The Archaeological Landscape in a                                     Sustainable Development of Cultural Tourism           in the Municipality of Vrsar

The project is funded by:

                                       Image result for općina vrsar logo                             Image result for vrsar tourist board logo                          Related image

 Croatian Science Foundation    Vrsar Municipality         Vrsar Tourist Board                Maistra d.d.


Project duration: 15 January 2018 - 14 January 2021
Financing: 3,000,000 kn

Principal InvestigatorRobert Matijašić, CIRLA, Faculty of Humanities, Juraj Dobrila University of Pula

The project is based on the collection, analysis and systematization of data on archaeological sites in the Municipality of Vrsar, and their use in making plans and developing the concept of cultural tourism development in the Municipality. Its objectives include the identification and analysis of archaeological heritage on the basis of known data, field research (field survey and probing of selected sites), analysis of cartography, aerial photographs in available and applicable techniques and formats; the determination of the quality of preservation of the archaeological record with the definition of the presentation and research potential of single sites; the preservation of archaeological heritage and landscape that will be used in the conception of a system of continuous monitoring; the valorisation of archaeological heritage in the economic development context; the implementation of opinion survey among local residents, professionals and tourists on cultural, in particular archaeological heritage; the application of research results in the dissemination of the results for the purpose of raising awareness of cultural tourism through the creation of new ways of presenting heritage; the preparation of selected sites for presentation. The envisaged research methods are based on the classic archaeological techniques of identification, investigation and evaluation of archaeological sites (overview of the terrain, probing, analysis of archaeological material), modern archaeological techniques (use of aerial photographs, the opportunities provided by geoarchaeology), and include the use of modern information tools (GIS), prospection technologies (LIDAR), as well as the opinion survey and analysis of public attitudes on archaeological heritage and its importance in the development of cultural tourism.


Giovanni Boschian, Department of Biology, University of Pisa, Italy

Davor Bulić, CIRLA, Faculty of Humanities, Juraj Dobrila University of Pula

Katarina Gerometta, CIRLA, Faculty of Humanities, Juraj Dobrila University of Pula

Sara Popović, CIRLA, Faculty of Humanities, Juraj Dobrila University of Pula

Katarina Šprem, CIRLA, Faculty of Humanities, Juraj Dobrila University of Pula

Josip Višnjić, Division for Archaeological Heritage, Croatian Conservation Institute

Marko Uhač, Conservation Department in PulaMinistry of Culture of the Republic of Croatia

Nataša Urošević, Faculty of Interdisciplinary, Italian and Cultural Studies, Juraj Dobrila University of Pula

Nikola Vojnović, Faculty of Interdisciplinary, Italian and Cultural Studies, Juraj Dobrila University of Pula

Kristina Afrić Rakitovac, Faculty of Economics and Tourism "Dr. Mijo Mirković", Juraj Dobrila University of Pula

Vlasta Gortan, Vrsar Municipality

Tina Slamar, Vrsar Tourist Board

Sanda Bravar, Maistra d.d.

Ivan Gerometta, Scuba diving club Ugor

Roberto Gergeta, Scuba diving club Ugor

Maurizio Matukina, Scuba diving club Ugor

Anton Prekalj, Scuba diving club Ugor

Milorad Harašić, Scuba diving club Ugor

Antonio Ciceran, Speleoclub HAD Vrsar

Petra Pifar, Speleoclub HAD Vrsar

Dolores Matika, MA student, Department of Archaeology, University of Zadar


The territory of the Municipality of Vrsar was inhabited since the earliest prehistory (Paleolithic) and through all prehistoric and historical periods until today, when Vrsar has become one of the most important centres of istrian tourism. For that reason the collaboration of archaeology and tourism can be a good model for elaborating the possible forms of symbiosis, on which new paradigms for use in other historical-geographical and economic environments can be tested.

Although quite a lot of archaeological sites (or possible sites) are known on the territory of the Municipality of Vrsar, most of them have been identified during field surveys, or excavations connected with building and public utility infrastructure works, and only on a handful of sites test probes have been performed. The territory of the Municipality of Vrsar is a “blank patch” on the archaeological map of Istria, owing to the dense mediterranean maquis and dense forests that cover most of the area. This is the site of one of the biggest historical forests, Kontija, which had been under the direct administration of the Venetian Republic because it saw an important source of wood for shipbuilding. Archaeological sites are better known in the coastal areas between Funtana and the entrance into the Lim Bay, but prehistoric sites on the slopes of the Bay are also lately being researched.

The most famous archaeological site in the archaeological literature is the one in Vrsar Harbour, not far from the church of St. Mary (Sv. Marija od Mora, Neon), excavated by Mario Mirabella Roberti in ti 1930-ies (Mirabella Robert 1944a, 1944b). Althoug he interpreted it as a paleochristian site abandoned around the 6th -7th century, new analyses have shown that it is probably a Late Roman residential building. The mosaics, which Mirabella Robert considered paleochristian, are in fact Late Roman (Carre, Kovačić, Tassaux 2011, 260-265).

Life pulsated in the Vrsar harbour during the whole antiquity, which is testified by new researche conducted during recent years. In 2011 remains of an Early Roman building with mosaics were found, and in 2015 the Croatian Conservation Institute has excavated two trenches (3x3 m, 11x2,5 m) near -by, nearer to the coast of the harbour, within the same roman period complex. Among the finds were primarily roman pottery fragments and remains of walls, remains of a Late Roman tomb, remains of a multicoloured mosaic with geometrical motifs, as well as medieval and modern pottery fragments (Percan 2016).

An archaeological survey of the slopes of Lim Bay in 2007 showed the existence of a number of caves and semi-caves: three beneath the Kontija forest, four beneath the village of Kloštar, two near the Vrsar airfield (Komšo 2007, 267). In the meantime test trenches were oopened in the semi -caves of Abri Kontija and Lim 001 (Komšo 2008, 342), and the results showed that they are interesting examples of human presence in Late Upper Paleolithic, Late Mesolithic and Neolithic (Janković et al. 2016, 12-16), as well as in later historical periods. The last two sites were the object of research within the scientific project “Archaeololim”, financed by the Croatian Science Foundation (Archaeological Investigations into the Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene of the Lim Channel, Istria: 2014-2017) . As part of the project an underwater survey has been carried out, and it produced interesting results as a whole series of submerged caves and semi-caves has been found (Janković et al. 2016, 18-20), which is a potential for future research.

With population number increase nad social stratification, in the later prehistoric periods (Bronze and Iron Ages) the main settlement forms became hillforts (gradine, castellieri), fortified settlements on hilltops, of which an impressive number were found in Istria (some 240 certain and around 200 possible: Buršić-Matijaš ić 2007). In the course of times, hillforts of the Istrian peninsula were soon transformed from simple settlements into pre-urban and proto-urban ones, and life at most of them continued uninterrupted until the Roman conquest of the peninsula. There are prehistoric hillforts in the territory of the Vrsar Municipality (Montegon, Mukaba, San Giorgio Island, Gradina, Monte Ricco, Vrsar: Buršić-Matijašić 2007, 267-269, 281- 283), but none have been explored, so that a potential for future research is found in this field as well. A recently explored Bronze Age hillfort near the west coast is Monkodonja near Rovinj (Hänsel, Mihovilić and Teržan 2015) is a good example of an archaeological site well positioned in the context of a heritage – tourism symbiosis.

Another important feature in the archaeological prehistoric landscape of Istria are Bronze Age burial mounds: stone heaps which cover one or more skeletal graves, and usually grouped on hills not far from the settlement (hillfort). A good excavated example is again near Monkodonja, on the close-by hill of Mušego (Mon Sego), rappresenting the necropolis of the hillfort (Hänsel, Matošević, Mihovilić, Teržan 2007). In the Municipality of Vrsar there are several known examples of tumuli and groups of tumuli, but more lay undiscovered beneath the maquis and forest. Several are visible on the hills Veli Major and Kamenjak near Marasi, there are two such sites near Gradina (Milotić, Milotić, Sadrić 2013, 33-35; Sadrić 2013) and some around Mukaba.

The archaeological site of Monte Ricco (known also as Sv. Martin and Gavanov vrh) is a prehistoric Bronze Age hillfort, which has been settled again in the 1st century B.C., and it seems that an Iron Age necropolis has been destroyed in 1924 with the extension of the quarry on the western slopes of the hill (Matijašić 1988, 61-62; Matijaš ić 1994, 73; Matijašić 1998, 286 -288; Mihovilić 2013, 88-90). The Roman Age cistern on the top of the hill (three-naved, 16 x 7 m) shows the existence of a roman building of the villa rustica type, on the site of a prehistoric hilltop settlement, a rarity in itself, because generally in the roman period life moved from the high ground to sites closer to the sea and lowland agricultural areas.

At the present state of research, remains and traces of Roman rural villas can be foound along the western coast of the Municipality of Vrsar and in its immediate hinterland, but not one has been investigated. Signs of Roman buildings are visibile in the coast profile and on the beach in three places: Punta Scalo, Valcanella and Fojaga Bay (Carre, Kovač i ć, Tassaux 2011, 254-255), but their remains are today mostly destroyed, or they survice only in traces. In the course of the 20th century such traces have been noticed in Vrsar harbour, which is today completely built (Mirabella Roberti 1944b; Carre, Kovač i ć, Tassaux 2011, 256-260). During field surveys in 2015-2016 (unpublished) data on some other sites in the hinterland of the coast have been recorded.

Underwater exploration carried out along the Vrsar coast until now, underwater surveys (Kovačić 2002; Mihajlović, Čule 2009) showed the existence of remains of shipwrecks an d scattered finds of archaeological material in some places, but the data are not adequate to provide some concrete conclusions, although it should be assumed that the intensity of marine traffic in all historical periods was similar to much of the western coast of Istria. Remains of a shipwreck on a shallows near the entrance to Vrsar harbour, as well as fragments of tiles nad glazed pottery near the islet of Cavata ( Čavata), are two examples of underwater archaeological sites, and there are undoubtedly more of them.

In the Roman period the territory of the Municipality of Vrsar was part of the colonial ager of Parenium, which was established in the second half of the 1st century B.C., divided into even lots (centuriation) for distribution of land to the Roman citizens who came to establish the colony. The Colonia Iulia Parentium has been foounded around 45 B.C., but the process of organization of the land lasted for several decades, possibly to the end of the same century. The centuriation is well visible on cadastral maps and aerial photographs made sing varioous techniques and formats (Marchiori 2013, 111), but its visibility in the Vrsar area using traditional methods is insufficient, becaus the maquis and forests cover large portions of the territory. Nevertheless, ther is no doubt that the centuriation extended over the whole administrative territory of the Parentium colony and that the cadastral nets of the two neighbouring colonies (Parentium and Pola) were contiguous and identical in modular size and heading of the main lines.

The only early medieval site on the territory of the Municipality of Vrsar are the ruins of the abbey of St. Michael in the village of Kloštar (derived from lat. claustrum), said to have been established by Benedictine mons in the 10th century, but on the site of an older complex, as evidenced by a chapel dated to the 6th century, with a trilateral apse and a (destroyed) barrel vault with a flange on the ledges (Šonje 1959; Klen 1969). There are traces of frescoes on the walls of the chapel. The Romanesque single-naved church of St. Michael (11th century) has a protruding apse and quite well preserved frescoes, which are among the oldest surviving examples of fresco paintings in Istria (Demonja 1999). In 2015 the Croatian Conservation Institute carried out a test archaeological excavation in the abbey. Stone pavements have been found in the courtyard, in the southern cloister and inside the church of St. Michael. Seven tombs ere also found. All finds are dated between the 17tgh and 18th centuries (Višnjić 2016).