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C + 18 : Why is Pula's Arena in Better Shape than the Coliseum in Rome?

Updated: May 15, 2021


Pula Arena towering over the old harbour - being built on a slop it is 3 stories high


Engines started at 5 am. We had to outrun the Bora which is now confirmed to hit at 2 pm and last for 24 hours. We also found out that the Bora will strike further south than expected. Rovinj, 90 min to the north, will be unaffected. We thus skip our night in Pula, the Austrian Empire’s naval base, and sail to Rovinj. Still enough time to visit the beautiful Arena of Pula.

Outrunning the Bura - Maske at some distance in the back

Pula has the best preserved Roman amphitheater in the world. It is the sixth largest and could accommodate 25’000 people, roughly a third of the Coliseum in Rome. It was also built by Emperor Vespasian and finished by his son Titus in 81AD - in parallel to the Coliseum. There are many other features the two amphitheaters share. The oval shape, the seating arrangements, the supporting arch structure, the use of massive amounts of concrete as well as the marble/natural stone decoration of the facade.

The well preserved Arena of Pula

What is also amazing is the size of the Pula Arena. In 177 BC Pula became Roman and was officially called Colonia Pietas Iulia Pula. At one time, it headquartered the Roman Fleet in the Adriatic. We know that the town was important but I could not find anywhere information on its size. The Coliseum it Rome has 80’000 seats for 1 million citizens. Did Pula have around 300’000 inhabitants ?An amazing number! Larger than Athens! Romans are not known for building infrastructure that was not used.

Inside the Pula Arena

The big difference to the Colosseum is the intact outer skin. Whilst most of the marbles of the Colosseum were dismantled to decorate the facades of the baroque churches in Rome (the Popes had no qualms to plunder pagan buildings), the facade of the Pula Arena is still here. There was only one church in Pula to decorate... After the fall of Rome, Pula shrank and remained small even during Venetian times. It never regained its former size and glory. The upside is what we enjoy today - a mostly intact Arena which only had its interior dismantled.

The interior of the Arena - seats & support structure mostly removed to build medieval Pula.


The amazing outer skin of the arena is now free standing - built so well that it survived the removal of the interior support structure

Pula's shipyard went out of business a few years ago and is now a collection of rusting hulks - there is now almost nothing left from the glorious K.u.K. Navy that had its home here - except the long piers where once the giant dreadnoughts docked.

After a good hour and a little detour to the Venetian castle on top of the Pula hill, we returned to our boats and set course for Rovinj where we could avoid the heavy winds

Wind situation at 4 pm - our plan worked

Just before 4 pm, we reached Rovinj - swimming then exploring the beauty of the town

The very modern but empty Marina - old Rovinj in the background. We would have dinner in the Venetian old town to give the crew of our boats an evening of rest.

Rovinj's harbour has not changed much since Venetian time but now it is full of fisher boats

Rovinj is proud of its heritage and the Markus Lion is displayed in many prominent places

The exotic markets have changed though and now cater to the needs of tourists

Looking from the church and the campanile over the roofs of Rovinj towards the sea

On the way to dinner - lively streets in the old town


On the way back we got thoroughly soaked - half of our team by tender - the other half walked back around the harbour. Some rain related to the Bora made it to Rovinj - oh well.

The Maske crew busily "water proofing" the boat - we were soaked already

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