Visiting Pula, Croatia With a Small Dog
After an exhilarating seaplane ride from Split, we landed in Pula. Our plane bump-bump-bumped onto the water and like a huge dragonfly, slipped along the water to drop us off at the converted shipping container that acts as one of the airline’s passenger stops. I have no idea how humans know we’ve changed regions or countries — What are those imaginary lines they like to draw all over the map? — but Mom said we were no longer in Dalmatia, but were, instead, in the region of Istria.
After landing, we made our way to the Riva — the promenade along the waterfront — and crossed the street. I was surprised at how industrial the harbour is. After a few weeks of visiting coastal towns further south, I had come to expect a welcoming row of restaurants and cafés on the Riva. (All harbour promenades seem to be called the Riva). I was expecting a fish market or some flower gardens, and maybe even a few palm trees creating a nice place to stroll. Pula has none of this. So, since the Riva wasn’t overly welcoming, we ventured further inland by a block or so, finding the pedestrian street that would take us to our #1 reason for visiting: the Amphitheatre, popularly called the Pula Arena.
The streets were nearly deserted — probably because of the heavy rain and unseasonal cold. Mom was sniffling away with her cold and Dad had the chills, so we stopped inside a cozy restaurant to warm up and have a coffee. I was most welcome to go inside with the bipeds.
Once warm again, we continued on our way, passing a tower and a small church, and following the signs for the Amphitheatre. We rounded the end and … there it was!
We first decided to walk its perimeter. It’s something the bipeds have learned to do in case a monument turns out to not be pet-friendly. If it isn’t, the bipeds can then decide whether the perimeter was enough or they want to do a hand-off. To our delight, the Pula Amphitheatre entrance fee is not only totally reasonable for people, but they also allow dogs inside so long as they remain on-leash.
So we walked about, Mom doing what she often does: eavesdropping on a local guide. Mom picked up a few little bits of information. For example, the well-preserved external wall has three floors on the side facing the sea, but only two on the land side. This is because the amphitheatre was built on an incline. We hadn’t even notice until then!
The tallest wall is a full 29.4 meters (96 feet) high!
The Amphitheatre has what looks like four towers. These rectangular additions served two purposes. First, the roofs collected scented water that would perfume the stage area and the stalls. And second, the towers and a once-existing wooden structure connecting the towers held up large awnings that helped protect the audiences from sun and rain.
Originally pretty small, the Amphitheatre was enlarged in 79AD by the Roman Emperor Vespasian, a big lover of gladiator fights. The Amphitheatre could hold up to 23,000 spectators and even had 20 entrances, for crying out loud! No one to this day can explain why such a large amphitheatre was ever built in Pula. There weren’t that many spectators in the region!
But, built it was! Soon enough, however, stones were stolen here and there to help build a castle. The Amphitheatre did benefit from some restoration during the rule of the French Governor General Marmont. But it really wasn’t until more recently that the Amphitheatre was fully restored. Because newer material was required for the rebuild, UNESCO has so far denied Pula’s petitions to have the Amphitheatre named a heritage site.
But Pula keeps trying! I have a feeling that at some point, UNESCO will cave in — hopefully before the Amphitheatre does! Today, audiences of about 5,000 people can attend a ballet, concert, or play at the Amphitheatre during the summer months. Oh, and an annual film festival.
Twin Gate and the Archaeological Museum of Istria
After our visit, with Mom grinning and very pleased with having seen what we came to see, we stopped at a patio with an outdoor crêpe set-up. While indulging her sweet tooth, Mom laid out a map, trying to figure out if there was more to see and if so, how to get there. If I could make one suggestion to Pula’s tourist bureau, it would be to add more signs directing visitors to the sites. We don’t mind wandering about aimlessly and discovering fun little stores and museums … or hilarious graffiti on signs like the one on the archaeological museum (which is not pet-friendly) …
But if we had been more pressed for time, aimless wandering would be irritating. But, meander we did, and as we meandered, we stumbled across the Archaeological Museum of Istria and the stellar Twin Gates, before finally finding a path that led to another street, that led us to an old Roman theatre, that led to another path, that brought us to the Castle and the Historical and Maritime Museum of Istria.
The Castle and Historical and Maritime Museum of Istria
From the air, the castle’s unusual star shape reminds me of a shuriken (aka: Ninja Stars) — that star-shaped Japanese weapon generally used for throwing. But the castle isn’t Asian. Nope. It’s 17th century Venetian in design.
The good news is that dogs on-leash are permitted onto the castle grounds. So we had a blast walking the walls that link the castle’s four towers and even climbing to the top of a much more modern artillery shooting tower (built in WWII). You may want to pick up your pet for that!
Where pets can’t enter are inside the rooms with exhibits. So the bipeds did the hand-off thing. During the hand-off, I ran around the courtyard a bit — it’s lovely — and took a look at some of the things on display there, such as canons and a boat!
It was nearing time for lunch, so from the castle, we made our way to the main square, known as the Forum.
The Forum is one of the most pleasant areas in Pula to relax. It’s also where you will find the tourist office. As we arrived, the skies were getting darker and darker and, sure enough, rain started to pour down. We found a place, which had no issue with me going inside, and ordered a wonderful platter of delicious Croatian food!
It was slowly getting to be time for us to make our seaplane flight back to Split, so Mom decided we would skip trying to find the Gate of Hercules (sadly — she had been looking forward to that) and instead focus on all the goodies to be found in the Forum proper.
The Church of Saint Francis (dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals!) and the Temple of Augustus (dedicated to Emperor Augustus and the goddess Roma) are both in the Forum. They are both lovely, but the rain was making our plans to cross the Forum to see them a very, very wet and cold proposition. We did eventually make it, although hand-offs are required since pets are not allowed inside.
You can’t always see it all. But with only a day in Pula, we still enjoyed ourselves immensely. And considering the really miserable weather, that says a lot.
In review: Visiting Pula, Croatia With a small dog is to visit a lovely city with two pet-friendly sites: the amazing Roman amphitheatre and the Venetian castle. Not as flashy and posh as Dalmatian towns, Pula is more relaxed and just a little rough around the edges. There are heaps of wonderful spots to see, the market, and a bucket-load of churches. But Pula’s claim to fame is definitely the Roman monuments. Here, unlike in most of the other towns we visited, subsequent invaders and their architectural styles made space for the Roman ruins rather than cover them up.