the city (town and monuments)

Pula - town and monuments

Pula is a Mediterranean town with three thousand years of history, inhabited since the beginning of the Iron Age. It flourished during the Roman Empire, when architectonic monuments were built; many of them are still preserved and now represent the main tourist attraction of the town. The colony of Roman citizens, Iulia Pola Pollentia Herculanea, the largest and most significant Istrian town in ancient times, was established in 46-45 BC, during Caesar’s dictatorship, at the position of earlier Histrian hillfort settlement, on the coast amidst the bay on the south end of the Istrian peninsula. Pula bay is so vast that it includes four small islands; due to its convenient anchorage position it was well-known among the ancient mariners. Situated on the west coast of Istria, facing the Italic ports, it served as ideal place for the establishment of the new Roman colony. Fortification walls surrounded the foot of the hillfort all the way up to the coast. On the other hand, there were several town gates facing landwards. Today they are known as the Gate of St John, Twin Gate (porta Gemina), Gate of Hercules (porta Herculia) and Golden Gate (porta Aurea). Only the Gate of Hercules has been preserved in its ancient form, as erected at the end of the Roman republic. At the top of the arch one can see the bearded head of Hercules and cudgel reinforced with nails carved in high-relief, and next to the cudgel on the left is a an inscription carrying the names of the first two duumvirs, Calpurnius Piso and Cassius Longinus, two Roman senators and members of Caesar’s closest circle of friends and cousins. The Golden Gate served as the main entrance into the Roman colony, thus earning its name. Triumphal Arch of the Sergii, private memorial monument erected during the rule of Augustus, leaned against the inner side of the Gate. It was build by a widow married into the Decurion dynasty of Sergii, which made it to the senatorial rank. Most Roman streets lie about 1 to 1,5 meters underneath today’s streets of the old town. Roman streets were paved with large rectangular or five-cornered stone slabs underneath which, across the middle, ran a drainage groove that carried precipitation and waste waters to the sea. System of ancient streets in the old town is still very well preserved and mostly compatible with today’s layout. Roman colony inherited the hillfort topography and adapted to it by turning concentric or spiral streets into main roads (decumani), while vertical, radially arranged streets, (clivi), elevated towards the hill where they met with the upper section of the spiral street that ascended windingly up to the very top. The main square, forum, was located near the fortification wall next to the harbour. During the initial period of the colony, on its northern shorter side a single temple was situated. During the rule of Augustus, the old Late Republican forum has been restored to a monumental complex evoking the cult of the Emperor. On the northern side of the forum, two symmetrical, equally sized temples of tetrastil prostilos type have been erected. The western of two temples, dedicated to Roma and Augustus, is one of the oldest temples dedicated to an imperial deity. It was built and consecrated during the latter period of the rule of Augustus (2 BC – 14 AD). Only the back side of the eastern temple has been preserved and the issue of the deity it was dedicated to remains unsolved. Statue of the emperor next to a kneeling slave used to decorate the three-apse edifice situated close to the top of the forum during the Julio-Claudian dynasty. A succession of fragments of other marble statues representing emperors and members of imperial families has also been found at the forum. Reliefs on architectonic elements of the forum depicted symbols of abundance and bliss present during the imperial period. The forum’s porticos or edifices facing the forum were supported with columns from grey Carrara marble.  Mosaics preserved in Pula originally existed in privately owned houses. The most beautiful mosaic in Pula illustrates the punishment of Dirce and was part of the triclinium of a private house situated not far from forum.

In the early imperial period Pula had two theatres. The smaller, older theatre was positioned on the hill within the town walls. Building plan and architectonic decoration show that the theatre was built during the period of Augustus. The large theatre, positioned outside of town, was erected at the end of the 1st century AD. Façade with portico used to amount to 120 m in length and 32 m in height. Preserved elements of the scenic building show that it used to have three floors. For centuries, large Roman theatre fascinated architects, travel writers and archeologists with its size and abundant marble decorations, which were gradually taken away and installed into other representative constructions in Pula and Venice. Finally, in the 17th century the last of its remains were used to build the Pula Castle.  Pula had another, even larger edifice: the Amphitheatre, located outside of town next to the main road. It was built throughout the entire 1st century AD. The Amphitheatre has an underground hall underneath the arena and is considered unique because of its four outer towers. Among the inner decorations, only a marble head relief of an Egyptian goddess Hathor with gilding has been preserved.

Necropolises were located outside of town, alongside the access roads. Largest number of inscription stone monuments, amounting to over a thousand, stems from necropolises. The northern necropolis, alongside the road leading towards the Amphitheatre, was reserved for the most prominent social stratum. The octagonal mausoleum, the foundations of which have been preserved not far from the Twin Gate, used to belong to the town elite of the early Julio-Claudian period. In the 2nd century AD, Uljanik Island became the final resting place for Rasparaganus, the defeated king of the Bessarabian tribe of Roksolans, who was sentenced to lifelong exile on this small island of the Pula harbour. Recent researches carried out in the northern part of the old town, next to the Gate of St John, changed the topographic appearance of ancient Pula considerably. Alongside the main town road, Hercules’s sanctuary with consecrated spring was revealed and also a public bath-house has been discovered.

In the late Roman period, Pula became the Episcopal see, reaching uppermost prosperity in the middle of the 6th century during the Ravenna archbishop Maximianus, a native of Vistro (Vistrum) situated in the region of the Pula diocese. During the Middle Ages, town walls were restored on several occasions. Next to the old wall, a new wall was added with numerous elements of Roman tombstones, fragments of columns, architraves, cornices and seats from amphitheatre and theatre built into its foundations. After coming under the rule of Venice in 14th century, Pula lost its significance. Number of population decreased and the town became run-down. During the 18th century, Hercules Gate and Twin Gate were fully covered with ruins of town walls, completely losing their purpose. In the 19th century, during the Austro-Hungarian rule, Pula flourished again and was rebuilt. During that process, town walls, ruined churches and other constructions have been brought down: reversed process of excavation and valorisation of archeological heritage began at the beginning of the 20th century.



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