Perched on the hilltop in central Istria above the Mirna Valley stands the town with the best preserved fortification system in Istria. In prehistoric times already, people recognized the advantages of living on its plateau where they built their settlement. We are not certain of its power at the time, but its development can be traced in the document from 804, when a report from the Assembly of Rižana was written. Along with other complaints presented by representatives of Istrian towns at the large gathering at the Rižana River, they spoke about taxes to Byzantium whose amount reflected the economic power of the towns and villages. According to its taxes, Motovun was right after Pula, Poreč and Rovinj. Considering such economic power in the Early Middle Ages, the number of material evidence from that time is incredibly small. Only a few fragments of church stone furnishings were found, while one of them was walled into a Motovun café and is worth finding!

Until the 12th c. the town was ruled by the Patriarch of Aquileia, and after that it was taken over by the Counts of Gorizia. According to its first walls and buildings (communal palace, old loggia, church with belfry), in the 13th c. it presumably functioned as a crafts and trade center with a fortified citadel. The Communal Palace, a Romanesque building from the 12th/ 13th cc., is preserved to such an extent that traces of its walled windows are still clearly visible. Standing at the entrance to the central part of town, its function remained the same until nowadays – it is the Motovun Town Hall.
In 1278 Venice completely took over the rule. In the beginning of the 14th c., the town saw an accelerated development and the lower town Borgo was formed, being fortified by new walls. The quality of living improved too; as early as 1331 the town had its own doctor and pharmacy.

In the 15th c. Motovun became the border fortification between two great forces: the Venetian Republic and the Pazin County. Owing to this new function, strategic position and location along the navigable way of the Mirna River that enabled lively commercial activity, Motovun reinforced its status of one of the most significant Istrian towns. The fortification system was reconstructed, and followed by intensive construction of churches and residential buildings. The town also spread along the eastern ridge and the Gradisiol suburb was formed. The Church of St. Anthony of Padua was built in the 15th c. Somewhat later, in 1521, the church and belfry of the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Gate was completed. Its high altar was made by the well known workshop of Paolo Campsa, one of the most popular Renaissance woodcarving workshops in Istria. In 1584 the Franciscans started building the Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary dei Servi. It was completed, as the titular says, by the Servite Order.
The citadel in the center of town assumed new traits as well. On the site of the earlier one, a new three-aisled Church of St. Stephen was built between 1580 and 1614 in the Late Renaissance style. Between the church and the Communal Palace stood the large square with wells. If we come to the square, we will find ourselves standing above the large town cistern that supplied entire Motovun with drinking water.

Constant reconstruction and reinforcement of the town walls encouraged by the position and new status resulted in a multi-layered fortification system. The central ring with a monumental gate on the west and defense towers on prominent positions has a wide promenade. The second ring that was accessed through a monumental passage by the Communal Palace, where a small lapidarium stands today, encompassed part of Borgo, Barbacan and Gradisiol. A third section of walls was built along the second one in order to embrace the remaining part of Borgo. This pattern of passages through the first and second ring of the walls, formed an oblong square at the far end of which a new town loggia was built in the 17th c.

If we stop for a while on this square-belvedere and look at the surroundings, we will notice an unusually dense forest to the right, along the Mirna River. This is the Motovun Forest. Its wood was extremely prized in Venice, because examples of its gently curved common oak, were also used for building the hulls of Venetian ships.  
At the end of the 18th c., when circumstances of living changed after the fall of the Venetian Republic, the Rialto suburb was formed. The importance of Motovun began to decrease.

The town functioned as an important station along the Parenzana route. Its revitalization began recently when the town assumed the role of the major tourist center of Istria with many international events, of which the best known is the Motovun Film Festival.

Don’t miss:

The drive along the Mirna River, all the way to the foot of Buzet and back towards Motovun. This way you will be able to feel how Motovun was perceived by the seamen who for centuries sailed the one-time large Mirna River.

Interesting facts:

Who was Andrea Antico after whom the main Motovun square was named? Antico (1480 – after 1538) was the first printer of music sheets in Rome, composer, editor and publisher, allegedly the best music printer of his time. He was born, of course, in Motovun.

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