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.(