History of Istria

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Istria, formerly Histria (Latin), is the largest peninsula in the Adriatic Sea. The peninsula is located at the head of the Adriatic between the Gulf of Trieste and the Bay of Kvarner. It is shared by three countries: Croatia, Slovenia, and Italy.

First known inhabitants – Histri

In the 11th century BC Istria was inhabited by the Histri – prehistoric Illyrian tribe after whom Istria was named.

Roman period

Romans conquered Histri and took power of the Istria peninsula 178 and 177 BC. Romans established the port of Pietas Iulia (modern Pula) and gradually converting the inland areas into latifundia (large estates) worked by colonists and locals whom they had enslaved. Although pockets of Illyrian resistance remained in the hilly interior, they succumbed in time to the Romans combination of military and economic superiority. Although Pula is Istria’s only settlement to preserve significant evidence of the Romans (principally its Forum and Amphitheater), most of Istria's major settlements were established in this period. Under the Emperor Augustus, Istria was incorporated as a discrete region within the Roman province of Italia, making it an integral part of the Empire, which remained until the Western Roman Empire’s fall in 476.

Eastern part of Istria included in the Kingdom of Croatia (925–1102) during the reign of king Petar Krešimir IV

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the region was pillaged by the Ostrogoths, at 489 AD. In 538/539, it was incorporated into the Byzantine or Eastern Roman Empire, which had endured as part of the Exarchate of Ravenna, and annexed to the Lombards Kingdom in 599. In the Avarian-Slavic invasions and inhabitation of the Slavs in the beginning of 7th century the inland towns were destroyed and abandoned, while the coastal area resisted these attacks. This period was a highly contentious one, because the attacks by the Lombards from the West, Slovene tribes from the north, and Croat tribes from the east and south resulted in a state of near constant conflict.

Republic of Venice

Main article: Republic of Venice

Istria was annexed to the Frankish kingdom by Pepin of Italy in 789. By the time the Franks established control over the region its population had become largely Slavicized. The seeds of Istria's dissolution were sown under increasingly weak Frankish rule, which enabled most settlements to achieve de facto autonomy. In 10th and 11th century Istria was ruled by the German feudal families. Istria was a separate markgraviate, given in hereditary feud to various families of noblemen by German emperors, the dukes of Carinthia, Merano and Bavaria. The German emperor Henry IV nominally assigned the remaining march to the Patriarchate of Aquileia.

Parts of Istria included in the territory of the Republic of Venice

In 1145 cities Pula, Koper and Izola were defeated by Republic of Venice and they were controlled by Venice further after. During the 13th century the Patriarch’s rule weakened and the towns kept surrendering to Venice – Poreč in 1267, Umag in 1269, Novigrad in 1270, Sveti Lovreč in 1271, Motovun in 1278, Kopar in 1279, Piran and Rovinj in 1283. Venice gradually dominated the whole coastal area of western Istria and the area to Plomin on the eastern part of the peninsula. The wealthier coastal towns cultivated increasingly strong economic relationships with Venice and were eventually incorporated into its territory (by 1348), while their inland counterparts fell under the sway of the weaker Patriarchate of Aquileia, which became part of the Habsburg Empire in 1374.

The inner Istrian part around Mitterburg (Pazin), was held for centuries by the Holy Roman Empire. The Venetian part of the peninsula passed to it in 1797 with the Treaty of Campo Formio.

Napoleonic rule

Following the fall of the Venetian Republic (1797), Istria was occupied by Napoleon; however, he gave Venice and the Venetian part of Istria and Dalmatia to Austria in exchange for the Netherlands and Lombardia.

In 1805 Napoleon re-occupied the former Venetian Istria. The Holy Roman Empire ended with the period of Napoleonic rule from 1805 to 1813, when Istria became part of the Italian Kingdom and, from 1809, of the Illyrian provinces of the Napoleonic Empire. The inner and eastern parts of Istria became for the first time a part of Croatia, as a part of Civil Croatia, established by Napoleon.

Austrian rule

Istria as part of Austrian Littoral in the 19th century

After this short period, the newly established Austrian Empire ruled entire Istrian territory from 1814 until 1918. Istria became the part of the Empire as a separate territorial unit, with Trieste as its capital. Pazin became its capital in 1825. In 1866 Pula became the capital port of the Austrian Empire Navy.

The introduction of limited democracy in 1861, by means of a regional parliament (Diet of Istria) that convened at Parezzo (Poreč), only served to its purpose to the Austrians in defusing Italian calls for the region’s union with the newly established Kingdom of Italy, as suffrage was limited to property owners, who were primarily Italian. The first parliament consisted of 28 Italians, but only one Croat and one Slovene.

In the second half of the 19th century the fight for the national and the political rights of the Croatian and the Slovenian population in relation to the Italian population began, strongly influenced by the Croatian national revival. Bishop Juraj Dobrila was the leader of the battle for Croatian rights in Istria. His concept was the activation of the people in the field of the national self-defence, the preservation of tradition, the improvement of economic and political situation, the acceptance of new civilization and cultural achievements, and finding the way to take the people out of misery. In one of his first demands to the Istrian Parliament in Poreč, he asked that the Croatian should become the official language along with the Italian language.

With the First World War national fights were interrupted. Italian interest in the eastern part of the Adriatic coast became very obvious. A secret agreement was made in London in April 1915, according to which Italy was promised South Tyrol, a part of Dalmatia and Istria with Trieste and Gorizia.

Italian rule

Main article: Istrian exodus
Main article: Foibe massacres

After World War I and the dissolution of Austria-Hungary, Istria was given to Italy, which was confirmed in an agreement between Italy and the new South Slavic state in 1920.

After the advent of Fascism (1922), the portions of the Istrian population that were Croatian and Slovene were exposed to a policy of forced Italianization and cultural suppression. During the period between two world wars Italians eradicated Croatian and Slovenian public and national life. They abolished all Croatian schools, cultural institutions and associations, and Croatian names were Italianized. They lost their right to education and religious practice in their maternal languages. The Croatian population emigrated to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia on a large scale. The organization TIGR, regarded as the first armed antifascist resistance group in Europe, was founded in 1927 and soon penetrated into Slovene and Croatian speaking parts of Istria.

The capitulation of Italy in the Second World War in 1943 caused a general national uprising in Istria. Tito and his devotees occupied officially the region. The fascist authorities were expelled, and the National Liberation Committee of Istria made the resolution on the "liberation" of Istria and its annexation to Croatia and new Yugoslavia. However Tito enstablished another reign of dictatorial power, with his men causing the infamous Foibe massacres against the native Italian population. By this and seeing their territory getting occupied by Slavs (who started to overbuild soviet houses), emigrated abroad causing one of the biggest exodus in human history.

Istria shortly after World War Two

Period of Yugoslavia

Main article: Istrian exodus
Main article: Foibe massacres

By the war's end in 1945, the Yugoslavian partisans occupied the interior of Istria and much of its coast causing the infamous Foibe massacres and the Istrian exodus against Italians, while Anglo-American forces controlled the northernmost part of Istria around Trieste. After the end of World War II, according to the Belgrade Agreement of 1945, Istria was divided into the Zone A and Zone B. Zone A, the northwest corner, the coast between Novigrad and Trieste, and the area around Pula, was under Anglo-American military rule. Other parts were in Zone B, under Yugoslavian military rule.

According to the Paris Peace Treaty of 1947, the territory between Novigrad and Trieste became the independent Free Territory of Trieste, while other parts were incorporated in Yugoslavia. Free Territory of Trieste was also divided in two zones – Zone A (area around Trieste) and Zone B (the rest). Zone A was again under the Anglo-American administration, while Zone B was under the Yugoslav military administration, from which area most of the Italian population fled. After the dissolution of the Free Territory of Trieste in 1954, by London agreement,

Italy was assigned Zone A, the region up to the present-day Slovenian/Italian border, while the remaining territory was incorporated into Yugoslavia, as a part of its People's Republic of Croatia and People's Republic of Slovenia. For the first time the entire western coast of Istria became part of Croatia. The final border between the two states was defined in the agreement in the Italian town of Osimo (Treaty of Osimo) on 10 November 1975.

In independent Croatia

Following the break-up of Yugoslavia in 1991, and international recognition of independent states of Croatia and Slovenia, the division of Istria between Croatia and Slovenia runs on the former republic borders. Istria became one of the twenty counties in the Republic of Croatia.

See also



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