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Rovinj, Istria

The Prehistoric Period

Archaeological finds show that Rovinj and its surrounding area (Rovinjstina) were inhabited in prehistoric times. Like the rest of Istria, Rovinjstina was settled by the Illyrians, the Histri. The topographic features of the settlement (Rovinj was an island right down to the 18th century, with a natural wall of rock to the west) made it easily defensible from the sea, and allowed access to the nearby mainland. Even before Roman times, Rovinj was a fortified town.


The Roman Era

The Romans finally conquered Istria in 177 BC. On the foundations of the old Illyrian settlement, they built their own Ruginium but it remained an insignificant place throughout the entire Roman era. When the Empire was divided, Rovinj, along with the whole of Istria, came under the Eastern Empire.

Under Various Rulers

Under Byzantine rule, Rovinj was part of the Exarchate of Ravenna (from the 6th century) and from 788 part of the Frankish state. Anonymous of Ravenna mentioned the town in the 8th century as Ruginio, or Rugino. The Slavs, who settled in lstria from the 7th century, called the settlement Rovinj. Being on the coast, it was the target of frequent attacks. For this reason in the Middle Ages it had to be protected by walls. In the 9th century the Neretvans threatened the town many times in their campaigns along the western coast of lstria, and in 876 they pillaged it and set it alight. From the One of the 10th to the 12th centuries the citizens of Rovinj developed their own self-governing communal system: an assembly of townspeople (arenga) and a Great Council. Various noble families ruled the town for three centuries, and in 1209 it came under the authority of the Patriarchs of Aquileia.

Under the Venetians

Rovinj was one of the first Istrian towns to fall under the Venetians, in 1283. Venice restricted and then abolished the town's self-government, and brought in a "podesta" who was always a Venetian nobleman. During the wars between Genoa and Venice, the Genoans sacked the town, and after the fierce battle of 1379 the town strengthened its surrounding walls. In 1559 and 1599 Rovinj was attacked by the Uskoks of of Senj and they subsequently sacked and burnt the town as belonging to their Venetian enemies. Rovinj also suffered from frequent outbreaks of plague, which often struck Istria, but these plagues also contributed to urban development. Many families fled to Rovinj from various other towns in Istria in the 17th century to escape infectious diseases. Thus Rovinj developed within the city walls, and later also extended beyond them. Once the danger from the pirates and the Turks had passed (end of the 17th century) Rovinj spread further beyond the old town centre. At the beginning of the 17th century, the neighbouring hill on the mainland was also built up and in 1710 a church and monastery dedicated to St. Francis (SvetiFranjo) were built. In 1763 the channel between island and mainland was filled in.

The last two hundred years

After the fall of Venice in 1797 the townspeople of Rovinj chose 18 representatives from an assembly of all the male heads of families (of whom there were 1,016), who took on the administration of the town. They remained in power, with a few alterations, until 1813 when the Illyrian provinces were abolished. Up to the second half of the 19th century, Rovinj was the biggest town and harbour on the western Istrian coast. Once Trieste and Pula began to grow and become more important, Rovinj stagnated, that is, it had the same number of inhabitants as in the 18th century. The opening of the tobacco factory in 1872 brought a little life and economic growth to the town, and a year later it gained a railway link to the Divaca - Pula line. Between the two wars Rovinj stagnated once more, and again the population failed to increase, but after World War II it once again knew a period of prosperity.
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