The largest peninsula in the Adriatic (3160 sq km), Istria is blessed with a 430km indented shoreline and an interior of green rolling hills, drowned valleys and fertile plains. The northern part of the peninsula belongs to Slovenia, while the Dinaric Range in the north-eastern corner separates Istria from the continental mainland.
Most of the resorts are on the highly developed west coast. The scenic interior is less visited by tourists but contains several medieval hill towns offering panoramic views of the region. Pazin, in the interior, is the administrative capital of the region while Pula, with its thriving shipyard, is the economic center.
The peninsular is large and triangular, pointing into the Adriatic. Although the coast is less developed and built in the south of Croatia like in Dalmatia, it is an attractive region for holidays as it offers good facilities on the coast and has an interesting inland, which is largely unspoilt and gives an insight into Croatian culture. As a border region with Italy and Slovenia, it has a rich cultural life, marked by the cultures that have lived it during many centuries. There is still a large Italian community there, and most Croats will know some words of Italian.
Archaeological excavations near Pula reveal that the Istrian Peninsula has been settled since the Paleolithic Age. Towards the end of the 2nd millennium BC, the Illyrian Histrian tribe settled the region and built fortified villages on top of the region's coastal and interior hills. Ancient Greek chroniclers indicated that the region was on an important trade route - the Amber Route - through which Greek ships passed on trading missions from the Aegean.
Istrian coastal towns became important way stations for the repair and maintenance of Venetian ships, but the Venetian embrace brought other problems in the form of devastating attacks by Venice's rival, the Genoans. Misery, famine and warfare haunted the peninsula. Bubonic plague first broke out in 1371 and regularly ravaged Istrian cities until the 17th century. Malaria was endemic. Although the Turks never reached Istria, the peninsula lay in the path of the fearsome Uskoks from Senj who repeatedly attacked Venice's Istrian cities throughout the 16th and 17th centuries.
With the fall of Venice in 1797, Istria fell under Austrian rule, followed by the French (1809-13), and again the Austrians. During the 19th and early 20th century, most of Istria was little more than a neglected outpost of the Austro-Hungarian empire, which concentrated on developing the port of Trieste. The economy of the coastal cities was badly affected by the decline in sailing ships although the construction of a naval port and shipyard in Pula in the late 19th century gave the region a boost. The Slavic farmers in the interior of the peninsula continued to cultivate the land and raise cattle.
When the Austro-Hungarian empire disintegrated at the end of WWI, Italy moved quickly to secure Istria. Italian troops occupied Pula in November 1918, and, in the 1920 Treaty of Rapallo, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes ceded Istria along with Zadar and several islands to Italy as a reward for joining the Allied powers in WWI. A massive population shift followed as 30,000 to 40,000 Italians arrived from Mussolini's Italy and many Croats left, fearing fascism. Their fears were not misplaced as Istria's Italian masters attempted to consolidate their hold by banning Slavic speech, printing, education and cultural activities.
Italy retained the region until its defeat in WWII when Istria became part of Yugoslavia, causing another mass exodus as Italians and many Croats fled Tito's Communisls. Trieste and the north-western tip of the peninsula was a point of contention between Italy and Yugoslavia until 1954 when it was finally awarded to Italy. As a result of Tito's reorganization of Yugoslavia, the northern part of the peninsula was incorporated into Slovenia, where it has remained.
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