You Better Watch Out: Rovinj’s Best Kept Underground Secrets

Adriatic Atlantis

Can you imagine Rovinj,

the Adriatic pearl of romance 

as a former scene of fishermen-smugglers,  most famous on the Istrian peninsula of its time?

Or imagine a Jewish ghetto in the old town that was strictly closed for anyone but bearded men? Yes, neither can we! Buckle up for these two interesting stories about Rovinj’s Underground Scene!

Photo courtesy of Unsplash


Generally known for skills in commercial traffic, the Jews of these areas had to fight with many bankers, especially Tuscan, who settled down between 1286 and 1380 in Trieste, Muggia, Capodistria, Isola, Piran and certainly also in Rovinj. The direct evidence, provided by Mons. Tomassini bishop of Cittanova, and found in the historical geographic commentaries of Istria, gives information about Jewish presence in Rovinj.

According to the evidence – the district of the city in which Jews dwelt, was called ghetto, with great topographic accuracy between Contrada Poreč and Contrada Grisia.

rovinj ghetto

In the restoration that took place fifty years earlier (about 1830 nd.a.), it was discovered that Jews had their cemetery here, and a sub-portico called the Barbutti as forming the entrance to the ghetto. 

Even old maps show that the district between those two contradas is marked as ghetto. But, it’s important to have in mind that most of the documents before 1500 have been lost or destroyed, in the fire of Rovinj archive, and that

the legend of a Jewish ghetto in Rovinj for now remains – a legend.

You all know those super cute sea passages in Švalba street that remind us of Venice? Well, those cute alleys were once secret passages for smuggling goods!

The entrepreneurial spirit of Rovinj smugglers is best described through this social phenomenon that was on top during 18th century. During the years of Venetian republic, Rovinj was a city of great importance. Olive oil, honey, wine and other goods were exported to Venice. However, high taxes and restrictions on trading and sailing was something that embittered fishermen of Rovinj.

As a sign of opposition against exploitation of their own goods, Rovinj fishermen became – smugglers.  Surely, anyone from the Venetian republic who tried to put an end to it, didn’t end up well. The urge to live a decent life woke up a spark of rebellion and has successfully created an organized net of smugglers who simply conducted their own rules of business. Without a doubt, nowhere else in Istria during those times was the spirit of rebellion so apparent.

Author: Annamaria Gržetić
Founded in 2015, our focus is on contributing to sustainable tourism development in the region of Istria, Croatia, through the work we do. Therefore we are keen on building a travel community to connect travelers with locals of Istria. Off The Beaten Path is a movement that embraces tourism development in a respectful manner while encouraging locals and travelers to involve themselves in a much meaningful way. 
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