Pula (or Pola, in Italian) is a town of great contrasts: a contemporary industrial port is juxtaposed against the architectural and cultural remnants of Pula's long and fascinating history. The cultural diversity of the town's inhabitants is testament to the political complexity of the town's past. Whilst the majority of Pula's inhabitants are Croats, there are also significant Italian, Serb, Bosniak and Slovenian communities. The town is officially bilingual: its inhabitants speaking at least one of either Italian or Croatian, although most speak both, and often a couple of other languages as well.

Pula has been conquered and re-conquered several times throughout its long history. Founded by the Illyrian tribe of Histri as early as the tenth century BC, Pula became a jewel of the Roman Empire: a busy and important commercial centre considered important enough to become the site of a large and impressive amphitheatre. When Rome finally succumbed to the might of the Byzantine Empire, Pula's new political masters quickly recognised the town's strategic potential as a naturally well-protected port. Thus, Pula became an important naval base for the new empire; the shelter for the entire Byzantine fleet on the Adriatic. Once the Byzantines had suffered a similar fate to their predecessors, the Venetians took control of the town between 1331 and 1797. They, in turn, were succeeded by the Hapsburgs between 1813-1918, who saw in Pula, just as the Byzantines had, Pula's potential as a naval base. It is this rich cultural and political history which makes Pula such a fascinating place to visit.


The main attraction in Pula is undoubtedly the impressive amphitheatre built at the end of the 1st Century BC by the Romans. The amphitheatre is the sixth largest of its kind in the world, and appears to have been built to allow up to 22,000 spectators to witness gladiator fights, which continued to be held at the amphitheatre until c.400AD. Whilst new buildings including private homes have been carved from the stone within the amphitheatre, the outside wall remains largely intact. A plaque on the ruins expresses the gratitude of local inhabitants to Gabriele Emo, who persuaded the Venetian authorities in the 16th Century not to execute their plan to transport the amphitheatre to Italy brick by brick. Some artefacts are displayed in rooms carved out from the limestone rock within the outer wall.

If you are interested in seeing more evidence of the legacy left to Pula by its Roman occupants, the Archaeological Museum is certainly worth a visit. Artefacts ranging from gravestones to brooches and ceramics can be found within the museum, in addition to tombstones discovered in the Illyrian settlement of Nesactium. A further collection of Roman artefacts is also held within the Temple of Augustus in the main square. The temple was built between 2BC and 14AD to commemorate the death of the Emperor.

The Arch of the Sergians, built by Salvia Postuma Sergia c. 30BC is an interesting monument, which stands at the south-eastern entrance to the town centre. The arch was built to celebrate influential members of the famousb Sergi family. Theatrical and musical entertainment is often staged on the square next to the arch.

The legacy of Rome's successors is best observed in the impressive form of the Byzantine Chapel of St Mary of Formosa. Many of the artefacts and spectacular mosaics discovered here can now be found in the Archaeological Museum, but a mosaic depicting the legend of Dirce and the Bull, unveiled by chance after a bomb exploded by the site during the Second World War, remains near the chapel.


Retail therapy addicts might be disappointed to learn that Pula is no shopping paradise. With the exception of the small, independently owned shops one would expect in a town popular with tourists, shopping opportunities are restricted to the covered market in the old town. The market was built in 1903 and sells fresh fish and meat to locals daily. Vegetable stalls can be found outside the cover, under the shade of nearby trees. The Zigante Tartufi is worth a visit if you are keen to sample the produce of the Mirna Valley: traditional truffles and a selection of wines and olive oils can all be purchased here.

Nightlife and Eating Out

Pula is perhaps not the ideal destination for those seeking a lively clubbing scene or a wild night out. The town is perfect, however, for those who would appreciate a relaxing meal in a quiet restaurant followed by a cup of coffee in one of many bijoux cafés. The piazza, which has existed since the Romans occupied the town, is surrounded by numerous cafés which are ideal for watching the world go by. There are many restaurants in the centre of the town, many of which serve excellent seafood. Vegetarians ought to be warned, however, that they may well have to become accustomed to a diet of pasta, pizza and salad for the duration of their stay, as Croatians are yet to fully embrace the concept of vegetarianism! Options are likely to be very limited, and some dishes advertised as vegetarian might well contain animal products.

Evening entertainment is not confined to eating out alone. The amphitheatre often stages concerts in the summer months (previous guests have included Sting and Alanis Morissette) and hosts the annual Pula Film Festival in early August.

Tourist Information

  • The Tourist Office, Forum 3
  • Telephone: +39 (0)52 219197
  • Website: www.pulainfo.hr/en/
The Tourist Office provides helpful advice, and free brochures containing information about Pula and Istria. Computer access is provided to enable visitors to access information about upcoming events and excursions and to send or receive e-mail.


The only airport in Istria can be found 5km North-East of the centre of Pula. At the time of writing there was no link by bus between the airport and the town centre, but taxis are readily available.