The view of Rovinj, from whichever perspective, always focuses on the same detail, so it is impossible to tell the story of this town without mentioning it: high up on the belfry of the parish church stands the magnificent statue of St. Euphemia, patron saint of the town ever since the 9th c. Today, the preserved body of this martyr is kept in the parish church sanctuary in a marble sarcophagus, which according to legend, was washed up on the beach at Rovinj. The legend is an echo of the typical Byzantine custom of the early medieval period to win the favor of east Adriatic towns by giving holy relics, since it was not possible to achieve this by the presence of their own navy whose power had diminished.

In prehistoric times, the Iron Age hill-fort on Rovinj Island constituted part of the developed system of hill-fort settlements in the surroundings. Its continuity cannot be confirmed in Roman times, therefore the founding of the town can be dated to the perilous times of Late Antiquity, when a number of fortified towns were formed, described at the beginning of the 7th c. by Anonymous Ravennas in his Cosmographia, among them also Ruvigno (Ruigno, Ruginio). Medieval sources, mentioning the Cissa diocese which existed from the mid-6th to  8th cc., refer to ancient sources, mentioning the island along the western coast of Istria. Historiography of the Age of Enlightment places that island south of Rovinj, but the thesis about the existence of diocese and connection with Rovinj is not supported by archaeological finds.

In the early Middle Ages, on the most elevated part of the island probably stood a fort (castrum), and beside it the church dedicated to St. George. The island was separated from the mainland by a channel. As it was the target of frequent attacks of people from the Neretva region, Croats and Saracens in the 9th c., it was surrounded and protected by walls. In the 10th c. the three-aisled basilica became the parish church. The heptagonal Church of the Holy Trinity situated on the mainland, outside the town dates from the Romanesque, and the careful observer will surely notice the transenna with the representation of the Crucifixion with the Holy Virgin, St. Peter and two apostles.

Rovinj retained its independence until 1150, when it was forced to swear loyalty to Venice. The period of Venetian rule was a time of prosperity for Rovinj. It grew into an indispensable port for seafarers from which ships were piloted to Venice. High quality limestone from the nearby quarries was exported for the construction and decoration of Venetian palaces and churches. The religious life of townspeople was organized around societies – confraternities engaged in building and maintaining churches of patron saints.

The conflicts between Venice and the Turks in the 16th c. also left traces in Rovinj. The town walls were fortified, and on the mainland side, along the channel, an additional stretch of walls with three square towers was built. The town gate Porton del Ponte from the mid-16th c. in front of the central tower led to the stone bridge. The Middle Ages defined the urban basis of the island with narrow winding streets that in a fan-like pattern descend to the bottom of the hill. However, most of the preserved buildings date from the period after the 15th c. Apart from a few Gothic houses, a greater number of houses with Renaissance and Baroque features are preserved in the historic core. In 1580 the proud town authorities commissioned the fresco with allegorical representation of the town government in the council hall of the Praetorian Palace. While numerous Istrian towns were wiped out as a result of epidemics in the 17th and 18th cc., Rovinj became one of the most densely populated towns in the northern Adriatic. From the 16th c. onwards, the surrounding area was deliberately settled by people fleeing from Dalmatia, Herzegovina, Albania and Greece; that is how Rovinjsko Selo was formed.

In the 17th c. wealthy confraternities initiated the reconstruction of the parish church. In the second half of the 17th c. a new belfry was erected, on the model of St. Mark's in Venice. In 1758 the copper statue of St. Euphemia which turns like a wind vane, was placed on its spire. The new church, whose reconstruction began in 1725 due to the dilapidated state of the earlier one, and is together with the Koper cathedral the largest sacral Baroque structure in Istria, was finally consecrated in 1739. On the outside it remained unfinished; in 1780 its side facade was partly covered with stone according to the project of Simone Batistella, whereas the main facade, facing the open sea, was completed only a century later.
In time the medieval walls became too tight for the fast growing town within. In 1680 on the site of the Porton della pescheria Balbi's Arch was erected. From the 17th c. on, the town expands between the two rings of walls on the island and then on the mainland, and finally in 1763 the channel is filled in. The overpopulated town grows vertically. The town walls are transformed into housing facilities, whereas new houses are interpolated into open spaces and inner courtyards, thus forming a labyrinth of covered passages and miniature squares. Next to the square opposite the walls, Baroque palaces are erected, such as the Califfi Palace, which houses the Rovinj Town Museum. On the opposite side of the channel, at the beginning of the 18th c. the Franciscans built a church followed by a monastery. This period marks the beginning of urbanization of the mainland part of town, which now spreads to the south along the new Carera Street. Numerous churches are built in the town and its surroundings, such as Our Lady of Health or the votive Church of Our Lady of Mercy with portico.

At the beginning of the 19th c., during the period of Austrian rule, economy prospered. In the town and surrounding area a number of plants for processing fish, production of glass, beverages and cement were built. In the cove Val de laco the Tobacco factory was opened in 1872 for the needs of Austro-Hungarian officers.The old port Andana was reconstructed and modernized with the construction of the Large pier. From the 18th c. a number of small shipyards began to prosper in the southern coves Squeri and Sabionera. For the needs of safe navigation in the Adriatic a lighthouse was built on the small island Sv. Ivan na Pučini in 1853. 

Owing to its exceptionally pleasant climate Rovinj becomes an attractive health resort. In 1888, a seaside health resort opens on Sv. Pelagija peninsula, north of the town. With the same intention, the wealthy merchant and industrialist Georg Hütterott buys Sv. Andrija Island in 1890, as well as the area south of the town, turning it into the park forest Punta Corrente-Montauro. His ideas set the foundations for the development of the most attractive tourist destination in Istria.


Archaeological park of Monkodonja hill-fort near Veštar.
Crveni Island with Hütterott castle and Pre-Romanesque Church of St. Andrew.

Don't miss:

Large open-air exhibition at the beginning of August in Grisia Street when artists display their works outdoors.
Construction of the traditional fishing boat batana in the eco-museum The House of Batana (Kuća o batani). This is a chance to hear fishermen's songs bitinade sung in the specific Rovinj dialect.

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