In the pretty old town of Pula, the magnificent buildings of Roman antiquity, including one of the world's largest amphitheatres, predominate between nice cafés and historic fortifications.
Picturesque Pula is the largest town in Istria. It impresses above all with its exciting architectural mix left by the Romans, Byzantines, Venetians, Austrians and Italians throughout the ages.
The Pula Amphitheatre is one of the largest in the world and one of our top 10 sights in Croatia. Together with the Triumphal Arch of the Sergians and the Roman Forum, it gives Pula its reputation as a city of Roman antiquities. One more reason to put Pula on our list of Croatia's 10 most beautiful cities.
In addition to Roman monuments, Pula is also home to Austria-Hungary's former main military port and the Venetian town hall from the late 13th century. Thanks to modern high-rises and luxurious hotels, a walk through Pula's old town is like a journey through time from antiquity to the present day.
The famous Pula Amphitheatre is not only the central sight of Pula, but also the ideal starting point for a tour of the old town. On the one hand, there are plenty of parking spaces available in its vicinity and on the other hand, Pula's old town presents itself from its most spectacular side right here.
Tip: If you want to park at the other end of Pula's Old Town, you can also park your car at Trg Republike and start the tour at Narodni Trg.
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The amphitheatre in Pula is not only the most important sight, but also the landmark of the Croatian port city in Istria. The "Arena", as the amphitheatre of Pula is also called, is located outside the old city wall and, with an oval of 132 by 105 metres, is one of the largest amphitheatres in the world. The impressive walls consist of 72 arcade arches made of white limestone and reach a height of a good 32 metres. At that time, there was room for 23,000 spectators.
PICTURES: Amphitheatre in Pula
Photo gallery: Amphitheatre in Pula
Origin of the amphitheatre in Pula
The amphitheatre in Pula was originally built between 2 BC and 14 AD. However, it was not extended to its present size until almost 100 years later under Emperor Vespasian, who also commissioned the Colosseum in Rome. According to legend, the extension was made for one of the emperor's mistresses, who came from Pula.
Pula Film Festival and Concerts
In the past, the amphitheatre was used for gladiator fights and sea battles, but today the 68 by 42 metre arena hosts concerts and the Pula Film Festival, one of the oldest film festivals in the world. Every summer, both Croatian and international films are presented outdoors, attracting thousands of visitors. Thanks to the breathtaking scenery, the festival is one of the most attractive open-air events in the world.
Classical concerts and rock concerts also take place in the Pula Amphitheatre. Thanks to the fantastic acoustics of the amphitheatre, music greats such as Sting, Julio Iglesias, Elton John, Norah Jones, Alanis Morissette or Luciano Pavarotti have already been guests in Pula.
Oil and Wine Museum
In the basement of the amphitheatre, where gladiators and wild animals once waited to perform, there is now a museum dedicated to the history of viticulture in Roman times. The ancient amphorae in the catacombs of the amphitheatre once contained oils and the finest Croatian wine.
City gates of Pula
If you turn south on Amfiteatarska Ulica, after a few metres you reach the former city walls of Pula with the mighty city gate Porta Gemina from the 2nd century, behind which lies the Archaeological Museum of Istria.
Right next to it, the rather plain Hercules Gate from the 1st century is the next city gate in the historic wall ring. Once, ten gates granted access to the city.
Accommodation and hotels: Pula
Triumphal Arch of the Sergians
Following the Giardini, you soon reach the tree-lined Korzo Giardini, as well as the next highlight of Pula's old town. The Triumphal Arch of the Sergians was built around 30 BC after the Battle of Actium, then still within the city walls, and dedicated to Sergius Lucius, the tribune of the 29th Legion.
James Joyce's residence
The house to the right housed the Irish writer James Joyce from 1904 to 1905, who lived in Pula as an English teacher at the age of 23. A bronze monument in front of Café Uliks still commemorates his stay.
Green market on Narodni trg
Turning left on Anticova Ulica, you reach the extensive green market on Narodni trg, which offers both culinary and historical attractions with fresh produce from the hinterland, snack stalls, nice cafés and a historic market hall from 1903.
Offering bananas, figs, honey, cheese, fish and meat, Pula's green market is considered one of the most beautiful and affordable in the region.
Marije Formoze Chapel
On the way back, Anticova Ulica joins the busy riverside road Flaciusova Ulica, where the chapel of Marije Formoze is located. It is the pitiful remnant of the once stately 6th century early Byzantine basilica of Santa Maria Formosa.
In the bend from Flaciusova Ulica to the coastal street Riva lies the Roman Forum, Trg Kapitolinski, which exudes a very special ambience with its numerous ancient buildings and inviting cafés.
The most remarkable building on today's Capitol Square is the Temple of Roma and Augustus. The temple, whose eight-metre-high Corinthian columns lend it particular elegance, was completed around 14 AD and is excellently preserved to this day thanks to its late antique transformation into a church. Roman sculptures can be seen inside.
Also at the Forum, right next to the Temple of Augustus, is the Venetian Town Hall of Pula, built in 1296, with a pretty arcaded porch. At its back are the remains of two other ancient buildings, the Temple of Diana and the Capitoline Temple.
From the Forum directly back to the Triumphal Arch of the Sergians leads the worthwhile promenade Ulica Sergijevaca, lined with international chain stores, fast food restaurants and historic facades.
Mosaic "Punishment of the Dirke
The first street on the right after the Forum leads to a building with a completely preserved Roman floor mosaic from the 3rd century, which shows the extremely rare mythological tale "Punishment of Dirke" (she was dragged to death by a bull after imprisoning and torturing her niece Antiope) on an area of 12 by 6 metres. It was discovered by chance under the rubble left behind by the bombings during the Second World War.
Franciscan Church Sveti Franje
The first street on the left leads to the early Gothic Franciscan church of Sveti Franje from the 13th/14th century. It is particularly impressive with its Romanesque-Gothic entrance portal and its beautiful cloister. Passing the church of Sveti Franje, the route continues up the hill to the fort.
The imposing fortress is located on the highest hill in Pula, a good 30 metres above sea level. It dates from 1632, when the Venetians ruled the region. Even before that, there was an Istrian castle and several early Christian churches on the hill.
The fortress was built by the French military architect Antoine de Ville, who brought the latest knowledge of French fortress construction with him as far as Venetian Pola. The impressive stone bulwark is enclosed by four angular bastions and offers a magnificent panoramic view of the old town of Pula from its defence walls.
PICTURES: Castle of Pula
Museum of the History of Istria
In addition to the time-honoured walls, the Pula fort also houses the Museum of Istrian History with over 40,000 exhibits. Both the exhibition and working rooms are located in the former Venetian fortress. The museum was founded on 31 December 1955 and was then called the "Museum of the Revolution".
The Museo Storico dell'Istria presents Pula's and Istria's heritage from the Middle Ages to modern times in three sections, focusing on the past of regional shipbuilding and the military in the Imperial and Royal period. On display are objects from city life, historical photographs, film footage and postcards, collections of orders, certificates, stamps, coins, uniforms, maps, weapons and coats of arms.
Accommodation and hotels: Pula
Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary
If you keep to the right as you descend from the fortress hill, you will reach the Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary on the picturesque Riva. The ornate church with its freestanding bell tower was begun as early as the 5th century and was extended again and again until its completion in 1707.
Previously, there was a temple of Jupiter on its site and then a basilica. Inside St Mary's Cathedral, the contrast between the late antique windows in the central nave and the Gothic windows in the two side naves is particularly remarkable. Behind the cathedral, Kandlerova Ulica leads back to the amphitheatre, the starting point of the tour.
PICTURES: Old Town of Pula
Photo gallery: Old Town of Pula
Official website of Pula
Official website of the Pula Film Festival