Mauro Manzi

Montona - Motovun

Montona: The Loneliness of the Fortress

An ancient city that has lost her identity in the last postwar period.

MONTONA. Leaving the narrow valley that descends from Pinguente toward the coast, the river Quieto flows by a series of alluvial hills overflowing with vineyards. The odors and the landscape remind you strongly of the ones in Tuscany. The town apppears like a dream, but to wake up again in the unequivocal Istrian character. It is a fortress, that only later reveals itself as a fortified city. Montona raises her buttresses seemingly from nothing: from the bottom of the valley toward the sky with those battlements which are visible even on the bell tower of the Cathedral. Its strategic position transforms it into a kind of impregnable sentinel, but if we skim through the history books, instead, they reveal the torment and the invasions that this San Marino in the heart of Istria must have suffered, but which she has always withstood with aristocratic dignity.

Unmistakable is her Celtic origin, disclosed by the ending "ona" of her name, that had not been changed not even by the Romans during their conquest in the II century a. C. Montona exists with this name from more than two thousand years. She was the birthplace of four Roman consuls and she was then subdued by the Goths, the Byzantine and the Longobards to become a city of the Franks in 789. But her fortifications have always been her true fortune. Today the gaze of the visitor is still dominated and overpowered by the massive ramparts.

Climbing the cobbled roads under the walls, between gray houses with half shut shatters, one meets only the shop of a skilled wood carver, while, past the tower "Porte nove" (New Gates), a small souvenirs shop sells to the few tourists glass bottles with the inevitable Venetian gondola.

It is sad to see a city so artistically and architecturally proud living in a state of almost social prostration. Yet, those green vineyards at her feet speak about a luxuriant soil that knows how to give good fruits, therefore, able to liven up the economy of its principal center.

But it is a fact: everything gravitates today toward the coast, the Mecca of the pagan tourist that doesn't know how to recognize the more hidden jewels of Istria. Only the ghosts of the knights of Montona remain, cuddled by their diaphanous dames. "In 1827", writes Dario Alberi in his volume Istria1 (ed. LINT), "Montona had partly overcome the crisis of the feudalism new era; already then she had her own city counsel so esteemed to be called Arbiter (Referee), for the seriousness shown in the delicate controversy between the patriarchs of Grado and Aquileia for the position of Metropolitan for the Episcopal centers." Separating itself from the patriarchal power Montona aligned itself with Venice. Her dedication to the Lion of St. Mark was communicated to the Venetian Doge by the nobleman Nicolà Polesini. Stricken by the plague, fierce enemy of Capodistria, the commander of the city-fortress assumed the rank of captain-mayor.

Then came Austria, Napoleon and Italy.

Finally the second world war at the end of which as many as 1,100 out of its 1,400 inhabitants left Montona for exile. Still today climbing his bastions you get the impression of an enormous fortification abandoned by her armigers and forgotten by the winners. Perched on a hill 277 meters high, Montona, sad and solitary, overlooks the Quieto valley. For her there is only the memory of a history full of battles, of armored knights, cavaliers of arms and love, a history full of oppositions and of fundamental civic actions. Only the hollow resounding of her cobblestone walks remains today.

Unfair decline of a noble lady.

Translation by Franco G.Aitala and Piero Grimalda


1Dario Alberi. Istria, storia, arte, cultura, LINT (Trieste, 1997)


  • Mauro Manzi 27 LUGLIO 1997 Hotmail. All Rights Reserved © 1996-1998. Contributed by F.G.Aitala from unknown source.

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