Istria: The Walled Town of Motovun

Our fourth and final day in Istria began with a day trip to the most famous and best-preserved medieval hilltop town of Istria – Motovun. After visiting Motovun we felt that the town, which is the site of an international film festival in the summer months, had a lot of things working for it – fortifications dating from the medieval era, magnificent views all around and prevalence of Venetian architecture. The thing that worked against it, and probably took away a little of its charm, was the horde of tourists that descended on this small town. I guess we found it mildly irksome because we had become somewhat used to the tourist-free Istrian hill-towns. The good thing, though, was that most of the tourists limited themselves to the centre of the town which meant that there were many streets where we could walk in isolation and discover the true beauty of Motovun.   


The primary route from Grožnjan to Motovun was closed for maintenance so we had to take a secondary, slightly longer route. A vantage point built along the route, affording a fantastic view of Motovun standing atop a 277 m high hill, made it quite apparent that this was a more tourist-friendly town that markets itself well. We took a few photos from the spot and then continued our journey to Motovun. 

A Postcard Shot of Motovun

After an hour’s drive, we reached Motovun at 11 a.m. There is a large parking lot at the base of the hill and a few parking spots along the road near the top of the hill just before the beginning of the pedestrianized zone. We were lucky enough to find one of the parking spots near the top of the hill which saved us from climbing the steep winding road to the top. After parking the car, we began our tour of the town by 11:15.  


We started from a small cemetery located near the upper parking zone and then commenced a gradual ascent towards the historical centre through a narrow cobbled street lined with rows of houses and art galleries on both sides. In a few minutes, we reached the first city gate, popularly known as the New Gate. The high tower above the gate was erected in the 16th century and further renovated in 1607. The passageway of the gate had been converted into a lapidarium in which reliefs of Venetian lions and various crests from the medieval period were exhibited. 

Making Our Way to the Top
New Gate
Crests Exhibited in the Passageway of the New Gate

Just a few meters ahead of the New Gate was the main city gate which led to the oldest and highest part of the town. This gate, constructed in the 14th century, had three coats of arms above the entrance portal including the coat of arms of Motovun and the Venetian lion. Right across the gate was the 17th century Loggia which offered amazing views of the valley below. The street that led from the New Gate to the main gate was lined with restaurants where people could enjoy a meal along with these views. We crossed the main gate and entered the citadel. 

Main City Gate
The Three Coats of Arms above the Entrance Portal of the New City Gate
17th century Loggia across the Gate


Citadel, the oldest part of the town, was completely encircled with walls. The hub of the citadel – Andrea Antico Square – was surrounded by some of the most famous buildings of Motovun. The most prominent of these was the early 17th century Church of St. Stephen and its imposing 13th century bell tower which was originally built as an observation post. The bell tower was closed hence we could not go up the tower. The interior of the church was not extraordinary but had some nice sculptures and frescoes. Opposite the church was the 13th century Municipal Palace which functioned as the town hall and retains that function to the present day. In the Andrea Antico Square, there was also a 15th century Venetian well on which different crests, including Motovun’s coat of arms consisting of five towers, were inscribed.

Another notable building in the citadel was the Kaštel Hotel. This building was originally the palace of Polesini family, a wealthy and powerful noble family, but was later transformed into a hotel.  

Andrea Antico Square with Municipal Palace on the left and Church of St. Stephen on the right


Interior of the Church

A Fresco in the Church
Venetian Well in the Andrea Antico Square

One of the most famous activities in the citadel is walking the 13th century walls which provide sweeping views in all the directions. We did not partake in it because in our opinion it was neither worth the time nor the 25 kuna admission price since such views could be seen from many different points in the town. 

A Section of the Wall behind the Church of St. Stephen
River Mirna and Motovun Forest
The Surrounding Landscape

Once we had covered the citadel from one end to the other, we exited via the city gate. 

Roaming Around the Citadel
One Last Look at the Church of St. Stephen


The Borgo suburb, which we explored after the citadel, was our favourite part of Motovun. This suburb, which developed in the 14th century, contained old houses, small churches and some pretty spots which showcased the real charm of Motovun. Also, it was really surprising to see how a distance of just a few meters from the town’s centre could result in such significant thinning of the crowd. 

Exploring Borgo
Exploring Borgo

After strolling along the cobblestoned streets of Borgo for a little while we came across the 15th century Church of St. Anthony of Padua. There were a couple of important buildings around the church. To its right was a building with a red facade that was a hospice constructed in 1622. In the medieval era, it was a shelter for the homeless while today it is a bed and breakfast. Behind the church was the house where Mario Andretti, a famous F1 driver, was born. 

Church of St. Anthony of Padua with Hospice on the Right and House of Mario Andretti behind the Church towards Left

From the church, a street led towards a 14th century Gothic gate which is among the few preserved portions of the walls that once surrounded Borgo. In front of the gate was the Church of St.John the Baptist and Blessed Virgin Mary ‘of the Gate’ – a small church built in 1521 at the entrance of the Borgo. 

A Pretty Corner in Borgo
The Beautiful Borgo
The Street leading to the Gothic Gate
Gothic Gate
Church of St.John the Baptist and Blessed Virgin Mary ‘of the Gate’
A Result of Someone’s Quirky Sense of Humour
Grapevine in front of Someone’s House

The street which we were following eventually opened up on the road where our car was parked. We collected our car and left Motovun by 12:45.


Our next destination of the day and final destination of Istria was Hum. Just like earlier in the day while coming to Motovun, the primary route from Motovun to Hum was closed which meant that we had to take an alternate route via Pazin – the administrative centre of Istria County. The drive from Motovun to Pazin took us almost an hour which included a 20-minute halt at a supermarket to shop for some supplies. We parked our car in one of the town’s parking and had lunch at Pizzeria Peperone. Without any sightseeing, we left Pazin by 2:40 p.m. 

The Church of St. Nicholas, Pazin

2 thoughts on “Istria: The Walled Town of Motovun

  1. This is a very interesting and detailed photo essay on the medieval town of Motovun. I understand that the horde of tourists in the town centre detracted a little bit from the charm of the place your visited. Best wishes! Peter


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s