Saved: April 15th 2013August 15th 2006 Porec, Croatia A Mediterranean holiday steeped in history
Situated on the western edge of the Istrian peninsular, Poreč (pronounced Por-ech) is one of Croatia’s more popular tourist destinations. That said it’s still not as popular as it should be. Even though the Balkan wars ended in 1995, the stigma of conflict still exists. Croatia, to a lot of people, is the same part of the world as Bosnia and Kosovo, therefore the country must war-torn, poor, and even backward. Certainly not the place to visit for a couple of weeks in the sun. Well Jodie and I were here to prove this otherwise.
“Did you know,” asked Ivanah, our stunningly beautiful tour guide, “that the neck tie and fountain pen were invented in Croatia?”
There were a lot of murmurs on the coach about this. As far we were concerned, the only famous person from Croatia was Goran Ivanisevic, the Wimbledon tennis champion. “And also Marc Polo was born in Croatia. I bet you didn’t know that! He was born on the Croatian island of Korcula but he is regarded as Italian because at the time, the island was under Venetian control. They stole our explorer!”
Flag of Croatia
As we pulled up outside the hotel, the guide wished us a pleasant stay in Croatia. “And make sure you visit the old town,” she recommended. “It is very beautiful.”
On our first morning in Croatia, Jodie and I took the pleasant fifteen minute walk towards Poreč town. The Adriatic was to our left, and with the town harbour coming into view through the many conifers, we were immediately pleased with our choice of summer holiday destination. And not a tank in sight.
Ambling by markets selling the usual touristy fare, we soon passed a regal red and yellow building. It was the Town Palace. Built in 1910, it served as the Great Town Hall. As Jodie looked up at the flags, my attention was grabbed by sudden movement on the steps. I’d spotted another lizard. It was poking its head through a gap in one of the stone slabs. Predictably I tried to catch the skink, but it was far too quick. With a flick of its tail it was gone in a flash. Beside me Jodie laughed. “Just leave them alone. You’re not a little boy anymore.”
I nodded. I’d already spotted another in my
Beautiful Croatian Sunset
sights. Perhaps I’d be able to buy a net somewhere. I could bag loads of the blighters then
Just around a slight bend we came to a small square. A large bank and a few street cafes flanked the sides, but the most interesting feature was a medieval fortification.
In ancient times, Poreč town was encircled with a town wall. During the middle ages, these walls were strengthened with nine towers. The Round Tower is one of only three that remain. And instead of being a museum, as it would have been in the UK, the tower now served as a café and bar. It was actually possible to sit at the very top and enjoy a cappuccino whilst enjoying an impressive view of the town. We wandered away, quickly coming to the main pedestrian street in Poreč, the cobbled Decumanus Street.
People were everywhere. Most were browsing the souvenirs on offer, but others were sampling the extensive range of ice-creams on sale. What Jodie and I were heading for though was the second of Poreč’s mediaeval towers.
The Pentagonal Tower was built around the same time as the Round Tower. Both fortifications were once connected
by a wall which no longer exists. It was destroyed during the Napoleonic occupation of the early 19th century.
“Why is it called the Pentagonal Tower?” asked Jodie, not unreasonably. From where we stood, it seemed decidedly square shaped. The answer turned out to be straightforward. After a quick shuffle of position, we could see the fifth side of the tower. It had been hidden by some bushes. Engraved near the top was the winged Lion of St Mark, the symbol of Venice, a reminder of the close links Poreč once had with the Italian town. Like the Round Tower, a café was located inside the tower, and this time Jodie and I had a coffee each, admiring the view down below as we sipped our drinks.
Positioned at number 5 Decumanus Street was the striking Gothic House. Two rows of windows adorned with pots of flowers dominated the building. Built in 1473, in a Venetian style, it was probably the home of a wealthy family in Medieval Poreč. Nowadays, a shop filled its lower floors, selling mosaics and postcards.
As we wandered off to find more sights, a well-tanned man in his thirties leaning against a
wall shouted over to us. “Halo, jesu te from Hrvatski?” he said.
Jodie and I couldn’t understand him so I shook my head and started to move away. He was probably trying to sell us something anyway.
“Sind Sie Deutsch?” he said. This time it sounded like German but I couldn’t be sure. I turned around and shrugged at the man. I don’t understand. He nodded and tried again. “Ciao, lei è dall'Italia?” he said. This time we ignored him and moved even further away.
“Okay then, are you from England?”
We stopping and turned around. Was this man some sort of linguistic athlete? “Yes,” I said. “We are.”
The man beamed. “Ah, English! You are only starting to come back to this country. You are very welcome. We like the English people very much! Now let me show you something!”
So he was trying to sell us something. And this something turned out to be a piece of blank white paper which he held towards us. “Watch,” he said, producing a pair of scissors from out of nowhere. He then started cutting out a silhouette like we’d seen other street peddlers do. Jodie
stopped him in his tracks. “I’m sorry, but we are in a rush. We have to go.”
The man nodded apologetically. “Okay. Perhaps another time.”
Turning off Decumanus Street we were greeted with perhaps the most important of all the attractions in Poreč - the Euphrasian Basilica.
A basilica is basically an important church that has been given special ceremonial rights by a pope. Poreč’s basilica was built between 543 and 554 by Bishop Euphrasius, and comprises of a cathedral, atrium, baptistery, bell tower and Episcopal palace. Deemed by UNESCO as a significant early Christian site, it placed the basilica on the World Heritage List saying, “The group of religious monuments in Poreč…constitutes the most complete surviving complex of its type.”
The entrance to the Basilica was simply stunning. A golden mosaic depicting Jesus hung above it. The inscribed message said: ‘I am the gate. Who enters through me will be saved.’ This portal was actually a recent addition to the Basilica, made in 1902 during extensive restoration work. Nevertheless, it still looked wonderful and after walking under it, we soon came to the atrium, festooned with columns and religious icons. The Bell Tower adjoined the
The Gothic House
atrium, but Jodie and I entered the church to our right.
The interior was packed full of mosaics and arches. At the front was the magnificent apse showing Mary surrounded by her celestial guardians. Tourists were everywhere, clamouring for the best possible shot, and in their midst sat people praying, reminding us that the basilica was actually a working Church.
Just outside the basilica was a rather nondescript building known as the Canonica. Described by some as one of the best examples of a Roman construction, it was built from 1251 and served as the parish court for seven and a half centuries. Today, the priests and nuns of Poreč live there. Jodie and I moved on, in search of more sights.
Just down an exceptionally picturesque side street, we found the 15th century building known as the House of Two Saints. The name comes from the two stone figures on the side of an upper floor window. It is not known who the saints actually are, because the medieval builder in charge of construction had probably plundered them from an earlier shrine to incorporate them into his façade. We stood awhile, admiring his work before moving
Entrance to the Basilica
After a spot of lunch, Jodie and I wandered up to Liberty Square (Trg Slobode), an area dominated by the Church of Our Lady of Angles. This part of town is perhaps the most geared up for tourists. Large outdoor cafes were everywhere and later on street performers would wow the crowds just in front of the church. Dating from 1770, the church was built on the site of previous shrines from the Romanesque period.
After sitting down to rest our feet for a short while, we headed down towards the Northern Tower - the third of the remaining medieval towers. Stonier than the other two, soon Jodie and I were walking under a small archway leading past it. Through the other side, we found ourselves on a coastal path wandering past medieval bulwarks. We were on the way to Square Marafor.
Marafor Square is Poreč’s oldest square. It was the site of an ancient Roman forum. Numerous bars were now dotted around its edge, but little remains of the actual forum. Better preserved are the Roman temple ruins just off the square. With no other tourists to bother us, Jodie and I had the whole
Atruim of the Basilica
place to ourselves. The remains of Neptune’s Temple, erected in the first century AD, consisted of a few broken columns in an overgrown field. Just across from it were the remains of the Temple of Mars, the largest Roman shrine on the eastern Adriatic coast. In England, these remains would be the centrepiece of some expensive museum, but here in Poreč, it was just another section of the old town. In fact houses backed onto the temple, with washing flapping in the warm breeze. It was a most bizarre juxtaposition of the ancient and modern.
Back on Decumanus Street, we passed by another of Poreč’s major sights - The Romanesque House. With its wooden veranda, the building was immediately recognisable. Originally built in the 13th century, it was restored in 1930, and now houses an exhibition room on the ground floor.
Later that evening, after a fine meal in our hotel, we headed back into Poreč town to sample some Croatian nightlife.
“Do you know what I like about this place?” said Jodie, taking a sip of wine. “There are no drunken louts anywhere. There’s no one wandering around with bottles of beer. No one shouting or
screaming. It’s really nice. Peaceful almost.”
She was right. With British holiday makers not really taking an interest in Croatia (it’s mainly Slovenians, Germans, Czechs and Austrians) touts and hawkers had not yet taken their hold over the resort. In fact, Croatia seemed like the perfect summer holiday for us. Warm sun, good food, and best of all, interesting sights to see. We wondered how long it would all last.
There are more photos below