History of Umag
The city of Umag has extremely interesting history - it was discovered by Roman noblemen who decided to make it their summer residence. The glamour, magnificence and glare of the times can be seen today in Venetian houses of the old Umag town – city walls and fortresses are partially preserved as well as some renaissance and baroque buildings and churches.
Umag was founded in Antiquity when the region’s inhabitants began settling a narrow island that was gradually broadened by earthworks, making it the peninsula we know today. The town was first mentioned in written documents in the 6th century as Humagum, and it flourished because of its favourable position. Namely, it was located on the road leading south from Aquileia, a stronghold built by the Romans for the military administration of Istria and the northern Adriatic.
Many years before today’s Umag appeared, prehistoric hill-forts existed in the surrounding area, and in early Roman times, a large number of luxurious villa rusticas (countryside villas), especially along the coast north of Umag from Zambratija to Katoro.
Many notable archaeological sites, in particular, the remains of seaside villas with mosaic floors, dating back to early Antiquity, can be found on Cape Katoro and in the area to its north. The seabed at Katoro has preserved the remains of quays and jetties, and underwater research has uncovered many ceramic artefacts, mainly for kitchen use. In the whirlpool of historical events, the settlements on Cape Katoro began to lose their importance, while Umag grew.
With the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the reign of Germanic kingdoms and the Byzantine Empire followed in succession in Istria. However, social relationships inherited from Roman times did not change to any significant extent, until the arrival of Slavic settlers. The rule of the Frankish state marked the late 8th century and the 9th century, and the beginning of feudalisation. At war with the Franks, the Croatian Prince Domagoj razed Umag, after which the town began to weaken.
In 1269, in the late middle ages, Umag was among the first towns in Istria to recognise the rule of the Venetian Republic, a flourishing naval power, and it was to remain under Venetian rule until the Republic fell in the late 18th century.
Reference to the expansion of the town from the peninsula onto the mainland was first made in the early 14th century. The Genoese, struggling with the Venetians for supremacy in the Adriatic, burned the town in 1370, destroying the town archives.
In the centuries to follow, Umag would again depopulated, as a result not only of warfare but also of frequent outbreaks of the plague and malaria. People from the southern reaches of the Balkan Peninsula, in particular, Greece, Albania and Dalmatia, began to settle the region in the 16th and 17th century. The times, however, were far from peaceful. Records show that pirates attacked Umag in 1687, abducting some of its inhabitants.
With the collapse of the Venetian Empire in 1797, the town fell under the rule of the Hapsburg Monarchy, only to be occupied eight years later by Napoleon’s forces. Although Napoleon’s rule was short-lived, it made a lasting impression when the English, Napoleon’s rivals, set fire to the town in 1811. After the defeat of Napoleon’s France, Umag became part of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy in 1813, and remained in the Monarchy until the First World War.
In the aftermath of the war, Umag came under the rule of the Kingdom of Italy. In 1924, yet another large fire destroyed the town palace next to the church on the main square.
After the Second World War, the border issue concerning the Free Territory of Trieste was not resolved until 1954. According to an international agreement, Umag was given to Yugoslavia, and after the collapse of Yugoslavia, it became part of Croatia.
Rapid tourism development in the second half of the 20th century transformed Umag into an economic centre and the largest town of north-western Istria, as well as a major tourism and sports centre in national terms.