The Istrian peninsula was conquered by the Romans in 177 B.C., starting a period of Romanization. The town was elevated to colonial rank between 46-45 B.C. . 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 B.C. 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. 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 425 A.D. the town became the center 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 destroyed by the Ostrogoths. Their rule ended about 60 years later, when 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. The cathedral and the Mary of Formosa church date from this period.
The first arrival of the Slavs in the environs of the town dates to the 7th century, but they never really settled the city, which always kept its Italian soul. The history of the city continued to reflect its location and significance, like that of the region, in the redrawing of borders between European powers.
From 788 on Pula was ruled by the Frankish kingdom under Charlemagne. 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 – 14 th century).
Pula is quoted by the Italian poet Dante Alighieri, who had visited Pula, in the Divine Comedy: “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”. The “Istarski Razvod” (1325), dates from this same period. This is a crucial Croatian manuscript written in Latin, German, and Croatian, using the oldest Croatian alphabet called Glagolitic alphabet.
Venetian, Napoleonic and early Habsburg rule
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, a Croatian-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 300 inhabitants left in the city.
With the collapse of the Venetian Republic in 1797, when Venice was beaten by the army of Napoleon, the city became part of the Habsburg Monarchy. It was invaded in 1805 after the French had beaten the Austrians. It was included in the French Empire‘s puppet Kingdom of Italy, then placed directly under the French Empire’s Illyrian Provinces.
Austro-Hungarian and Italian rule
In 1813, Pula and Istria were restored to the Austrian Empire (later the Austro-Hungarian Empire), and became part of the Austrian Littoral crown land. During this period Pula regained prosperity. From 1859 Pula’s large natural harbor became Austria’s main naval base and a major shipbuilding center. The city transformed from a small city with a a fading antique splendor into an industrial town The island of LošinjHabsburg royal family. (Lussino) to the south of Pula became the summer vacation resort of Austria’s
Following the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1918, Pula and the whole of Istria were given to Italy under the Peace Treaty. That period was marked by economic and political unrest. Under the fascist government of Benito Mussolini, non-Italians, especially Slavic residents, faced huge political and cultural repression and many fled the city and Istria altogether. Italian rule lasted until its capitulation during World War II, in September 1943. The Nazi German army went in to fill the vacuum left by retreating Italian soldiers. During the German military rule Pula saw its worst period so far: arrests, deportations and executions of people suspected to help the partisan’s guerrilla struggle. Also, Allied strategic bombings repeatedly destroyed whole parts of the city.
Post-WWII and modern era
For several years after 1945, Pula was administered by the United Nations. Istria was partitioned into occupation zones until the region became officially united with the rest of Croatia within SFR Yugoslavia on September 15 1947.
When the city was ceded to Yugoslavia, its population was largely made up of ethnic Italians — up to 90 per cent by some accounts, but with the signing of the peace treaty in 1947, most of those who had not already fled after 1945 left. Between December 1946 and September 1947, the city was abandoned by most of its Italian residents (istrian exodus). Between 1947 and 1953, the Italian cultural heritage (inscriptions, symbols, etc.) was almost completely removed from the Pula monuments.
In 1946, C. Schiffer noticed the Pula County has 87,787 inhabitants (54,074 (64%) Italians, 27,102 (32%) Croats, 771 Slovenes). The Italian component in the town of Pola reaches 90% of population. In 1931 Pula had 41,439 residents, and in 1948 there were only 19,595 residents.
Subsequently, the city’s Croatian name of Pula became official. Since the collapse of Yugoslavia in 1992, Pula and Istria have become part of the modern Republic of Croatia.