A Brief History of Žminj

Na geografski malenom, reljefno razigranom terenu s manjim brežuljcima, crvenicom i submediteranskom klimom smjestio se Žminj.
Brežuljak na kojem se nalazi Žminj bio je naseljen još u prapovijesti o čemu nam svjedoče mnogobrojni nalazi. Kružni plan ilirskih utvrđenih naselja u Istri zauzimao je vrh brežuljka, što bi odgovaralo najvišoj uzvisini Žminja na položaju oko Kaštela.

n the early Middle Ages Žminj and the area around it was settled by Slavic peoples. This is witnessed by cremation graves at the locality of Babina brajda east of Žminj (mid 8th century). Also, near the Church of Saint Fosca, remains of a late Antique and early medieval settlement were found. At the foot of today’s town, near the school, an early medieval Slavic necropolis originating in the period after the Frankish conquest of Istria (840 – 950) was unearthed.

Žminj was mentioned in written documents for the first time in 1178 in the Charter issued by Pope Alexander III (Zimino). In the 12th century Žminj became part of Pazin County (Ger. SCHWING, SWINGK), however under the jurisdiction of the Bishops of Poreč.

The historic centre of the medieval Žminj has preserved all the characteristics of an early-Croatian medieval fortified town. This medieval settlement featured an oval shape crossed by the high street in the north – south direction with radial streets climbing towards the Castle and the main square with its parish church. The settlement was originally encircled with walls and defended by towers.
At that point in time Žminj was a strong military fortification with four towers.

The north-eastern tower (dating from the 15th c.) of the feudal Castle has been preserved to date.

The Castle also embraced the Parish Church of St. Michael the Archangel. On the location of the original building of the church a new single-nave Baroque church with six lower lateral chapels, embedding also the south-eastern Gothic chapel (15th c.), was built. The front façade was completed in 1717 and is embellished with statues of saints placed in niches.

The Church of St. Michael contains the paintings of Mary Mother of God with Saints and Presentation at the Temple by Z. Ventura (17th c.), a wooden cut Adoration of Shepherds (1690) and a Gothic Crucifix (second half of the 14th century). The Sacristy holds a collection of mass vestments dating from the 16th and 18th centuries and sacred vessels dating back into the 15th century.

Next to the north-western corner of the Church there is a Gothic Chapel of the Holy Trinity. The chapel was painted with Gothic-style frescos in 1471 by an unknown master of the Alpine region. The Chapel of Saint Anthony the Abbot, built in 1381 by Master Armirigus, was painted with frescos by masters of the Venetian circle.

To the south of the Church there are a public cistern with two well crowns from the second half of the 19th century and a Renaissance Palace from the 16th century bearing a relief of Saint Ignatius of Loyola and an inscribed plaque dated 1658.

There are a few more churches located near Žminj worth mentioning. The small church of Saint Bartholomew built in the 16th century and the small Church of Saint Mary whose traces are long gone but it is known that it still existed in the 16th century in the southern part of the town.

Judging from the inscription on the rounded arch of the entrance door, the Church of Saint Jacob was erected in 1633. Its front façade with a rounded arch above the entrance door, a round window and a bell-gable seem Romanesque.

The small Church of the Holy Cross was built at the cemetery not later than in the 17th century. The church was completely refurbished in 1964. The front of the Church bears a small bell-gable built in the Baroque style.

The Church of Saint Fosca can be found south-east of Žminj. The Church has all the attributes of an early-Christian church which was later extended and reconstructed several times. The Church still features the original lesenes and windows from the 6th century.

About 3.5 km south of Žminj is the Church of Saint Mary ‘od Svetomora’ (probably derived from Sveta Marija or Santa Maria Maggiore – Saint Mary Major). Only the bottom sections of the perimeter walls and the apse with a rounded window have been preserved of the 12th c. church. The year 1666 was engraved on the sill of the north window and it is therefore considered that the church was reconstructed that year. It is also considered that during this reconstruction the porch with eight caryatids bearing the roof was built.

The Istrian Book of Boundaries mentions three more churches: St. Dominic, St. Onido and Holy Saturday. It is not, however, known where these were exactly located and what they looked like.

Apart from in the sacral buildings, the feeling for artistic figuration can be found in all forms of folk art in the Žminj area.

This is especially transparent in construction – from simple dry-stone field huts of circular shape (‘kažun’), to houses and farming structures, built of carefully worked stone with abounding details, attractive landings (‘baladur’) and cisterns (‘šterna’).

Amidst a fertile and rich area, with over a hundred villages, Žminj was an important economic and cultural centre in the 15th and 16th centuries.

At that time Žminj was a prominent market town with a highly developed road network.

The Church of Žminj was the seat of the Glagolitic rural Chapter. The popularity of Glagolitsa in the Žminj area is still witnessed by numerous Glagolitic graffiti in the churches of St. Anthony and Holy Trinity. Apart from the church services, Glagolitsa was also used for public purposes.

In the 17th century the borderline conflicts between Austria and Venice were frequent. The Venetians conquered and sacked Žminj and the surrounding area and they also pulled down the town walls. After a peace treaty was signed in Madrid, Žminj was heavily settled by the Uskoks and Žminj was reinstated as a flourishing market town.
After the fall of Venice (1797) Istria passed to the Austrians until 1918. However, between 1805 and 1814 it fell under the French rule. From 1809 until 1814 the entire area of Istria became part of the Illyrian provinces.

After 1814 an approximately hundred year long period of Austrian rule began. During that period the road network was developed further. This was also helped by the French who were fast in building roads during their short-lived rule in Istria.

At the time of the Illyrian provinces, just as in the times long before that, Žminj had an important trading role. Two renowned inhabitants of Žminj – meat traders are known from this period, Anton Žufić and Josip Milotić.

The Elementary School was opened in Žminj in 1822. Classes were taught in German. The Croatian language was first introduced in 1850 and was retained until 1921.

Between 1921 and 1943 classes were taught in the Italian language only. In 1943, however, a Croatian school was organised and received the official name Vladimir Gortan Elementary School in 1953.

In 1847 the road between Žminj and Sveti Petar u Šumi was built and in 1884 the road towards Pifari was built to improve Žminj’s connection to the railroad. In those years trading in wine, timber, livestock, wheat and other products was popular in Žminj.

Various types of crafts were developing, such as baker, carpenter, joiner, weaver and smith. Fairs were held on a regular basis and this tradition of lively trading has been preserved to date.

The beginning of the 20th century in Žminj and its surroundings was marked by several important events: establishment of the trade cooperative in 1903, the construction of the community centre in 1905 and the establishment of the reading room in 1906. The first cars, motorcycles and bicycles started to move around the area in this period. Unfortunately, the development was halted by the outbreak of World War One which caused enormous difficulties to the inhabitants of Žminj.

During World War Two Žminj and its surroundings were massively destroyed during the German air raids. Žminj was liberated on 7 May 1945.

The post-war period was characterized by a slow economic reconstruction, emigration to far-flung countries and employment in other Istrian towns.

Žminj saw its first road asphalted on 22 November 1969, but the local roads remained covered in gravel until the 1980s, when widening and asphalting of these roads started.

After the Second World War Žminj was the centre of the Municipality within the District of Pazin. In 1962 it performed the roles of local community and local council within the Municipality of Rovinj. Žminj was elevated to a municipality centre comprising the surrounding villages in 1992. This role of an administrative, political as well as economic, transport, trade and service local centre has been kept to this date.