Healing waters under the Sveti Stjepan rock
Every time we’d go to Motovun, be it for just a cup of coffee or to buy a bottle of fine homemade Teran wine, passing by the Istarske toplice would call up the legend of the girl responsible for its healing water spring. The story says the young girl had been accused of immoral behavior and had decided to end her life by jumping from the nearby 85 meters high rock, under which there was a spring. Before jumping she had made a vow to Saint Stephen: if she is guilty let her be swallowed by the chasm, but if she is innocent let healing waters flow from under the rock. The girl survived and the location now houses a famous spa and hotel.
As grandpa told it, Attila – known far and wide by his nickname, the Scourge of God, had brought devastation to many places in north Istria. He allegedly destroyed the seaside town of Starigrad, upon which ruins was later built today’s Novigrad.
Novigrad is also connected with the legend of Saint Pelagius, the descendant of a rich Novigrad Christian family from the 3rd century B.C. He had been beheaded for admitting to choosing Christianity, after several other methods of torture (burning oil, flagellation, being drawn over broken glass by horses) had left no mark on him. It is said that the church of Sv. Križ was built where he died.
And then there’s the most famous legend of all: Veli Jože, the giant of Motovun, which served as the basis for Vladimir Nazor’s novel of the same name. The legends say Istria had once been full of giants who had served humans because they could be easily bought with gold or wine, and that only Veli Jože remained strong and incorruptible and had tried to free the others and unite them. He was hiding in the hills and biding his time until he could gain freedom. While he himself served the nasty people of Motovun he would occasionally spite them by shaking their famous bell tower.