Exploring Dvigrad: Unveiling the Mysteries of Istria’s Majestic Medieval Ruins

I think the last exploration of 2023 deserves to be remembered, and it will be! I love old towns and castles, and this spontaneous visit made my day! I decided to spend the last couple of days of 2023 in Poreč. I didn’t plan on taking any photos, but I did, which makes me really happy! After photographing Poreč on the last day of 2023, I saw that I had some spare time and the weather wasn’t as bad as I expected (the weather forecast showed rain), I decided to drive to Dvigrad and see this place.

A week before the visit, I didn’t even know this place existed, so it was a spontaneous visit. After I got there, I was amazed how it looked like! It is an amazing place, and the best description is that it is like an open-air museum.

I think it would be even better if it was taken care of. Walking around the ruins is dangerous, but it is worth it if you like history. But please, be careful!

Let’s now see what the Internet says about this place.

Dvigrad, also known as Duecastelli or Docastelli in Italian, refers to the ruins of a medieval town situated in the Lim Valley near Kanfanar in Istria County, Croatia. These ruins are a significant historical and archaeological site and form a key part of the tourist offering of the municipality of Kanfanar.

The most intact remains are those of the town’s final phase, located on the Moncastello hill. Nearby, on the neighboring rocky outcrop of Castel Parentin, another fortress existed but was abandoned in the early Middle Ages.

Thanks to its exceptional strategic position, proximity to water sources, and fertile land, the area was inhabited since prehistoric times. Archaeological findings confirm the continuity of settlement in Dvigrad during the Roman period, including pottery, weapons, everyday items, coins, and epigraphic monuments. This settlement was part of the defense system of the northern border of the Pula ager. Traces of an ancient road leading from Pula through Bale and Dvigrad into the interior of Istria have been found beneath the walls of Dvigrad. After several bubonic plague epidemics in the late 6th and early 7th centuries, the area saw the first settlements of Slavic groups. Dvigrad is first mentioned in historical sources in 879 AD when the jurisdiction over the town’s church was transferred from the Pula bishopric to the Patriarchate of Aquileia. The patriarchs exerted their feudal powers over the town’s public and administrative life for several centuries. By the end of the 13th century, the Counts of Gorizia gained possession of Dvigrad, with the patriarch existing only as a nominal authority. The 13th century also saw a gradual change in the ethnic composition of the population, with a larger influx of Germanic people, but the Slavic ethnicity soon became dominant.

The influence of the Venetian Republic increased in the 14th century, but it only took administrative control in 1413 with the enactment of the Statute of the Dvigrad Commune, effectively ending the patriarch’s rule. Following a period of prosperity under Venetian rule, the late 14th century saw a new outbreak of the plague, followed by malaria in the early 16th century. Simultaneously, a new wave of refugees, mainly fleeing the Ottoman conquests from Zagora and Herzegovina, arrived. During the Uskok War between Venice and Austria, Dvigrad withstood a siege in 1615, but surrounding villages were destroyed. These conditions led to the gradual depopulation of the town, with only a few families remaining by the mid-17th century. The abandonment of the Church of St. Sophia in 1714 and the relocation of the parish to Kanfanar marked the definitive end of the castle.

The remains visible today represent the largest ruins of an urban settlement in Istria, offering a unique picture of a well-preserved typical medieval town or castle. The town was surrounded by double defensive walls, interconnected by three city gates. Inside the inner wall, there are three towers built in the 14th century. More than 200 buildings’ remnants and their communication routes are preserved within the walls.

The central and highest point of the settlement is dominated by the Church of St. Sophia. Research has identified several construction phases of the church. In its earliest, early Christian phase (second half of the 5th century), it was a single-nave building with a semi-circular apse. By the end of the 8th century, the sanctuary was expanded to include three semi-circular apses. Around the same time, the church was painted with frescoes, and later in the 9th and 10th centuries, a chapel (baptistery) and a bell tower were added on the south side. In the Romanesque period (13th century), it acquired its current appearance as a three-nave building with three semi-circular apses. A sacristy was added on the north side in the 14th century. The Gothic period added a hexagonal, relief-decorated pulpit (now in the parish church of St. Sylvester in Kanfanar).

In front of the church was the main town square, surrounded by significant buildings – the city palace on the east and spaces belonging to the chapter on the west. To the west of the basilica, a series of rooms related to the fortification system served as accommodation for the military garrison. The southwest part of the town was an artisan zone, while the rest was mainly residential areas. The late antique and early medieval cemetery associated with the settlement was located near the Church of St. Peter at Kacavanac, south of Dvigrad. A more recent cemetery, still in use, is located at the foot of the northern slope of Dvigrad, near the Church of St. Mary of Lakuć. This Romanesque building with a semi-circular apse and a gable on the façade is internally decorated with a cycle of frescoes by the Colorful Master (end of the 15th century).

The same artist also painted the Church of St. Anthony the Abbot, south of Dvigrad. In the medieval period, there were more than 20 churches in the Dvigrad area, of which only a few have been preserved. The Romanesque Chapel of St. Elijah, east of Dvigrad, underwent reconstruction in 1492. The Romanesque Church of St. Sixtus in Ladići, with its bell tower on the northwest corner, and the ruins of the early Christian Church of St. Just north of Ladići are also notable. The early Romanesque Church of St. Agatha between Vidulin and Kanfanar, with a polygonal protruding apse and preserved fresco remnants, and the remains of the Romanesque Church of St. James, near which the boundary between the territories of Dvigrad and Žminj passed, are significant. The Benedictines played an important role in the history of Dvigrad, beginning their activities in the area in the second half of the 10th century. In addition to building several monasteries, including the most important St. Petronila, they revitalized the area by cultivating abandoned lands. The ruins of the monastic church are located along the road to Kanfanar. It is a single-nave building with a protruding rectangular apse and pilasters on the outer wall. The foundations also preserve the Church of St. Peter in Chains at Fratrija on Ulišićeva Stancija south of Barat, a rare example of Romanesque churches with three semi-circular protruding apses.

Check the Showcase page of the Dvigrad Fortress by clicking HERE.


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