Hidden in the central part of Istria, close to Učka mountain and about an hour drive from Umag lays the city-monument of Hum. Its closest neighbor is Roč, only 7 kilometers away.
That road from Hum to Roč is quite an interesting one, but we’ll get to that later…
Hum’s city copper doors date from 16th century and greet visitors with welcoming messages in an old, forgotten letter. The town’s name is even older, it dates from the 12th century, although it was then called Cholm, which comes from Italian name for Hum – Colmo.
It is something special to be declared the smallest city in the world. With roughly 30 inhabitants, it’s hard to be called a city, but as every country has its own rules, so Hum is still called a city, even if it’s a micro one.
Hum is about a hundred meters long and less than 40 meters wide, and it’s not really crowded place, as it has only two rooms and one apartment to rent.
So, why would anybody build a city so small in the first place?
Were giants out of the building blocks?
Yes, the legend of city Hum involves giants. Rumour has it that the biggest giant of all, named Dragonja (or Ploughman) made Istrian rivers with his plow. His furrows created two rivers, Mirna and Dragonja (named after himself), but he left the third furrow unfinished, so the sea levels around Pazin started to rise.
People panicked, so the other giants came to aid and used rocks to build towns on hills, so they created Motovun, Grožnjan, Sovinjak, Završje, Roč, and Vrh. But, the giants had leftover material, so they used the little rocks to create the smallest city in the world – Hum.
The True Story
A less magical story of Hum begins in the middle ages, where Hum’s Citadel was made on the ruins of a fortress by a count Ulrich I, and a few houses followed down the line.
Hum served as a stronghold, and it was given to the Aquila patriarch by count Ulrich II, along with a number of other castles, as a feud.
Hum suffered quite a few attacks through the past, so its walls were often rebuilt. The city was robbed, burned and fought over, but it still keeps its historic structure.
The latest renewal of Hum happened during the early 19th century, and its present appearance was completed with the construction of a parish church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Due to the size of the new church, the southern city wall was moved so that the bell tower remains within the city walls.
Hum is one of the rarest towns where the urban development remained exclusively within the walls, build as early as in medieval time.
Hum is a memorial city, one of the few preserved examples of the past.
In the course of nearly a millennium, almost nothing built outside of the Hum’s walls and the townsfolk remained living safely within the boundaries established in the early Middle Ages.
Hum was one of the centers of Glagolitism in Croatia, so you will see a lot of preserved Glagolitic writings inside the citadel.
Glagolitic is an Old Slavic alphabet originated in the middle of the 9th century which remained present in the coastal regions until the 19th century.
Its origins stem from a Byzantine monk named Ćiril (Cyril, real name Konstantin), who invented Glagolitic while translating letters from Latin to Old Slavic.
Fun Fact: There are no numbers in the Glagolitic alphabet. When a sign has a dot on each side or a ligature above – it is read as a number.
Not all Glagolitic writings are the same, as the script had two types of writing, and it’s not bold and italic. One was rounded, and the other was angled. The later was used only in Croatia.
The most known Glagolitic heritage isn’t located in the smallest city in the world, but it’s pretty close to Istria. The document called “Baška Tablet” comes from Baška town on island Krk, it is a document telling a story about King Zvonimir giving land to a local monastery. The original can be found in Zagreb’s HAZU (Croatian Academy of Art and Science), while Baška keeps a copy.
Glagolitic was a big part of Croatian history, and its traces can be found scattered all over the country. Hum, particularly, represents an end of a Glagolitic Walkway, that starts 7 kilometers north in Roč and ends with entering Hums citadel.
The path consists of 11 stone memorials in honor of first Slavic letter – Glagolitic.
These memorials are:
- Chakavian Parliament Column – stone monument made in a shape of a Glagolitic letter S
- Table of Cyril and Method – with two surrounding cypresses that represent those holy brothers
- Clement of Ohrid Conclave – Clement was a scholar so his memorial has a table for the teacher and chairs for students
- Glagolitic Lapidarium is actually a sequence of copies of most important Glagolitic documents set in stone by the small church in Brnobići village
- The Pass of Croatian Lucidar is a stone wall (literally drywall when translated from Croatian) that should depict mount Učka. The stone on top of the wall represents a cloud above the mountain. Lucidar was a Croatian encyclopedia, that Glagolitic scholars used.
- Grgur from Nin’s Viewpoint – this is a stone block (a book) with engraved writings in the Glagolitic, Latin, and Cyrillic alphabet.
- The Istrian Cessation Rise – this memorial is shaped like a door, i.e. Glagolitic letter L, with small rocks surrounding the “door”, together shaping the words “Istrian Cessation”. This was a set of documents about dividing the possessions and land of Istria’s feudal lords.
- The Wall of Croatian Protestants and Heretics – as the name says, the names of famous Protestants in Croatia are set in this stone. Inside the wall, there are also seven stone blocks with quotations from their works.
- Juri Žakan’s Landing – this priest from town Roč is the most famous whistleblower or messenger from the past. He announced the publishing of the first book in the Croatian language. A street in Pula is named after him.
- Monument to Resistance and Freedom – the stone symbolizes the resistance of Hum’s inhabitants and the eternal desire for peace and freedom. The memorial is made of three stone blocks that stand on one another. Every block symbolizes one historical period: the old age, the middle age, and the new age.
- The Door of Hum – a double door made of copper with engraved writings we mentioned at the beginning of this story. This is the only memorial on the walkway that isn’t made of stone. Besides that, the door also has an engraved calendar that displays field work for every month of a year.
The Drink (Rakija)
Like the city itself, Hum’s famous drink has an ancient history and a few stories to tell. We’re talking about a herb brandy called Biska (Bisca), that it’s made from white mistletoe, grape marc, and three other types of herbs.
The original recipe is about two thousand years old and originates from the Celtic druids, as Celtics once inhabited the Istrian peninsula.
This recipe was found written in Glagolitic script, and Biska has been prepared in its original way ever since. The hosts from the Hum’s only tavern said they got a recipe from a late vicar who was a famous herbalist.
Mistletoe was perhaps popularized by the United States and their Christmas customs, but Croatians took the herb to another level – producing brandy.
Istrians have a solid reputation as brandy makers, and you shouldn’t leave the peninsula without trying at least some of them.
As we can make rakija from everything, you can’t miss it.
But in Istria, I recommend you try one or all of the following brandies:
- Biska – Mistletoe Brandy
- Medenica – Honey Brandy
- Ruda – Common Rue Brandy
- Rogačica – Carob Tree Brandy
Fun Fact: Croatian Brandies are called Rakija, pronounced RAKIA, and we have a few jokes and memes about it.
What To Do in The Smallest City in The World?
Don’t be surprised if such a small place leaves a big impression on you. Hum’s beautiful history and stories you may hear can enchant you and take you away to some other time and place.
If you, however, need a break from exploring the past, Hum’s only tavern will welcome you in an old-fashioned manner. The restaurant was opened in 1976 and it’s furnished in typical Istrian style.
Stone and wood interiors will allow you cool down from the hot sun and relax.
The menu offers local cuisine, with the addition of wine and rakija. This tavern will make sure you try some of the best Istrian dishes. Their menu includes prosciutto and homemade cheese, Istrian bean stew (Manestra od bobići), and Istrian soup (you basically eat wine with a spoon and a few croutons). So if you plan an active day in the sun, I suggest you leave the lunch for last.
If you find the time, don’t miss visiting the surrounding places. If you head south, you can get to Pazin Cave in about half an hour, and finish the magical road of giants (remember, Dragonja hit the ground with his foot and made the Pazin Cave).
The adventure around the cave can take two hours, and after exploring the area by a pedestrian trail, you can even take a zip line over Pazin or over an underground lake.
The Pazinčica river has another trait besides the cave – the waterfalls. Called Zarečki Krov, these waterfalls offer a great sightseeing, but also a place to sunbathe, take a swim, and a few gorgeous photos, of course.
At The End of The Day…
Central Istria will let you take a break from the crowd on the south and teach you something different about her culture and history.
Perhaps these towns are not so famous like Rovinj or Poreč on the coast, but visiting Hum and its surroundings will enrich your stay in Croatia with a sprinkle of magic and fairy tales.
So take a trip to the heart of Istria, it might just fill yours…