It's incredible how many times I travelled down Istrian roads perplexed by the same questions; How come that all these towns were built so high on hilltops? Who carried the heavy stones up steep paths? And how long did it take to construct such well-preserved fortresses?
History offers more or less clear and boring explanations, you know, running away from pirates, floods and disasters, but fairytales tell quite another, much more imaginative and likeable story.
Legend has it that the Istrian towns of Grožnjan, Roč, Završje, Motovun, Sovinjak and Vrh were built by giants who inhabited Istria even before the arrival of humankind. The biggest giant was Dragonja, also called ploughman, because he ploughed a furrow from mount Ćićarija to the sea, which soon filled up to become a river, he named Mirna.
He ploughed another furrow at the request of the people of central Istria, and named the river flowing down it Dragonja, after himself. Since he was doing so well, he wanted to plough a third furrow in the vicinity of Pazin castle, but just as he was beginning, a woman started mocking him from a window. Dragonja rightly took offence and took off leaving the job unfinished. Water levels in front of the town of Pazin began to rise. The panic-stricken townsfolk begged the giant to return, but he was so angry that he stomped his foot and the ground opened forming the Pazin cave.
In the meantime, the other giants each occupied a hill and passing the heavy stones between them constructed a town on every hill. Once Motovun, Grožnjan, Sovinjak, Završje, Roč and Vrh were complete, a couple of "little rocks" remained, so they decided to build the smallest town in the world - Hum.
And indeed, no explanation comes close to the one with giants, because a visit to Završje or even better, to Motovun, brings all that magic to life. In my opinion, you should visit the Istrian towns by bike. The area that was once Parenzana (the old railway line connecting Trieste and Poreč) nowadays makes one of the prettiest cycling tracks in the whole of Istria. The charm of the old Parenzana and the mysticism of the almost abandoned Završje and very much alive Motovun or Roč, will be your gateway to another time. The time of giants and fairytales.