls.
Twin Gates and City Walls
In ancient and medieval times the whole city was surrounded by walls and was entered through about ten gates. The walls had become old and unnecessary so they were pulled down at the beginning of the 19th century. Parts of the walls between the Twin Gates and the Giardini square have been preserved until today.
The Twin Gates, thus called because of the two arches through which you enter the inner yard, which was once the entrance to the city, were constructed between the 2nd and 3rd centuries. The Twin Gates today lead to the Archeological Museum and the Castle.
Remains, partly restored, of an octagonal sepulchral structure – Mausoleum from the 1st – 2nd centuries have been found opposite the Twin Gates.
Floor mosaic “The Punishment of Dirce”
After the bombing of World War II remains of Roman houses with mosaics were found under the block of houses around the Chapel of St. Maria Formosa. The most impressive one is surely the floor mosaic with the central field presenting the mythological scene of the “Punishment of Dirce”(Amphion and Zethus are tying Dirce to an enraged bull, since out of envy Dirce had been cruel to their mother Antiope.) This figural scene presents the central field of a large floor mosaic composition (12 m x 6 m). The entire mosaic composition is divided into two equal sections with altogether 40 decorated areas dominated by geometrical patterns with animal details (fish and bird). The mosaic covered the floor of a central room of a Roman house, probably from the 3rd century. It has been preserved at the site where it was found, so that the level of house floors in the Roman times, which is 2 m below today’s level, is clearly visible.
At the time when Pula was a free municipality, a palace was erected in the Forum – the seat of the municipal self-government. During the Venetian rule it was the seat of the duke and provveditore, and until the present has remained the seat of the mayor. Additions over the centuries (from the 10th -16th centuries) led to a building that in an exceptional way combines architectural styles from the Romanesque until the Renaissance. The inscription built in the facade, which was restored in the 16th century, dates the construction of the Communal Palace to 1296. The year probably refers to the first greater reconstruction and addition, because this was surely the seat of the municipal government even earlier.