Confines and Boundaries

Marks of Frontiers and Borders in Istria from the Middle Ages to the Present Period

Authors of the project:

  • Mr. Sc. Tatjana Bradara, senior curator, Archaeological Museum of Istria in Pula
  • Prof. Dr. Sc. Slaven Bertoša, University of Juraj Dobrila in Pula - Liberal Arts Section - History Department
  • Nenad Kuzmanović, outside collaborator from Rijeka

Historical review

The heretofore-preserved diverse material remnants of frontier and border marks possess a special meaning in the very rich Istrian cultural-historical heritage. This complex interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary project by the Archaeological Museum of Istria at Pula will endeavor to discover and describe in detail the still-existing border marks in Istria from the period of the Middle Ages onwards. The priority lies on the analysis of state frontier boundaries, for the most part those from the Venetian-Austrian period of Istrian history (14th - 18th centuries), i.e. until the downfall of the Venetian Republic in 1797.

Of paramount importance are stone boundaries that used to mark borders of territories that were of special significance to the state, such as forests, for example, to which a great deal of attention was paid during the Venetian period. The most important forest in Istria was the Motovun forest (Bosco di San Marco) that was located in the Mirna River Valley. There are other forests as well, such as Vidorno near Baderna, Kontija near Vrsar (on the northern side of the Lim Channel), Kornarija near Momjan, Kvanjke near Pavićini, Kaval underneath the village of Peruški, Prim near Rakalj, Sarancan near Šišan, Magran near Valtura, as well as Ližnjemoro and Šijana near Pula. Bearing in mind that after the downfall of Venice it was Austria that took care of Istrian forests, we have a large number of border marks that stem from the period of the 19th century. Many of them were ruined in the course of bygone centuries, some of them were buried, or else they were completely dilapidated through subsequent changes on the terrain, and then there are those that were stolen.

To date very little was written about old border marks in Istria. Dr. Danilo Klen, Marino Budicin M.A., Christian Gallo and Anton Meden described the current state of affairs regarding boundaries. The register of possessions compiled by Vincenzo Morosini was researched by Dr. Vjekoslav Bratulić. Based on information bequeathed by Josip Antun Batel, the former district head from Barban, the author of this article described the state of the boundaries at Šumber, Sutivanac, Barban and Labin. Prof. Dr. Miroslav Bertoša also made a description of border marks based on archive materials, which he studied in great detail in the State Archives at Venice. In a great monograph dedicated to Istria he compiled a meticulous analysis of so-called differences.

The complex questions arising from the Venetian-Austrian frontier in Istria in the context of the Modern Age will become clearer once all the still remaining border marks are discovered, allowing a detailed determination of the exact course of their former border line.

The Istrian border was important to the Venetian Republic for the simple reason that it was here that it came into contact with its secular rival - the Hapsburg Monarchy. This was a frontier that was important not only for the city on the lagoons but also for a portion of the European West. Both parties defended the insecure and legally poorly defined Venetian-Austrian boundaries in Istria, and this reflected itself mainly on peasants, who served either in military units or gathered spontaneously into semi-private plundering groups, both of which offered armed resistance to the usurpation of what they regarded as their own domain.

In the periods of the Cambrai League (1508 - 1523) and the Uskok War (1615 - 1618), the tactics of these peasant incursions boiled down to onslaughts across the border.

It is only from the 16th century onwards that we can follow the problems in conjunction with the boundary line in Istria in more detail. The Worms decrees from 1521, and the Trento Accord from 1535, left many boundary areas undefined. These indivisible plots of land, called “differences” (in Italian differenze), were natural areas reserved for mutual economic needs, but they soon became contentious areas (luochi contenziosi), i.e., areas of continuous conflicts.

The material remnants of border marks

Borders exist from time immemorial. They were known in ancient Egypt, in Babylon, and the Romans worshiped Terminus - the god of frontiers and boundaries, the protector of demesnes. Borders also come in the form of natural features: pools, caves, rivers, creeks, mountains and trees. The oldest mark, and at the same time the simplest one to execute, was the sign of a cross hewn on live rock. The cross appears either individually or in combination with letters and/or numbers, or in a combination with a horse hoof.

To date eighteen square slabs were discovered on the territory of Istria, measuring approximately 50 x 50 cm, with a depiction of either a lion or a coat-of-arms, which were used to mark the border between Venice and Austria. The depiction of the lion is “in moleca”; a frontally placed lion with an aureole around his head and facing to the left, with a paw holding an open book devoid of text, and spread wings. Thus portrayed wings are very similar to the claws of a crab that in Venetian is called “moleca”. The lion is hewn in a robust manner featuring anthropomorphic characteristics. The year 1755 was hewn on the upper line of the slabs (Fig.1).

Fig. 1 Draguć, a lion “in moleca” with the year 1755 (photography Tatjana Bradara)
Fig. 2 Cere, the Austrian coat-of-arms with the year MDCCLV (photography Nenad Kuzmanović)

The slabs featuring a coat-of-arms have a heart-shaped shield with a horizontal beam; the shield is accompanied by two horns of plenty, the one on the left contains a palm-tree branch, whereas a branch of laurel (?) emanates from the one on the right. Two broad leaves are placed at the top, above which is a crown featuring a sphere with a cross in its middle. The slabs are dated with the year MDCCLV, hewn on two lines (Fig. 2).

The slabs were affixed by means of iron clamps onto larger-sized forms with a rectangular body; on the Austrian side was the coat-of-arms, on the Venetian the lion.

Talks between Austria and Venice, aimed at resolving local border issues, were held in the middle of the 18th century. Similar slabs featuring a depiction of a lion and an Austrian coat-of-arms were discovered in Friuli and were used to mark the boundary line.

Borders of forests were marked with boundary stones. In the forest at Motovun, which was under the direct control of the Council of the Ten (Consiglio dei Dieci), the nowadays-visible border marks are dated to 1779, when the third marking of the forest was performed. The majority of border stones have the hewn letters C X (Consiglio dei Dieci), the year 1779 and the letters C. F. (Confine Forestale or Catastro Forestale), and a number from the series.

Several boundaries, which served to mark a specific district, have an almond-shaped coat-of-arms above which are the initials Z. P. and the name of the region (Fig.3). Border marks from the forest of Kontija belong predominantly to the Austrian period with hewn letters K. K. (Kaiser und König), as well as a number (in accordance with the system of consecutive numbers) (Fig.4). The forests of Kornarija and Farne have rather imposing stone border marks depicting a lion “in moleca” as well as an inscription, and have been dated to 1754. Until 1797, the borders of the former demesne of Lupoglav and Hapsburg Istria were marked with border marks bearing the initials DOMINIUM HABSBURGENSIS MONARCHIAE (Fig. 5). Certain possessions have been marked as well; underneath the peak of Kupice (commune of Lupoglav) there is a border mark with hewn letters P and L located on two opposing sides, all of which is topped by a cross, and the border mark near Savičenta has coat-of-arms belonging to the Grimani family on one side and Avogadro family from Brescia with hewn initials A and C, and the year MD·LIIII on the other.

Fig. 3 Motovun forest, the marking of district OTHOCO DE SEGNAC (photography Tatjana Bradara)
Fig. 4 Kontija, K. K. 273 (photography Tatjana Bradara)
Fig. 5 A border stone from the Lupoglav demesne (photography Nenad Kuzmanović)

Border marks were made predominantly of limestone, with only a small portion of them being made of sandstone. Their dimensions range from 70 to 300 cm, and on them we could possibly find a year, letters, a number, a cross, a coat-of-arms, a lion “in moleca”, and a text. Individual series are always marked with the same year, i.e. the marking period, whereas numbers go by the consecutive numbers system and could be preceded by the letter No. In most cases there are incised lines on the level upper section of the border mark, which denote the direction of the boundary line (this is quite often the case on stone marks in forests). Some of these marked border stones were reutilized at a later date and it is, therefore, not a rarity to find them carrying signs pertaining to the Venetian period as well as those later ones stemming from the Austrian period.

The final goal of this project is, primarily, to save from oblivion and to facilitate the preservation from devastation of those stone border marks that were to date completely forgotten and neglected, and remained thus unknown and insufficiently studied. Nowadays many of them are found built into diverse structures, serving as thresholds and door-posts, we find them on façades, and they also serve as benches in front of houses and on the streets.

Unfortunately, some were ruined by weathering factors but the majority was ruined during road building and earth-moving activities in conjunction with the amelioration of the Mirna River course, and as a result of other earth works on fields and in forests, or as a consequence of urbanization.

Typo3 site by Ulisys d.o.o. , 2010.