Pula (; Italian and Istro-Romanian: Pola; ; Slovene and Chakavian: Pulj, , Ancient Greek: Πόλαι, Polae) is the largest city in Istria County, Croatia, situated at the southern tip of the Istria peninsula, with a population of 62,080 (2006). Like the rest of the region, it is known for its mild climate, smooth sea, and unspoiled nature. The city has a long tradition of winemaking, fishing, shipbuilding, and tourism. Pula has also been Istria's administrative centre since ancient Roman times.
Evidence of the presence of Homo erectus at 1 million years ago have been found in the cave of Šandalja near Pula. Pottery from the Neolithic period (6000–2000 BC), indicating human settlement, have been found around Pula. In the Bronze Age (1800–1000 BC), a new type of settlement appeared in Istria, called 'gradine', or Hill-top fortificatations. Many late Bronze Age bone objects, such as tools for smoothing, for drilling, sewing needles, as well as bronze spiral pendants, have found in the area around Pula. The type of materials found in Bronze Age sites in Istria connects these with sites around the Danube. The inhabitants of Istria in the Bronze Age are known as Proto Illyrians.
The foundation of the settlement based on archaeological evidence dates to c. the 10th century BC. Greek pottery and a part of a statue of Apollo have been found, attesting to the presence of the Greek culture.
Greek tradition attributed the foundation of Polai to the Colchians, mentioned in the context of the story of Jason and Medea, who had stolen the golden fleece. The Colchians, who had chased Jason into the northern Adriatic, were unable to catch him and ended up settling in a place they called Polai, signifying "city of refuge".
In classical antiquity, it was inhabited by the Histri, a Venetic or Illyrian tribe recorded by Strabo in the 1st century AD The Istrian peninsula was conquered by the Romans in 177 BC, starting a period of Romanization. The town was elevated to colonial rank between 46–45 BC as the tenth region of the Roman Empire, under Julius Caesar. During that time the town grew and had at its zenith a population of about 30,000. It became a significant Roman port with a large surrounding area under its jurisdiction. During the civil war of 42 BC of the triumvirate of Octavian, Mark Antony and Lepidus against Caesar's assassins Brutus and Cassius, the town took the side of Cassius, since the town had been founded by Cassius Longinus, brother of Cassius. After Octavian's victory, the town was demolished. It was soon rebuilt at the request of Octavian's daughter Iulia and was then called Colonia Pietas Iulia Pola Pollentia Herculanea'. Great classical constructions were built of which a few remain. A great amphitheatre, Pula Arena was constructed between 27 BC – 68 AD, much of it still standing to this day. The Romans also supplied the city with a water supply and sewage systems. They fortified the city with a wall with ten gates. A few of these gates still remain: the triumphal Arch of the Sergii, the Gate of Hercules (in which the names of the founders of the city are engraved) and the Twin Gates. During the reign of emperor Septimius Severus the name of the town was changed into "Res Publica Polensis". In 354 AD the town was the site of Gallus Caesar's execution. In 425 AD the town became the centre of a bishopric, attested by the remains of foundations of a few religious buildings.
After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the city and region were attacked by the Ostrogoths, Pula being virtually destroyed by Odoacer, a Germanic foederati general in 476 AD The town was ruled by the Ostrogoths from 493 to 538 AD When their rule ended, Pula came under the rule of the Exarchate of Ravenna (540–751). During this period Pula prospered and became the major port of the Byzantine fleet and integral part of the Byzantine Empire. The Basilica of Saint Mary Formosa was built in the 6th century.
From 788 on Pula was ruled by the Frankish kingdom under Charlemagne, with the introduction of the feudal system. Pula became the seat of the elective counts of Istria until 1077. The town was taken in 1148 by the Venetians and in 1150 Pula swore allegiance to the Republic of Venice, thus becoming a Venetian possession. For centuries thereafter, the city's fate and fortunes were tied to those of Venetian power. It was conquered by the Pisans in 1192 but soon reconquered by the Venetians.
In 1238 Pope Gregory IX formed an alliance between Genoa and Venice against the Empire, and consequently against Pisa too. As Pula had sided with the Pisans, the city was sacked by the Venetians in 1243. It was destroyed again in 1267 and again in 1397 when the Genoese defeated the Venetians in a naval battle.
Pula then slowly went into decline. This decay was accelerated by the infighting of local families: the ancient Roman Sergi family and the Ionotasi (1258–1271) and the clash between Venice and Genoa for the control of the city and its harbour (late 13th and 14th centuries). In 1291 – by the Peace of Treviso – Patriarch Raimondo della Torre gained the city as part of the secular realm of the Patriarchate of Aquileia, only to lose it to Venice in 1331, which then held it until its downfall in 1797.
Pula is quoted by the Italian poet Dante Alighieri, who had visited Pula, in the Divine Comedy: "Sì come a Pola, presso del Carnaro, ch'Italia chiude e i suoi termini bagna" or "As Pula, along the Quarnero, that marks the end of Italy and bathes its boundaries".
Venetian, Napoleonic and early Habsburg rule
The Venetians took over Pula in 1331 and would rule the city until 1797. During the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, Pula was attacked and occupied by the Genoese, the Hungarian army and the Habsburgs; several outlying medieval settlements and towns were destroyed. In addition to war, the plague, malaria and typhoid ravaged the city. By the 1750s there were only 3,000 inhabitants left in ancient city, an area now covered with weeds and ivy.
With the collapse of the Venetian Republic in 1797 following military defeat at the hands of Napoleon, the city became part of the Habsburg Monarchy. It was invaded again in 1805 after the French had defeated the Austrians. It was included in the French Empire of Napoleon as part of the Kingdom of Italy, then placed directly under the French Empire's Illyrian Provinces.
Austrian Littoral province and union with Italy
In 1813, Pula (with Istria) was restored to the Austrian Empire. Under the compromise of 1867, the town — under the Italian name, Pola — remained in Austria-Hungary until the latter's defeat and dissolution in 1918. Under Austrian rule, Pola regained prosperity. Its large natural harbour became Austria's main naval base and a major shipbuilding centre. It was chosen for the base in 1859 by Hans Birch Dahlerup, a Danish admiral in the service of Austria. Subsequently, Pola grew from a fading provincial town into an industrial city. The island of Brijuni to the south of Pola became the summer vacation resort of Austria's Habsburg royal family.
Following the collapse of Austria-Hungary in 1918, Pola and the whole of Istria – except the territory of Kastav – were assigned to Italy. Pola became the capital of the Province of Pola. The decline in population after World War I was mainly due to economic difficulties caused by the withdrawal of Austro-Hungarian military and bureaucratic facilities and the dismissal of workers from the shipyard.
Under the Italian Fascist government of Benito Mussolini, non-Italians, especially Slavic residents, faced stringent political and cultural repression, and many fled the city and Istria altogether. After the collapse of Fascist Italy in 1943, the city was occupied by the German Army and remained a base for German U-boats. Consequently, the city was subjected to repeated Allied bombing from 1942–1944. In the last phase of the war Pola saw arrests, deportations and executions of people suspected of aiding the partisans.
Post-WWII and modern era
For two years after 1945, Pola was administered by the Allied Military Government for Occupied Territories (AMG). Pola formed an enclave within re-established Yugoslavia, occupied by a company of the United States 351st Infantry and a British battalion of the 24th Guards Brigade. Istria was partitioned into occupation zones until the region became officially united with the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFR Yugoslavia) on 15 September 1947, under terms of the Paris Peace Treaties.
The city became part of the Socialist Republic of Croatia (SR Croatia, a republic of SFR Yugoslavia), upon the ratification of the Paris Peace Treaties on 15 September 1947 — which also created the Free Territory of Trieste that ultimately reverted to Italy. Initially Pola's population of 45,000 was largely made up of ethnic Italians. However, between December 1946 and September 1947, most of the Italian residents fled to Italy during the Istrian exodus. Subsequently, the city's Croatian name, Pula, became the official name. Since the collapse of Yugoslavia in 1991, Pula and Istria have been part of the Republic of Croatia.