Evidence of people living on the Istrian peninsula can be traced back to the preistoric time. Traces of the Paleolithic and the Neolithic culture (the Old and the New Stone Age) have been discovered here, as for example in the Cave of St. Romualdo, just above the Lim Channel. The ethnic belonging of these oldest inhabitants is not known.
The first inhabitants whose ethic belonging can be defined with certainty were the Histris and the Liburnians. The Histris domiciled major part of the peninsula (it seems that after them it got its name: Histris – Histria – Istria), while the Liburnians lived only on the north-eastern coast called Liburnia.
Besides with agriculture and cattle raising, the Histris and the Liburnians were occupied with maritime trade. They were also trading with ancient Greeks. Greek ships used to come to the North Adriatic to purchase the precious amber which had been brougt here by land from the distant Baltic. So the ships often entered also the harbour of Vrsar and the Lim Channel.
On the hills of the peninsula the Histris and the Liburnians built fortified settlements. These settlements had as a rule a circular ground-plan and were surrounded by defensive walls. There was a number of such fortificationds in the area between the river Mirna and the Lim Channel. They were built on the inaccessible, but strategically important spots. One of them was standing on the hill where today’s old town of Vrsar is situated, what can be confirmed by the archaeological finds (ceramics fragments).
Some hills in the vicinity were likewise inhabited in prehistoric times. So for examole, on the hill Gavanov vrh (ital. Monte Ricco), 1 km to the east of Vrsar, there is a significant archaeological location where ceramics fragments from the Bronze Age were found.
The settlement existed here in the Bronze Age, as well as in the Iron Age – a prehistoric fortification with the necropolis (burial ground). In the 1st century BC a rich Roman built a large country house (”villa rustica”).
Fragments of interesting rural villa remains of the water tank) have survived until the present days. The villa had a perisyle (space surrounded by columns) and floors of polychromatic mosaics. Samo walls were painted with polychromatic frescoes. In the ruin of the villa small archaeological finds (coins, ceramics) have been discovered. The evidance of its existence has been preserved in the name of the adjacent field: Alla villa.
Nevertheless, the real history of Vrsar has begun in the time of the Roman domination.
Times of the Roman Emperors
The Histris and the Liburnians were notorious as dangerous pirates. They were attacking Roman ships sailing in the Adriatic, what resulted in heavy conflicts between the Histris and the Romans. After they had built the fortification Aquilea (181 BC) close to the Istrian border, the Romans started to abuse Histrian tribes. After many assaults, suffering great losses, they first conquered the Histris and after that the Liburnians. During the war in the years 178-177 BC the Romans burst upon Istria with a strong army and destroyed the Histrian metropolis Nesactium, present-day Vizače near Pula. N the besieged town the last Histrian king Epulon committed suicide. Under these circumstances the Histris surrendered, but for a long time opposed a vigorous resistence to the conquerors. In the 1st century BC the Romans subjugated the Liburnians too, so the whole peninsula became part of the Roman Empire for several centuries long.
Roman colonies soon developed on the Istrian coast (Pola – sresent-day Pula, Parentium – present-day Poreč). The border between the two teritories was going just along the Lim Channel (from the Latin word ”limes” meaning ”border”).
When the Roman rule started, the pre-Roman village Vrsar did not cease to exist. Moreover, under the hell, along the seashore, a new settlement of private and public buildings arose. The settlement expanded especially in the late antique period. In this area some wealthy Roman aristocrats had their properties, as well as country houses with houses with farm buildings (”villae rusticae”).
In any case, in Roman times Vrsar was more than a ”vicus” (vilagge). It represented a very important market-town for agricultural and cattle-raising products (wine, oil, corn, cheese, meat…). The vicinity of Ravenna (on the opposite side of the Adriatic Sea) had a great nfluance on the development of trading in Vrsar and other Istrian villages. Istrian agricultural products were very appreciated on Roman trade market.
In the background of Vrsar the Roman road Via Flavia was Passing, connecting Pola (Pula), Parentium (Poreč), Tergeste (Triest) and Aquileia.
The importance of Vrsar is also suggested by cartographic data. Under the name Ursaria out town was marked as a small island in front of Pula on the Peutingerian’s map (”Tabula Peutingeriana”) dating from the 3rd or 4th century.
Obviously the unknown Roman cartographer was not well acquainted with the Istrian coast, so he placed Ursaria near Pula, that is too much to the south.
During the 2nd and the 3rd century a new religion spread in Vrsar – Cristianity. Besides Poreč and Pula, Vrsar became a significant centre of early Cristianity in the 4th century.
In today’s Vrsar remote Roman times are reflected in numerous traces of Roman culture.
Vrsar in the Early Middle Ages
In the second half of the 5th century (476) the West Roman Empire declined and Istria came under the rule of the German conquerors – the Goths. The Byzantine emperor Justinian (527 – 565) defeated the Goths, so in the year 538 Istria was annexed to the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) and remained part of it util the end of the early Middle Ages are very scarce. The blue sea of Vrsar is mentioned in some documents dating from the 6th century as a significant fishing region.
The well-known Poreč Bishop Euphrasius, who had built the famous baslilica in Poreč, issued in 543 a special deed of gift by which he gave to the canons of the Poreč church the right to the third of all fish caught in the Lim Channel. (In the 10th century this deed of gift was confirmed by the German emperor Oton III.)
At the end of the 6th and the beginning of the 7th century the Byzantine Istria was attacked by the Slavs (mostly Croats and Slovenes) migrating from their homeland, the Carpathians. Byzantine authorities tried in vain to stop their invasion. From Istria the Slavs attacked also Italy.
The first Slavic invasion to Istria was registered in 599. The old Roman Latin-speaking in drew into the fortifications and coastal towns: Pula, Rovinj, Poreč. The ancient Vrsar was also conquered. The Croats penetrated to the town along the valley of the river Draga. Between the years 599 and 611 they subjugated and destroyed the town. The old Roman population was driven away and the Old Cristian basilica from the 4th century deserted.
The presence of the Croats in Vrsar in the Early Middle Ages is confirmed by archaeological finds of Slavic ceramics, as well as by the mill on the location of the above mentioned basilica.
In the 7th and at the beginning of the 8th century Ursaria was mentioned by an anonymous geographer from Ravenna (Ravennas Geographus), when he placed the town on an island by the western cost of Istria.
The Byzantine rule in Istria was interrupted for a short time by invasion of the Langobards (751 – 774). At the end of the 8th century (788) Istria was conquered by the Franks to become part of the large empire of the Frank conqueror Charlemagne (768 – 814). The Franks introduced the feudal system. On their feudal possessions the Slav peasants were working. At the beginning of the 9th century the feudals of German origin played a significant role in the political life of Istria.
The poreč bishopric, founded in the second part of the 3rd century, had a large agricultural possession in the area between the river Mirna and the Lim Channel, which was named ”Teritorium sancti Marvi” (the Territory of St. Maurus) after the martyr and paron of the Poreč church.
It is not known exactly Vrsar came under the authority of the Poreč bishopric, but it eas part of it continuosly from 983 till 1778.
The territory of West Istria was the place where the economic and political interests of the Venetians and Aquileian patriarchs clashed. Both authorities tried in vain to capture Vrsar from the Poreč Bishops. In this long struggle the Poreč Bishops were cunning and stubborn, so they managed to retain Vrsar under their rule almost eight centuries long.
County of the Poreč Bishops
From the 10th till the 18th century Vrsar was the adminnistrative centre of the county of the Poreč Bishops. In fact, the Poreč Bishops were ruling on behalf of the Roman popes who used to confirm their rights from time to time. In the year 1177 the pope Alexander III (1159 – 1181) visited Vrsar and, according to tradition and to some documents, stayed here for three days. By a special decree the pope confirmed the right of the Poreč Bishops during the Middle Ages.
At the end of the 13th century the struggle for the western Istrian coast ended in favour of Venice. In 1267 Poreč acepted protection of the Venetian doge and thus Vrsar, being in the Poreč territory was supposed to come under the rule ofVenice too. Despite political changes, Vrsar remained under the authorities of the Poreč bishopric and was exempt from paying taxes either to Venetian doges or to the Aquileian Patriarchate. The Poreč Bishops emphasised the rule over Vrsar even in their ttitles. To their names they used to add: ”Episcopus Parentinus et dominus Vrsarie” (the Bishop of Poreč and master of Vrsar). Some bishops added the title: ”comes Vrsarie” (count of Vrsar). At he time of the Poreč Bishop Bpnifacius the Aquileian Patriarch Raimundus (1273 – 1299) repeatedly harassed Vrsar. During an attack his soldiers captered abouth 700 oxen and other cattle. Under the authorities of the Poreč Bishops Vrsar lived as a rural commune and had its own statue. The Bishops entrusted administration of Vrsar to their governors (administrators), while the possessions were given over to the vassals. The Bishops’ estates in Vrsar and surroundings (buildings, land, olive-mils, ovens) represented the most important source of income for the bishopric. Holders of the Bishops’ goods in Vrsar had to swear an oath and to bring to the Bishop gifts in kind: wine, oil, timber, fish, salt, cheese, etc.).
In the time of the Renaissance and Baroque the stone quarries of Vrsar were intensively wxploited. High-quality stone was exported to Venice to be used as building material for palaces, churches and bridges. Between the 15th and the 17th century Vrsar was several times hit by plague. During the 17th century some Poreč Bishops lived continuosly in Vrsar.
In the 18th century Vrsar was on two occasions (1743 and 1744) visited by the Italian adventurer and writer Giacomo Casanova, who described these visits in his famous memoirs.
In the 1778 the Venetian Senate abolished the church county it the territory of Vrsar, so it came under the direct rule of the Venetian doge.
For the deprived possessions the Venetian authorities paid an indemnity to the Poreč bishopric. After the bishopric had been abolished, Vrsar was, in terms of administration, anexed to the municipality of St. Lovreč.
During the 19th century fomer Bishops’ possessions in the territory of Vrsar became ownership of some patrician familes from Poreč.
Vrsar in the 19th and 20th Century
In 1797 the French conqueror Napoleon Bonaparte defeated the Republic of Sv. Mark (Venice) and according to the peace treaty concluded in Campoformio (October 17th and 18th, 1797) Istia came under the rule of the Austrian emperor Francis I. The first Austrian domination over Istria was a short one (1797 – 1805). In December od 1805 Napoleon defeated the Austro-Prussian army near Austerlitz and after the conclusion of the peace treaty in Bratislava (December 26th, 1805) Istria passed to the rule of France (1805 – 1813). Neverless, Napoleon’s later failures on the European battlefields enabled Austria to get Istria again, but this time for the period longer than one century (1813 – 1918).
In the 19th century Vrsar was a small rural commune belonging to the district of Poreč. During that century the town expanded outside the town walls. The harbour was built in the bay and on the hil slopes under the old town centre new houses emerged. In 1900 a new school building was constructed. In the second half of the 19th century there were no conflicts between the Croatian and the Italian population. They lived in harmony.
World war I (1914 – 1918) changed political circumstances in Istria. When the Austro – Hungarian monarchy decayed, the Italian army occupied Istria, so it was anexed to Italy (1918 – 1943). After the World War I the Italian imperialists took advantage of the weak newly established state of Jugoslavia and by the peace treaty concluded in Rapallo in 1920 ensured their legal claim upon Istria.
Under the Italian occupation living was very hard for the Croats and the Slovenes, especially after the fascists led by Benito Mussolini ascended to power. Using of Croatian and Slovene languages was strictly forbidden. The Slavic population was planned to be evacuated to the Utalian colonies in Africa.
World War II was likewise cause for radical political changes on the Istrian peninsula. In April 1941 Yugoslavia was occupied by Hitler and Mussolini. The Croats and Slovenes rose up in arms against Italian fascists and fought for joining Istria to Croatia. After Italy had capitulated on September 8th, 1943, the nation-wide uprising spread all over Istria. In October 1943 Istria was occupied by the Germans. In the year 1944 battles between the partisans and the German fascists were going on in the whole Istria, also in the vicinity of Vrsar.
In May 1945 Vrsar wass liberated. The war being over, a long diplomatic struggle for Istria began between Yugoslavia and Italy. After the conclusion of the peace treaty in Pais (1947), by which Istria was assiged to the Republic of Croatia as component part of Yugoslavia. Many Italian families left the peninsula and moved to Italy. Soon the immigration of Slavic population started.
From the 1991 Croatia is a free and independent State.