Piran: Slovenia’s Adriatic Gem


Situated on a peninsula of the same name that makes up Slovenia‘s modest but lovely coastline, Piran is one of the most beautiful coastal towns in the Mediterranean. It is the little gem of the Adriatic.

Just before the entrance to Piran’s main square is a small oval-shaped harbor. Fishing boats line the space, bobbing on the water. Looking toward the town from the far end of the harbor, the multitude of sailboat masts curtain Piran. Our eyes were immediately drawn to the hilltop Church of St. George and Piran’s Clock Tower, two main attractions of this beautiful town.

Piran has a beautiful main square called Tartini Square (Tartinijev Trg in Slovene), which has a statue of the famous violinist Giuseppe Tartini. The most impressive building on the square is the City Hall, which dates back from the 19th century. The square was once an inner dock which was back then located outside of the town walls.

We kept on continuing up the steep, narrow streets past the Tartini Square. The best place to get bird’s eye views of the Tartini Square and all of the town is by climbing up the hill to the impressive Church of St. George, which overlooks Piran. The church sits next to Piran’s Clock Tower which is modeled on St. Mark’s Campanile in Venice, which stands as a reminder of Venetian rule.

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Standing in front of the Church of St. George, the Renaissance facade looms high. Back then, invaders arriving by sea would be deterred from attacking the town that had a population big enough to deserve such a large church. The church was built on the site of a previous church in the 17th century, and it was named for Piran’s patron saint.

From up there, we could see the town walls too. Walls surrounded Piran since the early 7th century, and gates divided this tiny town into districts. With the threat of an invasion in the 15th century, the walls were refortified, and a new wall was built on Mogoron Hill. The largest preserved section on the hill has crenellated towers, built for medieval defense.

Inside the winding alleys the character of this beautiful, tiny coastal town reveals itself. Here and there, steep, narrow streets or staircases lead into dead ends or a view of the Adriatic Sea. The sounds of footsteps in this quiet place mix with the clacking of dishes and laughter echoing off Piran’s colorful houses. During the several centuries of Venetian rule most of the houses in Piran were built, what helped the town gaining the nickname “the little Venice”.

Walking down the winding alleys, we stumbled upon the Punta Lighthouse. Where boulders protect the town from the sea sits the Punta Lighthouse, which was built during the Byzantine period. The top of the lighthouse resembles a crown. And attached to the lighthouse is the Church of St. Clement, which was built in the 13th century.

A bit of history

Before the period of the Roman Empire these lands were inhabited by fishermen and shepherds, as well as pirates, who enjoyed attacking commercial ships of the Romans. Piran and Istria peninsula became part of the Roman Empire about 175 BC (from this moment Romanization of the region started), and after the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD the area passed from hand to hand of successive leaders of various Illyrian  tribes. In 8th century the Byzantine Empire took over the Adriatic coast and fortified the town.

In those days evolved its name, which comes from the Greek ‘pyrranos’, or ‘fire’, and probably refers to the rock flysch, which is common in Piran’s area and has such a reddish color.

After a period of Byzantium in the 10th century Piran found itself inside the borders of the Holy Roman Empire, and in the 12th century came under the rule of the Venetian Republic, under which remained until the fall of the republic in 1797. During these several centuries most of the buildings in town were built, what helped the town gaining the nickname “the little Venice”.

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