the ruins of dvigrad : istria

If we take the motorway south, to Pula, through the Istrian peninsula, about halfway down, we cross a high road bridge. From this vantage point, nestled amidst the lush countryside, it is possible to catch glimpses of the hauntingly beautiful ruins of Dvigrad – meaning Two Towns –  a place which seems have been frozen in time, and full of mystical ambiance and stories of the past. The site consists of the remains of two towns, Moncastello and Castel Parentino.

Once a bustling medieval town, Dvigrad’s origins go back to the 2nd century BC when it was established by the Illyrians. However, it was during the Middle Ages that Dvigrad reached its peak, becoming a significant political and cultural centre in Istria. With its high, prominent, strategic location, overlooking the verdant landscape, Dvigrad thrived as a fortified settlement. In the 12th century, Dvigrad fell under the rule of the Aquileian patriarchs, marking a period of prosperity and growth. The town flourished under their patronage, witnessing the construction of grand churches, palaces, and fortified walls that reinforced its importance as a regional power. In the 14th century, the town came under Venetian control, which brought further economic and architectural development.At its peak, Dvigrad was a beacon of civilization, a hub of trade and intellectual exchange that attracted merchants, artisans, and scholars from far and wide. However, Dvigrad’s prosperity was not to last. In the 17th century, the town faced a series of calamities, including outbreaks of disease and invasions by foreign forces. The once-thriving streets grew silent as residents fled, seeking refuge from the chaos that engulfed the town. By the end of the century, Dvigrad lay abandoned, its glory days fading into memory.

Like a tiny version of Pompeii or Herculaneum, many fortified structures are still visible. The ruins include the remains of defensive walls, towers, and gates, showcasing typical medieval fortification techniques.However, one of the most notable structures is the Church of St. Sophia, a 9th-century basilica that was the religious center of the town. There can also be seen the remains of various residential buildings, streets, and communal spaces give insight into the daily life of the medieval inhabitants.

Despite its decline, Dvigrad has never truly been forgotten. In recent years, the ruins have captured the imagination of adventurers and history enthusiasts alike, drawing visitors who come to explore its crumbling walls and unravel its mysteries. As you wander through its labyrinthine streets and moss-covered ruins, you can’t help but feel a sense of awe, and a desire to delve deeper into its rich tapestry of history and legend. In a world where time rushes ever forward, Dvigrad reminds us to pause, to reflect, and to cherish the echoes of the past that linger in the present. Today, Dvigrad is an important site for archaeologists and historians studying medieval Istria, and occasionally, cultural events and festivals are held at the site, celebrating its historical significance.

Although declared a cultural heritage site in 1997, Dvigrad is still not a magnet for mass tourism, especially out of season. It can be tricky to get to, there are no entrance fees, nothing is sectioned off, there is no gift shop. In fact, there is nothing, apart from the ruins. And often, no other people apart from yourself. If disappearing down a historical and architectural rabbit hole is what you like, then if you ever find yourself near the Draga Valley, in central Istria, a trip to this very magical place should be on your agenda.

Published on 16th May 2024