Observations from the saddle of a bike: Pula Croatia



 October 2017

Sunday morning came and we took a bus to Pula, a coastal city in Croatia. The main reason for going to Pula was to see the Roman amphitheatre there. It is the sixth largest in the old Roman world, reasonably intact and in addition we had read the peninsula was picturesque and worthy of a visit.

Looking west over the city of Pula. Image credit: Orlovic and via Wikipedia.

The Roman amphitheatre can be clearly seen in the centre bottom of the above image. I will write about it later in this post but first a map, getting there, where we stayed and our impressions of the city.

The Istrian Peninsula

Our Ljubljanan coachsurfing hosts, Gregor and Sandra, dropped us at the bus station. It was not possible to put our bikes unfolded under the coach so we folded them and put them in their carry bags to disguise them.  All went well and the bus driver probably didn’t know there were bikes in the bags. Bus drivers can refuse to carry bikes, even foldup ones, so we thought camouflage the bikes and tell him nothing.

The disguised bikes and waiting for the bus to Pula.

At the Slovenia/Croatian border there was a passport checking post akin to days gone by. Officials came on board the coach and inspected our passports and us. Some countries have re-established border checking in light of the mass movement of refugees from North Africa and war torn Middle Eastern countries. The queue going out of Slovenia was short but in the opposite direction it was a different matter, there was a long line of cars, trucks and buses waiting their turn to get into Slovenia after summer holidays.

A queue of traffic waiting in line to get into Slovenia.

The Istrian Peninsula through which we travelled was scrubby country in many places with small non-descript villages. It is difficult to see out of a bus, all one sees is the back of the seat in front of you. Trains are a much more pleasant mode of transport but unfortunately the line from Koper to the south was, to quote a local ‘broken’.

A piece of what I consider kitsch sculpture. Taken from the bus on the way to Pula. No disrespect intended.

When choosing a place to stay Bev searches the Internet and comes up with options then we narrow the list keeping in mind whether the place is going to be of interest. The accommodation we chose was the Pula Art Host and the owner over the years had covered just about every surface including the underside of balconies with broken pieces of ceramic tiles.

Pula Art Host.

There was an element of art nouveau about the place. The following photographs show some of the broken tile detail.

Tiles up under the pilaster or drip moulding.

‘Stop’ and have a look at this tile.
A copy of artist Alfons Mucha’s painting of the French actress Sarah Bernhardt on the side of Pula Art Host. Alfons Mucha’s work was popular in the 1930s.

Very creative broken tile main entrance into the Pula Art Host.

Tiles everywhere, including under the verandah.

Artwork at the kitchen entrance.

Because of all the mosaic work the Pula Art Host it was a fascinating place to stay. I’m glad the owner Zoran set his mind to creating this wonderful place. He is a retired professor of economics at Pula University and over a number of years has created the artwork at the hostel.

Artwork by Zoran.

The area where the Pula Art Host was located was not in a high socioeconomic area and looking at some of the buildings I wondered when the area would have been at its best. Following are a few images showing the buildings near the hostel that, I might add, did not detract from the quality of the accommodation provided. We were given a double bed in a nine-bed dormitory with no other guests. Zoran’s wife is Chinese and we talked at length about our trip to China in 2002.

One of the thousands of old neo-classical buildings in Pula.

The upside down umbrella in the form of black shade cloth (below the satellite reflector) is there to catch bits that fall off the balconies above.

Stucco falling off another building.

A couple of handsome telamons supporting an entablature. The female version of the telamon is a caryatid.

Number 10 and two more telamons.

Telamon was an Argonaut and friend of Hercules and the father of Ajax. A telamon is therefore also called an Ajax and it was said, ‘He was not so great, nor nearly so great, as Ajax the son of Telamon’.

Ajax doing his best to support a decaying building in Pula. Note the blistering stucco, the rot has set in, however Ajax will no doubt withstand the ravages of time.

There is an upmarket area in Pula near the railway station and there are sisters of Ajax doing their stuff holding up the verandah of the Guest House Riviera that looked very grand.

The sisters of Ajax doing their stuff.

The hotel has long spacious corridors and to quote a client in 2017, it was worth staying there for the staircase. Other reviews were not so accommodating indicating outdated décor, but isn’t that why the hardened traveller seeks historical places to stay. If Bev and I returned to Pula we would stay to get the feel of how it was in the halcyon days of the Roaring ‘20s.

The staircase worth staying for. And if you waited long enough Hercule Poirot and Captain Arthur Hastings might descend. Image credit: Hotels.com web page.

Such a grand and beautiful ‘palace’.

On a more serious level, Pula has been a naval port since Roman times and naval ports need to be fortified and protected. Around the old naval base is a massive wall and Bev and I went riding the fortifications to see if we could peek in.

The extensive wall around the old naval base.

Along the road around the old naval base.

During WW2 and when the region was under German control the base was used to  house submarines. Following the fall of Germany, Yugoslavia took control of the base but eventually it fell into disrepair, equipment was removed and the interior is now overgrown with weeds and the graffiti artists have defaced most of the walls. It is an era gone and it will probably never return.

Outside the naval base walls is a cliff face where there are tunnel entrances. Tunnels were hacked into the seven hills around Pula and provided ‘bolt holes’ in the event of air raids. The tunnel entrances today are mostly barred but the odd ones which weren’t stirred my curiosity: where did they lead, were the homeless living in them or were they simply used as a relief spot for those taken short.

Bev found a use and that was as cover to remove a thermal top.

There are estimated to be around ten kilometres of tunnels under Pula, many not explored. Construction commenced during WW1 and they were to be used in the event of the city coming under aerial attack. During WW2 they were actually used for that purpose and during the Cold War the tunnels were converted to atomic shelters. The tunnels can house 50 000 people and in the past have been used as ammunition and communication passages. Today it is possible to take a guided tour through some of the passages but of course they were closed for the season when we were there. Currently speleological research is being carried out on the tunnels to help assess them so they can be renovated for tourism.

Entrance to one of the tunnels open in the season for guided tours.

Maybe this entrance leads to Tolkien’s Middle Earth or is it just an unofficial WC. I believe it is the latter.

Near one end of the old naval base is a very active ship building yard and a ship, the Santiago 1, was being fitted out. Santiago 1 is a chemical carrier and due for completion in 2018. Following are a few images of the ship.

The bulbous and business end of Santiago 1.


Propulsion end. The shipyard is so extensive the workers need a bicycle to travel around it.

Cranes in the shipbuilding yard.

Another engineering wonder, although a little older, is the Pula Roman arena. The Pula arena was built around the 1st century AD and could seat 26 000 spectators.

The Roman amphitheatre in Pula. It should be noted that Roman arenas are not circular but elliptical/oval. Image credit: Wikipedia.

The reason why Roman arenas were elliptical or oval is a point of debate within the historical architectural fraternity. There is mention of ‘opportunity from linear expression’ and ‘otherness’, terms I do not understand but I think because the audience were socially stratified those of higher standing would have been closer to the action if seated in the centre of one of the long sides whereas those seated at the far end were further away, that is, providing the combatants fought in the centre of the arena.

The Pula amphitheatre, an almost intact structure.

The arena is now the venue for concerts and celebrations.

The amphitheatre in Pula is the largest surviving Roman arena in Croatia. Over the centuries, particularly during the 15th century, stones were taken away for building houses. Another event that was likely to have threatened the structure was the WW2 bombing of Pula by Allied bombers and during the fascist period it was proposed to dismantle the arena and re-erect it in Italy but the cost was prohibitive.

Inside the arena following the 1945 liberation. The arena is saved.

In the imperial Roman era amphitheatres became an integral part of the Roman urban landscape. Sometimes gladiatorial performances held within the arenas went on for days and during a lunchtime lull in contests criminals were executed. Executions were achieved in imaginatively incredibly gruesome ways such as setting wild animals on to the condemned or making them fight well-trained and armed gladiators or even each other. Some times the condemned were dressed in clothes associated with characters of mythology to give a touch of theatrical class to the executions.

 During gladiatorial contests when a gladiator fell victim to his opponent the crowd would shout for mercy or dispatch, the crowd was therefore part of the battle. The emperor of course was the final arbitrator as to whether a combatant should live or die. The decision was made by the simple movement of his thumb, thumbs up spoke of life and down, of death.

With a Thumb Turned (Latin Pollice Verso), an 1872 painting by Jean-Leon Gerome. Image credit: Source/photographer phxart.org Via Wikipedia and in the public domain because it is over 100 years since it was painted.

Gerome’s depiction of the armour of gladiators follows the design of those found in Pompeii. The painting shows the glory and wickedness of Rome. A single gladiatorial bout probably lasted about ten to fifteen minutes.

The Roman empire was a cruel society run by fear, and popular gladiatorial shows were a by-product of war, discipline and death. Romans may have been wonderful engineers building roads, aqueducts, and massive impressive temples but in the main they were a cruel society and if the masses didn’t join in they were put to death. The Romans won their great empire by discipline and control, and public executions were a reminder to non-combatants, citizens, subjects and slaves that vengeance would be extracted if they rebelled or betrayed the empire. The discipline of the Roman army was notorious. If an army unit was judged to be disobedient or cowardly in battle, one soldier in ten was selected by lot and cudgelled to death by his comrades. It could be said that Roman soldiers killed each other for the common good.

In Pula the Romans not only supplied citizens with gladiatorial combat entertainment but they supplied the city with water, a sewage system and a temple. They also fortified the city with a wall and ten gates.

Temple of Augustus in Pula.

The temple was probably built during the emperor’s lifetime between 27 BC and AD 14 but it is not in its original state. It was hit by an allied bomb and totally destroyed in 1945 and rebuilt in 1947.

Not all our time was spent riding through history in Pula. Zoran from the Pula Art Host encouraged us to ride to ‘our wonderful beaches’, which we did.

One of the wonderful beaches. Even though the stones were hard on the feet the water looked very inviting.

A not so comfortable beach to sunbathe on just out of Pula.

That’s the end of this post. From Pula we took a three hour bus journey north to Trieste in Italy. We looked into the option of going south by ferry to the Croatian islands and then on to Macedonia but Croatia is not a bike friendly country so we decided to experience northern Italy instead.

The next post deals with a bike ride from Trieste to Cervignano via Grado along the Italian coast. Stay with us if you wish and if you want to be alerted each time we do a fresh post click on FOLLOW.

I can’t help but think of the quote, ‘We might not know where we are going but we will end up where we are meant to be’.









About tbeartravels

It's been said that I know a little bit about a lot of things and a lot about little things. I hope I can share some of this knowledge with you as we travel.
This entry was posted in Odyssey #5 2017: Cycling in Europe. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Observations from the saddle of a bike: Pula Croatia

  1. Kevin and Sue Dewar says:

    Hi Fred and Bev,
    Really enjoyed your post on Pula, so interesting.
    Loved the ceramic tile accommodation.
    Enjoy the rest of your travels.
    Love Kevin and sue

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