When I visited Rovinj it was extra season so I cannot imagine that this little town of only 15,000 inhabitants recorded over 3 million overnight stays last year, which means more people came to Rovinj than to Dubrovnic or Medulin. Nevertheless, the touristic vibes are not as overwhelming. Sprinkled with luxury hotels, rustic-chic seafood eateries and candlelit cocktail bars, the streets of the old town still preserve much of their laid back and rural charm.
A stunning little town in the Istria Peninsula, north of Croatia, Rovinj is bordered on three sides by the Adriatic Sea. Outside the town there are 16 islands, islets and reefs that form the Rovinj archipelago.
Rovinj was actually an island before a land reclamation project in 1763 by the Venetians. The old town is a medieval tangle of tight streets and alleys that pass under archways and twist up stairways worn by centuries of footfalls.
The town itself has an old centre built with pale limestone or painted in tones of vibrant red and all shades of yellow. Venetian-style facades flanking the fishing harbour, and are backed by a hill crowned with an 18th-century church, with a campanile that strongly recalls St. Mark’s in Venice. And this is because this church of Saint Euphemia was built by the Venetians who were, at that time, in control of much of the area.
The campanile is impressive, especially for the size of the town, 61 metres-high and offering views of the Alps to the north on a super clear day.
This historic centre is small, but it won’t be hard to get disoriented by this dense labyrinth of quaint cobblestone streets. Eventually you’ll come to restaurants, cafes or even the water’s edge, and you can always find time for a cup of coffee to watch this ancient town go about its day.
Is one of the main thoroughfares through the old part of town, artists expose paintings, jewellery, clothes, accessories and souvenirs everywhere on the outside walls and even on the neighbours’ ones, generating a colourful ambience, full of life, and where all kinds of art and shopping messages coexist in a nice puzzle. Many of the stairs of the streets are also bohemian terraces for having a coffee or a cocktail.
The narrow, winding, cobbled streets, crammed-together houses and buildings and picturesque squares allow you to spend a lovely afternoon, while the best views of Rovinj can be had from the city’s port.
From this perspective, vividly painted houses crowd the waterfront. Turn seawards and you can enjoy a port in action with fishers setting out, coming home, or mending nets. All along the water’s edge are restaurants and cafes, a pleasant stop for lunch on a sunny day.
Rovinj City Museum is quite an original place to see. It was founded by a group of Rovinj’s artists in the 1950s as a way of bringing together the area’s cultural wealth and displaying the work of local painters and sculptors. So expect to see many pieces of contemporary art plus important artefacts relating to the various cultures that settled in Rovinj and the city’s rich maritime history. The images above are from a temporary exhibition of contemporary Croatian photography.
Batana museum is dedicated to the batana, a flat-bottomed fishing boat that stands as a symbol of Rovinj’s seafaring and fishing traditions. Although there are some multimedia displays, most captions are in Croatian and Italian only.
Batana is a flat-bottomed boat traditionally built by the fishermen of Rovinj. They are protected by UNESCO and you can find everything about them if you visit the Batana House (free entrance) where there’s a permanent exhibition. The Batana House tries to preserve all the traditions around building and sailing and maintaining this boat: the way of construction, the songs, the community feeling, the customs. For instance, the tradition of making batanas is inseparable from the musical tradition of the bitinada, the musical expression of Rovinj folk songs. According to tradition, bitinada was created by Rovinj fishermen who spent hours on their boats fishing or repairing nets. They would immitate the instruments with their voice and this is how this unique style was born.
A Brief History of Rovinj
As with much of Istria, findings in the area show that Rovinj’s history stretches back to prehistoric times. The town was originally an Illyrian settlement populated by the Histri. Although Istria became part of the Roman Empire in 177 BC, Rovinj (Ruginium in Latin) was never a settlement of much importance. Rovinj became one of the first towns in Istria to fall to Venice, in 1283. Attacked several times over the next few centuries, the town fortified its walls. Rovinj also saw an influx in numbers in the 17th century. At this point, the main part of Rovinj was still an island that was separate from the mainland, although the town had expanded onto it. For this reason, in 1763, the channel between Rovinj and the mainland was filled in. As with the rest of Istria, Rovinj became part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the early part of the 19th century, during which time it went into decline; after this empire dissolved post World War I, the town became part of Italy. In 1947, after World War II, Rovinj was ceded to Yugoslavia. It then was part of Croatia when it became an independent country.