Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Pula Delivers Drama on a Historical Platter

Pula is a city on the southernmost tip of the Istrian peninsula.  Saturated with history, architecture, culture, and tourist attractions, it is impossible to ingest all of it in one day.  In fact, I found 2 days to be inadequate and would very gladly go again (and again, and again...)

Much of the 'new town' was built during the no-nonsense, no-frills  communist days and is nothing to write home about.  The 'old town' is the draw.  Framed in the shadow of the ampitheater built by Caesar Augustus in the early years around the turn of the millennia,  it beckons visitors to enter its many mysteries and to lose themselves in a time-warp of ancient proportions.  And the crazy thing is, as remarkable as the attractions are, they are understated to say the least.  Many are barely marked.  The onus is on you to diligently seek out what Pula is hiding; you will be well-rewarded when you do!

One of the most easily overlooked sites is the remains of this villa owned by 'Agrippina'.  A tiny sign points the way to 'Agrippina's house', and if you weren't watching, you missed it entirely.  Tenants casually drape their laundry to dry over the ancient foundations of a home occupied by a notoriously devious character from history.  Agrippina is rumoured to have killed 3 husbands in order to climb the social ladder.  The last she allegedly murdered was an Emperor,  to set her son, Nero, on the throne of Rome.  (Wouldn't you think a more substantial sign was in order for that?)

Flanking the large town square is the temple built to the gods and dedicated to Augustus.  Its history is fascinating.  Used at one point to store grain, it was blown up during the war and reassembled on its original post.  The main administration building of the city stands on the same side of the square.  In its back wall is incorporated part of the ancient wall believed to have originally been a temple to the goddess Diana.

Built in 1227, the Franciscan Monastery was closed when we got there.  Disappointed, we wandered in the tiny square, unsure what to do.  Just then, a man came to the great wooden door and looked out briefly.  My brother-in-law seized the chance and asked permission to enter.  What an opportunity!  The artifacts within, the church proper, the atmosphere were simply awe-inspiring.

The Triumphal arch has a story, too.  Built by a woman to commemorate the male members of her family who had avenged the murder of Julius Caesar, it fascinated me.  I remember thinking for the first time in my life as I slowly walked under its massive stone that reading Shakespeare had truly paid off!  Even though time has worn away much of the adornments, it remains a portal to another world, another time and place, a door into the lives and loves of a past people who were not unlike me in many ways.  Moments like that can't be bought or traded for any price.

Eating our lunch casually near the ampitheater was another such moment.  To be surrounded by such a deep history was like holding a jolt of strangely pleasant electricity.  It was all the more pleasurable for the sheer surprise of it, the unexpectedness of the delights it held.  It is like Pula opened up the ancient world for me like a time capsule; I cannot think of that place without a sentimental smile!

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