Bale - Valle
Cities, Towns and Hamlets


A Tour of Bale (Valle)
by Aaron Gillies


The population of Bale in 1991 was 1,064, with 44.5% of inhabitants reporting themselves as Croatian, 30.7% as Italian and 14.9% as Istrian. The population in 1931 was 2,649. Bale is located in the historical Istrioto linguistic zone. Place names in the local language are preserved on some street and house signs.


Bale, as seen from the south.

Bale is a village nine kilometers southeast of Rovinj, at the intersection of the Pula-Piran-Trieste and Bale-Rovinj roads. Located some five kilometers from the sea, it stands on a low hill on a limestone shelf about 140 meters above sea level. Uncluttered by outlying farms and holiday developments, Bale retains the appearance from afar of a Medieval hill town.


Bale, as seen from the east.

The oldest evidence of settlement in Bale are Bronze Age earthworks. Earthworks, which were a common type of construction in this period, permitted Bronze Age people to fortify a hilltop settlement using a combination of timber construction and soil. Typically, a ditch was dug around the base of a hill and the excavated soil was piled up around the perimeter to form an artificial embankment. The embankment was often strengthened with a timber frame or, later, stone. The earthworks at Bale date from 1800 to 1000, B.C. Additional evidence of Bronze Age activity was uncovered during the recent renovation of the town's castle.

Bale first enters written history as Castrum Vallis, a Roman settlement established along the Via Flavia, the main Roman road in Istria. Built in the first century A.D. by the emperor Vespasian, the Via Flavia connected the Istrian peninsula and, in particular, Pula, with the primary network of imperial roads.

During the medieval period, Bale was transformed from a small settlement into a fully-fortified village. In 1177, it was given by Pope Alexander III to one Peter, the Bishop of Porec. Later, it become property of the Patriarchs of Aquileia. In 1332, its ownership was transferred to Venice. The Medieval period saw the construction of the town castle and the Municipal Lodge, as well as churches and other significant buildings.

Bale remained a Venetian possession until the dissolution of the Republic in 1797. Afterwards, it became property of the Austrian state and then the Kingdom of Italy. Following 1954, Bale was part of the Yugoslavian Federation and the modern Republic of Croatia.


Pasture and farm buildings, 100 meters from town center.

The local economy is supported by tourism and small-scale agriculture (olives and grapes). At one time, a variety of tobacco called "Istria Valle" was grown near the town. The area around Bale was traditionally used as a winter pasture by sheepherders from the Ucka and Cicarija regions.


Town Plan

The most significant building in Bale is the town castle, the Castel Bembo. Built by the Soardo family in the fourteenth century, the castle became the property of the Bembo clan in 1618. The castle was originally two distinct square stone towers. Later construction connected the towers with a bridge and then a larger ground floor building. The castle was extensively reconstructed in the first years of this century.

House number plate on San Zuian

Flowers on a stoop.

Other significant buildings from the Medieval period include the Municipal Lodge, the Granary and the Praetorian Palace, which has been used as a school. The Church of the Holy Spirit, St. Elijah and St. Anthony also date from this time. The Holy Spirit and St. Anthony churches contain incomplete late Gothic frescos.

Houses in Bale (Valle)

The parish church was erected in 1880 on the site of early ecclesiastical buildings, including one from the 9th century. The churches houses a stone sarcophagus and a collection of Romanesque stone fragments. It also holds a Renaissance polyptych and valuable church vestments and utensils dating from the 15-18th century.

Above: Typical street
Right: Typical paved footpath
Piazza Tomaso Bembo.

The town square is called "Piazza Tomaso Bembo" and contains the Castello, the Clock Tower and the Municipal Loggia.



The Venetians mandated the construction of the original town fortifications in 1342. The current Castello was built in the Gothic style by the Sardo family in the 15th century. At that time, it consisted of two square towers connected by a stone bridge. The bridge was later expanded upward to become the current four-story structure. Later owners included the Bembo family, who acquired the Castello by marriage.

As of July, 2003, Castle Bembo appeared to be have recently undergone extensive renovation. See: Quante sorprese a Castel Bembo

Clock Tower

Gothic house on Piazza Bembo with clock tower behind it.
Closeup of clock tower.

A clock tower with Gothic stone ornamentation is located on top of a building in the Piazza Bembo. The clock was functioning as of July, 2003.

Municipal Loggia

The Municipal Loggia, built in the Gothic style, dates from the Middle Ages. On the walls under its portico are a number of stone seals and plaques, some of which show devices associated with the town. Plaques from the Italian period have been plastered over, but are still legible. 

Plaque commemorating the incorporation of Istria into the Italian state

As of July, 2003, the Municipal Loggia appeared to be have recently undergone extensive renovation.

Church of the Visitation

This church was completed in 1882 on the site of earlier churches going back to the 9th century. Little remains of the original structure besides the crypt, which is open to visitors. The church tower, built in a typical Istrian Romanesque style, was reconstructed in 1856. The tower is thirty-six meters tall.

The Church of the Visitation has a collection of valuable historical artifacts, including Romanesque stone carvings, a Romanesque triptych and vestments and religious implements dating from the 15th to 18th centuries.

Church front Church back Church  tower

Farm behind the Church

Church of the Holy Spirit

The interior of the church is decorated with spectacular Gothic frescos dating from the 15th century. It is also notable for its limestone roof tiles. A key is available for visitors at the local parish office.

Church of St. Elijah

The Church of St. Elijah was built in the 14th century and has a twelve meter high bell tower.

Church of St. Anthony

The Church of St. Anthony, in the town graveyard, was built in the 14th century.

Church of St. Helena

The Church of St. Helena was built in the 18th century, but is now deserted.

Monastery of St. Michael

The Monastery of St. Michael was a Franciscan institution originally built by the Camaldolese order of Benedictines. It was abandoned in the early 16th century.


The town's Medieval granary still stands.

Notable People

  • Tomaso Bembo

Tomaso Bembo was the Podesta of Bale between 1845 and 1891. He supervised the building of the Church of the Visitation.

  • Blessed Julian

The Blessed Julian was born around the year 1300. He joined the Franciscan order at an early age and, after studying philosophy and religion, was ordained a priest and began to serve in various monasteries throughout Istria. Most of his life was spent at the local Monastery of St. Michael.

During his time in Bale, Julian distinguished himself as a travelling preacher, a peacemaker and a confessor. After his death in 1349, the citizens of Bale began to venerate him as a saint and later chose him as their patron. He is venerated on May 1st (the day of his death), July 4th (the day his body was moved to the Church of the Visitation) and September 29th (the day his altar in the church was consecrated).


  • Photographs and text: Aaron Gillies for -
  • Ivan Blazevic: Istria, Tourist Gateway to the Croatian Adriatic, Art Studio Azinovic. 2001, Zagreb.
  • Catholic Conference of Bishops (Croatia) -
  • The Yugoslav Coast, Guide and Atlas, Jugoslavenski Leksikografski Zavod, Zagreb (1972).

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This page compliments of Aaron Gillies and Marisa Ciceran

Created: Monday, October 20, 2003; Last updated: Friday, June 14, 2013
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