Oprtalj - Portole
Cities, Towns and Hamlets


Brief History and Description

Oprtalj (Portole) is village on a hill (380 m above sea level) in Istria, 27 km east of Buje; pop. [1972] about 380.

Erected on the site of a prehistoric earthwork (castelliere?], Roman and mediaeval archaeological finds show that Oprtalj has been continuously inhabited. In the Middle Ages, it was first in the possession of various feudal families. In was first mentioned as Castrum Portulense in Histria in 1102 in a document by Ulrich II, the Marchese of Istria, as being donated by him as part of his possessions in Istria to the Church (Patriarch) of Aquileia, but there are inconsistencies in that document. It was not until 1209 that the town was clearly mentioned as a new possesion of the Patriarchs of Aquileia. It remained in their possession until 1420 when the temporal powers of the Patriarchs ceased. It was besieged by the Venetian general Arcelli in 1421 and then became part of the defensive system of the Venetian possessions in Istria.

The people of Oprtalj frequently quarrelled with the people of Motovun (Montona) over the borders along the Quieto (Mirna) River and along the woods of St. Mark. In 1342, the fighting degenerated into an armed conflict, with the inhabitants asking the intervention of the Marchese of Istria, Giovanni or Ancil of Stenberg, of Postumia. With a group of sbandati, he invaded the Montona territory where he inflicted great harm to the cultivation, vineyards and livestock. The continuing disputes were partially defined in 1367 upon the visit of the Patriarch of Aquileia, Marquando di Randeck, and again in 1377, only to be definitively resolved in 1502, the same year in which a legal manuscript was attributed to define the Istrian borders of the region up to the year 1395. That document no longer exists but was extant when it was transcribed by later scribes in the 15th and 18th centuries in what is a now-famous compilation in manuscript form of what is today collectively known as the Istarski razvod (Reambulazione dei confini).

The town has preserved its medieval lay-out with narrow streets and lanes, small squares and vaulted passages, but the preserved buildings from the medieval period consist only of remains of the defensive walls that were incorporated into buildings that were erected later. The most impressive showing of of reinforcement and extension of the walls is the tower of the town gate, but equally important is the free-standing bell tower below the parish office. At around 20 m. in height, it overshadows the entire square town.

The central square is dominated by the parish church of St. George, parts of which date from the second half of the 15th century. Enlarged and provided with a new facade in the year 1600, the church has three aisles, ribbed and stellar Gothic vaulting and a deep polygonal sanctuary whose elements were decorated and signed by masons from Carniola. The peculiarity of their reliefs is not limited to the representations of saints. We are able to notice more secular figures: the knight, the forest man and black man. Containing Gothic style elements, the church was consecrated in 1526, at the time when other towns had already gained Renaissance buildings.  The parish church facade was renovated again in the 18th century, belfry completed, the town gate reconstructed, and the monumental Milossa Palace was built on a section of the defensive walls. The free-standing campanile of the parish church, standing 20 m. high, overshadows the entire square.

The Communal Palace (Palazzo comunale) that was built next to the parish church in 1471, was destroyed by fire in 1454 and immediately restored. In 1529 the Palace's plain facade was embellished by the lion of St. Mark, the symbol of the Venetian Empire. The palazzo was again restored in 1763 and the lion reset in place, only to have the building destroyed by fire again during World War II.

Among the changes to the medieval town is the Loggia that was built in 1765 on the site of an earlier loggia, just outside the town wall but not far from the town gate, plus the grain storehouse that was built in the central square. The loggia was built in Baroque style and is considered the finest example of a loggia in Istria. It has a lapidarium and a chapel with partially preserved 16th century mural paintings by the local master Antonio de Padova. The large relief of St. Mark’s lion that had been on the facade of the destroyed Communal Palace is today on display in the Loggia. The lion's unusual anthropomorphic muzzle reveals that the relief was made by local Carniolan masters.

Earlier, in the second half of the 19th century, two chapels in the square were pulled down: St. Mary Minor and St. Mary Magdalene. The latter stood next to the Communal Palace and that of St. Mary Minor behind the parish church. This means that in the small central square of Oprtalj there were once as many as three churches.

There are several smaller churches in the area. Less than a decade after the 1526 consecration of the renovated church, St. Roch was in construction. It was  decorated with mural paintings of numerous saints by a local master, Antonio de Padova (now Kašćerga), who probably never envisioned that in the centuries to follow it would become the mausoleum of wealthy Portole (Oprtalj) families. The altar-piece is the work of a follower of Vittore Carpaccio from the 16th century, while the the 1530 pala (alterpiece) of the Holy Trinity is signed by Carpaccio himself. The painting "Madonna of the Rosary" is the work of Matteo Furlanetto from the 18th century.

About 1 km south of Oprtalj is the single-paved Romanesque chapel of St. Helen (Sv. Jelena) with mural paintings from about 1400, the work of the local master Clerigino the Elder of Capodistria (Koper). The chapel of St. Silvester, farther south by the road, contains Renaissance murals by an anonymous master of a local painting school. In the Church of St. Leonard is a 17th century Pala (alterpiece) by Zorzo Ventura from Zadar. Likewise outside the defensce walls on the road toward Motovun (Montona) is the chapel of Our Lady (Sv. Marija Malena) which still retains an inscription from the Romaneque period. Some of its murals were painted in 1471 by master Clerigino the Younger (Clerigino III?) of Capodistria (Koper) - scenes of Mary's life in Renaissance style on the round arch and the south wall - while the rest are the works of three other painters from the same period who worked under the influence of the Gothic traditions of Istrian painters.


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  • Dario Alberi. Istria - storia, arte, cultura. LINT (Trieste, 1997)
  • http://www.europeanvacationguide.com/travel/Oprtalj1127_Overview.html
  • http://revitas.org/en/tourist-itineraries/historic-urban-cores/oprtalj,25/oprtalj,70.html

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Created: Saturday, December 10, 2011; Last Updated:  Sunday, August 18, 2013
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