In the Middle Ages, rich feudal lords ruled Istria from their fortified cities – castles. Typically, the castles are located on strategic locations, often on hilly, inaccessible terrain. The size of the castles depended on the financial power of the lords. Still, most castles have many architectural similarities – they are all made of stone and consist of the main tower, walls, lord’s quarters, residential areas and a beautiful open courtyard. Nevertheless, the feudal lords did not lead an easy life as they faced attacks in which many castles have been conquered or even burnt and demolished. The decline of the significance of castles was set off in the 16th century due to new firearms, like cannons, so the castles no longer provided security. They were mostly abandoned and the population raised settlements nearby. Those settlements later became the well-known Istrian towns.
The impressive Istrian castles surrounded by lovely landscape nowadays attract numerous visitors. And it is no wonder. At some point in our childhood, we’ve all been told stories of castles and knights that filled our imaginations. We all dreamed about what it would be like to live in a castle. As adults we appreciate the history behind these fortified walls and love to discover their mysteries, dark secrets and legends featuring vampires, witches, giants, infamous pirates and bloody battles. A visit to a medieval castle is a unique delight for everybody – families, youngsters, adults… Anyone who is willing to let go of reality and dive into the world of the Middle Ages.
Pazin Castle is the largest and best-preserved castle in Istria. The castle was ruled by many owners, from the Habsburgs to Italian nobility and accordingly changed its appearance. Near the castle walls, there is the Pazin Abyss, a mysterious pit that has been an inspiration for the scene of the novel Mathias Sandorf by Jules Verne. Nowadays it is home to Ethnographic Museum of Istria – Croatia’s best ethnographic museum, which contains holdings of 7 500 ethnographic artefacts of textile, agricultural tools and objects witnessing everyday life in Istrian villages.
The spooky empty ruins of Dvigrad near Kanfanar and the Lim Channel tell a story of its won. Divgrad used to be a luxurious medieval castle. The area has been populated since prehistoric times, and there were two fortified towns here – Moncastello and Castel Parentino. Hence the name Dvigrad, which actually means “two cities” in Croatian. Castel Parentino was abandoned in the 10th century, and the ruins left are actually the remains of Moncastello. In Dvigrad you can easily visualise how it had been demolished many times and how many soldiers died defending it. Also, in medieval times, after the wars, the epidemics of plague and malaria followed. The legend says that town and castle were abandoned due to plague, after which the inhabitants founded Kanfanar. Today Dvigrad is an attractive spot for visitors although its conservation is still not complete. There is also a legend that says that the notorious pirate Captain Morgan buried his vast treasure in Dvigrad.
The Castle of Morosini – Grimani
The beautiful castle of Morosini – Grimani is located in the heart of Istria, in Svetvinčent – is a perfect spot for those who want a proper medieval experience. This castle offers an interactive live history show featuring knights, archers, ladies, creeps, chivalrous fighting, fire show, the Inquisition and the Burning of Witches and more. The castle had a complete reconstruction to protect it from the tooth of time and establishment of visitors’ centres, stages, info desks, tasting rooms. At first it was owned by Castropola, then Morosini family who gave it its today’s shape and its renaissance square, one of the most beautiful from that time. The most well-known legend is the one is about a herbalist pronounced witch, Mare Radolovich, who was a victim of the 17th century witch and burned in the castle in 1632. Svetvinčenat offers its visitors an augmented reality time travel experience to gain a peek into the well-known legends: “Mare the Witch” and “The Legend of the Unknown Horseman“. There is also an “escape room” that includes the whole castle Morosini-Grimani and offers players to reveal the secret of the castle.
Pietrapelosa, raising above Mirna valley, is the castle that dominates in space located on the hill between Buzet and Livade. It can be seen even from the slopes of Ćićarija. Surrounded by dense vegetation and covered in moss that grows on its walls, it was named Pietrapelosa, which in translation means hairy fortress. This impressive fortress witnessed many intrigues, betrayals and plots, but also featured the latrine, the stone plate with a hole in the middle, which is a predecessor of today’s toilet. Latrine has been preserved on the west wall. At the time the latrine was a symbol of an enviable level of comfort and hygiene. Unlike the rulers, the peasants who lived at the foot of the castle led their burdensome lives.
The Momjan Castle
The Momjan Castle, also known as the Rota Castle after a rich Italian family who owned it, is nowadays devastated and overgrown with ivy as the family abandoned it in the 19th century. Its location on the 280-meter-high hill is definitely worth climbing as it offers an enjoyable view of the Dragonja river valley.