Thursday, 22 December 2011

Istria 2011, Romans and Fascists

It was only mid afternoon and as we had just about exhausted all that there was to do in Fažana without going over the same ground we decided to return to Pula for the afternoon.

Having visited the primary tourist attraction of the city on the first day we walked back to the town centre to see what else we could discover. The town had a slightly uncared for feel with many buildings having a lack of attention to detail in the finishings with drab concrete facades, exposed pipe work and cables that had not been quite tidied up and the first impression was that, compared to Rovinj, this place was a bit shabby and definitely still quite short of money. Looking up we could see bits of masonry looking precariously dislodged and practically disconnected from the buildings and I was sure that there was always an imminent danger of being hit on the head so did my best to make sure that we walked wherever possible in the middle of the street. There were quite a few shops but not many shoppers and the streets were curiously quiet.

We found the Temple of Romae and Augustus in the main town square and the Arch of Sergii, which are some of the town’s best preserved Roman structures and we also came across Agrapinina’s house, which sadly is not. I don’t think Agrapinina was anyone especially important and the remains of her house has been discovered in what is the back yard and garage area of a block of modern apartments. Such a shame really because these looked quite interesting but they were full of litter and there was even some graffiti on the walls. I suppose this is why people like Lord Elgin decide to bring ancient artefacts back to Britain if they are found unloved and uncared for in their original settings.

Instead we walked for a while along what has to be said was a disappointing sea front not least because it was completely devoid of bars for a refreshment stopover. I suppose this is to be expected of course because Pula is not a tourist marina but a fully working shipyard with a lot of activity breaking down old ocean going tankers that were so large there huge bulk overshadowed the adjoining town. In the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire this was a principal naval base that I am sure would have been familiar to Captain Von Trapp before he was pensioned off and sent off to Salzburg.

In a more modern part of the city we chanced across a pleasant little square with a water fountain and lined with nineteenth century buildings that had once been the bourgeois commercial centre at the height of the Austrian Empire. In this square was the City Post Office which was a much later twentieth century addition built in 1933 and although unremarkable from the outside had hidden inside a magnificent Gaudi like spiral staircase which rose majestically from the ground floor to the top of the building in an extravagant scarlet sweep that oozed style and grandeur.

The building was designed by Angiolo Mazzoni del Grande who was the chief architect for the Ministry of Communications and for the State Railways under the Mussolini regime in Italy. He was one of the most outstanding Italian architects of the modern period and was responsible for the design of many public buildings and railway stations across Italy that were characteristic of the Fascist building boom. It was an unusual discovery and it would be much better housed in a more important building but this was a hidden gem of Pula and I am glad that we found it.

As the afternoon slipped away we found ourselves back in the main square where we stopped for a drink on the way back to the car and then we left Pula, on this occasion finding the correct route out of town without taking the unnecessary detour and in fifteen minutes we were back at the Konoba Ferral. Ferral, we learned means one of those lights that fishing boats have to attract the fish and in terms of attracting things it certainly worked with us.

Later, after Kim had taken some final magic camera sunset pictures we assembled there again and while we sat there in shirt sleeves a German couple, wrapped up for winter, correctly identified us as English and mad. Actually it wasn’t that cold at all but we did take the precaution of eating inside again. Once more the food was excellent and we enjoyed a sociable meal with a helpful and attentive waiter who guided us expertly through the menu.

It was our last night in Fažana so before we returned to the hotel we took a final night time walk around the harbour and the square. We had enjoyed this place and it would be disappointing to leave in the morning.

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