The town of fugitives, mythical refuge of the Argonauts, for centuries has been a perfect stopping point for boats sailing along the western coast of Istria. The great abundance of monuments and beauty of its bays were frequently described in travel books.
The slogan of the three-thousand-year-old history of the town is testified by the archaeological finds. The Histrian hill-fort developed in the beginning of the 1st millennium BC, near the spring of drinkable water. With an oval shaped ground plan and streets descending from the hill radially, it defined the urban pattern of the town. During the Roman era the town obtained the status of a colony with large fertile ager stretching from the southern cape of Istria to the bays of Lim and Raša. The land was divided into an orthogonal grid extending from the main town streets, preserved until today in the direction of roads and dry-stone walls. With about 4,000 inhabitants at that time Pula was the largest town of the Peninsula, whose public edifices served the surrounding area, fertile ager with numerous settlements and countryside villas. The monumental Arena (AD 69 – 81), amphitheater outside the town walls, could hold 23,000 spectators from the town and densely populated surroundings of that period, whereas two other theaters provided additional entertainment. The smaller one inside the walls, which was accessed through the Twin Gates, and the Large Theater outside the walls, situated on the slopes of Monte Zaro. Among the many town gates, the oldest one, the Gate of Hercules dating from the mid-1st c. BC is preserved, as well as the Triumphal Arch of the Sergi erected at the end of the same century by the eastern gate. The focal point of religious and administrative life was the Forum, where the temple dedicated to goddess Roma and Emperor Augustus (AD 2 – 14) stands today. In the Middle Ages the second Capitoline temple was incorporated into the Communal Palace. The Forum, as well as town streets, was lined with luxurious houses and public buildings (the house with the floor mosaic representing the Punishment of Dirce from the 3rd c.) built from stone from the quarry in Vinkuran.
After Christianity was proclaimed the official religion of the Roman Empire conditions were ready for the founding of a diocese in the 5th c. The cathedral complex with the basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Church of St. Thomas, the town's patron saint, baptistery and Bishop's Palace were built, as well as many churches in the town and surrounding area. To demonstrate the power of the Byzantine Empire, in the mid-6th c. the Archbishop of Ravenna, Maximillian, a native of Istria, commissioned the building of a large three-aisled basilica of St. Mary Formosa, richly decorated with gold mosaics and stucco work.
Until 788 when the Franks became the new rulers of Istria, Pula remained part of the Byzantine Empire. During the period of Frankish rule, the town tried to retain the ager and its independence, while a number of monasteries supported by Frankish and German feudal lords were built in the surrounding area. From the 13th c. the Castropola family, believed to be the descendants of the Roman Sergius, governed the town on behalf of the Patriarch of Aquileia. The Communal Palace at the location of the Capitolium dates from that period, as well as the Church and Monastery of St. Francis, constructed near the Forum. In 1331 Pula accepts the protection of Venice and with this loses its independence. The gradual decline resulting from frequent epidemics of the plague and malaria begins in the 15th c. A few Gothic and Renaissance houses still remain from that period, decorated with sculpted window openings and sculpture (reliefs of the four virtues in Sergijevaca Street). As the magnificent basilica of St. Mary Formosa was in a dilapidated state, the renowned architect Sansovino ordered the marble columns to be taken to Venice. So, only its southern memorial chapel stands there today. In 1630, at the time when Serenissima commissioned a fortification on the central hill from the French architect Antoine de Ville, Pula had a population of several dozen inhabitants. Travelers of that time described the gloomy state of town, calling it "the dead town". Only a few houses were decorated with a Baroque balcony, window, portal or coat of arms, and in 1712 Bishop Botteri began the reconstruction of the cathedral facade which was not completed until the 1920s.
The town gradually awakened during the time of Napoleon's Illyrian Provinces, when the town walls were pulled down to fight infectious diseases, but Pula did not begin to flourish until the mid-19th c. At the time Pula became the main naval port of the Austrian navy with its naval Arsenal. Pula underwent a complete reconstruction, which transformed it into a modern European town; new districts emerge with Historicist and Secession villas and residential buildings, hospital, theater, Marine Casino, Hydrographic Institute with astronomical observatory, parks along the coast and around town are arranged. For the purpose of protecting the naval port and Arsenal, a defensive system with fortifications and artillery batteries is designed; however this impressive project could not prevent the fall of the Monarchy. In spite of difficult times between the two World Wars, several public buildings were erected (main post office, public beach Stoja, tuberculosarium), which stand out as excellent examples of Italian modern architecture.
Spectacular view of the bay from the Castle (Kaštel), which houses the Historical Museum of Istria.
Arena and the Archaeological Museum of Istria, archaeological Park Nesactium near Valtura and Brijuni National Park.
Austro-Hungarian military forts (Cassoni Vecchi, Punta Christo, Monte Grosso, Verudela).
Hungarian King Salamon died in 1087 in the Benedictine monastery of St. Michael where he withdrew after being dethroned. Today, his remains lie in the Cathedral, whereas the tombstone is kept in the cloister of St. Francis Monastery.
On several occasions the Venetians wanted to dismantle the amphitheater and use the stone blocks for construction. The most famous of such attempts, when the Venetians decided to transfer it, stone by stone, and rebuild it on the Lido of Venice was prevented by the Venetian senator Gabriele Emo in 1583. As a token of gratitude, the citizens of Pula erected a beautiful Renaissance memorial tablet on one of the towers.
Cape Kamenjak south of Premantura offers an impressive view of Porer lighthouse that stands on the homonymous rock. It was built in the first half of the 19th c. according to the project of Giuseppe Sforzi, pupil of the renowned Trieste and Viennese architect Pietro Nobile.