Pula is a city on the bear south of the Istrian peninsula. There is not much to do here in winter. As James Joyce, an Irish writer who lived in Pula, said, when Bura wind blows and weather becomes brisk, Puležans stay at home and the city becomes a ghost town. A Siberia on the Adriatic.
However, summer brings life to the streets of Pula and triples the number of inhabitants during this time. The city is vibrant in summer and becomes full of concerts, and different events offering a bit of everything.
Our famous landmark is called Arena. It’s the biggest historical monument in Pula, but also in Croatia. We identify with this marvelous memory of ancient times, so we put it on our money. You will find Arena on the reverse of 10 Croatian Kuna bill.
Ellipse shaped, this former center of power made of limestone was built somewhere between 27 BC – 68 AD, and it is 105 meters wide, and 132 meters long. The view of it is astonishing. We get used to looking at it, but no one can deny its grandeur. The arena is not the biggest amphitheater, rather sixth in the world, but wins in another category.
Amongst the 200-ish amphitheaters that still exist, Arena is considered to be the most sustained one. It is the only one having all three Roman architectural orders entirely preserved. The rumor has it Emperor Vespasian ordered constructing Arena in honor of his lover, Antonia Cenidi, who owned lands across the city.
A great thing about this landmark is its position. We can say it belongs to the city center. Giardini, the central promenade is about hundred meters away, and the seafront is just below. Compared to other heirdom of Roman architecture, this amphitheater still entertains the citizens. However, the events are much more light-hearted.
This summer will mark a 64th anniversary of watching movies under the stars. Some films were also shot here, for instance, Titus, with Anthony Hopkins in the leading role. Many concerts take place inside the Arena in the summer season. So far, Arena welcomed Sting, Elton John, Norah Jones, Jamiroquai, among many others.
Likewise, Arena held one of the weirdest, yet attractive hockey games played by Medveščak from Zagreb.
In 2003, Arena entered the Guinness book of records when locals made and wrapped the world biggest tie around it.
Fun fact: Did you know Croatian legions invented the tie in France? Wrapping the tie around Arena was an effort to honor them.
Pula is three thousand years old, and Arena two thousand, and while you stand in front of her, you can sense and connect with her past.
The Arch of Sergii (Golden Gate)
The arch of the Sergii, or as residents call it, “the Golden Gate” is in the center, right beside the Giardini promenade. The area around the arch is also small city square – Portarata. You will see different events here, from choirs, dance shows, to theater plays.
Golden Gate is an ancient Roman arch made of stone, eight meters high. They build it to commemorate the three brothers of the Sergii family, especially Lucius Sergius Lepidus, who served in the Roman legion and took part in important battles.
It is assumed that Romans build it between 30 – 10 years BC. The Hellenistic style, prevails, with engraved decorative elements and various inscriptions. Most decorations are on the west side, looking at the former position of the city center.
If you visit Pula, you must pass under the Golden Gate. When you pass through, the narrow Sergii street takes you to another, biggest square-the Forum.
Although most people come to Pula in spring or summer, it is nice to experience the Christmas fair, as part of the program happens around the arch where you can warm up with mulled wine and snacks while enjoying the view.
Zerostrasse: The Underground City
Zerostrasse presents the underground tunnels of Pula that spread under the whole city. The system was built during world war I to protect the residents from air strikes. They stretch almost throughout the entire city and made of shelters, galleries, and passageways.
Pula is a city build on seven hills, and each hill of the town was dug to make up a network of tunnels. The biggest ones are Monte Zaro, Monte Ghiro, and Castel. Tunnels are about 3 to 6 meters wide, and 2 and a half meters high.
The underground system can accommodate about 6,000 people while all shelters together can accept about 50,000, which is roughly the number of inhabitants of Pula. That capacity was reached because they built shelters even during the world war II.
Part of the tunnels is now used for social and cultural events, even parties. An underground party has a literal meaning in Pula. It is possible to visit the tunnels, and the entrance fee is affordable. You can enter by the Twin Gates and Archaeological Museum, or from the Kandlerova street. An exhibition about Austro Hungarian navy and air force in Pula is exposed somewhere in the midst of the tunnel.
Since we are talking about an area deep underground, keep in mind the pleasant and refreshing temperature in summer. Going down under might be a great idea in hot days.
Twin Door (Porta Gemina)
These double arches are another ancient monument close to the city center. They are somewhere in between Giardini and the city waterfront. Made of stone, they were construed on remains of older doors. Porta Gemina served as an entrance to an ancient theater built in the 2nd century.
Gates comprise two passages with arches, and 3 pillars holding those arches. An embossed crown connects all parts in a single unit.
Twin doors are one of about ten stone doors that served as entry points between the city walls, as walls fortified Pula. When you pass here, you will get to the archeology museum, a small Roman theater, and Castel.
The Temple of Augustus & Forum
Temple of Augustus is another well preserved Roman monument found in Pula. It is placed on the central city square and popular meeting point, the Forum. Right beside it, there is a communal palace, made of stone like the temple itself.
The temple is dedicated to the first Roman emperor Augustus, made while he was alive, somewhere between 2 BC and his death 14 years AD. It’s impressive in size, 8×17 meters, and its construction technique is even more astonishing – as they made it in a demanding technique called Opus Isodomum. Temple’s pillars are made of smooth marble.
Unlike other temples that commemorate Augustus, this one doesn’t honor the divine Augustus, because he earned that title after his death, and while they built this temple, he was still alive.
During World War II, the temple was hit by a bomb and heavily damaged. Luckily, the Italian conservators reconstructed it from 1945 to 1947. There were additional two temples beside this one, but this one is the only one still standing. One temple is ruined, while the other twin temple has only a wall left, that is now a part of the city’s municipal palace.
Temple of Augustus is showcasing an exhibition of antique sculptures. The forum surrounding the temple is paved with marble and filled with galleries, restaurants, bars, and shops. You can grab a coffee under the shades by the temple and relax while watching people stroll by.
Fort Castel Pula
In the center of the old town in Pula is a fortress Kaštel. It is an old Venetian fort build on the monticule. Before they built Castel, old Istrian folk Histrians had their fort, like Romans afterward. Because of the city’s significance as a maritime center and its great location that overviews the bay, the Venetians built a fortress on the hill.
Castel is a rectangular fort with sharp angles that remind of a four-pointed star. French architect Antoine de Ville realized the construction plan in 1630. The fortress belonged to the defensive belt of Pula during XVII century and was upgraded many times throughout history.
Outside the fort entrance, there’s a moat with a small bridge passing over. Beside the door, old cannons hold their ground. Today, you will find a history and maritime museum of Istria inside the Castel, where you can see various old maps, war medals, marine instruments, and flags, and a collection of 75 thousand objects.
The fortress also serves as a concert hall, and due to its elevated position, it offers a fabulous view over Pula and its surroundings.
Aquarium in a Fortress at Verudela
At the peninsula and tourist resort Verudela is the fortress of the same name. Austro Hungary built it in 1866 as a part of the defensive system of fortresses. As you can see, there is no hilltop or area providing views at the sea that doesn’t have its own fort, but we’ll get to the rest of them later.
In this historical building, there is now a home of Pula’s Aquarium. The fort Verudela is about 3 kilometers from the city center so you can get here easily. There is a big parking lot on Verudela, and bus lines 2a and 3a will take you to Verudela (summer lines only)
Opened in 2002, the aquarium today is a home to over 200 animal species, including fish and reptiles. Likewise, you can see different sharks, jellyfish or seahorses. Since 2006, the center for sea turtle recovery acts as a part of the aquarium. Here, sea turtles are one of the most endangered species that get proper care. Just recently, they released 6 turtles into the sea, and many citizens went to take part in this nice event.
The aquarium went through renovations, including a new steel dome on the roof of the fort, and three new pools. One of the main missions of this place is connecting people with the sea. You will often find guided tours around the aquarium, and many schools from around the country come to visit it.
Everyone can come to explore the Pula aquarium, and even join a cruise tour where you can learn about local marine wildlife out on the sea. Like with many fortresses, this one also has a great view over Verudela peninsula and its surroundings.
Visit Brijuni (Brioni) Islands And National Park
Brijuni are an archipelago made of 14 islands, protected as a national park. The islands are located at a northwestern exit from Pula, and they spread along the coast all the way to Fažana town area. Two bigger islands dominate the group, and 12 smaller islets keep them company.
Brijuni are only 3 kilometers far from the land. People know them for their beautiful, relaxing nature. They were inhabited since the early ages, especially during the Roman reign when luxurious Villas popped up. Brijuni were also a source of stone and salt production.
As Pula was the main naval port in Austro Hungary, they built seven strongholds on the Island Brijuni, the biggest called Tegetthoff. In 1893, a manufacturer Paul Kupelwieser bought the islands and turned them into a luxury tourist resort. The place was getting increasingly popular, but the World War I started. During the war, Austro Hungarian monarchy had placed their submarine base on the islands.
And after the second world war, the Brijuni became a part of Yugoslavia. Since 1949, the islands became a personal summer residency of the Yugoslavian president, Josip Broz Tito. More than a hundred world leaders came visited Tito at Brijuni, and many celebrities of that time, including Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and Sophia Loren. In 1956, president Tito met with the president of Egypt, Nasser, and prime minister of India Nehru here on Brijuni to talk about opposing the cold war. That meeting later turned into a non-aligned movement of nations.
Although these islands had a rich history, perhaps the most interesting traces of history are at the oldest ones. The prints of dinosaurs and Mesozoic reptiles are found on Brijuni.
Today Brijuni are rich in plant life that has classic Mediterranean features. There are over 700 local herb species, including some endangered ones, and an olive tree that is 1600 years old. Apart from being abundant in flora, Brijuni are a home to many animals. There is a safari park with many exotic animals, given to president Tito as a gift from foreign diplomats.
Brijuni offer an excellent combination worth visiting. You can explore archeological sites with over 200 dinosaur prints while enjoying the richness of flora and fauna. There are many boat tours going to Brijuni from Pula and Fažana, just be careful not to pick an overcrowded ship as it might spoil your enjoyment in the natural wonders of Brijuni.
Party at Outlook and Dimensions
Outlook is the biggest European festival of bass music and sound system culture. The party location is at the 150-year-old fort in a northern area of Pula called Štinjan.
At Outlook, you can hear the best performers from the world in the realm of dub, reggae, dubstep, drum N bass, garage and similar genres. This event takes place in the first part of September on 10 different stages in a beautiful ambient of fortress Punta Christo. You can enjoy over 300 musicians that perform at this festival.
The festival has a camp for visitors, a special stage on the beach and unavoidable boat parties. This summer, there will be 54 boat parties as a part of the whole event. Each year there is also a big opening concert held in Arena Amphitheater. So far, those concerts included notable performers like Lauryn Hill, Damian Marley, Grandmaster Flash, DJ Shadow and Roni Size.
2018 is the eleventh anniversary of Outlook. A week before Outlook, they organize another music festival at the same place, Dimensions. This festival started a few years after Outlook and focuses on a different music. You will hear jazz, funk, to electronica, house, and techno beats. Both festivals are especially popular with UK tourists. And it is understandable because partying in a big old fort with a stunning view of surrounding Pula bay and Brioni Islands is a breathtaking experience.
Movies Under The Stars And Pula Film Festival
The extraordinary feeling of watching movies under the stellar sky is something you should experience. Every summer, they organize Pula Film Festival on the open, which is its best feature. What’s even better, it takes place in the amphitheater Arena. This is the most popular and the oldest movie festival in the country, originating from 1954.
Besides movie projections, best movies win awards and the number one gets a golden arena. To accommodate all needs, they play movies also in the Fort Castel, an old Austro-Hungarian fort we mentioned earlier, so you have two starry cinemas to catch a movie while in Pula.
During the Film Festival, Pula Food Festival happens near Arena. You can try lots of delicacies and various street food by the boardwalk, in Tito’s park. Last year, the food festival was very busy and visited, and the food they offered included blue cheese burgers, ham steaks, tzatziki lamb, Dutch pancakes and many other interesting dishes.
Visit The Beaches, Many Of Them
In Pula, you can swim on many beaches. We counted thirteen beaches in Pula, but if you add the less known ones, and those in the surrounding towns, then there are a lot of options to choose from. The most popular swimming zone is Verudela peninsula.
Some of the best beaches are on Verudela, such as Hawaiian Beach, Ambrela, Punta Verudela and Histria. Except for Verudela, on the north part of the city, there is a gorgeous beach Ville as a part of the Puntižela Camp. By the Lungomare promenade, there is a whole cluster of beaches that start with Valkane beach, followed by Gortanova bay and end with Valsaline at the end.
Beaches in Pula have similar features, gravel, cliffs and paved zones for sunbathing, but the rocky areas are mostly flat, so visitors love to use them as spots for getting a tan. Pebble beaches are gradually downward which makes getting in the water simple and easy. Although you won’t find classic, sandy beaches in Pula, absent sand makes the sea immaculate, and turquoise-blue.
Beaches are well equipt and offer various activities. Most of them offer to rent sunbeds and umbrellas, and lifeguards. There is rarely a beach that doesn’t have a water park, banana rides, and similar aquatic sports.
Pula is not as big as New York, and you can dedicate a single day to the must-do sightseeing. You won’t get lost in the endless streets or need a year to visit all the restaurants. However, the events can compensate the city’s size.
With so many beaches, boat tours, festivals, and concerts, I am sure you will find a perfect time and place to experience Pula so you will remember it forever.