Welcome to the Town of Legends

Pićan, Petina, Petinum, Pedena, Penna, Biben, Pyben, Piben, Piebn, Piebnn, Pitchann....

What's in a name? Sometimes it is not easy to follow the traces of Pićan in historical sources due to its numerous names. The origin of the name Petina is sometimes attributed to the assumption that the Diocese of Pićan was the fifth in the world where the word pet (five) contains a Celtic root.

Pićan was definitely settled in early prehistoric times. The oldest parts of the fortified hilltop town of the tribe of Histri were located on the Calvary Hill (13), north of the modern town. After that the town was probably settled by the Celtic tribe of the Secusa. In Roman times, probably on the same strategically important location, there was a military stronghold and the settlement Petina.

Some authors linked the town of Pićan to the name Pucinium, mentioned by Pliny and Ptolemy as the name of a fortification in central Istria, famous for its excellent wine even in the Roman Court. Livia, wife of the Emperor Augustus, believed that her longevity was attributed to the fact that she would drink only this wine. The only visible evidence of the Roman presence is the inscription on the stone incorporated in the doorpost of the house facing the bell tower (4). The inscription mentions a Lucius Caonalius of the family Pupinia that can be found in various other places in Istria (Kringa, Pula, Poreč, Koper, Trieste).
At the time of the Byzantine rule Pićan was the administrative centre of central Istria. From the Late Antiquity to the end of the 18th century, Pićan was the seat of the Diocese of Pićan, one of the oldest, but also smallest in the Christian world.

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.

A walk around Pićan

The park in front of the entrance to Pićan, just like the neighbouring town of Gračišće or in Tinjan hosts the sculpture of St. John Nepomucene (9), a Czech saint, patron of queens, bridges, secrets of the confessional and patron against floods, built in 1714. Sometime in the past, Pićan probably had a drawbridge at the entrance into the town. Not far there is the Monument to the residents of Pićan who died in the 2nd World War (10). Just below the park there is the Church of Saint Roch (11), patron against plague where the foundation stone was laid by the Bishop Gašpar Bobek (1631-1634) during one of the most severe plague epidemics. The old part of the town is entered through the monumental Town Gate (1) dating from the 14th century, renovated in 1613 at the time of the Bishop Antonio Zara (1601 -1621).

Owing to his close connections with the Archduke Ferdinand, from a simple cleric Zara became the Bishop of Pićan at the age of 27. At Pićan he wrote his masterpiece, a kind of an encyclopaedia of philosophy entitled Anatomia ingeniorum et scientiarum sectionibus quattuor comprehensa, printed in Venice in 1615. He will be remembered as the first Italian thinker who separated from the Scholasticism. Zara renovated the Bishop's Palace (2) , and started the construction of a new Cathedral. Unfortunately, in 1653 both the Cathedral and the Bishop's Palace were devastated in the largest revolts of peasants in Istria. Oppressed by new levies introduced to cover the debts of the County to Carniola and especially because of the extreme severity of the representative of the Carniolan Administration, Hanibal Bottoni, about three thousand people from all around the County gathered on 6 July at Gračišće and marched towards Pićan led by Mate Bolka. They destroyed the Town Gate, broke in the Cathedral, Bishop's Palace and the houses of the clergymen, and sentenced Bottoni and his chancellor on the spot.

The Franz Ferdinand's Viewpoint – the view from this point over the undulating landscape of central Istria, just as the special taste of Pićan's wine offered to him by the parochial priest, convinced the Austrian Royal Prince Franz Ferdinand to visit Pićan again, but this time in the company of his wife Sophie, a passionate painter, who would record the sight. Unfortunately, this wish was never realised as they were both assassinated in Sarajevo in 1914, shortly after his visit.

Opposite the parish church is the Birth House of Matko Brajša Rašan (6) choir master, recorder of old Istrian melodies and the composer of the current official Istrian anthem Krasna zemljo, composed in 1912 after the lyrics of Ivan Cukon. It is less known that there was another important musician linked to Pićan. This is Jurij Slatkonja, a Slovene musician, founder and director of the Ensemble of the Viennese Court and later the first Bishop of Vienna, who is mentioned as the Administrator of the Diocese of Pićan in 1506 and as Bishop in 1513. From the church square we can continue our walk west, along the building where the National Reading Room (7) operated from 1914 till 1918. Through a small passage you can step into the gardens to see the most preserved parts of the town walls. On the other side of Pićan, we recommend you visit the viewpoint of saint Helen (8), named after the church which once stood in this place. In this part of the two you can see many abandoned houses of interesting architecture, with rustic lintels and stairs cut in rock, which are waiting to be inspired with a new life. 

Parish church

The parish church of the Announcement (5) acquired its current external form after the renovation in 1753, the interior was redecorated in baroque style during the office of Aldarago Piccardi (1766-1784), the last Bishop of Pićan. As it became a cathedral, the church is in possession of an extensive and valuable inventory, the most renowned item being the bishop's cloak embroidered in gold, gift of the Empress Maria Theresa. Tombs of the bishops of Pićan and other meritorious citizens of Pićan, decorated with relief and coats of arms, are placed under the church floor and the plateau in front of the church. 
The bell-tower of Pićan (3) made from white limestone was built in 1872. Apart from being one of the tallest in Istria (48 m), it is also considered by many to be the most beautiful. At the foot of the bell tower still stands the stone measure used to measure the tributes of the serfs. 

Church of Saint Michael

We recommend that you end your walk through Pićan by visiting the single-nave Romanesque church of Saint Michael (12) dating from the 13th century located on a neighbouring hill. The interior of the church hides valuable paintings dating back to the first half of the 15th century, which are waiting to be restored. The unforgettable view which extends from this natural viewpoint is enriched by the stone sculpture The Family (1999) by Nane Zavagno, who took part in the Mediterranean Sculpture Symposium at Dubrova near Labin. 

Grad Pazin Općina Cerovlje Općina Gračišće Općina Karojba Općina Lupoglav Općina Pićan Općina Sveti Lovreč Općina Sveti Petar u Šumi Općina Tinjan

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