Pietro Kandler
Prominent Istrians







Perceptions on the Istrian People
by Pietro Kandler

The following descriptions were written by Pietro Kandler as accompaniment for the 1842 lithograph images of August Tischbein and August Selb and reprinted by C.A.S.H. (Pula, 1997) in the book entitled:

  • Hrvatski: Uspomene sa  slikarskog putovanja Austrijskim Primorjem
  • Deusch: Erinnerrungen einer malerischen Reise in dem Oesterreichischen Küstenlande
  • Italiano: Memorie di un viaggio pittorico nel Litorale Austriaco
  • English: Reminiscences of the artists' journey along the Austrian Littoral

Note: we do not attest to the truth and/or accuracy of the historical references that are made in this collection of essays, and the judgments and opinions are strictly those of Pietro Kandler.

63. Peasant-woman and fishmonger

Here two opposites are joined, peasant-woman and fish monger, the daughter of a highlander that has given up cattle-breeding and grazing and turned to farming; and the inhahitant of the coastal region who has over the centuries, from generation to generation inherited from his ancestors the skill of fishing and navigation, the Slav inhabiting the country, whose family lives isolated and the Italian who lives in a community within town walls. She exceeds him in beauty, sophistication and the appearance of her clothes, for which he does not care so much, but instead chooses clothes and fabrics that best suit his needs, and which have proved to be the most comfortable and convenient for his way of life. She does not feel the cold or the wind, the tight waistcoat and shoes, as well as the load of the basket on her head do not bother her: the most important thing for her is to look slender, robust, vigorous, whereas he does not care if he looks silly providing that his feet are protected from the water, and his thighs and back from the cold and dampness, so he wears wooden clogs, coat and some sort of leggings that he wears over his socks to his knees. The experienced fishmonger laughs up his sleeve at the peasant's vanity, he does not trust her dazzling colours, and deep in his heart he regrets that her outer appearance is not in harmony with her personality, that a hard life and unconcern for living conditions will lead to premature old age. Compared to her, he is much more considerate, moderate in his joy, more lively and oriented toward the future, something she never thinks of or counts on.

Once the knowledge of language gave the fishmonger an advantage over the peasant-woman, thus in trade be benefited from this skill, but times have changed, now the peasant-woman speaks Venetian equally well as her mother tongue, which today she only uses in church and family, and has more experience in trade, so she is no longer easily gulled.

The fish that she wants to buy is not for her, the only fish she ate in her family was codfish. She buys fish for her mistress. But, do not think that she is a servant, since servants are those from town. Serving would be a disgrace to her, she would lose her good reputation in her village and every hope of marrying. She is not a village servant, since in villages only poor newcomers without any land or possibility of inheriting it are servants, thus she will never belong to this group. Peasants, just like the urban population have their ranks and classes, their codes of conduct and their dignity, their genealogy, thus serving for her would be a great stain and the culmination of ruin, just as if some Roman senator from the ancient times was sold as a slave.

No, she is not a servant, but a peasant who for her monthly wages takes care of the home and fields of her employer, goes shopping to town, cherishes her maiden dignity and position, she can have a boyfriend whom she will marry, she is allowed to go to village dances and dance with the young men, she can give her boyfriend artificial flowers, can put a few coins in their common fund, participate in celebrations, win the title of the prettiest girl at the dance. It is obvious that she is no servant. If she were, she would not be allowed to dress up to go to town.

69. Young woman from Servola

The young woman presented in this drawing is a peasant from Servola, a village that is half an hour away from Trieste. She is a Slav, her mother tongue is Carniolan, yet she perfectly speaks, almost as if it were her mother tongue, Venetian. She has learned it in town where she comes every day to sell the bread she has made and baked in the family oven, and this is obvious from the sleeveless black blouse that she is wearing. Her clothing is clean, white: she has washed it herself, but she would not have washed it so thoroughly if she were a town sworn an, no - she knows the secret of making it so white, and keeps this for herself. The lace is fine and valuable, but do not be fascinated by its yellow colour, this was achieved by dipping it into coffee. Also do not be fooled and think that such a refined, lovely, rich blouse is not missing something, since only what is visible exists, and what cannot be seen is of no use and is unnecessary. Her apron is old fashioned, striped, with large flowers, but she will soon replace it with a new, modern one. Her earrings are modern and made of gold, this is the only gold jewellery she is wearing. The ring on her right hand looks rustic and it is surely not a gold one. Her socks and shoes are clean, they are coarse, yet clean. If the road is muddy, she prefers to walk barefoot, and before entering town she washes her feet, and to protect herself from the rain she carries an umbrella. Whenever she comes to town she looks like this: her cheeks are always pink, but do not trust this colour too much.

Perhaps she is married, but whether she is married or not, her life is not the least easy. She gets up at two or three in the morning, or even one to make the bread, then she puts it into bags and loads them on the donkey, and finally she mounts and heads to town. She often carries the bread on her head, in a basket. Tn winter she arrives in town while it is still dark with a lantern that she leaves at a friend's house at the entrance to town or hides it.

In town she goes to the coffee-house, has breakfast, then delivers the bread to the houses, talks to the housewives, delivers messages from house to house, and finally she returns to the village with wheat. Lunch is unknown to her, she eats what she finds, naturally cold, with some bread, and her favourite is coffee with milk. Then she starts to knead bread for the following day and goes to bed. If she is not married she sleeps on the floor that is covered with straw, or on a straw-matress if she is married. She goes to bed early, since she has to get up early. Her husband is who knows where, probably at the inn, and when he comes home drunk, the quarrel and row will start as well as the fight because of the money, after which she will be left with only bruises and misery.

And there is a great deal of misery: each day, regardless of the weather, cold or rain, she spends outdoors, and even her home is poor shelter. As soon as she gives birth to a child she returns to her chores, she does not take any medicine, and does not want a doctor, at the age of thirty she is already an old woman. Nothing to benefit from such misery, she has neither earned nor saved money from baking bread, T do not know if she has two dresses. But she is used to going to town, and she could not do without it.

87. Fisherman

The old man who is observing is from Muggia. There are no longer fishermen in Trieste since that race reached its end with the old man aged 112 who recently died and who almost for a whole century, while walking barefoot in a procession, carried a metal crucifix found in the sea. This crucifix meant everything to him. Fishermen no longer belong to Trieste. His true clothing are the coat he is wearing and cap, and the hood worn to protect him from the rain. He prefers a shorter coat because it makes sitting more comfortable and moving about in his boat easier as well. The clothing and clogs are typical of Chioggia. He used to wear shorts, socks and shoes but now that he has become older, be prefers it this way. Wooden soles protect him from dampness. This old man, waiting for the boat, fitted by his son and grandson that will take him back to Muggia, is restless perhaps because of the sea or he has noticed something unusual. It be tells you what the weather will be like, you can surely rely on this. The tide is either too high or the smell of sea does not please him, or perhaps it is too warm. He will predict whether the winter will be cold, windy or mild.

Do not speak to him about fishing. Of this, he has had enough. He will swear at that boat calling in the port of Muggia because, he says, it is a poacher; he is either too close to the coast or he will fish with a line which is fatal for the fish. That is why fish is hard to find. He will certainly not mention that he does exactly the same along the coast of Trieste or wherever he has a chance.

This old man, however, although in ragged clothes, is not as poor as he would like to seem: the boat is his property, he has a house in Muggia and some land, be manages to make some wine, oil and corn and he gets along well. He has a moderate appetite, but he expects his meal and if he prepares a brodetto according to his own recipe, it will surely be very tasty. His little house resembles a poor man's, yet it is tidy, and perhaps there is even a picture of a saint hanging on the wall, the work of a good painter. He likes to talk when smoking bis pipe, and the news that he brings from Trieste is a real blessing, and always comments it in his own way when he tells it in Muggia. He is good to his family, humane, although in his youth he was prone to mischief. At that time he always carried a knife in his pocket, and silenced those who were impertinent.

Do not interfere with his religion, not even for fun. He has never missed bis prayers in Latin and you should have heard him sing in church together with the priests, but this too has changed today.

This old man speaks only Venetian, with an accent that is characteristic of Muggia. He has done business with the Slavs, yet has never learned a word of their language.

This man will live long, since his life has always been untroubled and furthermore, life at sea is beneficial, if one lives as he does.

105. Young woman from Piran

Among many peoples inhabiting the Istrian Peninsula today, those between Trieste and Piran, more than the others, have preserved their individuality, therefore it may be rightly concluded that they are also the oldest ones. Trieste has completely changed its features since it was proclaimed a free port. The inflow of such a great number of peoples speaking different languages and dialects, mixed education acquired elsewhere, have wiped out its original characteristics, so only in the indefinite future will it be possible to define the classification of this town. Novigrad, Porec, Pula were not destroyed in the Middle Ages, so the new peoples began settling there, who as coloni in contact with the dominating population retained an almost unchanged Venetian dialect. Kopar, Izola, Piran have preserved the common dialect of Venetian origin, yet purely local changes characteristic of all three towns are clearly observed. The bases of such a dialect reveal the development of a common primary language. It is a question of the derivation of Venetian and Pelasgic Thracian from the same Greek family, whose tradition is interwoven and merges with the earliest Antiquity. This common root accounts for the liking between the Venetians and Istrians, seen in the similarity of dressing, especially among the lower classes. In the last century they did not depend upon fashion trends, but today they are more flexible in such matters. The girl in the picture is from Piran, a beautiful town along the coast, at the entrance to the Bay of Trieste. The only dialect is that of Venice with an accent and expressions characteristic of Piran and it is very attractive and pleasing. Zcndado and fazziolo, or whatever expression we may use for the covering of the upper part of the body and head, is an old type of garment that is worn, since it has been worn like this for centuries. It has kept its black colour, in the old days it was worn is such a way to emphasize it, covering the face more, and the hair completely. But this fashion of wearing seems too sombre, too monastic. The young woman has convinced herself that it suits her face better if she pulls it back a bit, leaving the face uncovered, since there is no reason for hiding it and it does not look sorrowful at all against a black background. Her braids are much lovelier when worn in such a modern fashion, and it is more convenient that her hands are free and at least one part of the dress is visible. She has, thus, kept the old custom and no one can reproach her for the vivacious colours. She will walk through town freely, even without such a head cover, but she will not go to church without it nor will she change her hairstyle.

Not even members of higher ranks, who are permitted to adorn themselves and wear hats and caps, when receiving a sacrament approach relaxedly, but cover their heads with a black veil. Such a praiseworthy custom, unfortunately is no longer observed in larger towns, although it suits young women perfectly.

111. Saltworker

As early as ancient times the Istrian people diligently engaged in salt production and realized large profit by transporting salt over the sea and mountains. In salt preparation they imitated the natural phenomenon by which seawater exposed to the sun evaporates, leaving a deposit of salt on the ground in the form of crystals. The ground was levelled wherever it was most suitable and seawater was channelled into prepared rectangular ponds, and in the last one crystallization took place. The region is hilly, whereas at the mouths of the rivers large quantities of sediment were found and such places became the most suitable. Larger saltworks were located right where the largest rivers and streams, criss-crossed with canals used for inland navigation, flowed into the sea. Hence, the largest saltworks sprang up in Piran at the mouth of the Dragonja, in Kopar at the mouth of the Rizana and Cornalunga, in Trieste at the mouth of the Lussandra and upper stream, in Muggia at the mouth of St. Clement. Smaller facilities or just individual saltworks were built wherever it was possible, along the entire coast, on larger islands, in each cove. The Republic of Venice banned all saltworks from the Cape of Savudrija to Pula, and in more recent times those in Muggia and Zaule have been closed down. Today only the largest saltworks remain in Piran and Kopar.

In summertime work began, and the sallworkers either came from town every day or remained there during the whole working period, living in small huts. Women's work in salt production was by no means negligible.

Such an activity shows that even the fairer sex could usefully take part in this, not in the least, easy work. It was not an easy job to shovel seawater in order to move the water through a series of evaporating ponds, it was not easy to collect the crystallized surface into small cones and afterwards form larger ones and store them in the warehouse. Nor was it easy to use oars for rowing. Furthermore, the intelligence required for the successful managing of salt production was not at all negligible.

The woman in the picture is a saltworker, her mother tongue is Italian, and she is either the owner of the saltworks where she works, or a sharecropper. Her head cover is made of straw, very skilfully woven, often decorated with straw arabesques. This hat is exclusively worn by saltworkers, members of no other class use such a form and such material, yet there is no other detail that differentiates this saltworker from other workers. The tool in her hand is a pole made of softwood with a transversal board piece at the end and such a tool is used to collect salt as soon as it crystallizes.

123. Woman from Ćićarija

Cicceria/CicarijaIn the plateau between Buzet and the Hungarian royal road from Trieste toward Rijeka, on poor and unprofitable soil without water, a race of Highlanders, different from their neighbours, has been living for centuries. They are known by the name that is found on many maps and for tales that say they are all thieves and bandits, but both of these claims are completely unfounded. Such a small area that they inhabit has been enlarged in printed descriptions and honoured with the suitable name, the land of "Cici", so it almost forms a region. But, because of the poverty, typical of all highland-regions, it is hardly worth mentioning, just like the untruthful belief that all thieves on the road to Rijeka are Cici, and all Cici are thieves. They are believed to be Scythian by origin, their present name derives from the word Scythian, and their language is Scythian, but in fact it is Illyrian, whereas others consider them to be Romans and to prove this they quote rustic Romance or Vlach language that was used two hundred years ago and is still used even today in Sejana and other places under Ucka. Proof of their Romance or Vlach origin is their imprudence in speech and unbecoming and shameless behaviour, whereas the Slavic language is more restrained and cautious. The name used for them is not theirs, it was given by their neighbours, hence it is believed to derive from the Vlach word ciccia meaning cousin, which they used, perhaps even still do, when addressing each other. Thus, in Istria when a young Italian is talking to an older person he addresses him as barba, meaning uncle, younger ones are addressed as fratello (brother) or sorella (sister), and in some countries the word fratello or sorella brother-in-law is used similarly.

And while one is faced with such dilemmas, the Ćić knows nothing about them nor does he care. Deprived of tradition, without reminiscences, he lives his life day after day, producing coal and making barrels, he is occupied with sheep-farming and poor soil where neither vines grow nor is a cicada heard. This poor Ćić girl is even less concerned with this. Perhaps she was born on the way to Trieste, and even if she was born in the house, under a roof, it is nearly the same. She is the daughter of a woodcutter, and as soon as she is strong enough to carry a load, almost like a pack animal, she will occasionally have to carry one to town, that is almost impossible weight for her. With this load she climbs and descends down hardly accessible cliffs, and rises and descends while knitting socks. This girl from Ćićarija is a beggar, yet she would never beg if the buyers, even at a reduced price, were willing to buy off her load. They know that the goods cannot be returned, therefore they put pressure on her. She begs so that she may be able to return home by cart, or spend the night under a roof if she does not manage to sell everything. If this should happen, she will join the multitude that returns to the mountains and, not remembering the past and indifferent to the future, she will sing sad songs with the others. She never indulges in joy or laughter, and always returns to the toilsome routines and everyday labour.

135. Peasant-woman from Baderna

Monpaderno/BadernoExcept for fortified places, the interior of Istria is inhabited by Slavs, that are not all of the same parentage and language, but all are newcomers. The indigenous population of the peninsula was Celtic: the Histri after whom the region got its name, and Pelasgians who inhabited the coastal areas. The coloni who had driven away the Peiasgians and mixed with them were the Latins. Under Roman rule and finally with the 8th c, all the natives became Latin out of fear, enterprising spirit or because they curried favour with the authorities. During that century a new population began settling in the interior of the peninsula, Germanic noblemen and Slav peasants. The first ones, since they were a minority, therefore ethnically weak, either left the region or merged with the new ethnic group. The Slav peasants, continuously joined by new settlers that the government brought to this region, took possession of the countryside and accepted peasants of Latin origin and language. A thousand years after their first settling they were divided into several groups.

Between the Dragonja and Mirna, in the Buje district, the Croats took over Italian national costumes and customs, so that at first glance it is not clear whether they are Croatianized Italians or Italianized Croats. These are probably the oldest Slav settlers in Istria. The second oldest are the Slav settlers between the Dragonja and Cicarija, on the territory of the municipalities of Piran, Kopar and Trieste. By their language and customs they are Slovene, who are called Savrini, which is connected with the Sava River, although this does not correspond with the red, white and green ornaments that recall the possible ancient subordination to the Hungarians.

Another, ancient group of Slav settlers, similar to this first one, inhabit the upper course of the Mirna River in the Buzet district. A group of Slav settlers that is also considered to be an ancient one inhabits the Labin district between the Rasa and Kvarner, and seems to be close to the inhabitants of Liburnia.

More recent settlers inhabit the areas between the Mirna and Lim and the Lim and Rasa since these are the uskoks from Dalmatia, Montenegro, Herzegovina and the Croatian littoral. They form the same group regardless of the difference in origin.

The Roman population that inhabited the Rakalj district became entirely Slavic, and soon this will happen to those inhabiting the Rasa valley in the Belaj district, which comprises the population using the Vlach language. All these various groups of Slav settlers have preserved their primeval common origin, not only in language, but also national costumes and family tradition.

The woman from Baderna in this picture is Dalmatian. Her clothes, that she has made herself, do not differ from those worn by the Savrini, only the cloth is somewhat coarser, as are her behaviour and customs.

159. Peasant from Rovinj

Rovigno/RovinjThe land around Rovinj is cultivated by agriculturists of Italian origin, who differ from their fellow-villagers by their dialect. The origin of such a dialect would be a very interesting topic for discussion. Since it is truly unusual that on a peninsula, in fact its narrow coastal belt, such great differences in speech existed and mostly they exist even today. A well-known fact is that in Trieste and Muggia the influence of Friulian in the Venetian dialect is felt, which does not hold for this area, since the documents indicate differently. In Kopar, even today, Venetian with local features is used, whereas pure Venetian is used along the entire central coast and in Pula. In Rovinj, a dialect completely different from the Venetian one is used, and cannot be easily and precisely attributed to any dialect used on the Apennine Peninsula. However, it can be stated with certainty that it is not a combination of two living languages of totally different features. It seems that this heterogeneousness results from the old mixture of peoples, who originally spoke another language, and by accepting the new one retained the articulation and sound of the old one. By this we mean that in the past Rovinj was a Celtic community, and although its members mixed with the Roman coloni, they preserved evidence of their origin through the dialect. This supports the fact that it is improbable that Rovinj was a refuge for Italian dialects and that such a blend resulted in the Rovinj dialect.

The agriculturist from Rovinj, like all others in Istrian communities, does not live on the field, nor is he isolated from his family, he wants to be part of a community and acquire middle-class manners. In the evening he returns to town, and in the morning he leaves again, and his rustic house is located in the town where the seat of the government is also situated. This is a common habit of agriculturists of Italian origin. On the other hand, the Slavs often live in detached, scattered houses, and this should not be attributed to the need to find shelter within walls because of frequent attacks, since such attacks ceased long ago, but to the development of civilization that compels people to live closer. Life within the town walls need not necessarily damage agriculture, as was once believed, because the Rovinj man with his praiseworthy diligence cultivates rocky land and strives to turn it into fertile soil so that any type of crop can be grown there. The Slav peasant who lives separated amidst spacious and fertile fields is no match for him by diligence or intelligence.

The peasant in the picture is returning from the ploughfield on his nag, and carries his main tool, the hoe, hunting rifle and leads a pack of dogs. His clothes arc completely Italian and he wears high leather shoes that protect him from thorns and snakes and keep the soil out of his shoes. He wears the same cap as do people at sea.

165. Vodnjan women

Vodnjan/DignanoWe have already noticed earlier that the southern part of the Istrian Peninsula is inhabited by people that completely differ, both in clothes and dialect, from the Istrians that speak Italian and inhabit the remaining coastal area. By all its features, this race greatly differs from the Slavs that inhabit the interior of the southern region and eastern coast; both by language, clothing and stage of civilization.

Already in ancient times, these people settled in the area that once formed the territory of the Roman colony of Pula and was far more numerous. There is undeniable evidence that this population not only inhabited Vodnjan and Galizana, but other settlements between the ports of Vestar and Krnica, that were not so long ago devastated by the plague and war. The Italians were followed by the Slavs, since they were more adaptable by their vital force and the acquired toughness, therefore it was easier for them to withstand the dangerous conditions arising, as they say, from the climate, but this was rather a result of lack of hygiene and indifference toward essential habits regarding physical health in these areas.

This is, undoubtedly, an Italian tribe, yet it seems strange that in all aspects it stands out from the others in central and northern Istria, and by the national costumes it reminds more of the Italian south. On the territory of Istria this phenomenon of tribes differing from neighbouring ones is observed in the area between the slopes of Ucka and Lake Cepic. This valley is inhabited by a rather numerous tribe of 5,000 members, who inside their homes and family speak Latin. Although it is the vulgar, bad form of language, nevertheless it is Latin, the same language used by the Vlachs in the regions around the Dunav and the same one spoken by the highlanders in Epirus and Greece. These inhabitants consider themselves Romans, that is, their descendants from some military colony. This same language was used by people who are today called the Cici, and was spoken in the Trieste Karst one and a half century ago. Through frequent contacts with the Slavs, people completely gave up their natural language, and perhaps ashamed of it, claim they do not know it, nor do they use it in the company of strangers.

The tribe that the women in the picture belong to speaks Italian, but in a dialect composed of its authentic words and unusual root vowel assimilation. It is easy to find words resembling Latin in their speech, which furthermore implies they result from an ancient language. One notices the same words preserved in the vernacular and standard language, but completely differing in meaning from the original one, since it cannot be known to the people, and the former living conditions no longer exist.

Because of this, we may consider this tribe to be an old Italic colony that was inhabited by the Roman government, either during the period when the territories were taken from the indigenous population and given to the newcomers so that they could found the Roman colony of Pula, or it happened in the later periods when the ancient colony was being restored. This can explain why that tribe has remained different from all the other ones in the region and why it has retained its Features.

171. Peasant-woman from Vodnjan surroundings

Vodnjan/DignanoLanam fecit, domum servavit: she spun wool, cared for her home, as the Romans once said of their women when they wanted to honour them most. This was quoted when they neither did the spinning, nor the household chores. However, this woman engages in both. She is Italian: she speaks a dialect characteristic of this region and knows no other one. It would be a difficult task to define the group of Italians her community belongs to: surely not the Venetians, perhaps she belongs to the earliest settlers of the peninsula. We dare  not say that this is the native population, since the first data about Istria suggest that its  inhabitants belonged to two main, different ancient peoples, the Celts and Thraeians. The  latter ones inhabited the coastal region and did not mix with the Celts. When the Romans took over the peninsula, the Thracians disappeared, whereas the Celts who were not hostile toward  the Romans, were closely linked to them, and willingly, not under compulsion, accepted Latin  and Roman customs. The whole region had one common language, although a few expressions from the languages of ancient peoples remained. Such was also the situation in the Middle Ages. But, since the plague had ravaged the region, and it was settled by newcomers, consequently the languages changed and altered. In the central region Slavic languages prevail, Venetian is spoken in the coastal area to Porec, whereas in southern Istria four or five settlements have preserved their own dialect and customs, different from the rest. Among these settlements Vodnjan definitely stands out. The national costume of Vodnjan women is similar to that worn in central and southern Italy, it can even be regarded as completely identical, if Vodnjan women, instead of a black woven cap which they wear on every occasion, covered their head in summer with a starched kerchief. The greater part of clothing is woolen, skirts are always made of dark cloth, both because the soil is rich in iron oxide so it leaves stains on the clothing, and because of the influence of climate or old customs. The sleeves are sewn onto the waistcoat, so the arms can be left bare, and the waistcoats either left aside or fastened nicely. This fashion of dressing is not only typical of Vodnjan, and will be mentioned later.

177. Shepherd from Vodnjan surroundings

Vodnjan/DignanoThe young man in the picture is a Slav and belongs to the group of settlers known as the Morlachs. He has passed boyhood, that is the age when he was forbidden to wear trousers, socks, opanci and cloak, hut instead, regardless of the season had to walk barefoot, wearing only a long shirt. His ancestors grew up and became tougher this way, he is growing up and becoming tougher like this, and his children will continue to grow up and become tougher like this, too. Now, he wears trousers, cloak, opanci and jacket, and in order to be considered a man he has a moustache and smokes a pipe. In his bag he carries things that he takes to town or brings from the town, and in the wooden vessel he carries some water with vinegar or watered wine, since there are no springs along the way, and the only water that he will find is the red and muddy one from ponds that is green in the summertime. Whether it is cold or hot, sunny or rainy, he dresses the same: except for the shirt, all his garments are made of wool that he himself has sheared. He lives a simple life: in the morning he leaves his hut with a flock of sheep and wanders through the hills, the only company he has is his immensely loyal dog, the only being to share some black bread with and his concern about tending his flock. During the sweltering heat he lies down under a hackberry or linden tree with the sheep and dog, and plays his reed-pipe. At first the sound of this instrument is unpleasant, but soon one gets accustomed to it, and the sound becomes even pleasing, but only in the open. This instrument is not considered rare or barbarian: it is used in many other regions, very often in Sardinia, where it is called laumedda. The Romans used such an instrument with one, two or three tubes, and called it tibiae, and it bears resemblance to the modern oboe. The instrument is difficult to play and requires great skill. The Morlach always plays and sings in the minor scale, that reflects his mood, and this is also the way the majority of Italic, Greek and Slav peoples play and sing. When he sings he repeats chants about heroic times.

Not caring much about the present or future, this young man has his own hopes and fears. The ancient monuments are a secret for him, the ruins of the citadel, chapel and church hide treasures that he has heard about in old legends. Therefore, he frequently searches through them hoping to find this treasure and become rich so he can lie idle and drink, but all that he finds are a few coins, statuette, chipped-off piece of pottery. But throughout his entire day-dreaming there is something that bothers him, the thought of military service. Fourteen years, then seven more, punishment and beating, execution, being away from his home and family. He does not know who to believe, those who use frightful words to describe the strict discipline, or those who say that there is no danger of being punished if he carries out his duties, that a good soldier can easily get a few months' leave to visit his home and family, and then the famous military reviews, chances of seeing and meeting generals, the pleasure of keeping watch at the theatre or even taking part in the play as an extra dressed as a Roman hero or Turk with a false beard. Throughout this fantasy he starts to think of where to hide the possible money from his fellow-soldiers at the baracks or that he will not be carried away with statements about friendship by someone who would like to enjoy himself at the expemse of the recruit. Sometimes he thinks: if only I could become a grenadier! But the next moment he is overcome by repulsion for military service and... he yields to destiny, fate, and in the meantime he plays his reed-pipe and sings about legendary heroes.

183. Town guard in Barban

Barbana/BarbanThe young man leaning on the gun is a member of the town guard, he keeps watch over the general internal safety in communes, that is active throughout the region. During Venetian rule, besides military service in the armed forces, the Slavs were recruited in ground troops and sent to Slav and Italian units, or the cavalry which was called Cappelletti. Aside from this, there was the chosen provincial militia called cernide, which was responsible for safeguarding internal peace and stability, since a larger part of the province had a different ruler. The cernide acted as true militia, since its members were the national guards originating from the period of Illyrian rule.

Town guards have neither military organization, nor military discipline or independence, but are only at the administrative authorities' disposal, supervised by the civil director. They wear no military marks, but only fringes or some other mark on the cap or cloak. The guns that they use are their possession, and not everyone carries one. In many places they have been given identical arms which are owned by the commune. The guards' duties are not strictly defined; they patrol and inspect the town at night, even the surroundings if necessary, they persecute criminals and deserters that hide from the authorities and carry out orders of the public service.

The young man in the picture is a Slav, both by his language and origin. This suggests that he originates from the southern provinces of Dalmatia and belongs to a race that has retained its dialect, never mixing it with other ones used in the province.

His clothes are old-fashioned with very few changes; he wears opanci, a type of coarse footwear with laces that are made by his fellow-countrymen. He wears no socks, but woollen cloth that protects him from dampness, and the tight trousers are also woolen, drawn in with a string. They are in Hungarian colours: green, white and red and this suggests his former submisiveness. His shirt is a linen one and, in fact, this is the only linen item of clothing. His dark brown jacket, overcoat and the cloak made of black velvet, are locally made. The wool comes from his herd and has been spun in by his family, he wears the same clothes both in summer and winter. His ancestors once wore a raised cloak and longer overcoat, while their hair was arranged in a braid. The former ones were shortened because of fashion trends or convenience, the latter by decree, but his old-fashioned way of dressing remains and will not be altered easily.

189. Peasant-woman from Peroj

Peroi/PerojThe peasant-woman shown here is from Peroj, a village in the Pula district, not far from Fazana. These people from Peroj, who call themselves Greeks, and are known by this name among people, confirm the legend according to which the Greeks once inhabited Istria. However, these facts are not true and should be corrected for the sake of the Greeks and Peroj inhabitants.

It seems that the rulers of the Istrian coast before the Romans were of Greek origin, but with the Roman conquests many were killed in battles, executed or sold as slaves, while the remaining population merged with the newcomers so that, besides legends, no traces remain about them. Such tradition became alive once again when, during the Goths and Franks, Istria was under Byzantine rule. At the time, Greek was the language of administration and church, all state officials were Greek, and the whole culture was drawn from Greek sources.

After the last epidemics of the plague had ravaged the region, the Venetians colonized Istria with numerous families from the Greek islands that had been conquered by the Turks, and many agriculturists from Dalmatia, that was also endangered by the Turks. As the Venetians were tolerable concerning religion, they granted freedom of worship both to settlers of the Greek language and Eastern-Rite Catholics appointing the church of St. Catherine in Pula for their religious rites, and the Orthodox Slav settlers the churches in villages that they settled.

All these settlers were called Greeks, not because of their language but because of the religion, as is still the case in regions with two religions.

Over the time both the Greek and Orthodox Slav settlers became Roman Catholics. The last ones to settle in Istria were the people from Montenegro who settled in Peroj, and were appointed the church of St. Catherine in Pula. For this reason they were called Greeks, and because of the mixing of religion and language many thought that they spoke Greek, although in fact this was a Slav population.

The young woman presented in the picture is Orthodox and is very devoted to her religion and priest, but she neither speaks a word of Greek nor does she believe to be of Greek origin, but knows well that her ancestors came from Montenegro. Even if there is some doubt, the documents that her father possesses clearly show the year of arrival, the doge who settled them here, the land that was given to them, cattle, cart, seeds, money that was given to the new family for their needs. The coins around her neck with the portrait of the doge who helped her family may even be his present. She does not speak Italian, only understands a few words, and she makes no efforts to learn it. Her clothes, life and customs are linked with her original homeland, she cherishes this and will continue to, so she will not marry anyone who is not of her religion.

195. A Sunday in Peroj

On the occasion of an exhibition of national costumes in Peroj, I noticed that its inhabitants were Greek only by matters connected with religion. They are Slav by their language and habits taken over from the region that was their last homeland. We say last, since we do not want to think of them as indigenous population from periods preceding the Illyrian times, nor discuss the difficult question concerning the origin of the Slavs.

The picture shows a few Peroj men ready to indulge in dancing. One player is blowing into his bellows with the utmost effort from which one or more pipes are protruding. The sound, when you get used to it, is tolerable, it may even be pleasing, but still a certain coarseness is heard and somehow it sounds melancholy. The Slavs, like many other peoples, prefer the minor scale in music and exclusively use it. This dance music, that is already today common in many provinces and which stresses its solemn origin, has not yet reached Istrian villages. However, it will soon spread among people who are far from social communities, even if it does arrive in an altered and bad form. Perhaps changes will be so great that only some of the first cadences will remain.

The young man that is merrily starting to dance, has set aside his jacket and cloak, so that his slenderness is revealed, and it is pleasing to observe his slender stature. Narrow and tight woolen trousers are fastened at the waist with an adjustable string and drawn tight around the ankles, above the footwear that is home-made. The footwear consists of a certain kind of socks, sewn and also woolen, and sandals called opanci, made of untanned hide and tied with leather laces. The girl-dancer is also wearing opanci, but men and women often substitute them for shoes that are indispensable during rainy weather. The girl-dancer who has also undressed as much as it was possible, has a cap on her head and this is a sign of her virginity. She enjoys adorning her chest with medallions that produce a pleasant tinkling sound with each move. Their favourite dance is the kolo (wheel dance), that could to some extent resemble a waltz, if it were not ruined by high hopping.

The person sitting and attending the dance, and by his authoritative presence keeps the liveliness within bounds of decency, is their priest and wears the same clothing that was once worn by Orthodox priests. He is gowned, wears a coloured band and mantle, has a beard and long hair, cap and round hat. The stick is not obligatory, but it is a sign of authority. These priests are allowed to be married if they have done so before taking holy orders, but they cannot marry again should they become widowers. This priest's clothing reveals that people from Peroj belong to the Greek church by religion, but not by language. The language used in church is Slavic, not Greek, and also Greek priests are dressed differently.

237. Peasant-woman from Labin

Albona/LabinOn the slopes and at the foot of Mount Ucka, between the Sinus Flanatieus or the Kvarner and Rasa, the ancient border of Italy, lies the area, that was in the ancient times together with the Kvarner islands, Zadar and its surroundings called Liburnia, and which was always inhabited by people different from those along the Istrian coast. It is difficult to say whether the Slavs were the Liburni in the past or related to the Iapodes, who were of Celtic-Illyrian origin. However, it is certain that migrations over the past centuries assimilated these different peoples, if this had not taken place earlier, therefore they should be considered a Slavic race. It is also impossible to say whether they can be considered fellow-countrymen of the Istrians from the hinterland by their clothing, or whether by their language they are Liburnian Slavs, because although it is easier for underdeveloped peoples to accept a new language than it is to accept a new way of dressing, that is closely linked to the climate of this area, opposite examples are also observed on the Peninsula.

The peasant-woman that is humbly paying reverence to the Blessed Virgin and commends her troubled soul to her, is from the Labin surroundings, she is a Slav and does not know a word of Italian. It is a holiday, she is wearing her best clothes and has dressed up. She is going to town to mass, and to talk to her friends and buy something. This melancholy expression which is even more pronounced because of the humble reconcilement with destiny, is perhaps a result of the monotonous life deprived of joy or perhaps results from the discipline that women are exposed to, which very often reaches the stage of slavery. But, perhaps these are traces of destruction and horrible cruelty of the uskoks felt by all people. The uskoks were Morlachs who inhabited the area around Senj, bloodthirsty by nature, coarse and rude plunderers by nature and habits. These pirates of the Kvarner were for many years shameful examples of how low man can fall. Such lowness earned a place in history, and even notable writers like father Paolo Sarpi wrote about them, as if they stood out by their civilized conduct and customs and excellence of mind. Two influential persons, the emperor and doge had difficulties to control them, and even cruel punishment was useless. Only when they moved far from the coast did the situation change. Memories of them still remain.

243. Peasants from the Labin surroundings

Albona/LabinThe inhabitants of the interior of Istria and its eastern coast belong to the large Slavic family that from Bohemia, the Alps and the Adriatic to Kamchatka and China, from the walls of Constantinople to the North Sea covers a large part of Europe and Asia. As we have already observed, the variations from one town to another, from one village to another, are great, so that it can be concluded that different Slavic races at different periods, from different parts settled in Istria. They are completely different, each cherishes its own customs, habits, dialect. I do not mention tradition since they do not have it or they have forgotten it, and we have often observed that tradition is inseparable from culture. Just as the Italians and Slavs in Istria have not merged because they have an aversion to marriage between members of different races, also the members of Slavic tribes, that detest such assimilation, prefer to marry someone from the same community or the same village, thus continuing such personal habits and family life that today's civilization does not accept since they are an insurmountable obstacle for development and hinder economic and intellectual progress. And even if the Slav peasant is compelled to move to town for several years, and even if he is compelled to accept better clothing, conduct, food, hygiene, as soon as he returns to the village he is the same person he once was. We can often see someone who has spent 14 years in military service in the largest towns where he behaved as any other soldier, tidy, upright, clean, with a measured pace, as soon as he puts on his cloak and shirt again, even if it is only for a few days, he no longer cares about his hygiene and behaviour, but immediately starts to stoop and becomes careless about his appearance, which is typical of some races. Even if he has served 21 years, the only sign that reflects his longtime service is the position of his feet if he thinks that a high-ranking official is present, and he has learnt this at the barracks. Nothing has attracted him, not the moral life in town, gentleness of family life, equality between man and woman. When he returns to his native village, women are nothing but domestic animals that he must tyrannize so that they might be of use. Crafts, enterprising spirit, development of farming, family comforts, cleanness, are all useless habits belonging to some other race, and are well suited for towns, opposed to the ones he was born with and which are also observed by his fellowmen. The Slavs in the Labin district bear a certain resemblance to subalpine Istria and are the first link with the Liburni who inhabited the Labin area. Liburnika is the leather bag that he carries over his shoulder and which is more useful than pockets. The Istrians do not use such objects. However, they share with the Istrians the same caps made of black cloth and a greater part of clothing. The trousers are baggy, as is the custom on the Liburnian islands, and they share the same black colour. Women's hairstyles also resemble those of Liburnian women.

279. Wedding procession of Istrian Slavs

On the whole territory the Slavs of different parentage and language, keep, or have kept until recently some wedding customs that suggest their common origin. The change of living conditions in our century has resulted in their changes, that were facilitated by the fact that remaining without a clear meaning many customs became incomprehensible, and if the attitude toward them was not repulsive, it was indifferent. In the interior such ancient customs were better preserved than in the immediate surrounding of towns. They have been specially well preserved among settlers from the 15th and 16th c. We will describe only a few, but not even these are common to the entire Slav population.

Slavic wedding entourage

The inferior position of women led to the fact that the social status and financial situation of the groom were not specially significant. The groom's father chooses the bride, but this choice is neither forced upon him, nor does it prevent him to follow his feelings. With two close relatives the father goes to the bride's house and from the threshold asks the father for the girl's hand. The brides father brings out the wine so they can drink and promises that he will decide within eight days. After these eight days the groom's father, accompanied by a larger number of people, arrive to hear the decision. The groom's family enters the bride's home and over a sumptuous meal, and merry making makes arrangements to complete the preparations within the next fifteen days. The only ones attending this gathering are the men of the two families that are to be related, women, the bride and not even the groom are there. After fifteen days the groom's father and the groom go to the bride's home and with them bring a kid that is immediately prepared, and the groom gives the bride a ring which settles the engagement.This celebration is accompanied by gunshots.

When finally the wedding day arrives, the guests and relatives of both families head toward the church accompanied by cries, clamour and gunshots. The procession is led by two musicians playing the Istrian long flute since they do not know of better instruments. The bride follows garlanded with flowers and out of superstition, with a covered face. She is often adorned with different coloured ribbons that fall to her shoulders. The bride walks between two bridesmen, followed by the groom smartly dressed and walking between two bridesmaids. They are followed by the best man and cousins. After the church ceremony a feast is organized at the home of the bride or groom. When they arrive the mother-in-law shows the bride a child and gives her a basket full of wheat and small fruit that she throws behind her back.

The merrymaking during the meal is excessive, after it comes the dance, while the bride offers wine to everyone, first tasting it herself, and in return she receives gifts and money. When the time comes for the newlyweds to retire, they are closed inside a barn or cellar, or some other adequate room. The following day the bride's mother-in-law gives her a distaff, sickle and broom. In the past there were other customs that are no longer observed. The celebration is not limited to one day, but lasts a few days. That is the only celebration for the bride, because when she becomes part of the family life, only worry and hard physical work awaits her. Since this hits the very soul, she will no longer care about her looks and will become old too soon.


  • Text - L'Istria, 1846-1852
  • Images - August Tischbein and August Selb from their (paintings) are from Memorie di un viaggio pittorico nel litorale austriaco" (Trieste 1842), republished excerpts by C.A.S.H. Histria Croatica (Pula, 1997), narratives by Kandler (Italian) with translations by Srđa Orbanić (Croatian), Jakob Löwenthal (German), and Vedrana Brajković (English). Book entitled: 
    • Hrvatski: Uspomene sa  slikarskog putovanja - Austrijskim Primosjem
    • Deusch: Erinnerrunger einer malerischen reise in dem Oesterreichischen Kusternlande
    • Italiano: Memorie di un viaggio pittorico nel litorale Austriaco
    • English: Reminiscences of the Artists' journey along the Austrian littoral

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Created: Sunday, April 10, 2005; Last updated: Saturday, February 20, 2016
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