Three millennia old, marked by wars and settlements, Pula’s rich cultural legacy is evident in every corner.
The Arena, or Amphitheatre, of Pula, is one of Croatia’s most iconic postcard images. Sitting atop a small hill by the sea, it is the sixth-largest Roman amphitheater in the world and Croatia’s largest, best-preserved ancient monument. Scanty records show that its construction began under Emperor Augustus in the 1st century AD and was completed during the Flavian dynasty. One story says that Emperor Vespasian built it simultaneously with Rome’s Colosseum because he was enthralled with his mistress, the ravishing Antonia Cenida of Pula.
Another centuries-old story is that supernatural beings built the edifice. The delicate, impossibly beautiful creatures danced and played all night across the magical meadows and hills and hid from humans during the day. Since these fairies specialized in construction, one night, they decided to build a town. They worked diligently, bringing stones from Učka Mountain while sweat dripped down their moonlit faces. Carefully arranging the stones in a circle, the fairies built the awe-inspiring structure, rushing to finish the job before sunrise. As true creatures of the night, the fairies hid from people humans in their secret lairs when the first roosters crowed. In their rush to hide, they left behind rocks scattered from Učka to the seashore; the Pula Arena remained unfinished. The people were so impressed by the structure they could only ascribe it to the work of mysterious forces, so they named the amphitheater Divić-grad or “the town of miracles” (divić is old Slavic for “miracle”, and grad means town”).
Used for knights’ tournaments and fairs in the Middle Ages, today the Arena hosts the Film Festival, Opera Season, Equestrian Festival, concerts, and other summer events where the world’s most accomplished musicians can perform on the most beautiful open stage.
Constructed of local limestone in an elliptical shape, the Arena has axes of 130 and 100 meters in length and width, respectively. In the center is a flat region: the fighting ground. Spectators sat on the stone steps or stood in the galleries. The Pula Amphitheatre is thought to have been able to accommodate up to 20,000 spectators.
Every week in the summertime, the Arena hosts gladiator fights as part of the historical and entertainment spectacle Spectacvla Antiqva. The underground passages they once used now host a regular exhibition of ancient viticulture and olive growing in Istria. The exhibits include reconstructions of mills, presses, vessels and machines used in the past for producing olive oil and wine, and amphorae used for storing and transporting the liquid gold.
From the unmissable Amphitheater, Gate of Hercules and Twin Gates, the Temple of Augustus, and the Small Roman Theatre to the Triumphal Arch of the Sergi, a traveler can follow the development of this city in southern Istria and imagine the splendor of the life of the time.