So, let’s set off on a tour of some of Pula’s fortifications.
Pula, the city with a three-thousand-year-old history, is world famous for its valuable cultural and historic monuments. Some of these renowned sights are the Arena, sixth largest in the world or Twin Gates, the Temple of Augustus, the well-preserved Roman Forum or the Communal Palace. However, not as much information is known about the impressive heritage of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy dating from the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, undoubtedly a real cultural and historic treasure. In fact, this refers to entire Pula, which from 1820 to 1916 was being architecturally shaped as a fortified town. Once the major naval port of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy Pula, together with its surroundings, has kept for over a century 26 magnificent forts or fortifications, as well as 8 artillery batteries, about 60 batteries, trenches, underground tunnels and many other points of interest. The outer ring of Pula’s fortifications covers an area of 40,000 hectares and according to legend all forts were interconnected by a network of underground tunnels. Especially interesting is the story according to which Fort Marie Louise at Muzil was connected with the fort on the Brijuni islands by an underwater tunnel.
Pula’s fortifications were designed to defend the city from possible attacks from the sea and were built to resist every possible attack – for this reason they were mostly circular or ring-like so that shells could rebound off the walls. They were all built at excellent locations, mostly lookouts that even today offer a magnificent view.
The fortifications of Pula and its surroundings were never used for a specific attack and defense of the city, although according to some sources, in 1915 Pula’s garrison consisted of as many as 1,410 officers and over 51 thousand soldiers. Owing to the fact that the forts were never attacked from the sea, today Pula has a completely preserved significant fortification complex. It is gradually being revitalized thanks to enthusiasts and in the future it will surely gain even greater importance. Today, these forts are assuming a new role adapted to the needs of today’s society.
So, let’s set off on a tour of some of Pula’s fortifications.
Monsival is a hill situated in the tourist part of Pula, with Fort Bourguignon, originally called Fort Monsival on the very hilltop. It was built from 1861 to 1866 as a circular, two-story structure with a small circular courtyard in the center.
Fort Bourguignon, which was named after the first commander of the Arsenal, Belgian count in service of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, is an excellent example of how Austrian forts can be adapted for culture and entertainment without interfering with construction, architectural and monumental values. Over the recent years a number of concerts, performances and electronic music parties have been organized in this fort. Even if you are not interested in any of these events, and you happen to be at Zlatne stijene, famous for its tourist villas and apartments overlooking the wonderful beach, take a walk up to Monsival hill, walk along the passages of Fort Bourguignon and enjoy the magnificent view from this fortress.
On Verudela peninsula, famous for its excellent hotels and tourist resort that attract a large number of tourists, lies Fort Verudela. Just like all other fortifications in Pula, it was built from 1881 to 1886. It belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy until 1918, when it came into the hands of the Italian armed forces. Unfortunately, it lost its characteristic appearance then, because all metal objects were removed from the fort, together with its grandiose cannons. After the collapse of Italian rule the fort was used by the German armed forces, and after 1945 the fort became the property of the Yugoslav National Army. In 1950, when the Army realized that it did not need this fort anymore, it was handed over to the City of Pula, which then gave it to a tourist company that opened several shops, hairdresser, catering facility and discotheque in its premises. Much later, in 2002 the fort was taken over by Aquarium Pula, which owing to its interesting contents, is surely a must-see while visiting Pula. The specimens of the Aquarium are displayed in some 50 tanks on the ground floor, moat and the first floor of Fort Verudela. While visiting the Aquarium, it is also possible to visit the fortress with preserved chambers and tunnels, photo exhibition of Pula’s forts, as well as the exhibition of works of the International workshop on fortification architecture. Just as interesting are the tropical saltwater and freshwater fish, fish from European rivers and lakes that have found their new habitat in Pula, right by the sea. An interesting feature is also the Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Center dedicated to the rehabilitation and release of sick and injured turtles.
The fortification Casoni Vecchi or Fort Monteparadiso was built on Vidikovac long before the largest residential complex with over a thousand apartments was constructed here in 1978. Naturally, this fortification was built by the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy in 1853 to protect its main naval port. The fortification has 16 casemates, only one of which did not serve as a cannon position. At the back the fort was also equipped for hand to hand fighting, whereas two bascule bridges and the surrounding ditch made it impossible to conquer. However, this fort was “conquered” in 1992 by a group of young people, who then founded the association “Monteparadiso”. At the time they probably did not even dream of being remembered as one of the most impressive associations of Pula’s underground scene. In August 1992 the first Monteparadiso Festival was held here, which then turned into one of the most long-lived hardcore punk festivals that brought Pula to the very center of European sub-culture events. The Festival continued to be held here until 2000, after which it moved to the ex-barracks Rojc. During the seventeen years of its activities, “Monteparadiso” has realized numerous projects and has become a center supporting the independent non-institutional and non-profit scene. Last September the fort was host to a number of young demo bands and for many of them it was their first public appearance.
Fort Punta Christo was built at the end of the 19th century by the Austrians to defend their main naval port. Situated at 45 meters above sea level, it offers a breathtaking view of the entrance to the Bay of Pula, its breakwater, as well as Muzil and Brijuni on the other side. The fortress is surrounded by a deep ditch and there are three entrances leading to the fort. Inside the fort are three courtyards through which you can enter the underground areas of this magnificent structure. The fortress has as many as 270 spaces, covering an area of over 10,000 m2. Thanks to a group of enthusiasts of the “Punta Christo” association, the fortification was cleaned so that various programs could be organized. The most recent one was Halloween party. During the summer it is the venue for cultural programs, concerts, exhibitions… If you are in the vicinity of Fort Punta Christo, don’t miss one of the most beautiful fortifications of Pula.
Fort San Giorgio or St. George fortification is situated on Monte Ghiro hill, close to the Pula cemetery. Just like many other fortifications, it is a circular structure made of stone, measuring about 35 meters in diameter with a circular courtyard and cistern in the middle. This fort offers an interesting and unusual view of the city.
In the vicinity of the Arena, on Monvidal hill lies the fortress of the same name, which after the Austrian rule changed its original defensive function several times. After the military left Fort Monvidal at the end of the 1960s, for some time it was used as a bookshop storehouse, then its premises were used by a plastic products maker. An interesting fact is that it was even a night bar at one time. The stonemason’s workshop of the Valle family that worked on many other structures in Pula participated in the building of Fort Monvidal. They also helped repair the caved in arch of the Arena.
Another interesting fact about this fortification is that although the view it offers is not as stunning as that from other fortresses, if you are arriving in Pula with children, an ideal place for them is the well-equipped children’s playground in the outer courtyard of Fort Monvidal.
Within the General Hospital complex is Fort San Michele which is today used as the hospital storehouse.
Fort Stoja is situated on the peninsula of the same name, and just like many other fortifications it was built by Austria in 1884. It served as a defensive fort when approaching Pula’s harbor from the south and was surrounded by a defensive ditch. An interesting fact is that it has no definite dimensions and is marked with numerous round concrete blocks.
The Muzil peninsula, which was for many years strictly used by the military, conceals Fort Marie Louise, a fortification not many people know about. It was built at an extremely significant strategic position, in order to defend and protect the anchorage of the main naval port of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, so it is one of the largest fortifications of this type in the Adriatic and beyond. Last summer the International Congress of Architects was held here, but Fort Marie Louise, situated at 48 meters above sea level still awaits to be discovered.