Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Istria and Dalmatia: A Long and Intricate History, But Always Italian

(Written by Antonio Pannullo, taken from the newspaper “Secolo d'Italia”, February 10, 2015.)

The history of Istria and Dalmatia is a history that belongs to Rome and Venice. It was Julius Caesar who, after Trieste (Tergeste), founded the colonies of Pola (Pietas Julia) and Parenzo (Julia Parentium); it was Augustus who brought the boundaries of Istria to the Quarnaro and created Regio X Venetia et Histria, the Tenth Region of Italy, which extended from the Oglio River to the Arsa River and from the Alps to the Po Valley.

Trieste was connected to Pola through the Via Flavia, which also reached Fiume (Tarsatica). An inscription from the Augustan age found near Fiume says: Haec est Italia Diis sacra (“This is Italy, a land sacred to the gods”). Rome left splendid testimonies in the Hill of San Giusto, in the Amphitheater of Trieste, in the Arena of Pola, in the Arch of Fiume, in the Forum of Zara and in Diocletian's Palace in Spalato.

In the 6th century AD the barbarian hordes invaded the Roman region of Venetia et Histria. The Istrians took refuge on the islands of the coast. Thus arose the towns of Isola, Capodistria, Pirano and Rovigno, which were connected to the coast by bridges and isthmuses.

The Rule of the Doge of Venice

The first Slavic presence in Istria is traced back to the famous Placitum of Risano of 804, in which the representatives of the Istrian towns asked Charlemagne's messengers to free them from the piracy of the Pagan Slavs, “sin autem melius est mori quam vivere” (“otherwise it is better to die than to live”). Venetian expansion began in the 800's, first against the Germanic feudal lords and the patriarchate of Aquileia; then Venice established itself throughout the entire Adriatic coast: in 1150 the Doge assumed the title Totius Istriae inclitus dominator (Renowned Lord of All Istria). From that time forward the winged Lion of St. Mark, the symbol of the Republic of Venice, would be found everywhere, from the island of Veglia where it appeared for the first time in 1250, to all the Istrian and Dalmatian cities.

Between 1400 and 1600 the plague struck Istria and Dalmatia several times. Venice repopulated the region by importing thousands of Slavs, Bosnians and Morlachs, who became valiant soldiers. Not by coincidence, the city of Venice named its most important dock on the San Marco basin the “Riva degli Schiavoni”. The events of Istria are numerous and complex, but essentially from that time until the end of the eighteenth century the history of Istria was identified with that of Venice. This is why the region was later called Venezia Giulia by the glottologist Graziadio Ascoli. Venetian rule ended in 1797 with the Treaty of Campoformido. The region passed into the hands of Austria who ruled until 1918, except for the brief French period when it belonged to the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy.

Italy's victory in the Great War – which was participated in by thousands of Istrian and Dalmatian volunteers, including Sauro, Filzi and Rismondo – brought not only Trento and Trieste into the Kingdom of Italy, but also all of Venezia Giulia and therefore Istria with Pola, the city of Zara in Dalmatia, the islands of Cherso and Lussino, Lagosta and Pelagosa. Fiume was annexed in 1924, after having been the scene of D'Annunzio's Enterprise on September 12, 1919.

The Italic dream of Venezia Giulia lasted a little over twenty years. The diktat of February 10, 1947, imposed by the victorious powers at the end of the Second World War, tore Istria, Fiume, Zara and the Dalmatian islands away from Italy, delivering them to Tito's Yugoslavia.

The Ignoble Treaty of Osimo

The city of Trieste (Zone A of the Free Territory of Trieste, envisaged by the peace treaty) remained under Anglo-American administration until October 26, 1954, when it finally returned to being free and Italian. Zone B (the northwestern part of Istria up to the Quieto River) remained under the temporary administration of Yugoslavia until the ignoble Treaty of Osimo (signed on November 10, 1975), by which Italy renounced its right to those territories without any compensation.

With the breakup of Yugoslavia and the birth of two new sovereign states (1992), Istria was divided into two: the northern part up to the Dragogna river became part of Slovenia, while the southern part of Istria, the Quarnaro and Dalmatia became part of Croatia. Neither of the two States decided to return to the Italian exiles even a single brick of property confiscated by the former Yugoslav Communist regime.

The martyrdom of the Foibe Massacres of Trieste and Istria, with their tragic burden of thousands dead, together with the exodus of 350,000 Istrians, Fiumans and Dalmatians, is now a living memory in the collective conscience of the Italians thanks to a law which instituted the Day of Remembrance, celebrated each year on February 10.