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Istria (Croatian, Slovene: Istra, Istrian Slovenian dialect: Jistra, Čakavian: Istrija, Jistra, Croatian pronunciation: [îstra]; German: Istrien; Italian: Istria; Istriot: Eîstria), formerly Histria (Latin), is the largest peninsula in the Adriatic Sea. The peninsula is located at the head of the Adriatic between the Gulf of Trieste and the Bay of Kvarner. It is shared by three countries: Croatia, Slovenia, and Italy.
The geographical features of Istria include the Učka mountain ridge, which is the highest portion of the Ćićarija mountain range; the rivers Dragonja, Mirna, Pazinčica, and Raša; and the Lim bay and valley. Istria lies in three countries: Croatia, Slovenia and Italy. By far the largest portion (89%) lies in Croatia. "Croatian Istria" is divided into two counties, the larger being Istria County in western Croatia. Important towns in Istria County include Pula, Poreč, Rovinj, Pazin, Labin, Umag, Motovun, Buzet, and Buje. Smaller towns in Istria County include Višnjan, Roč, and Hum.
The northwestern part of Istria lies in Slovenia: it is known as Slovenian Istria, and includes the coastal municipalities of Piran, Izola and Koper, and the Karstic municipality of Hrpelje-Kozina. Northwards of Slovenian Istria, there is a tiny portion of the peninsula that lies in Italy. This smallest portion of Istria consists of the comunes of Muggia and San Dorligo della Valle, with the place of Santa Croce (Trieste) most to the north.
The ancient region of Histria extended over a much wider area, including the whole Kras plateau until the southern edges of the Vipava Valley, the southwestern portions of modern Inner Carniola with Postojna and Ilirska Bistrica, and the modern Italian Province of Trieste, but not the Liburnian coast which was already part of Illyricum.
The name is derived from the Castellieri culture tribes of the Histri (Greek: Ιστρών έθνος), which Strabo refers to as living in the region. The Histri are classified in some sources as a "Venetic" Illyrian tribe, with certain linguistic differences from other Illyrians. The Romans described the Histri as a fierce tribe of pirates, protected by the difficult navigation of their rocky coasts. It took two military campaigns for the Romans to finally subdue them in 177 BCE. The region was then called together with the Venetian part the X. Roman Region of "Venetia et Histria", the ancient definition of the northeastern border of Italy. Dante Alighieri refers to it as well, the eastern border of Italy per ancient definition is the river Arsia. The eastern side of this river was settled by people whose culture was different than Histrians. Earlier influence of the Iapodes was attested there, while at some time between the 4th and 1st century BC, the Liburnians extended their territory and it became a part of Liburnia. On the northern side, Histria went much further north and included the Italian city of Trieste.
Some scholars speculate that the names Histri and Istria are related to the Latin name Hister, or Danube. Ancient folktales reported—inaccurately—that the Danube split in two or "bifurcated" and came to the sea near Trieste as well as at the Black Sea. The story of the "Bifurcation of the Danube" is part of the Argonaut legend. There is also a suspected link (but no historical documentation is available) to the commune of Istria in Constanţa, Romania.
After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the region was pillaged by the Goths, the Eastern Roman Empire, and the Avars. It was subsequently annexed to the Lombard Kingdom in 751, and then annexed to the Frankish kingdom by Pippin III in 789. In 799, on the border between Dalmatian Croatia and Carolingian Empire, there was a Siege of Trsat, where in a Croatian victory, Frankish commander Eric of Friuli was killed. In 804, the Placitum of Riziano was held in the Parish of Rižan (Latin: Risanum), which was a meeting between the representatives of Istrian towns and castles and the deputies of Charlemagne and his son Pepin. The report about this judicial diet illustrates the changes accompanying the transfer of power from the Eastern Roman Empire to the Carolingian Empire and the discontent of the local residents.
Afterwards it was successively controlled by the dukes of Carantania, Merania, Bavaria and by the patriarch of Aquileia, before it became the territory of the Republic of Venice in 1267. The medieval Croatian kingdom held only the far eastern part of Istria (the border was near the river Raša), but they lost it to the Holy Roman Empire in the late 11th century.
The coastal areas and cities of Istria came under Venetian Influence in the 9th century. On 15 February 1267, Parenzo was formally incorporated with the Venetian state. Other coastal towns followed shortly thereafter. Bajamonte Tiepolo was sent away from Venice in 1310, to start a new life in Istria after his downfall.
The Inner Istrian part around Mitterburg (Pazin), had been held for centuries by the Holy Roman Empire. In 1797, with the Treaty of Campo Formio, the Venetian parts of the peninsula also passed to the Holy Roman Empire.
The Holy Roman Empire ended with the period of Napoleonic rule from 1806 to 1813, when Istria became part of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy (1806–1810) after the Peace of Pressburg, and then part of the Illyrian provinces of the French Empire (1810–1813) after the Treaty of Paris.
After this short period, the newly established Austrian Empire ruled Istria as the "Küstenland", which included the city of Trieste and Gorizia in Friuli until 1918. At that time the borders of Istria included a part of what is now Italian Venezia-Giulia and parts of modern-day Slovenia and Croatia, but not the city of Trieste.
After World War I and the dissolution of Austria-Hungary, Istria was given to Italy. After the advent of Fascism, the portions of the Istrian population that were Croatian and Slovene were exposed to a policy of forced Italianization and cultural suppression. They lost their right to education and religious practice in their mother tongue. The organization TIGR, founded in 1927 by young Slovene liberal nationalists from Gorizia region and Trieste and regarded as the first armed antifascist resistance group in Europe, soon penetrated into Slovene and Croatian-speaking parts of Istria.
Since World War II, the term "foiba" (sinkhole) has been commonly associated with the mass killings perpetrated by local and Yugoslav partisans during and shortly after the war. These were directed mainly against native Italians, but sometimes even against other real or perceived enemies of the incoming Tito communists. One famous case of the complained Ethnic cleansing of Italians (in Istria and Dalmatia) is related to the rape and murder of Corsetto Norma, an Italian girl of western Istria, in October 1943: the Foibe where she was thrown alive is near Pirano, in northwestern Istria. Other foibe were found nearby, with other Italian girls murdered (like Albina Radecchi, Caterina Radecchi, Fosca Radecchi and Amalia Ardossi)
However, sometimes such usage of the foibe was known to have been in practice by the Ustaše regime during late World War II, in particular at the foiba of Pazin (Pisino), now called "Pazinska jama". Another example of a foibe being used by the communist Partisans as a mass grave for their perceived enemies, many of them civilians, including women and elderly is Kevina jama near Kastela in Dalmatia. In the latter case, it was not ethnic cleansing as both perpetrators and victims were mostly Croats, but a case of dealing with alleged collaborators with the Italians, non-Communists and land owners, whose assets were meant to be confiscated by individuals partisans after their demise.
After the end of World War II, Istria was included into Yugoslavia, except for a small part in the northwest corner that formed Zone B of the provisionally independent Free Territory of Trieste; Zone B was under Yugoslav administration and after the de facto dissolution of the Free Territory in 1954 it was also incorporated into Yugoslavia. Only the small town of Muggia, near Trieste, being part of Zone A remained with Italy.
The events of that period are visible in Pula. The city had an Italian majority, and is located on the southernmost tip of the Istrian peninsula. Between December 1946 and September 1947, a large proportion of the city's inhabitants were forced to emigrate to Italy. Most of them left in the immediate aftermath of the signing of the Paris Peace Treaty on February 10, 1947, which granted Pula to Yugoslavia.
The division of Istria between Croatia and Slovenia runs on the former republic borders, which were not precisely defined in the former Yugoslavia. Various points of contention remain unresolved between the two countries regarding the precise line of the border. It became an international boundary with the independence of both countries from Yugoslavia in 1991. Since Croatia's first multi-party elections in 1990, the regional party Istrian Democratic Assembly (IDS-DDI, Istarski demokratski sabor or Dieta democratica istriana) has consistently received a majority of the vote and maintained through the 1990s a position often contrary to the government in Zagreb, led by the then nationalistic party Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ, Hrvatska demokratska zajednica), with regards to decentralization in Croatia and certain regional autonomy. However, that changed in 2000, when the IDS formed with five other parties a left-centre coalition government, led by the Social Democratic Party of Croatia (SDP, Socijaldemokratska Partija Hrvatske). After the reformed HDZ won the Croatian parliamentary elections in late 2003 and formed a minority government, the IDS has cooperated with the state government on many projects, both local (in Istria County) and national. Since Slovenia's accession to the European Union and the Schengen Area, customs and immigration checks have been abolished at the Italian-Slovenian border.
The region has traditionally been ethnically mixed. Under Austrian rule in the 19th century, it included a large population of Italians, Croats, Slovenes and some Vlachs/Istro-Romanians, Serbs and Montenegrins; however, official statistics in those times did not show those nationalities as they do today.
In 1910, the ethnic and linguistic composition was completely mixed. According to the Austrian census results (Istria included here parts of the Karst and Liburnia which are not really part of Istria and excluded ancient Istrian parts, like Trieste), out of 404,309 inhabitants in Istria, 168,116 (41.6%) spoke Croatian, 147,416 (36.5%) spoke Italian, 55,365 (13.7%) spoke Slovene, 13,279 (3.3%) spoke German, 882 (0.2%) spoke Romanian, 2,116 (0.5%) spoke other languages and 17,135 (4.2%) were non-citizens, which had not been asked for their language of communication. During the last decades of the Habsburg dynasty the coast of Istria profited from tourism within the Empire. Generally speaking, Italians lived on the coast and in the inland cities of northern Istria, while Croats and Slovenes lived in the eastern and southeastern inland parts of the countryside.
In the second half of the 19th century a clash of new ideological movements, Italian irredentism (which claimed Trieste and Istria) and Slovene and Croatian nationalism (developing individual identities in some quarters while seeking to unite in a Southern Slav identity in others), resulted in growing ethnic conflict between Italians on one side and Slovenes and Croats on the other side. This was intertwined with class conflict, as inhabitants of Istrian towns were mostly Italian, while Croats and Slovenes largely lived out in the eastern countryside.
There is a long tradition of tolerance among the people who live in Istria, regardless of their nationality, and although many Istrians today are ethnic Croats, a strong regional identity has existed over the years. The Croatian word for the Istrians is Istrani, or Istrijani, the latter being in the local Chakavian dialect. The term Istrani is also used in Slovenia. Today the Italian minority is organized in many towns and consists officially of around 45.000 inhabitants. The Istrian county in Croatia is bilingual, as are large parts of Slovenian Istria. Every citizen has the right to speak either Italian or Croatian (Slovene in Slovenian Istria) in public administration or in court. Furthermore, Istria is a supranational European Region that includes Italian, Slovenian and Croatian Istria.
As with many other regions in former Yugoslavia, common concepts about ethnicity and nationality fail when applied to Istria. Discussions about Istrian ethnicity often use the words "Italian," "Croatian" and "Slovene" to describe the character of Istrian people. However, these terms are best understood as "national affiliations" that may exist in combination with or independently of linguistic, cultural and historical attributes.
In the Istrian context, for example, the word "Italian" can just as easily refer to autochthonous speakers of the Venetian language whose antecedents in the region extend before the inception of the Venetian Republic or to the Istriot language the oldest spoken language in Istria, dated back to the Romans, today spoken in the southwest of Istria. It can also refer to Istrian Croats who adopted the veneer of Italian culture as they moved from rural to urban areas, or from the farms into the bourgeoisie.
Similarly, national powers claim Istrian Croats according to local language, so that speakers of Čakavian and Štokavian dialects of the Croatian language are considered to be Croatians, while speakers of other dialects may be considered to be Slovene. Those Croatian dialect speakers are descendants of the refugees of the Turkish invasion and Ottoman Empire of Bosnia and Dalmatia in the 16th century. The government of the Republic of Venice had settled them in Inner Istria, which had been devastated by wars and plague. Many villages have the Morlachian name like Katun. As with other regions, the local dialects of the Croatian communities vary greatly across close distances. The Istrian Croatian and Italian vernaculars had both developed for many generations before being divided as they are today. This meant that Croats/Slovenes on the one side and Venetians/other Italians on the other side yielded to each other culturally while simultaneously distancing themselves from members of their ethnic groups living farther away. Another important Istrian community are the Istro-Romanians in the east and north of Istria (Ćićarija) and parts of neighbouring Liburnia (the east coast of the peninsula, called Liburnia, is part of historic Istria). A small Albanian community, which until the late 19th century spoke the Istrian Albanian dialect, is also present in the peninsula.
According to the 2011 Croatian census data for the Istria County, 68,33% of the inhabitants were Croats, 6,03% were Italians, 3,46% were Serbs, 2,95% were Bosnians, 1,15% were Albanians, and 1,96% did not want to state their nationality. Those declaring themselves regionally as Istrians made up 12,11%. Other nationalities had less than 1% each. (Population according to ethnicity by towns/municipalities)
The data for Slovenian Istria is not as neatly organized, but the 2002 Slovenian census indicates that the three Istrian municipalities (Izola, Piran, Koper) had a total of 56,482 Slovenes, 6,426 Croats and 1,840 Italians.
The small town of Peroj has had a unique history which exemplifies the multi-ethnic complexity of the history of the region, as do some towns on both sides of the Cicarija mountains that are still identified with the Istro-Romanian people which the UNESCO Redbook of Endangered Languages calls "the smallest ethnic group in Europe".
Aerial picture of Pula (Croatia)
The promenade of Poreč (Croatia)
Rovinj, as seen from the bell tower of the church of Saint Eufemia (Croatia)
Lim canal (Croatia)
old town of Piran (Slovenia)
Port in Muggia (Italy)
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