Merlin Association for Promotion of Creativity

City of Pula on the southwestern end of the Istrian peninsula developed, like Rome, beneath seven hills (Kastel, Zaro, Arena, St. Martin. St. Michael's Abbey, Mondipola and Pragrande), in the inner part of a wide sea gulf and a naturally well-protected port, which is open to the northwest with two entrances: directly from the sea and through Fazana channel. City of Pula today covers the area of fifty square kilometers and has approximately fifty-nine thousand inhabitants. In the North, this area is bordered by islands St. Jerolim and Kozada, urban areas of Stinjan, Veli Vrh and Sijana forest; in the East with Monteserpo, Valmade, Busoler and Valdebek area; in the South with the Old Gasworks and Veruda area, and Island Veruda; and in the West with Verudela, Lungomare and Musil coastal area.

Pula, the classic city of the Adriatic, the Mediterranean and Europe, springs up from the poetry of the Argonaut myth of Jason and Medea ("City of Fugitives, but in their tongue they called it Polae."), the adventurous legends about the search for the Golden Fleece. Pula is hiding three thousand years of stability in its foundations (literally bellow each inch of its ground), and in the prehistoric settlement on the Kastel hill, in Histrian necropolis whose remains clearly speak about long life of the city. A comprehensive urban shaping of Pula starts in antiquity, after the Romans defeated Histrians in the year 117 BC, when they founded Roman colony (Pietas Iulia) during Caesar era (mid-first century BC). Colony reached its peak and greatness during the reign of Septimius Severus, at the end of II. and early III. century, when it had about thirty thousand inhabitants or more, and was considered, together with Salona (the Roman capital of Dalmatia), as the largest settlement on the east coast. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire (late fifth century), Pula and its urban life and population growth were practically numb for almost fourteen centuries, changing rulers and waiting for new period of urbanity...

During the period of Roman rule, especially the imperial period, Pula as a commercial and administrative center takes permanent urban stamp of Roman concept of town, with regular rectangular houses, cobbled streets and squares (Forum), sewage, insulas, walls, city gates ... This was the period when most significant monuments of Roman antiquity were built in the northern part of the Adriatic: Amphitheater, Kaptolij, The Temples of Agustus and Diana, Triumphal Arch, Gate of Hercules, Twin Gates, Small and Great Roman theater.

Construction of the amphitheater began in the time of Emperor Augustus, it continued and spread in the reign of Emperor Claudius and was concluded in the expanded form in the reign of Vespasian. Historical legend says that Emperor Vespasian constructed this magnificent amphitheater called Arena in a not so significant Roman province, in honor of and wanting to impress Antonia Cenida, his charming lover who was born in Pula. Thanks to this deep love of Vespasian, Arena can today be with no modesty compared to the Colosseum in Rome, or the Arena in Verona, amphitheaters in Pompeii or those in Nimes and Arles in France. The outer wall of amphitheater in Pula has an elliptical shape with the major axis (north-south), which is 130 m long, and the shorter axis (east-west), which is 100 meters long, and it is almost completely preserved (unlike the above mentioned) with two rows of arches, each having 72 arches and a series of rectangular slots above them, and the four towers for the access to the top, where velarium used to be stretched (cloth which protected the audience from the sun). As any other amphitheater, this one also consists of three basic parts: area for spectators that could hold twenty thousand people, the arena and underground areas. The main purpose of the Arena was the same as it is today - the entertainment and social events where people wanted to be seen and where they could see new hairstyles, clothes, jewelry, women, men ... but the most important entertainment were gladiatorial games.

Gladiator fights consisted of a series of duels between the opposing pairs. Gladiators were specially trained for various types of combat, where they used special weapons and techniques. After the introduction, followed by music performances in which they emphasized the most important parts of the show, the games would began. The duels between several pairs of gladiators took place at the same time. Those who stayed alive and could not continue the fight, would lay down their arms and request mercy by raising hands. The judgment of life and death was made by the emperor, and it usually coincided with the demand of the crowd that cried Mitte (Release him) or Lugula (Kill him). Gladiators were mostly recruited from slaves, war prisoners or prisoners sentenced to death, but also from some free people who most probably chose that trade forced by famine. One of the other popular entertainments in the amphitheater was hunting and slaying of wild animals (venatio). Animals would be first kept a long time in the dark, where they were starved and then released into the arena. Their death had to be spectacular, therefore Romans organized a variety of shows, bullfights or fights with rhinos, or with various other animals, or animals chased the unarmed people. Animals were eventually and inevitably ruthlessly dismembered. The backdrops for these performances were carefully crafted as they had to reconstruct the natural environment of wild animals.

In addition to Arena, Roman Pula also had two theaters, the Great Theater out of town, on the southern slope of the hill of Monte Zaro, which was completely destroyed in the 17th century (the stones were used for the construction of Venetian castle), and other small Roman Theater within the city walls (which was accessed directly from the street, through the Twin Gates) on the northeastern foothill of Kastel clearing, of which today still exist the remains of the stage building and parts of the audience.

Roman theater was initially inspired by the myths and was exaggeratedly realistic. Very often in the dramatic situation which had to show the death, a convict sentenced to death would take the place of the actor, or Trojan walls would be really burned down, and even the debauched scenes with women who were convicted by the courts for crimes were not lacking. The Roman theater, same as Greek theater, was a privileged place where the rules of morality and decency did not apply. With the advent of coarse comedy Atellana, new theater developed, with props, masked actors, singers, acrobats and mime who sing, dance, act and recited to the accompaniment of harp, flute and other instruments. Farce of everyday life were acted out in Latin, steeped with local dialects. Atellana constituted of several stereotypical roles: Macchus (a Pulcinella-type figure), Bucco (the fat man), Manducus (a greedy clown), Samnio (a Harlequin-type figure), and Pappus (a doddery old man). Actors and singers could, without fear of consequence, let go with wild and sometimes obsessive comments, not respecting the people or gods. The audience recognized the characters by their masks, therefore the same actor could play multiple roles, but women were not allowed to be an actress. A new form of play developed, with a distinctive pantomime which was necessary for the huge crowd that could not clearly hear the words spoken in the open. Pantomime and simple texts depicted the tragic mythological content, while mime was used to present the comic and erotic motifs painted with political and social satire. Satirical song, dithyramb, was sung in praise of good wine, and in the Roman theater in Pula it was most probably sung for the glory of fragrant Malvasia.

The development of masks in the Roman theater progressed from simple white paint on the face, to the mask made of white linen, and finally to plaster casts painted with vivid natural colors of the earth, crushed rocks, flowers ... Actors often used imaginative masks inspired by the moments of ecstasy (sadness, despair, elation, laughter, pleasure ...) therefore representing the relationship and connection between life and death that simultaneously connected and separated the two worlds. Different types of masks were inspired by the worship of the gods, especially Dionysus (Bacchus) - the god of the joys of life, fertility, wine, lust, sociability, partying ... Likewise, the warped face masks were inspired by animal heads, muzzles and positions in order to display all sorts of human sentiment, resulting in masks with distorted nos, long ears, fat lips, distorted lips, goggle-eyes, and other similar motifs on masks.

Author: Miodrag Kalčić