previous next

POLA (Pula) Croatia, Yugoslavia.

At the SW extremity of the Istrian Peninsula a native site of the Bronze and Iron Age civilization, whose early contact with the Greek world is reflected in the legend of Jason and Medea (Strab. 1.2.39; 5.1.9). After the Roman conquest of Histria in 178-177 B.C. a Roman military post was established here. The civil settlement which developed with the military post obtained colonial rank from Octavian between 42 and 31 B.C. (Plin. HN 3.129). Colonia Iulia Pola Pollentia Herculanea is the full title of colony on an inscription from the 2d c. A.D. (CIL V, 8139 = II 10.1.85). It was enrolled in the tribus Velina. In addition to its flourishing port, a large ager centuriatus producing wine, olive oil, and cereals included a great part of peninsula. Traces of centuriation are still preserved. In the area many great estates flourished. Pola with Histria was a part of Illyricum till 11 B.C. when Caesar Augustus joined the part of its territory from the Arsia (Raša) river to the regio X of Italy, which included Venetia and Histria. At the beginning of the 2d c. the exiled king of the Roxolani, Rasparaganus, found asylum here. He and his son died and were buried here. At the time of the Marcomannic invasions (166-167) the city walls were reinforced for the first time. In 326 by order of Constantine the Great his son Crispus was killed in Pola.

Late antiquity was a period of relative peace in S Histria, which was outside the area invaded by Huns and other barbarians. But the destruction of Aquileia by Attila in 452 forced the Pola to strengthen its walls again to a thickness of more than 4 m. Pola and S Histria became in late antiquity a refuge for many refugees from devastated neighboring provinces.

Architecturally the development of the town was conditioned by its inception as a hillfort settlement. In the Roman period there developed the upper town on the hill and on its slopes the lower town—“pars superior coloniae” and “pars inferior coloniae” as the inscriptions describe them. Circular streets surrounded the hill, and down the slopes streets led radially towards the city walls and to the sea. Near the sea and around the forum there were insulae. The plan of the streets on the hill still preserves the ancient street pattern. The city walls are preserved in several places for a total of 60 to 70 m in the S. The first circuit wall was built on rock. The second, constructed to the S outside the first, was built mainly between the 4th and 6th c. on foundations of architectural remains: columns, capitals, and funerary monuments with inscriptions. In the S part of the older wall were two round towers and four square ones.

The oldest city gate, the so-called Hercules' Gate, is in Liberation Square. It is 3.6 m wide and 4 m high; carved on the keystone of the arch is the curly head of the bearded Hercules in high relief. On the block to the left, his club is carved. Near the carving the names of the duoviri L. Cassius Longinus and L. Calpurnius Piso (mid 1st c. B.C.) are inscribed. At the N end of the walls and on the site of an earlier gate is the so-called Porta Gemina, with two vaulted passages. The massive pilasters have half columns with composite capitals on the external face, an architrave without decoration, and a richly decorated frieze. The gate was built in the Antonine period in the middle of the 2d c. From this gate the way led to the small theater on the E slope of the central city hill.

The Arch of Sergii, today isolated at the First of May street, was originally one of the city gates. On the top above the frieze an attic divided in three parts held statues of the three members of the Sergii family who were civil and military functionaries and to whose memory the arch was erected. In the center of the frieze, decorated with Erotes, garlands, and bucrania, there is the inscription: SALVIA POSTVMA SERGI(a) DE SVA PECVNIA. The arch can be dated not long after 28-29.

The forum (37 x 81 m) was in the central part of the lower town on the SW slope of the city hill near the sea. With its longer axis oriented N-S, the forum was well protected from the NE wind. It lies 1 m under the present Republic Square. On the N side of the forum at the time of the founding of the colony was a large altar. After the Augustan reconstruction between 2 B.C. and A.D. 14 two temples were built, identical in dimensions and the work of the same architect. The temple on the W side is still standing, a harmonious building constructed of Istrian limestone on an elevated podium with steps in front, 8.05 by 17.65 m. The pronaos has four unfluted columns with Corinthian capitals. The frieze of floral motives on the architrave is continued around the temple. On the front the bronze letters of the dedication read: Romae et Augusto Caesari Divi f. Patri Patriae. The temple, transformed into the Church of the Virgin Mary, houses a small collection of ancient sculpture today. Of the B temple, probably dedicated to Diana or Hercules, only the back wall can be seen. The smaller of the two theaters (2d c. A.D.) is on the B slope of the central city hill, the other (1st c. A.D.) is outside the walls on the S periphery of the town. The facade of the larger was 100 m long; the radius of orchestra, 25 m; that of cavea, ca. 50 m. A tradition persists that some of its columns were used in building S. Maria della Salute in Venice.

The most monumental among ancient buildings at Pola is the amphitheater, locally known as the arena. Built during the 1st c. A.D., it was probably begun by Augustus and completed by the time of Vespasian. It is on the NE periphery of the ancient town, ca. 200 m from the city walls near the sea. Between the building and the sea passed the via Flavia, the road that led to the cities along the W coast of Histria, Parentium (Poreč) and Tergestum (Trieste). The amphitheater ranks sixth in size among the surviving Roman amphitheaters, the five that are larger are in Rome, Capua, Verona, Arles, and Catania. The arena was 67.9 by 41.6 m and had an outer wall 32.45 m high. It had three stories on the seaward side and two opposite, where the hillside supported seats; its capacity was 23,000. The lowest story consists of massive arches supported by rectangular piers. The next arcade is of the same length. The second story has 72 arches around the entire building. The third story has 64 rectangular openings. Four shallow rectangular towers mark the four cardinal points. At the top of the towers water was stored for a system of waterworks carried around the top of the building by a channel. On the W tower a plaque commemorates Senator Gabriele Emo, who in 1584 prevented the destruction of the amphitheater and its transportation to Venice. Beneath the arena were the rooms and corridors for gladiators and animals. The central underground hall now houses an exhibition illustrating the wine and oil production in the ancient Histria.

In the Ulica 1. Maja (The First of May street) no. 16, a large mosaic in a room of a villa urbana was discovered in 1958. It represents the punishing of Dirke by Zetos and Amphion the sons of Antiope. The work is attributed to the 1st c. A.D.

There are remains of several Early Christian monuments in Pola. The Cathedral of St. Thomas was built during the 4th-6th c. A.D. on the foundations of baths (?); the Church of Sancta Maria Formosa from the 6th c.; the Church of St. John from the 5th c. About 4 km NW of the Pula harbor are the Brijuni (Brioni) islands (Pullariae insulae) with many archaeological remains. In the environs of Pula were many luxurious villae rusticae.

The Archaeological Museum of Istria at Pula preserves the finds from Pola and Istria.


A. Gnirs, Pola, Führer durch die antiken Baudenkmäler und Sammlungen (1913); T. Allason, Antiquities of Pola (1919); M. Mirabella-Roberti, “L'Arena di Pola,” Quaderni—Guida di Pola (1943); A. Degrassi, Porti romani dell'Istria (1955); Š. Mlakar, Antička Pula (1965; German edition also); id., Amfiteatar u Puli (1965; German edition also).


hide References (1 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (1):
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: