So important to the Romans they built their sixth-largest amphitheatre here, Pula became a Roman colony a century after they first arrived in 177 BC. It produced wine and olive oil, and by the time of Augustus from 63 BC ‘Pietas Iulia’ was a thriving urban centre with a forum, temples and city walls.
Between Augustus and the Austrians, Pula diminished to a minor port of a few hundred citizens. The Habsburgs made ‘Pola’ their naval hub and centre for shipbuilding at the end of the 19th century. After passing into Italian hands, Pula was heavily bombed by the Allies in World War II, then industrialised again under Tito. Package tourism came in the 1970s. Main hub of an economically booming region, Pula is one of those rare coastal towns where life goes on in winter.
The city’s growing status as a happening focus of the arts has been enhanced thanks to two recently opened exhibition spaces: the spectacularly renovated former church of Sveta Srca; and the ramshackle but promising Museum of Contemporary Art of Istria. The Pula Film Festival in July continues to be the biggest show in town, although the city has been catapulted into the music-festival premier league with the recent appearance of two major four-day events, Outlook in late August (featuring some of the biggest names in dubstep and reggae) and Dimensions in September (featuring more of the same with some more cutting-edge DJ activity thrown in).
What the town lacks in terms of attractive waterfront it more than makes up for in terms of antiquities. The original Roman Forum remains the major meeting point with cafés offering outdoor tables. Pula’s impressive Roman amphitheatre, or ‘arena’, hosts events all summer, both the Pula Film Festival and sundry mainstream concerts. The setting, though, cannot be gainsaid.The city’s sprawling waterfront includes a port handling close to one million tons of cargo every year, a marina for yachters, a forested stretch of beach with a promenade and, outside the centre, resorts, built in the 1960s and ’70s in Verudela and neighbouring Medulin.