Sveti Lovreč

On the western coast of Istria, not far from Lim Channel, lies the town with the best preserved Early Romanesque basilica in Istria.
Its hill-fort features and toponyms in the greater area bear witness of prehistoric life which then continues into the Roman period. Its name at that time is not known since it was not mentioned until 1030 on a map where Sveti Lovreč is referred to as Castrum Sancti Laurentii. At that time it was already proclaimed the center of the fief of the Poreč bishops, and considering such a status it is not at all surprising that the town was fortified in the 11th c., with a ground plan of ellipsoid walls and defensive towers. This is also the time when the construction of the large three-aisled, triple-apsed basilica of St. Martin began, as well as its furnishing with stone church furniture, remains of which can be seen in the loggia. The fragments of frescoes from that period with a row of saints in the central part of the northern and southern apse are among the oldest ones in Istria.

The Church of St. Martin was not the only building the workshops worked on. The same stone-masons worked on the nearby monastery of St. Michael above Lim, which is testified by the identical transennae. These two churches most probably date from the same period, and their construction indicates the power of the Poreč diocese which directly or indirectly took part in it.
The fact that already in the 12th c. it had its own administration, significant proof of independence, reveals the power of Sv. Lovreč. Perhaps, for this very reason, it was the center of the Venetian military command in Istria after it came under the rule of Venice in 1271, for which it was named San Lorenzo del Pasenatico. It was governed by a captain, at the same time podestà, whose main task was to look after the military security of Venetian possessions in Istria. In the mid-14th c. Venice enlarged and thoroughly fortified the town walls. This includes the construction of square towers, Fontanella tower at the water spring and new town gate, whereas the parish church with belfry also takes on a significant defensive role. Whether such reinforcement was necessary is quite disputable, because in 1394 the command of the Venetian army over entire Istria moved to Rašpor.

Despite its status as the center of military command, the 14th c. brought no prosperity to the inhabitants of Sv. Lovreč. They financed the reconstruction of the town walls, and the frequent ownership and property disputes with Vrsar and the Poreč bishops, whose seat was in Vrsar, were not always settled in their favor by the podestà. The dilapidated Church of St. Michael had to be reconstructed at the time, and the new mural painting in its interior also dates from the 14th c. Somewhat later, along the southern church facade a loggia was built, which together with the houses on the western and southern side and the opposite town gate form a small square. In the 15th c. St. Blaise's Church was erected and its interior decorated with paintings.

To repopulate the area because of the many wars and epidemics of the plague, in the 16th and 17th cc. Venice started settling the area of Sv. Lovreč with people from Dalmatia, Montenegro and Bosnia. The new population founded settlements in the town surroundings and in the 18th c. the general economic situation in the Sv. Lovreč area improved to such a degree that their podestà was the best paid in entire Istria. The period of prosperity ended with the Austrian rule which degraded the importance of Sv. Lovreč. In fact, the town has never recovered from such a blow.


The ruins of the monastery of St. Michael above Lim with two churches, dedicated to St. Mary (6th c.) and St. Michael (11th c.).

Interesting facts:

One of the most beautiful illuminated codexes from the period of Ottonian Renaissance, the famous Benedictional, was commissioned by Bishop Engelmar of Poreč in the period 1028 – 1040. Today, it is exhibited in the Paul Getty Museumin Los Angeles.

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