After a few hours sleep, it was time to move the car. Thankfully there was someone setting up breakfast who was able to tell me that I could park above the hotel all day for free. Now, wouldn’t it have been a lot simple to have sent me that information via reply when I emailed them rather than promising to have someone meet me?
Our hotel is just a stone’s throw from the amazing Roman Amphitheater, but we decided to walk around the rest of the town and leave the Amphitheater for last.
Istria, and for that matter, the rest of Croatia, has been a crossroads for various groups of mostly warring people for millennia. We have the term “Balkanization” for a reason. Along the coast, the architecture today is mostly a blend of four distinct influences – Roman, Venetian, Austro-Hungarian, and Communist Era. Pula was an important port for the Romans and there remain many impressive artifacts of their time here, such as gates, temples, the forum, etc. The prominent bell tower is Venetian, and this was one of the key ports that the Austro-Hungarians chose for their navy, which is why this is still a busy industrial town and port towns.
One of our first stops was a nice indoor/outdoor market. The fresh strawberries ($2.25 for a about 1.1lbs) were amazing. We also tasted the local cherries which were equally delicious. Istria is truffle country and along with France’s Provence and Italy’s Piedmont, it is one of the world’s major truffle producers. The market was lined with as many different presentations and uses of truffles as you could imagine including spreads, cheeses, and oils, as well as whole, sliced, diced and other packaging of the pungent fungii themselves.
The jewel of the city has to be the Roman Amphitheater, one of the six largest remaining examples in the world. When at its full scale (it was originally started as a smaller facility then expanded during the reign of Vespasian), it could hold 23,000 people. The upper tiers would have been wooded and no longer remain. Today the facility is still used and has seating for 5,000, although they have curtailed the loudest rock concerts as they are afraid they are disturbing the stones.
There were 4 towers, two of which remain, which would have been topped with scented water reservoirs to sprinkle the crowd with what we would today call air freshener, in order to mask the stench of all the death. Sand in the inner oval would also have absorbed blood. Archaeologists think wooden masts at the top of the structures were used to raise canvas tenting to shade the audience. I remember seeing a documentary about this some years ago and am now wondering if it was, in fact, shot here.
The facilities were extensive and in addition to gladiatorial and animal combat, naval battles could be re-enacted when the amphitheater was flooded.
In the area beneath the amphitheater, where the prisoners and animals would have been kept, there is a small, but interesting museum, mostly focused on the ancient production of olive oil, wine, and garum (fish sauce), which were mainstays of the local economy. On display were hundreds of different amphora, many of which were stamped with their makers marks, which is one way archaeologists can track some of the commerce throughout the Roman empire, when for instance, a Pula made amphora is dug up in Rome.
For lunch we decided to try some truffle pizza, which was pretty good, and very inexpensive. Then it was time to head off to our next stop, Rovinj. As we got close to our destination, I realized I still had the key from our Pula hotel in my pocket. Since we were so close, I figured we should at least drop off our stuff at our Rovinj lodgings before potentially heading back to Pula.
We are staying in an apartment in Rovinj and the owner was able to call the Pula hotel owner for us. I had asked if he could just mail back the key, or else I would drive back, but instead they agreed he could instead give it to the bus driver on the next Rovinj-Pula bus. Never would have thought of that!
Tonight we are just going to head to the local supermarket and have a simple dinner at our apartment. Tomorrow we’ll explore the town.