“All roads do not lead to Rome.”
So says the Slovenian proverb, and … well, that’s to be debated. But, you’re only here a short time so why not just accept this bit of posturing and explore Koper instead.
First, though, consider the geography. Koper sits smack on the coastline quite near the Italian and Croatian borders. In fact, if you’ve got a map handy, you’ll discover that Koper is on a Slovenian appendage capping Istrian Croatia. Italy in general is north and west, and Venice in particular is due west. Austria is north, the Adriatic Sea is southwest, and Croatia lies to the south and east. This puts Koper right in the crosshairs of trade routes between major Central European cities and their bountiful trading partners in Asia. A couple of other interesting facts is that Koper is the most important and largest port in the country, which is not too surprising when you discover the Slovene coastline is only approximately 25 miles long. The country’s tiny little stretch along the sea is disproportionate to the interior of the country, which is rather sizeable at 7,780 square miles. Actually, some claim the word Slovenia stands for “small seaside state.
Well, it might be small but it’s worthy of a closer look, certainly, and that’s exactly why you’re here.
Koper, in truth, faces the Gulf of Trieste, named after the Italian city a mere pizza-throw away. Originally, this was an island but today is a peninsula instead. You’ll discover most Koper residents speak some Italian in addition to Slovene. This bilingualism is important because trade between Venice and Koper has been in existence since 932. In fact, Koper once served as the capital city of Venetian Istria.
The townspeople knew success and the city flourished until the beginning of the 18th century when neighboring Trieste established itself as a “free port”. Within a short period of time, commerce was wiped out along with Koper’s traders.
But this city had known setbacks before. Her citizens suffered and died by the score during the 16th century when plagues swept across her narrow lanes and neighboring countryside
The heavy hand of war found its way to Koper, as well. When the guns of WWII were finally silenced, this area was incorporated into Zone B of the Free Territory of Trieste under the watchful eye of a UN Peacekeeping Force. Being in the minority, the Italians picked up their belongings, packed up their possessions and departed the city that had been their home. In 1977, Zone B was formally transferred to the Socialist Federation of the Republic of Yugoslavia, Zone A (Trieste) to Italy.
Your journey here occurs at an auspicious time. 2011 is the twenty-year anniversary of Slovenian Independence and her people are proud of the last two decades. The events that led up to this independence are revealed in the discussion of the Ten-Day War. Your guide will fill in all the details but suffice to say that the European Community formally recognized Slovenia in January 1992, with acceptance into the United Nations only five months later. Formal entry into the European Union came in 2004.
Now, The Sites of Koper
Your time is limited so plan your day accordingly. There’s not one moment to take in the country’s interior hiking trails, pristine lakes, forests, mountains, caves and the like. Koper can fill the time nicely especially if you start in Old Town. It’s just up from the marina area along Kidriceva Ulica. Say that three times!! The center point is Tito Square, or Titov Trg as it’s known locally. The Town Hall draws your eye immediately so have your cameras at the ready. Then take in the Praetorian Palace, dating back to the 15th century. You’ll notice the façade is decorated with coats of arms. This affirms the fact the building once served as the mayor’s palace. Next, tilt back to see the heights of the bell tower, dating back to 1463. Once a component of the city’s defenses, it was transformed into a bell tower for public religious observance.
The Loggia took on its current form in the late 17th century. Look for the terra-cotta image of the Virgin Mary placed there in 1555 to remember the plague victims.
St. Mary’s of the Assumption Cathedral was built in the early days of the 12th century and is undergoing renovation. Da Ponte Fountain is fashioned after Venice’s Rialto Bridge and dates back to 1666.
“Pray For A Good Harvest But Keep Hoeing”
This local proverb says it all. Try the pickled cabbage soup called jota or the corn soup known as bobici. The country boasts three winegrowing regions and offers a fine Malvaziji white wine or a good ruby red called Teran. For a culinary souvenir, pick up some course sea salt from the local saltpans, once an industry whose product was considered white gold.
Karyn L. Planett