Istria is a peninsula in the Adriatic Sea, subdivided by Croatia, Italy and Slovenia. Italian, Croatian, and a variety of other dialects are spoken in Istria, where the population is a hodgepodge of many cultures and ethnicities.
The name Istria is believed to be taken from the Histri, an Illyrian tribe that settled in the area during prehistoric times. The Histri might have been nomads from the area that is now Italy. Earliest traces of human habitation in the peninsula date back to the Lower Paleolithic Period.
During the Bronze and Iron Ages, Istria was dotted with prehistoric hill forts, indicating the relatively dense population that inhabited the peninsula. The Histri farmed, fished, and raised livestock. They came into contact with the Romans in the 3rd century BC when the latter’s expansionist policies drove them closer to the territory of the Histri.
The Histri were conquered by the Romans, and Istria became part of the Roman Empire. With the arrival of the Romans, Istria was urbanized. Among the towns founded by the Romans in Istria is the seaport city of Pula, where a Roman amphitheatre still stands today. It was built primarily for gladiator fights during the rule of Emperor Vespacian. The amphitheatre at Pula is made of local stone quarried right in Istria. The Roman quarries produced high quality stone that Istria is famous for.
Temples to Emperor Augustus and to the Goddess Roma were also built in Pula, and Hercules’ Gate was incorporated into the city walls. The square at Pula, originally the Forum, is still a meeting place today as it was three thousand years ago.
After the Roman Empire collapsed, Istria was invaded by the Goths who ruled the peninsula until the Emperor Justinian of the Eastern Roman Empire restored Roman rule of Istria. The Bishop of Ravenna built a magnificent Basilica in Pula, decorated with lavish mosaics on the walls and floors.
In another Roman-founded city, Porec, the Euphrasian Basilica was built. It is one of the most magnificent early Byzantine churches in Europe, and the entire Euphrasian complex was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Lombards, Franks, Aquileians, and other barbarians have gone on to invade Istria. The peninsula also came under the rule of several duchies. In the thirteenth century the coastal regions became part of the Republic of Venice, while Inner Istria became part of the Holy Roman Empire. The Venetian part of Istria became part of the Holy Roman Empire in 1797 with the Treaty of Campo Formio.
Istria became part of the Italian kingdom of the Napoleonic Empire upon the end of the Holy Roman Empire. The Austrian Empire gained Istria after the fall of the Napoleonic Empire, which held the peninsula until the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after the First World War. Istria became part of the Kingdom of Italy until the Second World War, after which it became part of Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia’s break up in 1991 resulted in Istria being divided along ethnic lines between Croatia and Slovenia.