Off the coast of Istria, just a few kilometers from Pula, lies the Brijuni archipelago, which includes 14 small islands. Famous for their scenic beauty, the islands are a holiday resort and a Croatian National Park. In Roman times, numerous Roman villae rusticae adorned the coast of these islands referred to by Pliny the Elder as Insullae Pullariae.
The fall of the Illyrian capital of Nesactium in the year 177 BC marked the onset of a long period of Roman rule, which brought considerable economic, social and cultural changes to the entire Istrian peninsula, including the Brijuni. The Roman navy found on the Brijuni Islands and Fažana channel a safe and natural shelter. The Romans built many luxurious summer residences and palaces where they could relax and live from the products they produced. Palaces such as these were situated in the bays of Verige and Dobrika, on mounts Kolci and Gradina, in Mali Brijun’s St Mikula Bay, and on Vanga’s east coast.
On the eastern coast of Brijuni, along the picturesque Verige Bay, you can explore the ruins of a once magnificent Roman villa rustica, the largest in Istria. Its construction began in the first century B.C., reaching its heyday in the first century A.D. Some parts of the villa were used until the 6th century.
The villa was owned by the senatorial Laecanii family and probably came under imperial ownership in the second half of the first century AD. It is said to be among the three most luxurious villas in the Roman Empire alongside a Villa in Pompeii and another one on the island of Capri.
The villa consisted of several buildings of residential and economic character situated in different parts of the bay. The villa also had a library, three level terraces and huge gardens.
Along with the luxurious villa, constituent parts of the complex also included temples (to the sea god Neptune, the Capitoline Triad and the goddess Venus), diaeta, palaestra, and thermae, all interconnected by colonnades. The whole complex covered an area of over six hectares.
All these buildings were connected by a system of opened and covered promenades stretching one kilometer along the sea in harmony with the landscape.
On the opposite side of the bay were the other areas dedicated to production activities as well as the thermae.
This villa was lavishly appointed with mosaic floors and frescoes, stucco decoration and precious marble.
The Brijuni islands stretch along the south-west coast of the Istrian peninsula, they are separated from the Istrian mainland by the Fažana Channel. The island can be reached by boat from Fažana, where the official boats leave. The entrance to Brijuni used to be free but now you have to join one of the official excursions arranged by the park. Officially, day-trippers are supposed to stick with their guide for their full 2.5 hours ride by tourist train, but I managed to explore the island on my own and to have the site of the Roman Villa all to myself. Alternatively, you can also book a guided sightseeing tour of the most important archeological sites on the island.
Further photos can be viewed from my image collection on Flickr.
Roman Villas of Istria and Dalmatia, Part II: Typology of Villas
Roman Villas in Istria and Dalmatia, Part III: Maritime Villas
8 thoughts on “Exploring the Roman Villa on Brijuni Island (Croatia)”
I really appreciate the picture THROUGH the columns of the little temple out in to the bay. I’ve been quite interested in this site and haven’t had a chance to visit it, and this is the best picture out into the bay that I’ve seen. I’m suspicious that view is the intended vantage point…
Thanks for all of the excellent pictures from all of the sites you visit!
Wonderful site and great pictures. Thank you
Thank you for the splendid presentation of the Brijuni Islands of Croatia! Your photos clearly confirm our discourse when we talk about the layers of different moments in history that are still visible to the eye as we prepare our travelers to explore the beauty and wonder of Croatia.
Really neat. I love how Roman villas were designed. To be honest, I love anything ancient Roman;-) Great pictures and great article!
How did you manage to visit the site by yourself? Could a person with a boat just go and dock up and take a tour alone?
If you wish to visit the site in the Brijuni Island on the west coast of Istria, Croatia, you can transfer from the lovely town of Fazana via scheduled passenger ferry… the crossing takes approximately 10/15 minutes. Group tours are offered once you are landed on the island of Brijuni… If you wish a private guided tour, with a professional guide, we can help you. Wanda S. Radetti – Tasteful Croatian Journeys
A fascinating place and in such a beautiful location. What amazing wealth some members of the senatorial class were accumulating. I read that the Laecanius family had father and son consuls named Caius Laecanius Bassus in 40 and 64 AD. There is also a later fountain dedicated by a man of the same name in Ephesus (http://www.ephesus.us/ephesus/the_fountain_of_laecainus_bassus.htm) – surely connected?
Brijuni national park is a very beautiful, but very secluded place. There are significant historical sites and the nature and wild life. The best way to explore Brijuni National Park is to stay there at least for a 2-3 days, to rent a bike or electric car and to explore them on your own.