Just when I think I have been to every little town in Istria and have seen all the beauty the area has to offer, I come upon another place that makes my heart sing. The place this time was Savudrija, a little fishing village right outside of Umag, way up in the northwestern corner of Istria at the westernmost tip of Croatia, just a hop and a skip away from the border with Slovenia and then Italy. I love so much about Croatia — the history, the people, the natural beauty, the food, the culture, and of course the cold, clear Adriatic sea that borders many of the towns. Savudrija is one place that seems to have all of these precious things concentrated, and although it is a small place, you all know the saying that good things come in small packages.
When you make your way down Svjetioničarska Road to get to the coast you will see the blue green Adriatic on your left. Up ahead on the road is the Savudrija lighthouse, the oldest active one in Croatia built in 1818. Park right past the lighthouse and walk up the coast there. When we went on this crisp winter’s day in early March, it was cold and sunny and the water sparkled and lit up this interesting part of the coastline decorated with its hanging boat docks. The wooden racks that hold the boats make the vessels look as if they are laundry being hung up to dry. The fishermen store their boats this way to keep them out of the fierce tides and from blowing about on the shorelines during the bura, maestro and jugo winds that blast the coast. The wooden pilings, which are made from tree trunks and branches, are surprisingly sturdy. We watched a lone fisherman motor up to the dock in his fluorescent colored foul weather gear and my friend remarked how kind it was of him to provide such good color contrast to our photos.
The wooden boat racks give the coast a rustic look that is unique and picturesque, and I would have been happy that day just seeing the boats perched above the stoney beach with the turquoise blue sea behind them, but there was more to see. The beach had its own surprises on this day with all sorts of sea limpets and algae attached to the surface and other sea shells as well. But on closer inspection the stone surface revealed some even more interesting creatures.
Canoodling Sea Hares
These creatures, called Sea Slugs or Sea Hares (Aplysia Fasciata) were all over the beach. They had a beautiful shiny amber and black exterior with tiny white dots and glided gracefully around the beach’s surface feeding on the various algae that grew along the stones. They have four antenna and looked like they could be little sea dragons or horses if they were shaped a little differently but they looked more slug-like as they crawled on land. The cool March wind blew around us and we watched many of the little creatures canoodling as they moved effortlessly along the beach and in the tidal pools. It was a treat to see such interesting sea life, and I noticed some pale pink strands that looked like silly string in some of the crevices and found out later that these were the eggs of these little sea hares. So apparently the canoodling was working its magic.
More Surprises in Savudrija
A friendly pup came my way on the walk towards the lighthouse and hopped up to greet me much to the dismay of her owner who ran up to me and bent to brush off the paw prints the enthusiastic dog marked my black coat with, which was kind but not necessary.
After our walk we had a nice lunch at a local restaurant called Toni’s that had interesting decorations inside, although we ate on the sunny veranda thanks to Covid. But as I went in I noticed two huge ancient amphorae enclosed in glass cases, one that was used by the Romans for wine and one for olive oil. Ancient artifacts inside a restaurant? In Croatia, anything is possible. I asked the waitress about them, and she told me of a buried ancient town near the restaurant called Sipar, a Croatian Atlantis that is submerged and comes and goes with the tides. She saw my interest and even brought out a drawing of the city to show us what it had looked like in earlier times. I wasn’t sure if the amphorae were from Sipar or not as she had the mistaken impression I spoke Croatian, and I could only pick up bits and pieces of what she told me. More incentive to go back to Croatian language lessons.
Sipar: The Croatian Atlantis
I looked online to find out more about this submerged city, aka the Croatian Atlantis, and found this information on the Colours of Istria website:
“According to archaeological sources, the area surrounding Sipar was inhabited in the early iron age. During Roman times, it developed into a civitas, a settlement with the characteristics of a well-organised Roman town. Sipar is believed to have been destroyed around 876 CE in fierce battles between Duke Domagoj of Croatia and the Venetians. After the destruction of Sipar, the nearby town of Umag began to develop.”
“Today, at low tide, it is possible to see the remains of the sunken town in the sea. Recent archaeological research underwater and on land has uncovered 17 spaces in the settlement with a long hall, which was built throughout many centuries. Numerous objects were found, such as amphorae from Gaza, fine ceramics, bone tools, and various lids dating from the 1st century BCE to the 2nd century CE. A pentagonal tower likely dating to the 5th century was also cleared. Two hundred metres of sea-facing walls, a large warehouse with support pylons, an oven for metalworking, a stone with openings for pressing olives (3rd/4th century CE), and around 5,000 other items have also been discovered.”
The city museum in Umag is supposed to hold some of these precious artifacts, and I am looking forward to another visit to view the museum and look for the ruins of Sipar on the coast. And to think I would have just been happy seeing the hanging boats and the sea slugs, and here was ancient civilization right across the road from where we ate lunch.
How can you not love Croatia?