Situated at the far end of the western coast of Istria, it is the last historic maritime station before crossing the northern Adriatic.
Its greater surroundings are rich in archaeological finds that prove living in prehistoric times. The Roman rule meant intensive construction of residential-economic villas along the coast, and the peninsula on which Umag lies was no exception. Remains of a sophisticated ancient complex were found here as well, namely on the main square, Trg slobode. Remains of a residential building and many rooms of economic function were interpreted as parts of a large ancient olive oil production workshop that was supplied with olives from the fertile surroundings.
We are not certain as to when a settlement developed around the complex, but it must have been before the 6th c. when Umag was first mentioned in written sources as Humagum. Little is known about its early medieval history, for just recently a church from the end of the 8th c. has been discovered. It was a single-naved building with three inscribed apses whose ground plan can be identified on the floor near the parish church. The town was probably already then fortified by walls in fear of attacks from the sea. One of the greater ones occurred in 876 when Umag was devastated by the pirates of Neretva’s prince Domagoj. However, we do not know whether St. Martin’s Church, remains of which were found on the square of the same name, was desecrated on that occasion.
The Venetian administration was introduced in Umag in 1269, when the town started to develop increasingly. The town walls were reconstructed and square towers were built. One of them presently houses the Umag Town Museum. It is referred to as the Bishop’s Tower because, according to tradition, it was the summer residence of the Trieste bishop. In the centuries that followed, new houses and palaces were built. That is why it is worth taking a walk in the south-western part of the old town to find the remains of Late Gothic and Renaissance architecture in original medieval streets.
Devastation caused by war and the many plague and malaria epidemics was why the town became nearly completely deserted. So, in the 16th and 17th cc. groups of Albanians, Greeks and Croats from Bosnia and Dalmatia were settled according to plan. The Church of St. Roch built in the beginning of the 16th c. at the entrance of the town is a permanent reminder of the terrible disease. A larger parish church was built later to suit the needs of the growing population. For this reason the earlier mentioned smaller triple-apsed church was pulled down, whereas the 17th c. belfry remained. The new church was completed in 1760 and dedicated to the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This single-naved vaulted building with a semicircular sanctuary and side sequence of shallow chapels served as the pattern for a number of similar ones in Istria (Buzet, Buje, Grožnjan, Završje, Poreč, Tar). The times of prosperity reflected on the surroundings as well: the De Franceschi family decided to buy the homestead (stancija) in Seget in the first half of the 18th c. which they reconstructed into a large magnificent residential-economic complex. This Baroque-Classicist countryside complex is dominated by a palace with an ornate antique-like facade giving it the appearance of a castle. The complex that comprised economic facilities and a family chapel too, was enlarged: in the 19th c. the olive oil production workshop was built in the back yard, and in the front yard stood the tower with parapets made in the spirit of Romanticism.
The 19th c. brought about changes: the outer defensive ring that in the 14th c. embraced the then new part of Umag on the shore – the so-called Borgo, was pulled down. At the time it housed as many as four churches and two monasteries. Umag got its seaside promenade (lungomare) in the 19th c. The remaining town walls are presently incorporated into the recent residential architecture that is enormously and aggressively expanding, most often without any respect for the ambiance and history.
The Sepomaia viva Festival at which in an amusing way you can learn a lot about Istrian life in Antiquity with an emphasis on extremely valuable sites north of Umag (Zambratija, Sipar, Katoro, Tiola, Muntarol).
Some ten kilometers north of Umag is Savudrija, a town widely known for its lighthouse that was the first to use gas for lighting. Designed by Pietro Nobile, a Viennese architect of Late Classicism, it was built in 1818. It is still used and as such is the oldest working lighthouse in the Adriatic.