I had read so much about the Roman amphitheatre in Pula that a visit was a must. So we had another day trip from Rovinj – just 45 minutes drive, easy and well signposted. Pula is the largest city in Istria, aside from the tourist business it is an important ship building centre. For us though it was all about the amphitheatre.
We found it easily, towering above a row of nondescript street buildings. It is immense and remarkable. It stands 3 storeys tall, is the 6th largest in the world and was built in the 1st century AD – about the same time as its more famous Roman sister. I have to say, it really does give the Colosseum a run for its money. You get great views from the outside, but it is definitely worth paying the entrance fee for a look inside.
There were lots of tour groups but it didn’t feel at all crowded. They still have concerts here and the Pula Opera Festival takes place every summer. Lots of well known artists have performed in the amphitheatre, Pavarotti played his farewell concert here. It must be something special listening to your favourite performer in this stunning setting.
We wandered, sat on the stone stairs and easily imagined gladiators fighting to the death.
The old town of Pula is surprisingly beautiful. We spent ages wandering around the paved streets. Some impressive things to see here too – not least the Triumphal Arch of Sergius which has been standing since 27 BC. I also loved the Roman Forum and the remains of the Temple of Augustus built in the 1st century AD.
Son was very well behaved with all this sightseeing, in between Roman ruins we found a park where he let off steam. Just the right balance of culture and fun to keep things on an even keel.
James Joyce lived in Pula in 1904 for 5 months where he taught English at the Berlitz language school, we found his house and a statue of the great man.
Culture done, we spent the afternoon just outside the centre in Verundella. This is a gorgeous spot – a marina, lots of yachts, pine forests and to Son’s delight (another) aquarium. Much better than the previous aquarium adventure in Porec, this one impressed all members of the family. It is at the bottom of a 120 year old Austrian Hungarian fortress and takes up 5 big rooms. It is not flashy or modern, but it is quaint and quirky. Son loved the big seawater tanks with dogfish, sea urchins, crabs and starfish.
I loved the fortress – dark, gloomy and cold with thick impenetrable walls it oozed atmosphere. We wandered, explored and eventually found a long, dark tunnel which seemed to lead further underground. A surprise at the end, we found a gorgeous little outdoor cafe with the best ice-cream. Plenty of light at the end of this tunnel.