Culture and History
The first traces of prehistoric people on the territory of Istria date back to the period of the Lower Palaeolithic. The stone hand axe made by early man is about 2 million to 800,000 years old and was found in the vicinity of Pula, in Šandalja Cave. Finds from the Upper Palaeolithic (40,000-10,000 BC) were found at the sites of Šandalja II and St. Romuald’s Cave in Lim Bay.
In the middle of the 2nd millennium BC, on the entire territory of Istria, fortification settlements began to appear on hilltops and prominent points above valleys. More than 400 hill-forts have been recorded in Istria which speaks of the population density in the Bronze and Iron Ages. They were mostly circular, ellipsoidal and surrounded by defensive walls.
A special building technique was used where large stone blocks were laid without a bonding agent (dry wall). Besides the quadrangular ground plan, houses were also circular and most probably had a roof made of stone slates like today’s stone-huts (kažun) which then suggests that the same style of construction has survived from the Bronze Age until today.
The Romans introduced a new type of organization in Istria, just as throughout entire Europe they were the first to start the urbanization, building roads and connecting towns, thus greatly encouraged the development of trade. Istria is famous as a region rich in high quality stone, a fact well known to the Romans, so today there are numerous places along the west coast of Istria that were once Roman quarries from which stone was taken to erect their magnificent buildings. The Amphitheatre of Pula-Pola was also built from local lime stone. The Romans brought the exploitation of stone nearly to perfection through the new way of building, stone dressing, decoration, etc.
Large parts of the best land were turned into state properties (ager publicus) which were then peopled by Roman colony and retired soldiers-veterans. Many estates belonged to emperors, members of their families and friends. They erected villae rusticae which served as homes or summer residences and for manufacturing various products. Numerous sites, nearly 300 classical sites have been registered in Istria; speak of the kiln workshops and those for the production of earthenware, for making and dyeing cloth, brickyards and workshops for amphorae of which the one in Červar near Poreč supplied amphorae for emperors.
The period of Roman rule which lasted over five centuries ended with barbarian invasions and migrations of Germanic Goths who finally in 476 managed to upset the already weakened West Roman Empire. However, after some thirty years Justinian, emperor of the East Roman Empire, restored the Empire so the period of Byzantine rule in Istria lasted until 751. While conquering territories on his way from Constantinople to Ravenna in northern Italy, which became the new western capital in 535, he erected a number of magnificent buildings, the most splendid among them being in Poreč on the Istrian peninsula.
In the first centuries of the early Middle Ages various barbarian tribes invaded Istria. The invasion of the Avars and Lombards lasted for a brief period and they did not remain in Istria, but the Slavs spread throughout the peninsula and settled in many parts of its interior.
In 788 Istria became part of the Franconian state that introduced the feudal system, encouraged the settling of the Slavs, often on land owned by towns. Thus, towns began to lose their autonomy (based upon classical legal norms) and their power declined, whereas at the same time the power of the Church increased, since the rule of Charlemagne depended on it.