Cocooned on the peninsula stands the town dominated by St. George’s Church, protected by mighty walls along the ridge of Mogoron hill that descends steeply into the sea between the Bays of Piran and Strunjan.
Uninterrupted living from the Bronze Age is doubtless on the peninsula. Life in Antiquity took place in residential-economic complexes – countryside villas, while at the end of that period the population withdrew to easily defensible areas, which explains the fortification atop the hill in the area of the later parish church complex.
From the 8th c., Piran was under the Frankish rule, followed by German feudal dynasties that ruled over Istria. As early as the 10th c. it had its own town administration and gained autonomy at the end of the 12th c. Having taken advantage of the weakened Patriarchate in 1254, the Koper podestà Lando di Montelongo became the ruler of Piran. The strengthening of Koper disturbed Venice which conquered Piran in 1283.
Between the 8th and 13th cc. the town saw an accelerated development due to its excellent position and grew into an important center of trade, seafaring, fishing, crafts and banking, controlling all three salt pans in the Bay of Piran. From the 13th c. its rich intellectual life developed and in the 16th c. the town became the center of Humanism with its Accademia dei virtuosi.
The oldest part of the town was in the center of the peninsula around Prvomajski Square (Piazza Vecchia) and at the furthest tip Punta. It was surrounded by walls with gates that gave names to the nearby quarters: Porta Mugla, Porta Domo, Porta Misana and Porta Campo above which stood the chapel of St. James. The early medieval fortification was abandoned at the end of the 13th c. when the administrative seat was transferred to the interior port.
The town soon spread towards the mainland during the Venetian rule. The new walls from 1353 also encompassed Campo quarter that developed around the interior port that was the site of the Communal Palace (1291), grain storehouse, Town Loggia and St. Peter’s Church. The port was protected by two towers tied at the entrance by chains. A bascule bridge with a movable central part that allowed for passing of boats was built later. Along the northern edge of the Campo quarter, the Friars Minor built the Franciscan church and monastery in the beginning of the 14th c. The new quarter Marciana (or Marziana), the biggest in town, developed during the 15th c. south and east to the port. The ever increasing Turkish threat was the reason for embracing it during the second half of the 15th and beginning of the 16th c. with a new section of walls with strong towers on Mogoron hill. Reconstruction in the old part of the walls near Porta Misana yielded a Gothic gate Porta Dolfin, named after the coat of arms of the podestà with three dolphins on it. The outer walls had two gates: the Renaissance Porta Marzana facing the sea and Porta Terra di Raspo that led to the road for Rašpor, the seat of the Captain of Rašpor, military governor of Venetian Istria. The fortification of the town was completed in the first half of the 16th c. with the construction of the round tower at Punta.
The town is dominated by the parish church complex of St. George with a belfry and baptistery. The first church dedicated to St. Maximilian was built as early as the 6th or 7th cc. A three-aisled basilica with a large central apse, atrium and baptistery in front of the entrance was built in the Romanesque. It was thoroughly reconstructed in the Gothic period. It owes its present-day appearance to the early Baroque reconstruction from the beginning of the 17th c. when it was turned into a single-naved hall with a Palladian facade. Somewhat later, a copper statue of an angel was placed atop the just completed Venetian-type belfry. The condensed urban tissue preserved several Gothic (house at the corner of Tartini Square with a corner balcony from the 14th c., house with a triforium above the door of St. Francis), and Renaissance and Baroque palaces (Tartini House). The Baroque period saw the reconstruction of a number of churches in town: St. Stephen and Our Lady of Health from the 13th c., St. Mary the Consoler from the 15th c., and the cloister of the Franciscan monastery. In the one-time central town square (Piazza Vecchia) a town cistern decorated with stone statues was built. The youngest Borgo quarter from the 17th and 18th cc. remained outside the town walls.
The 19th c. was the time of changes in the structure of the lower part of the town. The central Tartini Square was created by the leveling of the inner port in 1894. Access to it is marked by flagpoles from the 15th c. and its focal point is Tartini’s statue made by Antonio Dal Zotta. Thus, one of the most charming squares on the Adriatic was formed. New buildings of Historicist features were built around it. On the site of the earlier St. Peter’s Church, in 1818 an elegant building with a Classicist facade was built designed by Pietro Nobile. The town loggia that was pulled down was replaced by a casino, and the grain storehouse by the courthouse; a new Communal Palace was built. The square and mandrač were surrounded by noblemen’s palaces (Trevisani, Gabrielli, Ventrella, Fonda) and public buildings (Secession-style Tartini Theater, Piran Hotel, Piran Museum) from the 19th and beginning of the 20th cc. that by their grandeur are considerably different from the historic urban core. Throughout this time Piran once again prospered economically, becoming an auxiliary pier of the Trieste port, which enabled it good traffic connections by sea, later by train, and even hydroplanes.
Ornithological reserve and salt pans in Sečovlje.
In the villages Nova Vas, Padna and Sv. Peter, situated in the hinterland of Piran on the slopes of the Koper hills, the wealthy noblemen of Koper such as Sabini, Vergeri, Gravisi and Vittori had their estates. Apart from churches from the 15th and 16th cc., there are traditional houses and an ethnographic collection depicting the tradition of olive production in Goreli.