Written by Missy Johnston
Rovinj Old Town, Croatia
Cruise into Rovinj Harbor on your charter yacht and enjoy a traditional fishing village on the Istrian Peninsula in northern Croatia where a copper statue of their Patron Saint, St. Euphemia points out to sea when the weather is good for fishing, and into town when weather is poor and no fisherman should leave the harbor. All locals abide by what their good St. Euphemia tells them to do and only leave the harbor to fish when the statue, perched on the top of the bell tower of the Church of St. Euphemia on the highest point of land in the village, points out to sea. And it is wise, when on a charter yacht, to take heed as well, as this is a saint that floated into the harbor of Rovinj centuries ago to take care of the people of this village.
Statue of St. Euphemia Photo Credit Missy Johnston
St. Euphemia converted to Christianity, and sometime in 304 A.D she was persecuted by Emperor Diocletian for her beliefs. She was first strapped to a wheel and then she was killed by being thrown to the lions. At some point in the 10th Century, the Pope in Rome was gathering the icons and remains of various saints from around the world to be brought to Rome. It is believed that while the body of St. Euphemia in her stone sarcophagus was being transported to Rome, the ship met bad weather and sank. The stone sarcophagus with the body of St. Euphemia, identified by a scroll found with the body, floated into Rovinj Harbor, where the town’s people had the sarcophagus hauled ashore by two oxen.
Counting this as a miracle of some import and determining that St. Euphemia was sent to protect the people of Rovinj, the sarcophagus was enshrined in a church at the top of what had been a nearby islet that was attached to the mainland by a causeway built by the Romans.
Once enshrined, a statue was built and placed on a wheel, (the tool of St. Euphemia’s Martyrdom) on the top of the church bell tower. It was soon realized that as winds blew strongly signaling bad weather, the statue would turn and the pointing figure of St. Euphemia would point into town, as if to say, ”Fishermen, Stay Home,” and home they would stay. When the winds were calm, the statue would swing back and St. Euphemia would point out to sea letting the fishermen know it was time to head out to catch fish.
Sarcophagus of St. Euphemia. Photo Credit Missy Johnston.
The present Church of St. Euphemia, sitting at the peak of Old Town, was built from 1725 to 1736 and is the largest Baroque-style church in Istria. Next to the church is an older 61-meter bell tower started in 1654, with construction lasting 26 years. Originally the statue of St. Euphemia was wooden, while today the 4-meter high statue is copper which rotates by the wind on a spindle. Within the Church, behind the right hand altar is the sarcophagus of the saint in which her body is resting. Every March 16th, the front panels of the sarcophagus are opened so all can see her very well-preserved body through clear plexiglass.
Old Town Walking Streets Photo Credit Missy Johnston
The Church of St. Euphemia is surrounded by Old Town with a series of walking streets with steps that wend upwards through courtyards past old buildings to the summit where sits the Church surrounded by a spectacular view.
Enter Old Town through Balbi Gate, an elaborate arch built in 1679 as the main town gate. The top of the arch is ornamented with a Turkish head on the harbor side of the arch and a Venetian head on the Old Town side of the arch. The winged lion at the top is a symbol of Venice. Wander the walking streets with little shops, bars, and a Michelin 1-Star restaurant called Monte. Be sure to visit Grisia Street lined with galleries and souvenir stores where the windows, balconies, portals and squares are a mixture of styles from various time periods, including Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassic.
Fishing Boat Harbor Photo Credit Missy Johnston
Across from Old Town hill is another harbor filled with little fishing boats where there is a more traditional local lifestyle. Between the two harbors is the local Green Market along with the Fish Market. Some say the prices in the Green Market are very high. However, there are locally grown fruits and vegetables in the market. If there is no opportunity to venture further into Istria, this may be an opportunity to purchase fresh black and, if in season, white truffles.
This port town of Rovinj is one of the gateways into Istria, well worth exploring, as in the agriculturally rich center of Istria are vineyards with vintners making award-winning wines, groves of olive trees from which lovely olive oils are pressed from olives harvested in November, and also same-day, cold-machine-pressed olives, bee hives where industrious bees make honey tinged with the scent of local flowers, and both black and white truffles growing in the roots of trees in the Motovun Forest. Perched on the top of a mountain is the medieval walled village of Motovun, with one long winding cobblestone road reaching to the top where the fortress buildings sit overlooking the valley below.
At night both Old Town and the little fishing harbor quay come alive with night life in bars and cafes. Walk along the quay on the little harbor with little fishing boats bobbing alongside and then pass through Balbi Gate into Old Town. Old Town and the second little harbor are overlooked by the statue of St. Euphemia on top of the St. Euphemia Bell Tower, pointing either out to sea or into town.
The Church of St. Euphemia and Bell Tower Photo Credit Missy Johnston
What to Do and See in Rovinj, Croatia
Balbi Gate Photo Credit Missy Johnston
Explore Old Town: Officially enter Old Town through Balbi Gate on the fishing boat harbor, and walk up Grisla Street to enjoy the architecture. Spend time exploring all of the streets, which are filled with shops, cafes, restaurants and bars. At night, Old Town is the place to be for fun night life.
The Church of St. Euphemia: Perched at the top of Old Town, walk up to the church if only to see the view of the surrounding bay and little islets. Inside behind the right hand altar is the stone sarcophagus of the Saint. Outside, on the top of the nearby church bell tower is the statue of St. Euphemia where one can see the clever wheel on which the statue is mounted allowing the statue to rotate depending on the force of the wind to either point to sea or inland.
Green Market Photo Credit Missy Johnston
Green Market: Also the Fish Market, this is a small market on the quay beside Old Town selling fruits vegetables, fish and various local goods, such as fresh honey and Truffles.
Punta Corrente: A natural park on a peninsula just south of Rovinj, created by the 19th-century Austrian industrialist Johann Georg von Hütterott. The boot-shaped peninsula on which Punta Corrente (Golden Cape) resides is now a natural woodland with walking trails, grassy areas, and little rocky coves.
Monkodonja: The remains of a Bronze Age, 1800BC hill fort outside of Rovinj featuring the foundations of the fortress walls, paved areas and a cultic cave. Ceramic fragments found on the site suggest that these people were trading with the Greek city of Mycenae. Situated on the water, enjoy views of the water and the many little islands in the bay.
Rovinj Heritage Museum: Situated in a four-story Baroque palace built by the Counts of Califfi in the 1600s, which is interesting in its own right for architecture buffs, inside are gallery spaces holding pieces of contemporary art from local painters and sculptors, historic artifacts found in and around Rovinj, and maritime exhibits.
Dvigrad: Located about 20 minutes by car outside of Rovinj, this medieval village was abandoned in the 1700s due to a plague epidemic. Within, presently being restored, are the remains of a castle, town gate, around 200 houses and St. Sophia Church.
Rovinj is a lovely traditional Istrian fishing village not to be missed as a port on a yacht charter in this area of the Croatian coast.