at the south western coast of Istria Peninsula

The introduction

The peninsula of ISTRIA was under the Italian sovereignty between the two World Wars. There were two access routes one by railway and the other by road that led from the Kingdom of Yugoslavia into Istria. The railway started at Ljubljana (Slovenia) to Postojna station at the boarder to Italy. At the rail crossing St. Peter one branch led to Rijeka (Fiume, ital.) and the other one to Divaca rail crossing where it branched of  to Trst (Trieste, ital.) and the other branch continued via Brest (Buzet), Pazin, Kanfar to Vodnjan and Pula (Pola, ital.). From City of Triest another railway line linked Koper, Izola, Piran, Buje and Porec where it ended – this line doesn’t exists anymore now. All afore mentioned railway lines were built by the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy before 1914. The only railway line that exists today is with the connection to Pula and with a link to Rijeka.

The map at left shows ISTRIA Peninsula and a wide line       BRIJUNI alias Brioni Archipelago on the map above is
marks the border between the Republics of Slovenia              located north-west of not far away from the City  of
at north of Croatia. At upper left is a narrow strip                 of Pula. Pula (Pola) was an important harbor during  
of Italian territory with City of Triest at its right end.            the times of Austro-Hungarian monarchy and later
City of Rijeka (Fiume) is an importnat Croatian                    when Istria including Rijeka came under the Italian
harbor of northern Adriatic Sea (right centre) now.               sovereignty that lasted until end of World War II.

The main roads follow almost exactly the railway lines as the same during Italian occupation of
Istria. At that times one could cross on road at Sušak to Rijeka (Fiume, ital.) over a wide bridge and that was the only second boarder crossing from Yugoslavia to Italian Istria. The road along Istria’s eastern coast passes through Opatija (Abbazzia, ital.) ending at Brestovo, where would cross Vela Vrata Channel by a ferry-boat to get onto Cres Island. Another road branch leads from Rijeka to Pazin where it joined the main northern road continuing to Vodnjan and Pula following to the same railway line. Thus, the main communication lines passed in Istria across the central plateau with short side roads leading to the cities on the Istrian western coast.  


When the Second World War ended in May 1945 a strong political hick hack erupted regarding the Zones ‘A’ & ‘B’ at the north-west corner of Istria. In 1949 Brioni alias Brijuni Archipelago was nominated the restricted zone and it became the seaside residence of Marshal Tito. The war ruins on the Islands had been cleared and one had started the restoration and extention works of the whole infrastructure including communications and waterworks. The renovated hotel buildings and the rejuvenation of parks brought back the pleasantness pf staying on the Archipelago again. Two new large buildings were constructed on Veli Brijun western shore known as “White Villa” (1953) and “Brionka” (1957) for the State’s highly regarded guests. The Yugoslav Government built a single-storey villa on the Vanga Island (Krasnica now) west of Veli Brijun Island for Marshal Tito’s personal use. On southern part of Vanga an orchard and a vineyard had been put up that contained an interesting wine cellar. During Tito’s times Vanga island was a strictly prohibited zone and not accessible to tourists at all.

A part view of the famous AMPHITHEATRE interior at Pula that is located next to the large Yacht harbor.

n the late 1950s I have visited several cities in
Istria like Koromacno and Pula as well as Porec and Rovinj on these travels. The travelling was rather tedious and I had to use bus services to reach these remote places on my professional trips then. The tourist trade was not well developed yet and the holidaying visitors stayed in old hotels built at times of Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy. These hotels existed mainly in places like Opatija, Lovran or Pula but there were many camping places along the coast for those who had they own transport means like cars that number steadily rose as from 1950s. I joined the Croatian Society of Architects and Civil  Engineers in Zagreb on a round trip of Istria in spring of 1958. Coming from Pula we had to bypass Fažana near Vodnjan and stopped at Limski Kanal (Channel), where we enjoined a perfect seafood and fresh oysters grown there. That was to be the closes I came to Brijuni Archipelago until my first visit there in May 2002.



The Brijuni Archipelago is located off the western shore of Istria and some 10km northwest of the town of Pula. BRIJUNI NATIONAL PARK has a total area of say 7.35km² of that VELIKI (VELI) BRIJUN is the largest of all 14 islands with an area of 555.77 hectares. The National Park Brijuni has been established in 1983 and includes the surrounding sea thus covering a total area of 36.3km². Mali Brijun is the closest one to Veli Brijun having an area of 107.28ha, all other 12 islands are much smaller like Krasnica (formerly VANGA) of 19.85ha only.


Brijuni Islands maintain the same biological and geomorphologic characteristics of the “Red Istria”. The shallow Fažana Channel is 12km wide suggesting that the Brioni Archipelago was part of Istria about ten thousand years ago. The ice thaw caused sea level to raise creating islands final shape with their many furrows so that their total coastline amounts to 46.4km. Veli Brijun coastline is 26.6km, for Mali Brijun 8.2km and Krasnica (Vanga) 3km only. The shores are mostly low and rocky and accessible due to their horizontal stratification. The islands have horizontal or slightly inclined Cretaceous limestone strata that are covered by thick layers of carbonate brown or red soil (thus named "Red Istria”) in some places. Some of the bays have shingle and sand.

Now-a-days view of Hotel NEPTUN with its modern extension (right) and the old Boats House at left.

Brijuni Islands have the northern Mediterranean climate characteri­stic to Istria west coast. The temperatures vary between 5.9°C (January) and 23.2°C during summer months - the mean annual temperature is 13.9°C. The average annual precipitation is 817mm but the snow is rare. The specific element of Istria west coast is the rather high air humidity so that Brijuni have an average relative air humidity of 76% that doesn’t fall below 70%. This is important for the plants life on that part of Croatian coast whereas it is lower for the rest of it  particularly during the warmer periods there. The rich indigenous flora has been largely improved by Paul Kupelwieser in the early 1900s. When Marshal Josip Broz Tito choose Vanga (1947) as his fleeting residence the Brijuni Archipelago became the restricted zone and to be used by Tito’s visitors only.




The fauna of the archipelago consists mostly of Mediterranean and to lesser degree of the several sub-  Mediterranean species. The largest areas are covered by macchia thicket; grass in park’s areas and with forested areas of Holm-oak trees with laurel and of plantations of conifer on 18ha. Most of the Holm-oak and laurel woods are found in the eastern part of Veli Brijun. There are some smaller forests of broad-leaved phillyrea, strawberry tree, turpentine tree, mastic tree, laurustinus, myrtle and tree heath. The woods are full of almost impenetrable climbers like thorny smilax, fragrant clematis, prickly asparagus, interwoven honey­suckle and evergreen wild rose. Such complete intermixed areas of Holm oak and laurel are the interesting feature of the Brioni Archipelago found nowhere else along the Croatian Coast.


Views along two main alleys of old Holm Oaks and Pine trees, the ancient Olive tree in background left.

The smaller islands are almost completely covered by macchia of degenerated Holm-oak forest. On Veli Brijun macchia changed under the influence of game animals that eat climbers with no thorns. Macchia of some 8m height and too thick to look through grow on Peneda peninsula (Veli Brijun) and on smaller islands like Vanga, Madona and Mali Brijun. Besides domestic tree species there are many imported varieties of pines named as stone, Aleppo, maritime and black, then cedar tree, Greek and Spanish fir, cypress, redwood, eucalyptus etc. Since 2nd World War one have renewed and diversified the kinds of trees in parks particularly when the Brioni Archipelago became restricted area as Marshal Tito's residence.


The cultivated landscapes are limited to the island of Veli Brijun and cover about 40% of its total area. The best of park’s sections are around the hotels and villas, the later mostly restricted to the public access yet. The present open grassland and landscaped areas stand for the abandoned farmland that had been obtained by successful extinction of malaria sickness early in 1900s. Paul Kupelwieser bought the Brioni Archipelago in 1893 and started the demanding works to turn Veli Brijun island into a tourist resort. Certain areas of macchia and low woods were cut down and one spared larger and worthy trees including few groups of Holm-oak. These isolated trees and ancient olive trees in some places mark clearings and vistas today. Kupelwieser introduced few larger animals like deer that pick up shoots and leaves at branches below 2m so the crowns look like "umbrellas" as shaped by clippers.

This millenium old olive tree on Veli Brijun island is declared the National Monument that is surrounded by Holm Oaks and Pine trees mostof them planted by Paul Kupelwieser and Alojz Chufar.

The islands’ indigenous fauna had been lost on Veli Brijun in particular after one introduced animals of game like deer, roe-deer, mountain sheep (Muflon) and hare around 1900s as well as an ostrich farm that existed there since 1910.  During the past 30 years one took more care about these animals and few more kinds were imported like fallow and axis deer. In 1978 quarantine has been opened to take care of some exotic animals like elephants, gazelles, antelopes, zebras, llamas, camels etc. that Tito got as a present by his international State’s guests. The acclimatization station became turned in a zoo-garden with time but many of its enclosures are almost empty now. On the grassland herbivores animals move around freely in a fenced-in so called “safari park” at present. In the adjacent aviary one raises partridge and quail, various parrots and cranes, black swans and flamingos where as pheasants and peacocks live in the wild.       


A large group of African zebras in a unusual sorrounding of the Safari Park on Veli Brijun (left) and an indigenous young donkey inspecting a plastic bag content  at right.

There are many indigenous birds and smaller islands are nesting places for seagulls, terns, and doves. Brijuni Archipelago is an important seasonal stopover for northern birds for marsh birds is freshwater pond of Soline (Salina) on Veli Brijun. Fishing is prohibited in Park’s wider sea areas with exception of migratory fish swarms. 


* * * * * *

A personal comment as interlude:

Late in May 2002 we travelled by car from Salzburg via Ljubljana to Buzet and from Lupoglav to Pazin, Vodnjan on the Istria ‘Y’ new autobahn. At Vodnjan we turned of onto a side road to reach Fazana where we left the car in the hotel’s garage. Then we boarded the ship “Fazanka” for a 15 minute sail to Veli Brijun. We’ve booked in the hotel NEPTUN and settled in its old part in a spacious room cum anteroom and a balcony overlooking the harbor. Despite a not too promising weather we enjoyed the pleasant and tranquil surroundings thoroughly. We’d sleep long and refreshed undertook several trips in e-buggy all over the island of Veli Brijun.


One day we have visited the small museum that is located on Dr. Koch’s path behind the Hotel CARMEN. There I have learned some interesting geographical and historical facts about Archipelago's islands. My attention turned to the fascinating story of an Austrian industrialist Paul Kupelwieser who significantly shaped and changed Archipelago’s recent history. I had to learn more about this fascinating personality and following paragraphs are the result of my study including most of the photographs too.

* * * * * *



The earliest relics of human settlement date back to the mid-Neolithic about 3000 B.C. The Histri, a western Illyrian tribe lived here in 2nd millenium B.C. and remnants of five fortified hill forts were discovered on Veli Brijun. From the Illyrian name “Brevone” originates the present term for the Brioni (Brijuni) Archipelago. Romans overwhelmed the Illyrians and ruled over Brioni and adjacent Istria after 177 B.C. Romans brought olive tree and grapes and several remnants of country and farm buildings prove of their intensive agriculture on Veli Brijun. The large ruins in Verige Bay are possibly remains of the imperial Roman summer residences of 1st century A.D. There was a palace with three terraces, three temples, and quarters for priests, several baths with pools for warm and cold water, an aqueduct, sewage system, farm buildings, quarters for servants and slaves, and a quay that is submerged today.


The luxurious rustic Roman castle built in 3 terraces at the south shore of Bay Verige (left in background). At right a view from one of castle's upper terrace down towards the Bay Verige.  


The Byzantium ruled over a Slav settlement on Brioni from 539 to 778 and the centre of life moved to Veli Brijun western side in Dobrika Bay. A well-ordered and fortified Byzantine Castrum has been built at the place of former Roman villas on an area of 1ha. Material miscellany proves that Romans, Goths, Francs, Byzantines, Slavs and Venetians lived on the archipelago in an almost unbroken habitation from 2nd the century B. C. to 14th century A. D. Next to the Castrum there are well preserved remains of St. Mary’s basilica from 5th century and of a small church of St. Peter from 6th century.

The Byzantine Castrum built at western shore of Veli Brijun island with a seaward view at left and towards the rear fortification wall with a mighty Hom Oak tree inside the large compound at right.

Francs came to the Archipelago after Byzantium that later belonged to the Patriarch of Aquileia. The Benedictine abbey was constructed in 11th century beside St. Mary’s church and a square fort, a donjon was built on the eastern coast in 12th century. During those centuries of prosperity the population in addition to farming produced salt (Saline Bay), quarried and dressed stone particularly during Venetian times. Venetian rule began in 1331 so the exploatation of stone and wood continued as well as the salt production on the Archipelago that was owned by Venetian patrician families. Several pestilences devastated the population like the first plague in 1312 that reoccurred almost every 100 years of. The population recovered rather slowly mostly due to the malaria illness that harassed people regularly during the warmer periods. Venetians built two small places of worship the St. Germaine’s chapel and the St. Rock’s votive church.


Views of the two different but important hygienic facilities: Roman bath tubs in Verige bay (left) and the large bath-room in Byzantine Castrum (right) built in Gospe bay at west of Veli Brijun island.

As from the late 17th century the Archipelago’s islands were actually deserted except for temporary lumbers that came there to cut and to export wood. As from 19th century the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy started fortifying the islands by building massive bastions and batteries. Two large forts on Mali Brijun and other five ones on Veli Brijun had been constructed for the defence of Monarchy’s main naval base at Pola (Pula) on Adriatic Sea.




The renaissance of the Brijuni began in 1893 when Paul Kupelwieser (1872 - 1930), an ingenious personality and retired Austrian magnate (manager of Vitkovice steel plant in Moravia), and who bought the Archipelago from former Portuguese owners. He purchased a cow for a couple of care-taker but the fodder had be brought in from Fažana like various other bits and pieces needed for the living on island. Concurrently Kupelwieser started looking for a suitable person to supervise and manage the works that were needed to provide reasonable habitation facilities on Veli Brijun. He made a good choice with an Istrian Alois Zuffar or Alojz C(h)ufar (1852 -1907) who has been the most reliable and all-round person to be dedicated to this pioneering task on Brioni. Paul’s son Karl joined Zuffar and stayed on Veli Brijun while Kupelwieser went to England where he got very sick and nearly died of an unidentified illness. During his long absence unwieldy woods and thick macchia were cleared, the few existing buildings were made more habitable and some new paths set out using plentiful of rubbles from manhy abandoned quarries.

At left a mosaic in the Church of St. German and the Palm groove (at former horse race course) below Gradina peak. One couldn't find out whether these palms were planted by Kupelwieser.   

In summer 1894 a convalescent P.K. returned to his island and started planting various tree shoots and vegetable seeds he bought from specialized nurseries. Simultaneously works started to construct few new buildings together to clearing areas for the agriculture and animal farming. An imported steam engine of 20PS run the electric generator and geared various power tools in an improvised workshop. Rain water was collected into repaired cisterns at first and a windmill pumped water from the natural lake into a new concrete reservoir of 200m³ situated on a dam 10m high. Venetian left an old narrow gauge railway with small tipping wagons was that was reinstated to be used for various transports on Veli Brijun. One utilized the plentiful of stone debris from abandoned quarries to fill up roadbeds and to build the depilated quay wall consisting of large stones before only. A proper quay wall and an appropriate wave-breaker have been constructed with concrete blocks some time later. As from 1899 conservation works started on ancient ruins and archaeological sites marked for the research afterwards 


During summer months the number of malaria sick people increased rapidly becoming a serious impediment to the works in progress. According to the local health practice this sickness was treated with strong dosages of quinine but that was rather expensive. Despite his diminishing finances Paul Kupelwieser joined a party on 7-week long visit to Egypt in 1900. He bought there 36 palm trees with routes and 2-3m high and brought them to Veli Brijun to be planted there. The palms survived several winters but wouldn’t grow and dwindled after few harsh winters.

The old ensemble from Kupelwieser's time showing the promenade in front of the Hotel Neptun (left) and the old Boats house (right) not in use now.

Kupelwieser read in a newspaper that Dr. Robert Koch (1843 – 1910) investigates the malaria sickness at Grosetto near Rome. He wrote to Dr. Koch then in Berlin about his experiences of malaria on Brioni. Shortly after arrived Dr. Frosch and Elsner from Koch’s Institute for infective deceases to visit the island. Instant examinations provided the proof of tertiary malaria cases and an abundance of anopheles mosquitoes causing this sickness. Soon after Dr. Koch‘s arrival onto Veli Brijun simple experiments and measures were agreed upon how to eradicate mosquitoes on the Archipelago. Kupelwieser composed a long report on the malaria and how to medically treat that illness athat he submitted to the Ministry of Health in Vienna in January 1902. This unusual report from a layman about medical matters stirred up some minds in the Monarchy's Ministries. This particularly as the naval engineering works on the Archipelago were considerably hampered by losses of workers and soldiers suffering of malaria illness.


The relief in memory of Dr. Robert Koch who suggested and effectively helped to eradicate the malaria plague on Brioni Archipelago's islands.

Dr. Koch came to Veli Brijun once more in 1902 to see about the progress of sanitation works being done there in the company of a large number of German doctors too. Following Dr. Koch’s instructions all pools and ponds as the breeding places of Anopheles mosquito were filled in and levelled in. Thus the German doctors have learned about how to eradicate the mosquitoes’ plague on Brioni Archipelago at first hand. Later they continued with the research on other malaria’s potential places all over Istria and on a few islands like Lošinj and Cres. There is a mural depiction of Dr. Koch on a quarry wall above that was one of the largest mosquitoes’ breeding places on Veli Brijun. There were no mosquitoes on Veli Brijun since the summer of 1903 and the malaria illness was wiped out for ever too.

Paul Kupelwieser bought a sailing boat used by fishermen at Fažana as it was essential to for an increasing transport to the island. This boat turned out not as too adequate to move bulky and heavier goods or to navigate to Pula and other harbors further away. A small steam yachtBrioni I. was acquired soon after. After Kupelwieser’s son Karl received his captain's patent he used  Brioni I. on his many voyages in the later years. This yacht wasn’t good enough for transporting bulky goods like coal or building materials of larger volumes and to be used as a water cistern. Thus Paul K. ordered a new cargo ship with a steam engine built in Lošinj so this vessel was named  “Brioni II.” starting its service subsequently. It has been used rather efficiently and remained unharmed throughout times of World War I.


Despite the rather modest amenities in a 14-room hotel first guests came to Veli Brijun in 1896 already. From 1903 the number of tourists increased significantly and among them were many of Monarchy’s noble and honourable persons. Thus a more comfortable vessel was needed for regular services to and fro to Pula harbor and to others harbors on the coast of Istria. Inventive Kupelwieser ordered a new ship that had to be driven by a fixed Diesel engine and was the first of its kind in the shipbuilding worldwide. His third ship “Brioni III.” had its home harbor at Brioni and had provided postal and local travel services throughout many decades. This remarkable ship had survived both World Wars although under different names and sailed well into 1960s too.

This modern monument to "The Water Bearer" was erected during times when Brijuni islands were Marshal Josip Broz Tito's chosen summer residence. At those times the whole Archipelago was the restricted zone and the only visitors were guests of the Yugoslav Governement. 

The water became in short in supply as number of tourists increased as well as the requirements for farming on Veli Brijun. Kupelwieser bought a cavern system near of Fa
žana from that high stand one pumped water through a pipeline of 3.200m length laid on shallow sea floor to Veli Brijun. The pipes were made of cast iron and had been isolated with 3 layers of Indian hemp soaked in asphalt to prevent corrosion by sea water. The increased demand caused problems soon because the water became brackish partly influenced by tidal movements too. In the meantime City of Pula planned the water supply from deep well near Galižane that Romans had been using long times ago already. By extending and linking Brioni pipeline to Pula water supply system in 1908 Kupelwieser solved the main problem although the repair costs for the pipeline went up with its age.     

Above two postcard pictures were printed in 1912. The passenger ship "Brioni III" and the cargo carrier "Brioni II" moored at main quay in front of Hotel "Neptun" and Hotel "Carmen" in background left. The view to Hotel "Neptun" from the promenade of Hotel "Carmen" (right). 

During coming years the construction works began for larger hotels and 4 hotels with a total of 320 rooms and 10 villas were completed by 1913. The hotel compound “Carmen” was built close by the hill of same name and north of other hote one named “Neptun” was located inside the harbor south side. Next to all these construction works one built a new quay, a post office & telephone switchboard, created some 50km of roads and paths and formed a beach side with 180 cabins, made an indoor swimming-pool with heated sea water, a casino, run a stud farm and prepared various sports grounds as well as the largest golf course in
Europe (18 holes and 5850 m of paths) of those times too. Vineyards and olive plantations products were appreciated the same like the milk and the excellent cheese on island own pastures. The Brioni Archipelago has been advertised as the climatic and wellness resort and printed a weekly newspaper too. The season lasted almost the whole year round and the standing of guests confirmed the social prestige status for the holidays on Brioni. However during the war period from 1914 to 1918 some 2.600 soldiers were stationed on the Archipelago’s islands.

MS "Fazanka" provides the transfer of tourists from the mainland Fazana harbor to the Veli Brijun island (left) and the speed boat stationed at the island at right.

Ingenious and untiring Paul Kupelwieser has had many more ideas and plans to develop the southeast and southwest coasts of Istria that the Monarchy has neglected so far. In Medulin harbor he thought one could construct a shipyard contributing its service to the Monarchy’s naval base in Pula. Also he suggested a daily ship connection on the relation from Medulin to Zadar via Lošinj. He recommended the construction of 20km railway line from Zadar to Šibenik that was to be linked to the main railway to Split and Zagreb respectively. In this respect Kupelwieser bought Vižula peninsula there thus securing an adequate stone quarry and several fresh water wells too. He negotiated also possibilities to establish an oil terminal and a quick-lime production close to Pula. Near Valtura he found a large area that could be turned into vineyards and intended to buy large plots for his faithful cooperator Alois Zuffar but the later died before that.  


However the First World War interrupted all Kupelwieser’s plans to turn the Brioni Archipelago into a perfect tourist attraction. When this war ended whole of Istria including its islands came under the Italian  sovereignty but the Brioni Archipelago remained the possession of Kupelwieser’s family. Due to the increasing and stronger tourist competition Kupelwieser’s enterprise went bankrupt in 1936 and came under the jurisdiction of the Italian Ministry of Finance. Soon after a daily hydroplane connection to Brioni had been introduced but the Second World War ended this new period of tourist prosperity abruptly. Again the Brioni Archipelago became a naval fortification and came under aerial attacks several times in the wake of Second World War. In a bomb raid on April 25, 1945 two hotels, many houses and a large part of the quay were badly damaged or destroyed.



Literature used:


1. THE NATIONAL PARKS OF CROATIA by Ivo Bralic; translated from Croatin by

    Vladimir Ivir & Nikolina Jovanovic; ISBN 953-060580-3 (ŠK); 1995 Zagreb.


2.  “Aus den Erinnerungen eines alten Österreichers“ Paul Kupelwieser Brioni, 1918

     Gerold & Co., Wien I, Stefansplatz 8.

     The special edition „HISTRIA HISTORICA” Vol. 5 – Paul Kupelwiser “From reminiscences

     of an old Austrian – Brioni / Brijuni / Pula 1993. Copyright 1993 by the Society for History and

     Cultural Development of Istria, Pula (Croatia); ISBN 0351-1626. This Edition contains the

     original text in German by Paul Kupelwieser and the Croatian translation of the same.



DISCLAIMER : On URL: published pages are originals and authorized by copyright of Zvonko Z. Springer, Salzburg 1999.