About the Castle
The Historical and Maritime Museum of Istria (Povijesni i pomorski muzej Istre – Museo storico e navale dell’Istria), is located on Kaštel, the central Pula hilltop (about 34m above sea level), which has been the focal point of Pula’s development since its earliest history. The hilltop is today dominated by a historical baroque fortress from the 17th century. The fortress is erected close to the sea and above the Nimfeia - an abundant freshwater spring which has been used since antiquity.
However, the continuity of habitation on this hill dates back to the 1st century BC, when the pre-Roman inhabitants of Istria – the Histri – built a hill-fort on top of the hill. This hill-fort was one of over 400 pre-historic Histrian hill-fort settlements in Istria and the first settlement on the territory of today’s Pula. This was not a town in the factual meaning of the word, but a settlement composed of huts, with round ramparts that served for defence, without streets, squares or houses in the sense we conceive of them today. Outside the dry-wall stone ramparts, on the east and north-east hill slopes, there was a graveyard which is demonstrated by several hundred graves that belonged to the hill-fort settlement and that were found there during the construction of new buildings by the beginning of the 20th century, along today’s Carrarina Street.
At the end of the second Histro-Roman war in 177 B.C., Istria was conquered by the Romans and it is supposed that the Romans erected their military camp – a castrum, in the place of the Histrian hill-fort. The castrum operated as a point of surveillance of the conquered territory and the nearby marine waterway. The first real urban centre on the territory of today’s Pula appeared gradually, sometime in the mid-1st century B.C. in the area of the former hill-fort and at the foot of the hill. It was a colony of Roman citizens – Colonia Pietas Iulia Pola.
During the Middle Ages there was a fortress on top of the hill (castrum Polae) granted by the Istrian margraves – the Patriarchs of Aquileia – as a fief to a family of powerful noblemen and the Patriarchs’ allies in Pola – the Sergi, in order to maintain their power over the city. On this occasion the Sergi family received a new nickname – Castropola (from castrum Polae). The Sergi were struggling for power against the Iontasi (Gionatasi) family, who were allies of Venice. An especially bloody conflict broke out in 1271 during the Good Friday night procession, when the champions of Venice murdered the family members and supporters of the Castropola family. However, the Castropola family managed to stay in power until 1331 when the Venetians finally got hold of the city. The Castropola family was then banished from Pula, forced to leave for Treviso in Italy and their fortress on the hill was demolished.
From that point in time the development of the town became linked to the economic and political goals of Venice in the course of its expansion over the east coast of the Adriatic and generally connected with the balance of power on the Adriatic. Pula became a transitional port of call for merchant and navy ships on their way from Venice to Dalmatia and the Levant.