In the northern part of Istria, overlooking the Mirna River valley, lies surely the most famous and attractive Istrian medieval town of Motovun-Montona. This captivating hilltop town is one of the characteristic symbols of the Istrian interior.
The Romanesque-Gothic bell tower with a crenulated crown from the 13th century, standing next to the Parish Church of St. Stephen from the 17th century, dominates the town’s historic core. In the central square is the Romanesque Municipal Palace, the largest secular building in Istria of that period surrounded by many other historic buildings. As Motovun-Montona has long since been an attractive and popular tourist destination accommodation is offered in the town centre, in hotel Kaštel situated in the restored palace of the Polesini family.
Motovun-Montona is the perfect venue for a large number of events, the most significant among them being the International Motovun Film Festival that takes place at the end of July where world-known film artists may be seen. Motovun is also interesting for ballooning lovers, its favourable microclimate enables flying in balloons all year round, so that Motovun-Montona hosts several ballooning events.
Motovun Forest which stretches along the Mirna River valley is especially rich in truffles, the underground malodorous fungus believed to be an aphrodisiac. Istrian white truffles, whose season lasts from September to December are said to be as good as the finest Italian and French truffles.
Opposite Motovun-Montona stands the charming picturesque town of Oprtalj-Portole, as well as Livade, famous for the Days of Truffles held every year from September to November. Every year in Livade, also known as the World’s truffle centre, a special festival is organized with a contest of choosing the largest truffle.
Motovun-Montona is surrounded by vineyards from which the finest Istrian wines, white wine Malvasia and red wine Teran, are produced. The entire area is dotted with excellent local ‘konobe’ and restaurants.
In close vicinity is also Istarske toplice, thermal spa with curative water.
Since the prehistoric times Motovun-Montona has been dominating its wider surroundings. According to recent researches of the New Age scientists, Motovun-Montona owes this status to its position on the crossroads of Earth’s energetic meridians or the so called ”Dragon’s furrows”. These meridians transmit Earth’s positive life energy and in the places they intersect, as in the case of Motovun, a powerful source of energy is created – the ”breathing orifice” of the planet Earth.
Motovun-Montona is especially attractive due to its medieval town walls that surround the town in a ring-like manner and the view of the vineyards and the Motovun Park Forest. The tourist and gastronomic offer turned Motovun-Montona into one of the most popular excursion destinations of the tourists who spend their holidays on the west and east coast of Istria.
The area around the town can be seen while walking the Motovun Park Forest in search of the gastronomic specialty – the truffle, while visiting the vineyards of teran, pinot, malvasia on the south-western slopes, while hunting or cycling. Since 1903, in the part of the town called Kanal every third Monday since 1903 a cattle fair is held. One of the legends related to Motovun is the one about Veli Jože (Big Jože), based on it Vladimir Nazor wrote the short story of the same name.
Motovun-Montona, ital. Montona, a municipality centre and a picturesque medieval town built on top of a cone-shaped hill with a flat plateau, is a town of urban lines originating from a prehistoric hill-fort. The information on its population dates back to the ancient times, more precisely, the end of the 2nd and the beginning of the 3rd century, which is evidenced by the inscriptions beside the Venetian heraldic and leonidic symbols of the interior mantle on the ground-floor of the Renaissance fort.
According to the inscriptions found on the property of the Roman senator Sissena, it was exactly at Lom and Červar that the said family had the centre for the production of Istrian olive oil that they sold all over the Roman Empire, while in the surroundings of Motovun-Montona they extracted clay for the mass production of amphorae. During the late Antiquity in the place of the today’s late Renaissance three-nave parish church of St. Stephen there was a spacious old Christian basilica. The flat plateau which dominates the late Medieval square with a well and the town’s coat of arms looks like a spacious medieval tank.
The first mention of Motovun-Montona in written records dates back to 804 in the Placitum of Rižana, as Montouna.
During the rule of the Byzantine Empire the area of Motovun-Montona was paying almost the tenth of the total taxes and duties paid by the Istrian population at that time, while during the Roman Empire it was a part of the Poreč ager.
Motovun-Montona was a place of residence of many noble families, especially in the pre-Venetian period, for example, families Barbo or Polesini. Their properties were situated in the Motovun-Montona surroundings, for example, the Church of St. Nicholas near Rakotul adorned by artistically valuable wall paintings which include Glagolitic, Latin, dialectal and other graffiti.
The life in the early Middle Ages in Motovun-Montona is evidenced by the 13th century bell tower as well as the remains of the wattle sculpture at the entrance Gothic fort and many other buildings.
On some of the medieval houses within the town walls there are elements and structures of construction works from earlier periods. On the inner which is at the same time the oldest part of the walls, numerous modifications can be noticed. During the 12th and 13th century the walls reclined on the Romanesque part of the Praetorian Palace adorned by the stone arches of the entrance fort beside which the fortification was annexed at the end of the 12th and the beginning of the 13th century.
In the interior of the Praetorian Palace we can still see the immured double lancets of sickled segment arches which date back to the 13th century, while the square capitels date back to the 12th century, that is, the pre-Venetian period.
This is one of the biggest Romanesque palaces in Istria and Croatia from the period of the rule of the Patriarchs of Aquilea, that is – the Free Commune of Motovun-Montona. This can be seen from the buildings’ facades in the northern and southern street which lead to the medieval town entrance, as well as the Baroque loggia with a beautiful view of the Motovun-Montona Forest. According to written records, the loggia is mentioned for the first time in 1331 under the name of Lobia Maior.
The town with the bell tower with a crenellated parapet and the Church of St. Stephen dominates the valley of the River Mirna and the Motovun-Montona Forest.
The geological findings confirm yet another interesting feature of this area. Four meters below the surface of white soil evidence was found that in the Middle Ages sea water used to reach the Motovun-Montona Forest at high tide. Since at the time the bishop Tomasini had his seat here, the River Mirna was navigable only to Bastija and Ponteporton, the bishop of Cittanova ordered that a navigable riverbed be built all the way to Motovun-Montona. Some say that during the digging a lot of people were killed, and in the immediate vicinity of Motovun-Montona huge skeletons have been found, human ones allegedly. Numerous popular legends have been created on the basis of the above mentioned, as well as literary and art works about giants who built the Istrian town walls – those from G. D’Anunzio, then Vladimir Nazor’s Veli Jože as well Tito’s present to Motovun-Montona from 1946 that represents the portrait of Nazor, the work of sculptor Vanja Radauš.
Since the Motovun-Montona Forest was rich with wood, the population of Motovun-Montona and the Venetian Republic, on one side, and the neighbouring principalities, on the other, wanted the power over this natural wealth. Wood was so important for the construction of the Venetian fleet that, for example, even Goethe wanted to see the famous Istrian oak which contributed to the glory of the Venetian Republic.
Among the personalities who often stayed in Motovun-Montona or whose place of origin is Motovun-Montona, we can point out Croatian artist Miroslav Šutej and Gianpaolo Polesini who advocated for the construction of the Učka tunnel at the first convocation of the Istrian Parliament in as early as 1861.
Andrea Antico, Renaissance composer and publisher, who was one of the first to use staff and the modern way of musical notation.
The famous inventor of the ship’s propeller, Josef Ressel, whose invention has become a symbol of the international film festival, lived here between 1835 and 1843. He became famous due to the first successful experiment of starting a steamship with a propeller, which was held in Trieste in 1829.
Motovun-Montona is the birthplace of Mario Andretti (1940), famous auto racing champion, world champion of Formula 1 (1978) and the winner of the ”500 miles of Indianapolis” race (1969).
Tale about Veli Jože
Every summer proveditor Barbabianca, signor Zvane and the captain of the Motovun Forest marked Turkish oaks for the needs of the Venetian Republic. Riding a donkey, the Proveditor saw a nice Turkish oak which will heat him in Koper during the cold winter nights. While he was marking the chosen tree, somebody’s strong hands threw the donkey into the oak’s crown. Giant-serf Jože stood beside the dead donkey angrily looking at the Proveditor. Signor Zvane managed to calm the giant who then picked up the scared Proveditor and took him to town the streets of which were crowded with armed people who didn’t want to feed Jože anymore. After deliberating for some time, it was decided that Jože has to go to Koper at Easter and that until then the town’s people have to feed him. Easter was here. Since Jože was satisfied with his life, the people of Motovun had to decide yet again what to do with him.
Proto and several other townsmen wanted the hard-working Jože to stay, while the others thought he should leave Motovun-Montona. First, Jože went to Koper from where he sailed with the Proveditor toward the Venetian Republic. Since they were sailing with sails and at one moment the wind calmed, the oarsmen took out the oars. Jože, not knowing what oars were, wondered who was waving with bats. From the interior of the ship the sounds of whips could be heard and swearing and the rattle of fetters, and after that the song of the galley-slaves.
The wondering giant lifted up the deck lid. A big head of galley-slave Ilija came out of the opening. He told Jože everything about his life on the galley, telling him that he, Jože, could expect the same fate. Amidst the storm carried by waves the galley was coming closer to the coast. When they came near the coast Jože jumped into the sea. That morning he again stood on the Istrian mainland where he called other serfs to join him. Shortly the giants inhabited the hill between Pazin-Pisino and Motovun-Montona where dog-heads used to live. And while the citizens thought the giants should again be forced to farm the land, noblemen and town chiefs decided they should be killed.
The townsmen and the soldiers headed by two knights headed toward the Dog-head Hill. The knights and soldiers attacked the giants who defended with oaks. After an unsuccessful attack they decided to talk with the giants who didn’t accept the set conditions and they wanted to be free.
The giants, awarded by gold coins, rings and chains, returned to the towns. The greedy townsmen and noblemen requested their part of the gold claiming that it used to belong to their great-grandfathers, this was again a reason to fight with the giants. Since they couldn’t conquer it, the townsmen at night unsuccessfully dug around the Dog-head Hill in search of the gold. One night after he caught several townsmen at the Dog-head Hill, Jože told them he will give back the gold, but they head to earn it. The townsmen agreed to help Jože in order to get the gold. The harvest was rich, and they had to give the whole yield to the giants. After their work was done, the townsmen returned to their towns and on the Štrigina glava only Kamerlengo Ciretta was left and he soon became friends with the giants.
Once during a fight the giants wanted to kill Jože. After that he put the town on fire and ran to Ciretta who hid him and protected him. After the conversation, the giants chose Kamerlengo Ciretta for their chief. The new chief fairly divided the land among the giants who swore on the Book of Contracts that they will respect other’s property. Everybody was satisfied owning their piece of land. But when they started to cultivate it and notice the difference in size, the fight broke out again. Since he was no longer their chief, Ciretta didn’t want to help them.
The fights between giants continued. On one occasion the giants-serfs Marko and Liberat wanted to farm their land, but Jože didn’t let them. He beat up Marko and killed Liberat with a pick. The giants called Ciretta to advise them on what to do. The wise townsman decided to scare the giants telling them they had to bury Liberat and move, because if not they would be punished. The giants decided to return to their masters and Ciretta took Jože to Motovun-Montona who escaped on the way.