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This article is about a geographical region bordering the Adriatic Sea. For information on the asteroid, see 183 Istria.

Istria (Istra, pronounced in Croatian and Slovenian; Istria, pronounced /'istrija/ in Italian), is the biggest peninsula in the Adriatic Sea. The peninsula is located at the head of the Adriatic between the Gulf of Trieste and the Bay of Kvarner.

The peninsula lies mostly in northwestern Croatia, in the Istria county. A small slice in the north belongs to Slovenia and a tiny region encompassing the town of Muggia (Slovenian Milje) belongs to Italy.

Important towns in Istria include Koper/Capodistria ("head of Istria"), Pula/Pola, Poreč/Parenzo, Rovinj/Rovigno, Pazin/Pisino, Labin/Albona, Motovun /Montona, Buzet/Pinguente and Buje/Buie. Of special mention are the smaller towns of Višnjan, Roč, and Hum.

The larger geographical features of Istria include the Učka (Monte Maggiore) mountain in the east, the rivers Dragonja , Mirna , Pazinčica and Raša, and the Lim bay.

Famous people like Dante, Jules Verne, James Joyce and Robert Koch worked, wrote, visited or were simply inspired by 'Terra Magica'.


The name is derived from the Illyrian tribe of the Histri , which Strabo refers to as living in the region. The Romans described the Histri as a fierce tribe of Illyrian pirates, protected by the difficult navigation of their rocky coasts. It took two military campaigns for the Romans to finally subdue them in 177 BCE.

(Some scholars speculate that the names Histri and Istria are related to the Latin name Hister, or Danube. Ancient folktales reported -- inaccurately -- that the Danube split in two or "bifurcated" and came ashore near Trieste as well as at the Black Sea. The story of the "Bifurcation of the Danube" is part of the Argonaut legend.)

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the region was pillaged by the Goths, the Longobardi, annexed to the Frankish kingdom by Pippin III in 789, and then successively controlled by the dukes of Carinthia, Meran, Bavaria and by the patriarch of Aquileia, before it became the territory of the Republic of Venice. It passed to the Habsburgs in 1797, (reverting temporarily to Napoleon in 1805- 1813).

The region has traditionally been rather ethnically mixed. Under Austrian rule in the 19th century, it included a large population of Italians, Croats, Slovenes and some Vlachs/Istro-Romanians and Serbs. In 1910, the ethnic and linguistic composition was completely mixed. One source quotes 170,000 Croats (43%), 150,000 Italians (38%) and 55,000 Slovenes (14%), another quotes 138,654 speakers of Serbo-Croatian (Croats and Serbs), 136,039 Italian and 55,008 Slovenian.

After World War I, Istria passed from Habsburg to the rule of Italy. During these few decades, the Slavs complained of being forced to Italianize their names under the policy of forced Italianization. Some Croats allege further that the Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini colonized Istria with up to 50,000 more Italians (from Calabria, Sicily). The subsequent Nazi occupation during World War II further worsened the traditionally tolerant ethnic relations.

After the end of World War II, Istria was assigned to Socialist Yugoslavia. In the process, (1945-1947), an estimated 15,000 Italian-speakers were killed and 300,000 left (300,000 was the number in a speech made by Tito). This process can be described as the Italians leaving due to fear of the Communist oppression, and as them being ethnically cleansed by the Communists. Some well-known postwar exiles from Istria include race driver Mario Andretti, singer Sergio Endrigo and boxer Nino Benvenuti. Following the expulsions which ended by 1954, the areas were settled with Croats, Slovenians and a minute number of other Yugoslav nationalities like Serbs or Montenegrins.

Today, most of Istria lies in Croatia, in Istria county, seated in Pazin. A small section, including the coastal towns of Piran (Pirano), Portorož (Portorose) and Koper lies in Slovenia.

There is a long tradition of tolerance between the people who live there, regardless of their nationality, and although most Istrians today are ethnic Croats, a strong regional identity has developed over the years. The Croatian word for the Istrians is Istrani, or Istrijani, the latter being in the local čakavian dialect. The Italian minority is small, but the Istrian county is bilingual.

Since the first multi-party elections in 1990, the regional party Istrian Democratic Assembly (Istarski Demokratski Sabor or Dieta Democratica Istriana) has consistently received an absolute majority of the vote and maintained a position often contrary to the government in Zagreb with regards to their regional autonomy.


As with many other regions in the former Yugoslavia, common concepts about ethnicity and nationality fail when applied to Istria. Discussions about Istrian ethnicities often use the words "Italian," "Croatian" and "Slovenian" to describe the character of Istrian people. However, these terms are best understood as "national affiliations" that may exist in combination with or independently of linguistic, cultural and historical attributes.

In Istrian contexts, for example, the word "Italian" can just as easily refer to a descendent of immigrants from Sicily during the Mussolini period as it can refer to autochthonous speakers of the Venetian language whose antecedents in the region extend back to the Roman Empire. It can also refer to Istrian Slavs who adopted the veneer of Italian culture as they moved from rural to urban areas, or from the farms into the bourgeoisie.

Similarly, national powers "claim" Istrian Slavs according to local language, so that speakers of Cakavian dialects are considered by the Croatian government to be Croatians and speakers of Kajkavian dialects are considered by the Slovenian government to be Slovenians. Many Istrian Slavs consider themselves simply to be Istrians, with no additional national affiliation. Others consider themselves to be patriotic members of the larger nations.

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