My parents apparently named me after the oldest daughter of the renowned physicist and chemist, Marie Curie. Irène Joliot-Curie was also a Nobel Prize-winning chemist, and although I was at one point very interested in chemistry, it never became as much of a passion for me as did history, which I decided to study in the end.
This passion has followed me everywhere, especially when travelling; and I have to say, historical trips around Istria are an endless spring of tales for all those who like a good story. In the text that follows, I bring you the history of the names of several towns in Northwest Istria, which, in a few short lines, together paint a vivid picture of the past and of the entwined destinies of all of us, passengers in time and space.
The proud town of Buje has a rich history; because of its strategic position, it was once called the Guard City of Istria. Although the archaeological digs show that it was built on top of a prehistoric hill fort, the first written document containing mention of it comes from 981, from the charter of the Aquileian patriarch Otto II, which refers to the town as Castrum Bugle. Legend says that Virgin Mary was wandering around the world until she got to the site of what was to become Buje, whereupon she said: “There shall be better (boje) here”, and so it came to be called Buje.
The charming village of Triban is located on the route from Buje to Grožnjan. This area has also been populated since prehistoric times, and the village itself was founded in the 15th century, with the arrival of Slavs on the run from the Turks. Legend says that people arrived looking for good arable land, took a look around and said: “That’s the kind o’ land we need”. They came, they saw, they founded Triban.
Savudrija is located in the furthest northwest corner of the Croatian part of Istria. It was also built on the site of a prehistoric hill fort, and was a strategically important port back in Roman times, near which many crucial naval battles occurred. During one such great battle, Savudria provided a shelter to the king. According to legend, this is how the town came to be called Savudrija – Salvo Re – the king’s savior.
There are different stories about the origin of the name Umag, which goes back to antiquity and was first mentioned in written sources as Humagum in the 6th century. One interesting (and incomplete) theory states that Umag is a Celtic name. Folk tales, on the other hand, provide a much more practical solution: once upon a time, there was a great storm; trying to get away from it and also on the run from the Venetians, local fishermen escaped into a small bay called Umak, later renamed Umago by the people of Vence. I cannot imagine a better place to escape to.