The Venetian Influence on Istrian Architecture
The Istrian Peninsula juts into the Adriatic Sea, a beautiful, though sometimes overlooked, slice of Mediterranean beauty. Most of the peninsula is Croatian, but the northeastern area belonging to Slovenia sits directly across from Eastern shores of Italy. Coastal spa towns like Portorož and Piran are close neighbors of Venice, separated by a small stretch of the Adriatic.
Wandering through the streets of Portorož or other Istrian towns, you can see the influence of the area’s Italian neighbors. Pasta is a staple of the Istrian Mediterranean cuisine, and signs list both Slovenian and Italian names. Perhaps the most evident Italian influence on Slovenian architecture are the Venetian-style buildings that crop up along its coast line.
Slovene Istria fell under the rule of the Republic of Venice gradually beginning in the 13th century. The interior of the peninsula, including much of current day Croatia, became part of the Hasburg Empire in the 15th century. Despite rifts along border lines, Slovene Istria remained part of the Venetian Empire until the late 18th century, when it was annexed by the Hasburgs.
Venetian Gothic Style
Venetian Gothic architecture, which can be appreciated in well-preserved structures along the Istrian coast, is a unique style - a cultural mix of its own. The architecture, which utilizes the lancets and peaks of Gothic style, pulls on Byzantinne and Moorish influences as well. Interiors often include two-dimensional murals and decoration reminiscent of Constantinople. Deep reds and browns were common for exteriors. Venetian architecture, in many ways directed by the unique topographical features of the city, is a distinct part of Italian architecture, as well as Istrian.
Venice’s canals made it difficult to build sturdy buildings. Typical stone would decay or crumble on the constant weathering of the sea. In order to mitigate the deterioration, Venetians used what is known as “Istrian stone” in construction. Istrian stone is found in the more mountainous areas of the Istrian coastline and weathers far less than typical limestone. It was excavated regularly from Istria and ferried to Venice, where both Venetian and Istrian born craftsmen would prepare it for construction. The stone has helped maintain Venetian buildings to this day. Because Venice was in some ways dependent on Istria for the stone, the Venetian influence we now see in Istria is far more of a cultural exchange than one might think.
Where to See Venetian Architecture
For a stunning example of the Venetian-Gothic architecture in Istria, head to Piran to see the Venetian House. Located in Tartini Square, this impressive home has sharp decoration and a truly Gothic style. Its roof is a deep red, reminiscent of the rich colored homes lining the canals in Venice.
A day trip to Porec is a great opportunity to see any of ten historic Venetian-style palaces. The most impressive, in terms of façade, is the Lion Palace. Look around the palaces for touches of Roman influence as well - with the area’s rich and diverse history, Istrian buildings pay their respects to a number of past eras.