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 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 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. 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 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. 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.
Tourist Board of Central Istria