Rovinj, on the Istrian peninsula of Croatia, is a Venetian-style coastal town. Walking through the beautiful Old Town is like a stroll into a postcard with one colorful view after another. It’s all about exploring these narrow winding streets today.
Rovinj dates back to before the Romans, was ruled by the Venetians, the Austrian Empire, Italy and then was a part of former Yugoslavia until 1991 when Croatia declared its independence. This city definitely has an Italian feel being so close to Venice (2 hour ferry ride).
A few of the Austrian barons bought islands off the the coast and developed them, but for the most part Rovinj is a town untouched by the modernisation of the Austrian Empire and the architecture of Tito’s Fascism. It retains the charm of a fisherman’s village with unique touches of Istria – a blend of both Italy and Croatia.
Rovinj was originally an island that was not connected to the mainland until 1763. It was under the rule of Venice from the 13th to 18th centuries and there are several marks of the Venetian Empire including the Clock Tower in the centre square with the winged lion.
Another remnant of the Venetians is the Balbi’s Arch built in 1678–79 on the site of the old town gate. On one side, there is the carved head of a Turk while on the other side is the carved head of a Venetian.
This gate leads you to the main street, Grisia Street, and the Old Town windy streets leading up to the church at the top.
Rovinj was a trading town and had two walls around the island making it relatively well protected from pirates. The Old Town though became very crowded with over 10,000 living on the island at one point. You can see how families continued to layer in and up to stay protected in the city walls as you look into different alleys, courtyards and niches.
A small Church of St. George used to be situated on this site at the top of Rovinj. In 800, the sarcophagus of St. Euphemia was brought to Rovinj as her final resting place. Many pilgrims came to visit and the church continued to expand. Under the Venetian rule, the larger Baroque Church of St. Euphemia was started in 1725 and finished in 1736.
The 1758 bell tower was constructed with a weathervane in the shape of Rovinj’s patron saint, Euphemia. If she is facing the sea – a dry Bora wind is flowing from the interior out to sea. If she is facing the land, the humid Jugo wind will be bringing bad weather. From the top of the bell tower, you can see Venice!
Walking back into town on a different path, you will find many artists paintings lining the streets.
And more nooks leading into interesting shops and right into the sea.On the other side of the Old Town peninsula, you will find the market – a staple for any European town. I found delicious grapes, figs, cheese and some Rajika which is a Schnapps like liquor. I loved the Cherry and Honey flavors.
The rest of the stroll through town was an interesting look at the Austrian and Yugoslavian influence on this town. The Austrians ruled from 1797 to 1920 with the loss of WWI with the exception of a four-year French interlude (1809-1813)
All of the Venetian/Croatian/Austrian landscape, there was one striking Communist monument. It dates from the Yugoslavian Tito regime and celebrate’s the Partisan’s victory over the Nazi’s in WWII.Talking with one of the locals, there are a lot of property rights disputes in Istria. After World War I, Istria was a part of Italy and native Croats and Slovenes left. With Italy’s defeat at the end of World War Two, Istria became part of Tito’s Yugoslavia and the Italian population left quickly, abandoning property. Then in the Balkan Wars in the early 1990’s, Croatia claimed its independence and most of Istria went to Croatia with a small part to Slovenia.
Their famous saying is: My grandmother was born in Austria, married in Italy, raised kids in Yugoslavia and died in Croatia, and my children will live in the European Union. Layers of History.