According to a local legend, after building all the hilltop towns in Mirna river valley in central Istria, the giants had only a few stones remaining which they used to build one last town. I guess the number of stones left with the giants must have been barely any because that last town – Hum – turned out to be the smallest town in the entire world.
Somehow we always thought that the smallest town of the world would be located somewhere in the remotest parts of the world with a harsh climate so it was quite a surprise to find it sitting atop a 350 m high hill in central Europe in an idyllic setting. In fact, with just 7 full houses and 28 citizens (according to our host), it might be a bit of a stretch to call Hum a town, given that even the remotest Indian villages we have been to have more than ten times the population of Hum. But the ‘town’ status of Hum has less to do with its size and population and more to do with the presence of urban features like a central square, a town loggia, a cemetery, a couple of churches, a museum and most importantly – a mayor, who is elected every year as per traditional medieval custom.
THE ROAD TO HUM
Our apartment in Hum – Jasmina Apartment – was unarguably the best apartment of our entire trip. Spread over two floors and housed in a medieval building, the apartment offered all the modern amenities. Located at the end of the town, the apartment also offered stunning views of the valley covered with lush green forests as far away as the eye could see.
We completed all the formalities with our wonderful host, rested for a bit and then left our apartment to explore the miniature Hum.
THE TOWN WITH TWO STREETS
The town of Hum can easily be mistaken for a set of those Hollywood movies and series which are based in the medieval period. After all, with just two cobblestoned streets flanked by three rows of stone buildings, it doesn’t seem any bigger than those movie sets. In theory, it should not take more than 5-10 minutes to walk around such a small town, but in reality, it takes a lot longer because this quaint town compels one to stop after every five steps and capture its beauty with a camera.
Walking alongside the walls, we reached the main town gate that dates from 1562. The gate consisted of two arched entrances joined by a short passageway. The outer entrance was protected by large copper doors which were installed in 1981. These copper doors were adorned with handles in the shape of ox horns and twelve plates that showed an agricultural season. A welcome message was also inscribed on the doors in the Glagolitic script – a script used in the early medieval period.
The inner entrance of the town gate opened onto the main square which was the site of all the prominent structures of Hum. The building that dominated the square and pretty much the entire town was the Parish Church of the Assumption of Mary built in 1802 at the site of an older medieval church. Alongside it was a watchtower which was built in 1552 as part of town’s defences. The church’s interior, containing some nice sculptures and paintings, certainly exceeded our expectations.
To the church’s right was the town loggia which was the hub of Hum’s public life in the medieval period. The loggia contained a stone table which is known as The Mayor’s table because this is where the mayoral election takes place every year.
While the town of Hum itself was extremely pretty and exuded medieval charm from every corner, the landscape surrounding it was absolutely breathtaking. Unlike other Istrian hilltop towns, where the landscape was dotted with vineyards, olive groves and large farms, here it was almost exclusively covered with forest. With no other town or village visible in the distance, staying in Hum gave a true sense of seclusion.
OUTSIDE THE WALLS
After exploring the town completely, we spent the rest of the evening in the solitude of the cemetery which is located right across the town just a few steps away. The cemetery contains the oldest and most eminent structure of Hum – Church of St. Jerome. This little church belongs to the 12th century and contains some priceless frescoes from that time. The church was predictably closed at that time of the evening so we could not see the frescoes. What we did see was a marvellous sunset from the cemetery after which we made our way back to the town where we bought a few items from the souvenir store. There is one restaurant in Hum but we preferred to do our own cooking that evening.
In the morning, after four hectic but rewarding days, it was time to say goodbye to the gorgeous region of Istria and the most charming of all Istrian towns. Yes, it was a close fight, but in the end, Hum narrowly edged out Grožnjan and Rovinj in the battle of charm. There was some regret at not spending another day in Hum but that regret soon evaporated as the day progressed to become the most adventurous of our trip.