When I was in high school I was fascinated by “ancient” history. At the time, my classes were focused on numerous facts about people who were difficult to relate to such as Athenians, Romans, Trojans, Carthaginians, and others. But even though I was fascinated, ancient history really didn’t come “alive.” In fact, in the larger scheme of things, history 2000 years ago really isn’t that “ancient” considering the age of mankind.
However, in my recent explorations history has come alive as I have explored remains of once-great civilizations. Such it was a few months ago when I made a journey to Pula in Croatia.
By chance I learned about Pula while on an excursion to explore Croatia’s Plitvička National Park. I was told by a fellow explorer about wonderful Roman artifacts there. Pula lived up to its billing with considerably well preserved structures and relics dating over 2000 years
Walking among the buildings and witnessing their strength and beauty, one could sense the presence of formidable Imperial Rome and the grandeur that followed in the path of Roman Legions and nobility.
The Pula area is located on the coast due east of Italy on the Adriatic Sea. It was a favorite vacation spot of emperors and, for a couple, was where they met their deaths.
Romans found Pula (Roman spelling “Pola”) to be an ideal port and a center for commerce and shipbuilding. Along with the Romans came their architecture and much of it has survived world wars and numerous other regional conflicts. It is actually surprising that such things as the Arena, Augustus Temple and several archways have withstood the upheaval that the area has experienced over two millennia.
Movies and television have glamorized aspects of the activities that took place in the 200 or more arenas throughout the Roman Empire. The arenas like the one in Pula were brutal places. Romans and local people demanded and were given entertainment of blood and death in gruesome gladiator “games,” prisoner and slave executions, and lavish interpretive reenactments of ancient battles.
Exotic wild animals from Africa were often used in exhibitions ending in violent deaths of humans forced to “defend” themselves with little or no equipment or training.
The Pula Arena is a massive structure in which you can imagine the spectacles presented there. Remnants exist of places where gladiators and animals entered and the seating area is preserved as it was when constructed between 27 BC and 68 AD. It is one of the best preserved Roman amphitheaters in the world. Today the venue is used for film festivals and other events.
The Augustus Temple was constructed between 2 BC and 14 AD during the reign of Emperor Augustus. It was dedicated to the goddess of Rome and to Caesar Augustus. Through the centuries it has served as a church and a granary and today it is a small museum containing Roman period artifacts like those pictured below.
There are several ancient archways in Pula which are also on a grand scale. Pictured below is the Triumphal Arch of the Sergi, a powerful Roman family, and the double arched entrance gate to the ancient city.
Roman artifacts alone make Pula a worthwhile place to visit! However, there is much more to explore in Pula beyond the Roman artifacts. The old city provides many opportunities for interesting places for a cappuccino and a pastry and seeing historic sites and great views like these in the main plaza.