The Croatian peninsula of Istria is a treasure trove of small towns scattered across green valleys and vineyards. Each town has a unique story and makes an ideal destination for a day trip. One of these towns is Grožnjan, the city of artists and music.
Romantic, artistic Grožnjan, a community of only 164 inhabitants, sits atop a 230-meter-high hill in the picturesque Mirna Valley, only 25-30 minutes from the larger coastal towns of Umag, Novigrad, and Poreč.
According to one of Croatia’s most famous legends, giants lived in Istria long before people did, building small towns that still stand today. It’s said that the giants were so big they used tools to shape the hills, and that’s how Grožnjan was born. The biggest giant, Dragonja, ploughed a furrow from Ćićarija towards the sea; the present-day Mirna River flows through it and locals say that Dragonja’s son, Gorazd, still lives in the Istrian forests.
Grožnjan’s goes back to the Middle Ages. It was first mentioned in 1102, when the patriarchs of Aquileia owned the village. In 1358 the Venetian Republic ruled the city and developed it into a military base. After the decline of Venetian power, the city fell into oblivion. When you visit, keep a lookout for the old houses and buildings from its early history. Don’t miss the Spinotti-Morteani Palace, once home to notaries and landowners, and the castle, now a concert hall and the center of musical life for the International Cultural Center for Croatian Music Youth.
Grožnjan experienced an artistic renaissance in 1965, when artists from around the world settled in its empty, stone-walled houses. It became a mecca for creators of all kinds – musicians, painters, actors – and art lovers. As many as 28 studios fill this small town with art, and the city art gallery exhibits work by artists from all over the world.
The beginning of May is an exciting time in Grožnjan, when the otherwise sleepy town turns into a bustling stage for actors, musicians, painters, sculptors, and their followers. From May to October, the sounds of Musical Cultural Summer in Grožnjan reverberate through the streets of this small, picturesque town. Grožnjan lives and breathes music in these months, from classical to jazz, the strains of guitars, pianos, violins, and cellos, filling the air in the labyrinth of streets. Listening to the Jazz is Back event on a warm summer evening is an exceptional experience. Even the famous Imaginary Film Academy holds its summer film school here, to the delight of those who love the dramatic arts.
All summer long, Grožnjan becomes a stage where renowned jazz and classical musicians and many other kinds of artists delight in the joy of creation expression. Once you visit this small hill town in the Istrian peninsula, you’ll never forget it.