Pula (Croatian: [pǔːla] ), also known as Pola (Italian: [ˈpɔːla]; Venetian: Pola; Istriot: Puola; Slovene: Pulj; Hungarian: Póla), is the largest city in Istria County, Croatia, and the seventh-largest city in the country, situated at the southern tip of the Istrian peninsula in northwestern Croatia, with a population of 52,220 in 2021. It is known for its multitude of ancient Roman buildings, the most famous of which is the Pula Arena, one of the best preserved Roman amphitheaters. The city has a long tradition of wine making, fishing, shipbuilding, and tourism. It was the administrative centre of Istria from ancient Roman times until superseded by Pazin in 1991.


Evidence of the presence of Homo erectus one million years ago has been found in the cave of Šandalja near Pula.[1] Pottery from the Neolithic period (6000–2000 BC), indicating human settlement, has been found around Pula. In the Bronze Age (1800–1000 BC), a new type of settlement appeared in Istria, called 'gradine', or Hill-top fortifications.[2] Many late Bronze Age bone objects, such as tools for smoothing and drilling, sewing needles, as well as spiral bronze pendants, have been found in the area around Pula.[3] The type of materials found in Bronze Age sites in Istria connects these with sites along the Danube.[3] The inhabitants of Istria in the Bronze Age are known as Proto Illyrians.[3]

Greek pottery and a part of a statue of Apollo have been found, attesting to the presence or influence of Greek culture.[4] Greek tradition attributed the foundation of Polai to the Colchians, mentioned in the context of the story of Jason and Medea, who had stolen the golden fleece. The Colchians, who had chased Jason into the northern Adriatic, were unable to catch him and ended up settling in a place they called Polai, signifying "city of refuge".[5]

Ancient period  Aerial view of the city Pula Arena in 1728 Porta Gemina

In classical antiquity, it was inhabited by the Histri,[6] a Venetic or Illyrian tribe. Strabo, Pomponius Mela and Lycophron wrote that it was inhabited by Colchians.[7][8][9] The Istrian peninsula was conquered by the Romans in 177 BC,[6] starting a period of Romanization. The town was elevated to colonial rank between 46 and 45 BC as the tenth region of the late Roman Republic, under Julius Caesar.[6][10] During that time the town grew and had at its zenith a population of about 30,000. It became a significant Roman port with a large surrounding area under its jurisdiction.

During the civil war of 42 BC of the triumvirate of Octavian, Mark Antony and Lepidus against Caesar's assassins Brutus and Cassius, the town took the side of Cassius, since the town had been founded by Cassius Longinus, brother of Cassius. After Octavian's victory, the town was demolished. It was soon rebuilt at the request of Octavian's daughter Iulia and was then called Colonia Pietas Iulia Pola Pollentia Herculanea. The colony was part of Venetia et Histria, a region of Roman Italy. Great classical constructions were built of which a few remain.

A great amphitheatre, Pula Arena, was constructed between 27 BC and 68 AD,[11] much of it still standing to this day. The Romans also supplied the city with a water supply and sewage systems. They fortified the city with a wall with ten gates. A few of these gates remain: the triumphal Arch of the Sergii, the Gate of Hercules (in which the names of the founders of the city are engraved), and the Twin Gates. During the reign of the emperor Septimius Severus the name of the town was changed to "Res Publica Polensis". The town was the site of Crispus Caesar's execution in 326 AD and Gallus Caesar's execution in 354 AD. In 425 AD the town became the centre of a bishopric, attested by the remains of foundations of a few religious buildings.[6]

Middle Ages  Chapel of St. Mary Formosa Church of St Nicholas (Sv. Mikula). Kaštel Pula Pula, a view from across the bay with the amphitheater beyond. Author Antonio Joli (1700–1777)

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the city and region were attacked by the Ostrogoths, Pula being virtually destroyed by Odoacer, a Germanic foederati general in 476 AD.[12] The town was ruled by the Ostrogoths from 493 to 538 AD.[12] When their rule ended, Pula came under the rule of the Exarchate of Ravenna (540–751). During this period Pula prospered and became the major port of the Byzantine fleet and an integral part of the Byzantine Empire.[12][13] The Basilica of Saint Mary Formosa was built in the 6th century.[12]

From 788 on Pula was ruled by the Frankish Empire under Charlemagne, with the introduction of the feudal system.[13][14][15] Under the Franks it was part of the Kingdom of Italy. Pula became the seat of the elective counts of Istria until 1077. The town was taken in 1148 by the Venetians and in 1150 Pula swore allegiance to the Republic of Venice, thus becoming a Venetian possession. For centuries thereafter, the city's fate and fortunes were tied to those of Venetian power. It was conquered by the Pisans in 1192 but soon reconquered by the Venetians.[16]

In 1238 Pope Gregory IX formed an alliance between Genoa and Venice against the Empire, and consequently against Pisa too. As Pula had sided with the Pisans, the city was sacked by the Venetians in 1243. It was destroyed again in 1267 and again in 1397 when the Genoese defeated the Venetians in a naval battle. Pula then slowly went into decline. This decay was accelerated by the infighting of local families: the ancient Roman Sergi family and the Ionotasi (1258–1271) and the clash between Venice and Genoa for the control of the city and its harbour (late 13th and 14th centuries). In 1291, by the Peace of Treviso, Patriarch Raimondo della Torre gained the city as part of the secular realm of the Patriarchate of Aquileia, only to lose it to Venice in 1331, which then held it until its downfall in 1797.

Pula is quoted by the Italian poet Dante Alighieri, who had visited Pula, in the Divine Comedy: "Sì come a Pola, presso del Carnaro, ch'Italia chiude e i suoi termini bagna" or "As Pola, along the Quarnero, that marks the end of Italy and bathes its boundaries".

Venetian, Napoleonic and early Habsburg rule

The Venetians took over Pula in 1331 and would rule the city until 1797. During the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, Pula was attacked and occupied by the Genoese, the Hungarian army and the Habsburgs; several outlying medieval settlements and towns were destroyed. In addition to war, the plague, malaria and typhoid ravaged the city. By the 1750s there were only 3,000 inhabitants left in ancient city, an area now covered with weeds and ivy.[17]

With the collapse of the Venetian Republic in 1797 following Napoleon's Treaty of Campo Formio, the city became part of the Habsburg monarchy. It was invaded again in 1805 after the French had defeated the Austrians. It was included in the French Empire of Napoleon as part of the Kingdom of Italy, then placed directly under the French Empire's Illyrian Provinces.

Austrian Littoral province and union with Italy

In 1813, Pola (with Istria) came back to the Austrian Empire. Under the compromise of 1867, the town – under the original Italian name, Pola – remained in Austria-Hungary until the latter's defeat and dissolution in 1918.[18] Under Austrian rule, Pola regained prosperity. Its large natural harbour became Austria's main naval base and a major shipbuilding centre.[19][20] It was chosen for the base in 1859 by Hans Dahlerup [da], a Danish admiral in the service of Austria.[17] Subsequently, Pola grew from a fading provincial town into an industrial city. The island of Brioni (in Croatian renamed Brijuni) to the North West of Pola became the summer vacation resort of Austria's Habsburg royal family. In World War I, the port was the main base for Austro-Hungarian dreadnoughts and other naval forces of the Empire.[19] During this period many inhabitants were Italian speaking. The 1910 Austrian census recorded a city population of 58,562 (45.8% Italian speaking; 15.2% Croatian, the rest were mostly German-speaking military).[21]

Following the collapse of Austria-Hungary in 1918, Pola and the whole of Istria – except the territory of Castua Kastav – went to Italy.[20] Pola became the capital of the Province of Pola. The decline in population after World War I was mainly due to economic difficulties caused by the withdrawal of Austro-Hungarian military and bureaucratic facilities and the dismissal of workers from the shipyard.[22] Under the Italian Fascist government of Benito Mussolini, non-Italians, especially Croatian residents who came to Pola under Austro-Hungarian rule, faced stringent political and cultural repression because they had now to integrate themselves into the Kingdom of Italy and learn the Italian language. Many left the city and went back to the newly created Yugoslavia. After the collapse of Fascist Italy in 1943, the city was occupied by the German Wehrmacht and remained a base for U-boats. Consequently, the city was subjected to repeated Allied bombing from 1942 to 1944. In the last phase of the war, Pola saw the arrest, deportation, and execution of people suspected of aiding the Axis, by the partisans who together with the Yugoslav communists killed many soldiers and civilians, in the first episodes of what would have been named, later on, the Foibe massacres.[citation needed]

Pula Riviera in 1904 
Pula Riviera in 1904
Adolf Hirémy-Hirschl, Sailors in the Harbor of Pola, pastel on paper, c. 1916. The Jack Daulton Collection, Los Altos Hills, California. 
Adolf Hirémy-Hirschl, Sailors in the Harbor of Pola, pastel on paper, c. 1916. The Jack Daulton Collection, Los Altos Hills, California.
Austro-Hungarian dreadnoughts at Pola 
Austro-Hungarian dreadnoughts at Pola
Flag in use during the Italian rule of the city[22] 
Flag in use during the Italian rule of the city[23]
Coat of arms in use during the Italian rule of the city 
Coat of arms in use during the Italian rule of the city
Post–World War II and modern era  Pula University building

After World War II, the Istrian Italians of Pula left Yugoslavia towards Italy (Istrian-Dalmatian exodus).[24] For two years after 1945, Pola was administered by the Allied Military Government for Occupied Territories (AMG). Pola formed an enclave within south Istria that was occupied by Yugoslavia since 1945 with the help of Churchill. The AMG was occupied by a company of the United States 351st Infantry and a British battalion of the 24th Guards Brigade. Istria was partitioned into occupation zones until the region became officially united with the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFR Yugoslavia) on 15 September 1947, under terms of the Paris Peace Treaties. The city became part of the Socialist Republic of Croatia, a federal state within SFR Yugoslavia, upon the ratification of the Paris Peace Treaties on 15 September 1947 – which also created the Free Territory of Trieste. Initially Pola's population of 45,000 was largely made up of ethnic Italians. However, between December 1946 and September 1947, the vast majority of Italians fled to Italy. Subsequently, the city's Croatian name, Pula, became the official name. Today the city of Pola or Pula is officially bilingual, Croatian and Italian, hence both Pula and Pola are official names. Since the collapse of Yugoslavia in 1991, Pula has been part of the Republic of Croatia.

^ Skorin-Kapov, Jadranka. "A short historical overview of Istria and, especially, Pula". croatianhistory.net. Archived from the original on 20 January 2020. Retrieved 13 March 2017. ^ "Istria in the Bronze Age (1800-1000 B.C.)". istrianet.org. Archived from the original on 30 January 2021. Retrieved 7 April 2012. ^ a b c "Tracking the History of the Hillforts in Istria and Slovenia". istrianet.org. Archived from the original on 15 April 2013. Retrieved 7 April 2012. ^ "A short historical overview of Istria and, especially, Pula". croatianhistory.net. Archived from the original on 20 January 2020. Retrieved 6 January 2010. ^ "Istria on the Internet – Customs – Legends – Pola". istrianet.org. Archived from the original on 15 April 2013. Retrieved 27 January 2010. ^ a b c d "A HISTORICAL OUTLINE OF ISTRIA". www2.arnes.si. Archived from the original on 8 June 2011. Retrieved 27 January 2010. ^ "Strabo, Geography, 1.2.39". Archived from the original on 24 October 2021. Retrieved 21 February 2021. ^ "Pomponius Mela, Chorographia, 2.57". Archived from the original on 28 January 2021. Retrieved 26 May 2020. ^ "Lycophron, Alexandra, 1011". Archived from the original on 8 June 2020. Retrieved 26 May 2020. ^ Ivelja-Dalmatin 2009, p. 10 ^ Džin 2009, p. 7 ^ a b c d Ivelja-Dalmatin 2009, p. 12 ^ a b "Arheoloski muzej Istre". mdc.hr. Archived from the original on 13 October 2008. Retrieved 27 January 2010. ^ Ivelja-Dalmatin 2009, p. 13 ^ "Charlemagne – The making of Europe". mhas-split.hr. The Museum of Croatian Archaeological Monuments. Archived from the original on 21 July 2011. Retrieved 27 January 2010. ^ "A Historical Outline of Istria". zrs-kp.si. Archived from the original on 6 April 2009. Retrieved 27 January 2010. ^ a b Ivelja-Dalmatin 2009, p. 15 ^ Die postalischen Abstempelungen auf den österreichischen Postwertzeichen-Ausgaben 1867, 1883 und 1890, Wilhelm Klein, 1967 ^ a b First World War – Willmott, H.P., Dorling Kindersley, 2003, Page 186-187 ^ a b Cresswell, Atkins & Dunn 2006, p. 117. ^ Kocsis, Károly; Az etnikai konfliktusok történeti-földrajzi háttere a volt Jugoszlávia területén; Teleki László Alapítvány, 1993 ISBN 963-04-2855-5 ^ "Summary: Islam in Europe, European Islam". Cser.it. Archived from the original on 6 March 2009. Retrieved 11 July 2009. ^ "Trentino Friuli città". www.rbvex.it. Retrieved 5 June 2023. ^ E. White and J. Reinisch (2011). The Disentanglement of Populations - Migration, Expulsion and Displacement in Postwar Europe, 1944-49. Palgrave Macmillan UK. p. 81. ISBN 9780230297685. Archived from the original on 9 August 2022. Retrieved 16 February 2022.
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