The main city of Istria, Pula is known for the near-intact Roman monuments that are still the main features of its city centre. The Amphitheatre hosts major concerts and festivals in summer, while a short drive or bus ride away lie the beach destinations of Verudela and Medulin.
Roman Amphitheatre & underground museum
The most famous and important monument, built in the 1st century AD during the reign of Emperor Vespasian, at the same time as the magnificent Colosseum in Rome. The Arena is the only remaining Roman amphitheatre to have four side towers and with all three Roman architectural orders entirely preserved and is among the six largest surviving Roman arenas in the World. Local limestone was used for its construction. Once was the site of gladiator fights, today it is the venue for summer performances – the Film Festival, Opera Season, Equestrian Festival, concerts, which can seat about 5,000 spectators.
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 to produce olive oil and wine (mills, presses, vessels) and amphorae used for storing and transporting olive oil and wine.
Because of its size and geographical configuration, the Amphitheatre is situated outside the old city walls.
Triumphal Arch of the Sergi – Golden Gate
The ‘Golden Gate’ was built 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.
Temple of Augustus
The Temple, situated in the Forum, dedicated to the first Roman emperor, Augustus, was probably built during the emperor’s lifetime at some point between 27 BC and his death in AD 14. When the Romans left, it became a church and then a grain warehouse. Reconstructed after a bomb hit it in 1944, it now houses a small museum of Roman sculpture with the occasional temporary show.
Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
The Pula Cathedral is a co-cathedral. Along with the Euphrasian Basilica it is one of the two official seats of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Poreč and Pula. The church is located on the south side of the Pula bay at the foot of the hill with the 17th century Venetian fort. The site of the present-day church has been used for religious worship since ancient Roman times and the first Christian churches on the site were built in the late 4th and early 5th century AD. These had gone through a series of enlargements and reconstructions over the ages. The oldest preserved remains of the church wall from the beginning of the 4th century can be seen from outside: the lower part of the rear wall belongs to this period. At the site of the present-day park, east of the Cathedral, until 1657 stood the church dedicated to the patron saint of Pula – St. Thomas. This church too, was built in the 5th century and such twin ecclesiastical complexes were no novelty in Istria. After its destruction in the Middle Ages, St. Thomas’ Church was not reconstructed; its surface remains were last evident back in 1812.
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 centre. 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. Ancient remains of the Forum have been found during the construction of new buildings, the latest ones being ‘Agrippina and her time’ (1st century AD). The remains have been partly restored and are now exhibited in the bank built on the site. Even today the Forum is the administrative and legislative centre of the city. During the summer months it is the venue for numerous cultural events.
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.