Experience Ližnjan

Monte Madonna

Not far from the village of Šišan in the Istrian south, you will discover Svetica, also known as Monte Madonna, a magical hill with the remains of an ancient castle settlement, and traces of Roman buildings. Legend has it that once upon a time a holy woman (svetica in Croatian) told a grieving father how to save his daughter from the grip of an evil dragon that terrorised the village.

It’s no wonder that stories of dragons would come up around this hill. Svetica has one of the most astonishing views, spanning the turquoise Kvarner Bay surrounded with white rocks and the Mediterranean pine forest. It’s so easy to imagine ancient villagers standing here, watching Roman ships deployed in warfare in the Northern Adriatic. Or, keeping an eye on the menacing pirates’ ships in the distance, trying to come their way.

For many centuries Svetica was used as a guardhouse, an observatory for dangers coming from the Kvarner Bay. Its strategic position was key to the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, which in 1915. chose it for the construction of a military fortification, with 310 mm cannons.

Fort Svetica was part of a much larger fortification system of Pula, at that time the central military port of the Monarchy. Pula’s unique defence system was developed between 1813. and 1918. It covered the wider Pula area, consisting of 26 fortresses, and a number of artillery battalions, trenches, and underground tunnels. The role of Fort Svetica was to help protect the military port of Pula, and spot any naval danger coming from the east.

Following the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy in 1918, Fort Svetica was used as a military facility by the Italian, Yugoslav and Croatian armies respectively. Nowadays, it is used by the local community, several civil associations, as well as hunting and sports clubs. Some years back, Fort Svetica became part of local exploration routes, and travellers can now visit it on a guided tour. If you decide to do that, you will discover a small, but still functional military base under the hill surface. Built during the Cold War as a top secret project, this hidden base was used by the Yugoslav People’s Army at the height of its power. It consists of a dormitory for soldiers, a computer division, a clinic, and a powerful reflector station whose lights reach almost half through the Kvarner Bay. Among military equipment and rooms, you will see the command bunker and spiral stairs leading 20 feet up, into the observatory.

Fort Svetica is the first Croatian underground fortification of this kind that became available to the public. It is a positive example of military venues reusage, which is a topic of interest in the Istrian south, rich in forts, tunnels and buildings of this kind. Majority of them are beautifully preserved, standing in hills and islands as a testament to Pula’s rich military past.