On the western coast of Istria, by the mouth of the Mirna River, lies Novigrad, the center of the Frankish administration in Istria.
This small peninsula too, was inhabited already in prehistoric times. In Antiquity, countryside villas (villae rusticae) were built in its greater area – the wealthy population knew how to identify suitable locations for their wealthy countryside homes. However, in times of war such a location was also strategically important, which is why in the tumultuous Late Antiquity, a castrum was built around one of the villas. The military fortification grew into a town, and the town developed. As early as 599 it is mentioned as Neapolis in a letter from the Pope.

Already then it was supposedly the center of the Novigrad diocese, although there is no firm evidence to support this. The church that keeps the relics of St. Pelagius, the town saint, was most probably built in the 6th c. with a cemetery next to it. The first registered bishop, Mauritius, lived much later. He became bishop of Novigrad, at the time named Civitas Nova, at the end of the 8th c. It is needless to look for books in search of his name. It is enough to look at the ciborium in the Novigrad Lapidarium and read the inscription at the top of its sides and notice the inscribed name MAURICIUS EPISCOPU(US). He is mentioned as the commissioner of this very ciborium that originally stood above the baptismal font in the baptistery of the Novigrad cathedral that was later pulled down.

The fact that Novigrad had its cathedral in the 8th c. speaks a lot about its importance. The one-time cathedral is nowadays the Parish Church of SS. Pelagius and Maximus, somewhat altered throughout the ages. The northern windows of the central nave of this three-aisled basilica are the same ones that Bishop Mauritius looked through. The church at the time had multi-colored stone furnishings, fragments of which are presently kept in the church and town lapidariums.

Scholars have not yet agreed whether the medieval crypt under the sanctuary was formed in the time of Mauritius or as a result of a later reconstruction from the 11th c., during the rule of the Bavarian noblemen and the Patriarchs of Aquileia. Being the only church with a crypt in Istria it is truly unique and may be compared only to the church in Aquileia. As early as 1149 Novigrad swore loyalty to Venice. New defensive walls were built, possibly on the site of earlier ones, of which only a square tower near the hotel by the entrance to the historic core was preserved. Reconstructed in the 15th c., they now gained round towers. At the same time, the Dominican monastery with the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel was built. Palaces with elaborate decor some of which can even nowadays be recognized by the Gothic windows and other details were also built at that time.

The best known Novigrad noble family Rigo, probably already at the time assumed important civil functions, however, they are better known for their later building activities. In 1770 they built a grand Communal Palace and before that, in 1750 a Late Baroque stancija outside the town, in Karpinjan. This impressive residential-economic complex of buildings with a disposition in the shape of the letter U, boasts a luxurious interior with stucco and painted decorations. The entire project, although undertaken by one single family, demonstrated the power of Novigrad in the 18th c. However, prosperity did not last for long. With the fall of Venice, Novigrad shared the destiny of all other Istrian towns.

One hundred years later, the commune raised money for the construction of the new town symbol - the belfry of the parish church following the design of St. Mark’s in Venice - for Venice was still an inspiration.  It is unusual though, that a few kilometers north along the sea, a completely different style can be seen. The large monastery in Dajla with the Church of St. John the Baptist from the second half of the 18th c., the Benedictine estate from the beginning of the 9th c., was reconstructed in 1839 following the plans of French architect Le Terrier de Manetot. This specific French Classicism is unique in Istria. However, even before the curate’s house resembling the existing church and the central two-storey palace were built, Dajla must have been an impressive complex.  We can only imagine what it was like in the second half of the 13th c. when it was passed into the possession of the Sabini family from Koper by the Novigrad bishops and reconstructed in such a way that it resembled a castle. Having changed many owners through history, the complex was rightly returned to the church several years ago.


Novigrad Lapidarium, Rigo Gallery.

Interesting facts:

Novigrad was the center of the diocese until 1831. It is impossible to name all the bishops who headed this diocese. Luckily, the parish church keeps portraits of them all. A traveling artist painted them in the beginning of the 18th c., indicating the name and time of service of each bishop in Novigrad.

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