According to legend, Pula was founded by the Colchians, who pursued the Argonauts here after the latter had stolen the Golden Fleece.The prosaic truth is that Pula began life as a minor Illyrian settlement,

and there's not much evidence of a significant town here until the arrival of the Romans, who transformed Pula into an important commercial centre endowed with all the imperial trimmings - temples, theatres and triumphal arches - appropriate to its status. The chief reminder of Roman times is the immense amphitheatre (amfiteatar or arena; daily: summer 8am-8pm, winter 9am-5pm), just north of the centre, a huge grey skein of connecting arches whose silhouette dominates the city skyline. Built towards the end of the first century BC, it's the sixth largest amphitheatre in the world, with space for 22,000 spectators, although why such a capacious theatre was built in a small Roman town of only 5000 inhabitants has never been properly explained.

The outer shell is remarkably complete, although only a small part of the seating remains anything like intact, and the interior tiers and galleries were long ago quarried by locals, who used the soft limestone to build their own houses. It's lucky, in fact, that the amphitheatre survives here at all. Overcome by enthusiasm for Classical antiquities, the sixteenth-century Venetian authorities planned to dismantle the whole lot and reassemble it piece by piece in their own city, until dissuaded by one of their more enlightened patricians, Pula-born Gabriele Emo. His gallant stand is remembered by a plaque on one of the towers, the slightly hair-raising climb up which (the steps are sometimes barred to discourage suicides) gives a good sense of the vastness of the structure and a view of Pula's industrious harbour.You can also explore some of the cavernous rooms underneath, which would have been used for keeping wild animals and Christians before they met their deaths. They're now given over to piles of crusty amphorae, reconstructed olive presses and other lacklustre exhibits.


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