Novigrad – Cittanova Determined to Survive
October 14, 2014
Through the centuries this small town on the Istrian peninsula has been known as Emmonia, Neapolis, Civitas Nova, Cittanuova, Cittanova, and Novigrad.
There was an ancient city, in this area of what is now Novigrad, called Emmonia. In the 5th-6th centuries the Roman Empire was defending its territories here and built a fortificated settlement which they named Neapolis. In the 7th century, this area was under the rule of Byzantium. In the 8th century it came under Frankish rule (Charlemagne) where it became the centre of feudalism for the Istrian peninsula. From the 10th century until the end of the 12th century it fell under the authority of Germany.
Along with the entire Istrian west coast, in1270 it came under the rule of the Venetian Republic, which gave it the Italian name of Cittanova. The Venetian rule lasted until Venice fell in the late 18th century.
Along with progress, the arrival of Venice also brought the conflict with Genoa, whose soldiers heavily destroyed the town in the 14th century. In the late 17th century the city was attacked by the Turkish army. The plague raged in Novigrad from the 13th to 17th century. By the 16th and 17th century the town was almost depopulated.
The beginning of the 19th century was marked by the arrival of Napoleon and his troops. They were soon replaced by the Habsburgs, who remained there until the early 20th century. Then again the territory changed hands and for a few decades, between the first and second world wars, the town fell under Italy. With the end of the Second World War, Novigrad became part of Yugoslavia. After the break-up of Yugoslavia in 1991 it changed nationalities once again and is now part of Croatia.
This was not meant by any means to be a history lesson because I am no authority on the history of the area. But it is much the same story in terms of constantly changing rulers for all of Istria. So with my maternal family having arrived in Canada from Istria I thought that this chronology might provide some perspective on ethnic heritage in general and on our ethnic heritage more specifically of course.
What is left of all these diverse conquerors and cultures today? The historic town centre is right on a bay. It is a beautiful sunny October morning. Up until the sixties this small town of about 2500 people was a fishing port. Still today fishing boats are moored in the small harbour but also there are sail boats and other pleasure craft. We walk along the dock where the large fishing nets and buoys are drying in the sun.
As with many of the small towns in Istria what you notice first is the narrow winding streets. We wander up the Via delle Mure where the narrow attached houses surely must have been here since medieval times. And people still live and work in these buildings. There is a small trattoria and a bar-caffe. A family friend lived on this street before coming to Canada and we were happy to have been able to see where he and his family were from.
The Venetian presence is felt right away when you see the town hall and several pastel colored houses with their signature Venetian Gothic windows and the Venetian lion.
You also see parts of the stone defense walls erected during the Venetian era. They have a strong presence because over time they have been incorporated into other buildings and because the crenulated tops of the defense walls are a strong contrast against the pastel colored houses.
The next thing you notice is that every third building or so is a bar-caffe all very contemporary and all very lounge like with cocktails being a huge menu item.
We walk towards the water front and again the Venetian stone walls stand out. This time because the walk along the waterfront has incorporated the same stones and laid with the same pattern as the Venetian walls into the “lungo mare” . There are curved retaining walls, and stone steps leading right into the water because this is also the beach front. And all along this “lungo mare” are again cocktail type bar-caffes with people sitting outside enjoying a drink and this gorgeous almost summer like weather.
We go back to the piazza in front of the town hall and enjoy a yogurt smoothie. The owner tells us that business is good. She greeted me in German but then switched immediately to Italian when I told her I did not speak German. The Italian culture still survives. There is bilingual street signing – Italian and Croation. Italian, German and Austrian tourists come here to enjoy the mild Mediterranean weather, the beach, and the laid back feel. All around the historic centre are recently built vacation condos, hotels, all the tourist services. The streets are spotlessly clean, buildings well maintained, flowers everywhere.
Today as Novigrad, this small coastal town is as determined as ever to survive. It may have something to do with its name which both in Croatian and Italian means – New City.
It has reinvented itself as a tourist destination but there it is also a constant reminder of the transience of political states and nations and nationalities.