This four-part series details the four stops on our Istrian day trip. Our adventure through Istria included Truffle hunting and sampling, Istrian Brandy processing and sipping, visting Motovun, hilltop town, and visiting Porec, seaside town. It was a day full of new tastes, sights and experiences.
The colorful and glittering mosaic in the apse above the altar immediately drew my attention when we entered into the vast interior of the Euphrasian Basilica. I struggled to contemplate how in nearly 1500 years of time, under different rulers and at war, this Byzantine work of art is still intact.
The final stop on our Istrian day trip was visiting Porec, a coastal town north of Rovinj, Croatia. Our guide, Adriano, led us through the streets, sharing the history and stories of his hometown. Like so many of the shoreline towns in Istria, Porec resides on a peninsula, has remnants of a range of rulers and, today, relies on tourism, agriculture and fishing. Swimming in the award-winning clean waters of the three lagoons – Green, Blue and White Bay – attracts the holidaying type, but we were interested in the history of Porec and the Euphrasian Basilica.
Porec isn’t as compact as Rovinj or as preserved as Pula, due in most part to it being bombed 34 times during World War II, destroying homes, but creating parks. The historical center of the town was at one time protected with 11 towers, but most of them have been deconstructed, the stones being repurposed into other buildings. Liberty Square, the main town square, features a modern work of art, but is also houses the gathering place for the large Italian community, still prevalent in Porec.
Euphrasian Basilica in Porec
The Euphrasian Basilica is the centerpiece of historical remains in Porec, most of it dating back to the 4th, 5th, and 6th centuries. We entered the complex under an arch decorated in mosaic art, which reads, “I am the gate; he who passes will be saved,” but learned that it wasn’t constructed until 1902, which Adriano tells us in “brand new,” with a wink and a smile.
Before entering into the church, we walked through the courtyard into the baptistery. The room featured pieces of mosaic art and in the center was the in-ground baptismal font, which most likely pre-dates the church. From the doorway, we could see the church façade. Mosaics cover the middle portion, the details of meaning lost, but nothing exists from the upper portion, which is thought to have been a scene of The Last Supper.
Rounding the corner, we entered the Bishop’s Palace, used as the bishop’s residence from the year 504 until just 20 years ago. Restoration is underway to bring the building back to its original state and it now houses artifacts from the region.
Ceremonial dress, various artwork and life-size crucifixes fill the rooms. When a crucifix was commissioned, the artist could depict Jesus as still being alive or deceased. Some works were originally crafted with Jesus as alive, but then later altered (cut the wood at the right knee and cross it over the left ankle, cut the wood at the neck and angle the head downward) to show Christ in death.
Three separate churches were built over the 4th, 5th and 6th centuries, part of each previous church incorporated into the new. The use of floor mosaics date back to the 4th century, with an astounding number of pieces still complete. A replica floor of the first church has been installed in the courtyard (where the church once stood) and the remaining pieces put on display indoors. The early art was simple, often in black and white and funded by (and attributed to) members of the church. The bigger the donation, the bigger the mosaic. The idea reminded me of the bricks we see at the entrance to many university sports stadiums today.
After wandering through what is left of the previous churches, we finally entered the basilica through the side door. Named the Euphrasian Basilica for the bishop (who was not a saint), the 6th century church is dedicated to the Virgin Mary. In the apse behind the altar is the most elaborate and vibrant mosaic work that remains.
At the top, Jesus is surrounded by the 12 Apostles. Below, Mary is featured in the middle, with baby Jesus on her lap, surrounded by angels, martyrs and Bishop Euphrasian holding the basilica in his arm. On the right side, a mosaic illustrates the story of when Mary visits Elizabeth (of which 84% remains original) and on the left, shows the story of Angel Gabriel visiting Mary.
Surviving earthquakes and wars, the church has undergone little change since it was originally constructed. Structural reinforcements enhance the left side arches (added post-earthquake) and the heavily decorated canopy of the ciborium was added in 1277, but the marble pillars are 6th century original.
We want to know: Have you visited Porec, Croatia? What did you like best about the town? Do you like visiting ancient churches, like the Euphrasian Basilica? Let us know in the comments below!
To book Adriano as your tour guide in Porec, you can reach him by phone (098 258 609) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org).