Pićan, Istria
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  Posted March 18th, 2017 by Zdenko  in Travel | No comments yet.

Traveling Croatia

By: Zdenko Kahlina

Pićan – Virtual tour
We arrived in Pican from Labin. It was only a 20 minute ride by the car on our trip to visit Motovun. Pican is an old hilltop town located in the Istrian hinterland, on the road Vozilici – Krsan – Pazin.

You will spot his bell tower on 385 meters high hilltop on your right side. This little town is one of the oldest Bishopric seats in the World. Pican is also the birth place of Matko Brajsa Rasan – the author of the Istrian anthem. 


Once you arrive with the car near the main town gates of Pican you will find a large parking place in the shadow of the centuries old trees. The main gates of the town date back into 14th century.


 The town was encircled by the walls which were renovated throughout the Middle Ages. As time passed the walls were mutilated by building houses on top of them.

Before you enter the town you will also note on your left side the small Church of St. Rock from 1638 and the sculpture of St. John in front of it from 1714.


Opposite to the town walls, few hundred meters away, on a hilltop, there is another small Church of St. Michael dating back into 15th century. Its interior hosts Gothic frescoes from the first half of the 15th century. The church is located in a beautiful place where you have a very nice view towards eastern and northern part of Istria.


When you pass the town gates on your right side there is the Bishops palace and few meters above there is a 48 meters high bell tower built in 1860. Nearby the Bishop palace there is an old well.

 If you take the first street that goes on the right you will pass near the Parish Church of the Annunciation that even today has the status of the cathedral. In the same street you will see a stone inscription of the native house of Matko Brajsa Rasan.



 The old Medieval Pican cathedral was reconstructed during the Baroque period. The main nave was expanded in 1613 but was thoroughly modified in the Baroque spirit between 1753 and 1771. The cathedral was completed in 1771 and is also known as St. Nikifor cathedral. It is likely that St. Nikifor died in Pican in 546. The cathedral hosts several tombstones of Pican Bishops and other important families like: Bishop Giovanni Barbo (1547), Bishop Marco Rossetti (1765), Vretoner (1755), Bishop Antonio Zara (1621), Bishop Bonifacio Cecotti (1765), two rich agricultural families, and the last Bishop of Pican, Aldargo dei Piccardi (1783). In front of the cathedral there is a beautiful view towards southern parts of Istria. 


In Pican’s photo gallery you will find few pictures of this old town.    


PicanPican was a prehistoric hill fort settlement and later on the Roman settlement named Petina. It is likely that the Histri tribe had a hill fort settlement on the 367 meters high hilltop where today the small Church of St. Michael is located. The settlement was named Oriz.

 Later on Pican was part of the German Empire at the beginning of the feudal period and in 1012 was under the Aquileia Patriarchs. In 1102 the Aquileia Patriarchs received from Count Ulrich II Weimar many Istrian territories and in 1112 it is possible that the Aquileia Patriarchs gave Pican as feud to Enghelberto I of Eppenstein.

 Later on they gave it together with Pazin to Mainardo of Schwarzenburg. Mainardo of Schwarzenburg will found the County of Pazin. In the 13th century Pican was part of County of Pazin. In 1342 Pican was part of Alberto IV properties and it is known that at the time was named Pyben. Later on in 1498 Pican was named Piebnn.

In 1374, when Alberto IV died, Pican became a part of Istrian dominions of the Hasburg family. In 1508, for one year, Venetians occupied Pican because of the war with Austria.

 In 1578 Pican had the statute of a town. In 1616, Venetians were again in the war against Austria, Uskoci war, and Pican was defended at that time by Croatian Captain Ivan Seminic.

Pican was for many centuries part of the Austrian dominions in Istria and after a short period of Napoleon rule was again part of Austria and the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy until the end of the First World War. Between the two World Wars, Pican, as the other Istrian towns and villages was part of Italy. After the second World War Pican became part of Yugoslavia (Croatia).

 During the Italian Fascist period in Istria many Istrian families suffered from the regime or had to leave Istria. Fascism in Istria applied various repressive measures mostly towards Slav populations and this created the Antifascist Movement. The Second World War was a very painful experience for the Istrian population and many innocent Istrians, both Slav and Latin, died during that war.

 After the second World War Pican became part of Yugoslavia (Croatia). There were three agreements between Yugoslavia and Italy which established that Istria would become a part of Yugoslavia: Paris Agreement of 1947, London Memorandum of 1954 and the Osimo Agreement reached in 1975. In the first decade after the Second World War many Istrians, especially those living in towns and villages that for centuries were part of the Venice Republic, decided to leave Istria.

 In 1991 with the fall of Yugoslavia and the founding of the Republic of Croatia, the internal republic boundaries were recognized as the state boundaries and Pican is today part of Croatia.

 Hopefully one day Pican will be also part of the European Union. You can not change the past but you can try to learn from it. The main aim of the European Union founders was to build a system that could avoid future wars and future refugees in Europe.


The Legend of St. Nicephorus
Many legends, sometimes excluding each other and often intertwined, are linked to the emergence of the Diocese of Pićan and its patron, Saint Nicephorus. Orientation is made even more difficult by the fact that Pićan is, in fact, linked to two Nicesphoruses – Saint Nicephorus the Martyr and Saint Nicephorus the Bishop.
The legend of Saint Nicephorus the Martyr says that the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great (who proclaimed Christian toleration, promoted Christianity and built a new capital of the Empire – Constantinople) had the body remains of Saint Nicephorus of Antioch put on a ship in Constantinople. He ordered that a church had to be devoted to this Saint on the spot where the ship stopped of its own volition. According to a longer version, the Saint’s body, after landing on the shores of Istria, was mounted on a horse which was left free and which stopped – in Pićan.

The legend of Saint Nicephorus Bishop and the Thorndancers The second legend tells of Saint Nicephorus, the Bishop of Pićan (in some versions he was the first Bishop of Pićan and the founder of the Diocese). The inhabitants of Pićan complained to the Patriarch of Aquileia of his alleged immoral life, namely for living with his nephew. In order to clear his name of the charges and prove his mission, Nicephorus offered to open a source of potable water by striking the barren and thorny acacia grown ground with a stick. The residents of Pićan declined that, saying that the acacia was more important as it is later used in the vineyard. He replied by saying May you walk on thorns. The residents of Pićan are still called Thorndancers. On his way to the Patriarch of Aquileia, Saint Nicephorus created water wells in Gračišće, Krbune, Buzet, Trieste and in many other places. When he stood in front of the Patriarch, he had no place to put his cloak so he hung it on a sunbeam shining into the room – this sign was enough to acquit him of all charges.
On his way back Nicephorus died and his remains were kept in Umag until 1379, when they were stolen by the Genovese. However, obeying the Saint’s wish and as sign of grace, his right hand was sent to Pićan where it has been kept to this day in the Cathedral.
It is obvious that the Bishops of Pićan wanted to disentangle these contradictions of two saints of the same name. Bishop Antonio Marenzi (1635-1646) wrote a book about their lives. During a reconstruction of the Cathedral, sculptures of both saints were installed on its façade and both saints are represented in the picture over the Altar of St. Nicephorus, where St. Nicephorus the Martyr and Protector of the Diocese of Pićan keeps a layout of Pićan in his hand.


From Aquileia to Napoleon
In the Middle Ages, not only the ecclesiastical, but also the secular rule in Pićan was in the hands of the Patriarchs of Aquileia. Following that period, Pićan was included to the Pazin hold administered by Majnard Črnogradski (Meinhard von Schwarzenburg). While the coastal Istrian towns accepted Venetian rule one by one, Pićan, together with Pazin, had a completely different destiny. At the end of the 17th century, by the marriage of  Meinhard’s heiress, Countess Matilda of Pazin, to the Count Engelbert of Gorizia, Pićan was made part of their Grafschaft Ysterreich. This, in turn, became a private possession of the Habsburg family in 1374 under the name of the Pazin County. In order to get the money necessary to finance their rise on the throne, the Habsburgs prefer to give the entire County in short-term leases to various noblemen. The possession was managed in their name by Captains. The half centennial destiny of the division of Istria into the Austrian and Venetian part, marked by often brutal conflicts of the two quarrelsome neighbours, incursions of the Turks and outbreaks of plague, ended only with the fall of Venice and the arrival of Napoleon.


Text by Radenko Sloković and Ardea Grgurić (2008)



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