Monday, April 16, 2012


Perched on the hilltop in central Istria above the Mirna Valley stands the town with the best preserved fortification system in Istria. In prehistoric times already, people recognized the advantages of living on its plateau where they built their settlement. We are not certain of its power at the time, but its development can be traced in the document from 804, when a report from the Assembly of Rižana was written. Along with other complaints presented by representatives of Istrian towns at the large gathering at the Rižana River, they spoke about taxes to Byzantium whose amount reflected the economic power of the towns and villages. According to its taxes, Motovun was right after Pula, Poreč and Rovinj. Considering such economic power in the Early Middle Ages, the number of material evidence from that time is incredibly small. Only a few fragments of church stone furnishings were found, while one of them was walled into a Motovun café and is worth finding!
Until the 12th c. the town was ruled by the Patriarch of Aquileia, and after that it was taken over by the Counts of Gorizia. According to its first walls and buildings (communal palace, old loggia, church with belfry), in the 13th c. it presumably functioned as a crafts and trade center with a fortified citadel. The Communal Palace, a Romanesque building from the 12th/ 13th cc., is preserved to such an extent that traces of its walled windows are still clearly visible. Standing at the entrance to the central part of town, its function remained the same until nowadays – it is the Motovun Town Hall.
In 1278 Venice completely took over the rule. In the beginning of the 14th c., the town saw an accelerated development and the lower town Borgo was formed, being fortified by new walls. The quality of living improved too; as early as 1331 the town had its own doctor and pharmacy.
In the 15th c. Motovun became the border fortification between two great forces: the Venetian Republic and the Pazin County.

Owing to this new function, strategic position and location along the navigable way of the Mirna River that enabled lively commercial activity, Motovun reinforced its status of one of the most significant Istrian towns. The fortification system was reconstructed, and followed by intensive construction of churches and residential buildings. The town also spread along the eastern ridge and the Gradisiol suburb was formed. The Church of St. Anthony of Padua was built in the 15th c. Somewhat later, in 1521, the church and belfry of the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Gate was completed. Its high altar was made by the well known workshop of Paolo Campsa, one of the most popular Renaissance woodcarving workshops in Istria. In 1584 the Franciscans started building the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary dei Servi. It was completed, as the titular says, by the Servite Order.

The citadel in the center of town assumed new traits as well. On the site of the earlier one, a new three-aisled Church of St. Stephen was built between 1580 and 1614 in the Late Renaissance style. Between the church and the Communal Palace stood the large square with wells. If we come to the square, we will find ourselves standing above the large town cistern that supplied entire Motovun with drinking water.
Constant reconstruction and reinforcement of the town walls encouraged by the position and new status resulted in a multi-layered fortification system. The central ring with a monumental gate on the west and defense towers on prominent positions has a wide promenade. The second ring that was accessed through a monumental passage by the Communal Palace, where a small lapidarium stands today, encompassed part of Borgo, Barbacan and Gradisiol. A third section of walls was built along the second one in order to embrace the remaining part of Borgo. This pattern of passages through the first and second ring of the walls, formed an oblong square at the far end of which a new town loggia was built in the 17th c.

If we stop for a while on this square-belvedere and look at the surroundings, we will notice an unusually dense forest to the right, along the Mirna River. This is the Motovun Forest. Its wood was extremely prized in Venice, because examples of its gently curved common oak, were also used for building the hulls of Venetian ships. 
At the end of the 18th c., when circumstances of living changed after the fall of the Venetian Republic, the Rialto suburb was formed. The importance of Motovun began to decrease.
The town functioned as an important station along the Parenzana route. Its revitalization began recently when the town assumed the role of the major tourist center of Istria with many international events, of which the best known is the Motovun Film Festival.

Don’t miss:

The drive along the Mirna River, all the way to the foot of Buzet and back towards Motovun. This way you will be able to feel how Motovun was perceived by the seamen who for centuries sailed the one-time large Mirna River.

Interesting facts:

Who was Andrea Antico after whom the main Motovun square was named? Antico (1480 – after 1538) was the first printer of music sheets in Rome, composer, editor and publisher, allegedly the best music printer of his time. He was born, of course, in Motovun.(

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Oprtalj / Istria


It is not easy to find an attractive introduction for Oprtalj, yet another fortified town on the hilltop. No matter how attractive it was at the time of its prosperity, it is presently inexplainably neglected which is why it is usually not included in tourist itineraries of medieval towns. However, its development is not much different from other towns of the same group.

Here again, fragments of prehistoric pottery reveal that the settlement was formed on a hill plateau, on the northern side of the Mirna Valley. Life continued in Antiquity, while in its later phase, at the threshold of the Middle Ages, the population presumably grouped in the fortified refuge on a defensible, elevated position, after which the settlement gradually developed into a castle of the High Middle Ages.

In written sources from 1102 it was first mentioned as Castrum Portulense when it was formally governed by the Patriarch of Aquileia. The preserved buildings from that period consist only of remains of the defensive walls and part of the old Parish Church of St. George, visible in the lower zone of the northern wall.

Oprtalj was besieged by Venice in 1421 when it became part of the defensive system of the Venetian possessions in Istria. The most impressive proof of reinforcement and extension of the walls is certainly the tower of the town gate, but equally important is the square tower below the parish office, later turned into a housing area. The area within the walls saw new changes: the loggia was built not far from the entrance to the town, the grain storehouse was built in the central square, the earlier parish church was replaced by a new three-aisled church with ribbed and stellar vaulting with a deep polygonal sanctuary, whose elements are decorated by signatures of the masons of Carniola.

The peculiarity of their reliefs is not limited to the representations of saints. We are able to notice more secular figures: the knight, the forest man and black man.  The church was consecrated in 1526, at the time when other towns had already gained Renaissance buildings. That is why it is unusual that Oprtalj insisted on the elements of the elapsed Gothic style. Less than a decade later, yet another church was in construction - that of St. Roch, decorated with mural paintings by Antun from Kašćerga, who never suspected that in the centuries to follow it would become the mausoleum of wealthy Oprtalj families.

The Communal Palace was built next to the parish church in 1471. That same year Master Klerigin III from Koper wrote the year of completing his mural paintings in St. Mary’s Church outside the town, where works of three other painters can be found.

It is unusual to see a number next to the name of a painter, for nomenclature usually accompanies the nobility. This is because there were as many as three masters akin from Koper who worked in the same area.

The further development of Oprtalj was defined by the construction of town palaces and also the walling of the lower town. Particularly impressive is the erection of the additional defensive system whose importance may be understood if we look at the bastion at the entrance to Oprtalj.
The 18th c. gave a new swing to public buildings. The parish church facade was renovated at the time, the belfry completed, the town gate reconstructed, and the monumental Milossa Palace was built on the section of the defensive walls. On the site of an earlier one, a new town loggia was built in the Baroque style in 1765, and is considered the finest example in Istria.
In the late 19th c. Historicist villas were built such as the Timeus House near the school or the Corazza House in Livade. Further indications of the desire to reside in Oprtalj can be identified only recently in the form of occasional historic buildings of different levels of success.


The village Čepić and the nearby large three-aisled Gothic Church of Our Lady of the Snow and the village Zrenj.

Interesting facts:

The large relief of St. Mark’s lion, displayed nowadays in the Baroque loggia in front of the town gate originally stood on the Communal Palace pulled down in the mid-20th c. The unusual anthropomorphic muzzle reveals that the relief, too was made by domestic masters from Carniola. Earlier, in the second half of the 19th c., two chapels in the square were pulled down: St. Mary Minor and St. Mary Magdalene. The latter stood next to the Communal Palace and that of St. Mary Minor behind the parish church. This means that in the small central square of Oprtalj there were once as many as three churches.(