History of Novigrad
Evidence of prehistoric human settlements exists in the environs of Novigrad, while the remains of countryside villas found in the immediate vicinity of Novigrad’ s old town date back to Roman times. However, the peninsula on which the old town emerged is shrouded in secrets, and it is still not clear how the town came to be.
Experts believe that, initially, a Roman villa, similar to many others discovered in the vicinity, was built on the peninsula. Because of the peninsula’s favourable position in terms of defence, a castrum or military settlement sprung up around the villa in late Antiquity, and from the 4th to the 7th century, it gradually developed into a town.
Novigrad is first mentioned in written documents in the late 6th century in a letter to Pope Gregory I. In the 7th century, an anonymous writer from Ravenna refers to the town as Neapolis in his book listing some 5,000 towns and 200 rivers of the then known world, with descriptions of Mediterranean islands. In later centuries, different sources refer to Novigrad as Civitas Nova, Emona and Emonia.
The Novigrad archaeological site Čelega with 12 graves, dating back to the second half of the 7th century, is witness to Slavic colonisation of the area. The graves contained household ceramic ware, silver earrings, bone combs and other artefacts, indicating that the Slavic settlers mixed with the barbarised Roman population.
Recent archaeological research suggests that, during the Frankish state and the time of Charlemagne at the end of the 8th and beginning of the 9th century, Novigrad experienced one of the richest periods in its history. As the seat of the Frankish Duke John, it was the starting point of the feudalisation process and a part of major cultural trends in Europe of that time.
A rare example of art from the early Carolingian period, that today commands the growing attention of researchers, is the ciborium of Bishop Mauritius. It is exhibited in Lapidarium Museum that houses one of Croatia’s most important collections of stone monuments.
Novigrad had its own diocese from the 5th or 6th century up to the 19th cenutry, when it was abolished and became part of the Diocese of Trieste-Kopar (1831).
The triple-nave Church of St. Pelagius and St. Maxim underwent reconstruction a number of times. Researchers believe it was originally built in the early Christian period. While traces of the Carolingian period and Romanesque culture are visible on the church today, it is a fine expression of Baroque Classicism. The interior houses several baroque altars, statues and altar paintings.
Novigrad, together with the entire Istrian west coast, was subjected to pirate attacks in the 10th century. Considering the growing aspirations of the Venetian Republic towards Istrian coastal towns, Novigrad was forced to swear allegiance to Venetian rule from which it tried to free itself without success in 1270. Defence walls, parts of which can be seen today, were erected during the Venetian era.
The plague raged in Novigrad from the 13th to 17th century; wars, in the 16th century; and malaria, in the 19th century. In the 16th and 17th century the town was almost depopulated, and only in the late 19th century did it gradually begin to revive and prosper with the development of tourism that was then affected by the two world wars.
Novigrad began to flourish in the second half of the 20th century with the construction of hotels, campsites and holiday flats and the rapid development of tourism. In recent times, it has attracted the attention of researchers who have made new discovers concerning the town’s history, in particular, during the Carolingian era.