I’ve always been in awe of the grandeur and expanse of the Roman Empire. At its peak, it ruled over much of Europe, North Africa and Western Asia. An empire that stretched from Great Britain to the Middle East. There may have been bigger, longer-lasting empires but in my book, the Roman Empire’s mark in our history, art and culture strikes a special element of sentimentality and psyche. Think gladiators in those Roman Colosseos! (And the hedonists in the Roman Baths too) Years ago, I thought there was only one — that grand colosseum in Rome, Italy. Until I found similar, though lesser-sized amphitheaters in Verona (Italy), in Arles (France), in Pompeii (Italy), the Roman Theatre in Pamukkale (Turkey), in Nimes (France), in Ephesus (Turkey), Caesaria (Israel), and surprisingly, a well-preserved Greco-Roman amphitheater in Aphrodisias, Turkey. So very, very impressive. Oh, Caesar!

Pula Arena or Amphitheater

Worldโ€™s 6th Largest Amphitheater

The amphitheater in Pula is one of the oldest and best-preserved. Pula credits this Roman heritage for putting this Croatian city on the tourist map. It is said that as many as 25,000 spectators can be seated here back in its prime. For what? Gladiator combats of course — that most cruel ancient game. Built around the same time (1st century AD) as that in Nimes, both can house the same capacity crowd which is really just half of the capacity of Roman Colosseo. Nevertheless, the Pula Colosseum remains very impressive. Still used these days as a default place for concerts and other festivities, it is also the city’s best attraction and activity place. The Old Town is right behind it, and promises more attractions.

Visible is the Church of St. Anthony past the Arena

Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Pula Cathedral

The Roman amphitheater is right along the coast, where seafood restaurants, souvenir shops and a busy marina are. We took a long table with a view of the marina in a seafood trattoria before we did any sightseeing. Need all that energy as the midday sun was bearing down on us and sapping us of our last bars of energy. The squids were very fresh, and the beers paired well with the steaks. Except that one of the steaks was well-done versus how we ordered it — medium rare. Hmmmm, still a good source of the protein we needed on that hot, sunny day. And for good measure (and to up our supply of potassium), we had our fill of Swiss Chard. Without risking being branded as pesky tourists, we politely complained over our steak doneness only after we paid the bill and got ready to leave. Bravo to patient diners!

Order your seafood!

Lunch done, we took the road to the Town Square in search of the Temple of Augustus Caesar, the 1st Emperor of the Roman Empire. Likely it was built during his lifetime, when Pula was still known by its Roman name: Pola. It is only a reconstruction of the original since the Roman monument was bombed and destroyed during WW2. Now a museum, some ancient Roman sculptures are housed inside. Right beside the Roman Temple is the City Hall housed in a 13th century former palace with both Gothic and also Renaissance features. Both are within the same Forum Square or Forum Romano, making up the “Little Rome” in Croatia. Tracing our way back to the Amphitheater, we stopped for some gelatos and took a break in front of the Pula Cathedral which also faces the Marina. The Cathedral’s early 18th century belfry is unique, and distinct in that it was built from blocks removed from the famous Pula Arena. Who’s to say why they did that? Perhaps they found it more meaningful to build a Cathedral using antique pieces from that part of the city’s Roman history.

Temple of Augustus Caesar

Pula City Hall

Rounding up the entire Colosseo, we chanced upon the Church of Saint Anthony from where there is a vantage point of this Roman antiquity. Pula is fortunate to house the world’s 6th largest surviving colosseum. It is now used for open-air concerts, ballet, sports events, opera and the film festival especially during the summer months. As it was summer, the mood was festive around the Arena. The wharf looked busy with yachts and small boats, the Arena was surrounded by vendors selling ceramic souvenirs, and the seafront restaurants and those around the town square were doing brisk business. We liked the vibe here. But it was our hottest day on this trip. After rounding up the Colosseo, we were eager to go back to our air conditioned vans to escape the summer heat. No amount of gelato would convince me to walk further in search of the Twin Gates, Hercules Gate and some other Roman monuments and ruins. The Arena, The Temple, Cathedral, Forum Square and City Hall Palace meet our day’s quota of history lessons. Enough already. ๐Ÿ™„

St. Anthony Church

Inside St. Anthony Church