How Pula’s Amphitheatre stacks up against other Roman arenas. And the sad truth on Pula…

How Pula's Amphitheatre stacks up against other Roman arenas

How Pula’s Amphitheatre stacks up against other Roman arenas

If you research the most famous Roman Arenas in the world you’ll usually find these four on the top of most lists: The Colosseum in Rome, the Amphitheatre of El Djem in Tunisia (where ‘Gladiator’ was filmed), the Arena in Verona…and the Amphitheatre in Pula.

We’ve been lucky enough to see 3 of the above over the last month (El Djem being the one we haven’t seen) and it’s interesting how each is different. Before I compare them, a few notes on the Amphitheatre in Pula:
– It was built in the 1st century AD
– it could seat over 26,000 spectators
– it is the 6th largest surviving Roman arena and is considered Croatia’s best preserved Roman monument
– it is used for festivals and performances in the summer months and was even the site of 2 outdoor hockey games featuring professional hockey teams from the KHL.

Below: Exterior of the Amphitheatre in Pula.

the Amphitheatre in Pula, Croatia

the Amphitheatre in Pula

the Amphitheatre in Pula, Croatia


Comparisons with other Arenas

Exterior: We both agree that the Colosseum in Rome is the most impressive from the outside. It’s the largest of the Roman Arenas and is massive. Lissette likens it to a huge, heavy cake. Pula is totally different – the white limestone, huge arches, and the emptiness of the interior give it an openness, a lightness, that you won’t see in other arenas. It is beautiful, but skeletal. What is left of the exterior of Verona’s Arena is not as high as either of the arenas above and is the least impressive (from the exterior) of the 3.

arenas in Italy. How Pula’s Amphitheatre stacks up against other Roman arenas.
.Below: Interior of the Amphitheatre in Pula.

How Pula’s Amphitheatre stacks up against other Roman arenas

How Pula’s Amphitheatre stacks up against other Roman arenas


Interior: Here is where Lissette and I don’t agree. I was totally impressed by the Colosseum in Rome, especially looking down at the remains on the tunnels that used to be under the Arena floor. I could imagine the gladiators, slaves and wild animals down there. It must have been sheer terror. Lissette didn’t feel the same thing, maybe because of all the tourists. She liked the interior of the Arena in Verona where you could climb the stairs and have access to the different levels. She could imagine all the people sitting there. I’ll admit that Verona didn’t do anything for me, especially with the modern arena floor in place. There’s not much to the interior of the Amphitheatre in Pula. Much of the interior was broken down over time and used in the building of the rest of the town. But what is special is that you can get right down on the Arena floor, looking up at the few remaining rows of seats and across the Arena. You can almost image a chariot racing towards you.

arenas in Italy interior. How Pula’s Amphitheatre stacks up against other Roman arenas

Other factors:  Both the Arena in Verona and the Amphitheatre in Pula are still in use for different festivals and performances. The Arena in Verona hosts opera (4 to 6 major productions each summer), ballet and even rock concerts. The Amphitheatre in Pula is used in the same way and has hosted Pavarotti, Bocelli and Sting among others. And as I mentioned, it’s been the site for outdoor hockey games. So they both win points for modern functionality. How amazing would it be to watch the opera in that setting? The Amphitheatre in Pula is located next to the water, you can look through the arches and see the blue of the sea. That’s pretty special

So there are a lot of factors in choosing which might be your favorite arena and we don’t see eye to eye:

Lissette (in order) : Verona, Pula, Rome
Me (in order): Rome, Pula, Verona

So which is your favorite?

Whatever your preference, they’re all special and worth a visit.



Note: You can see both the Amphitheatre in Pula and the Euphrasian Basilica in Porec on this Full-Day tour from Zagreb. It will even bring you to the beautiful town of Rovinj. It’s expensive but you’ll have seen all the highlights of Istria.



The town of Pula

We were a bit surprised – negatively – by Pula.

It is the largest city in Istria with a population of about 60,000 and has some impressive sites: the major one besides the Amphitheatre being the Temple of Augustus.

Temple of Augustus, Pula

Temple of Augustus, Pula, Croatia

Above: the Temple of Augustus. Built sometime between 2 BC and 14 AD, it was dedicated to the first Roman Emperor Augustus.

The main square, Pula, Croatia

Above: The main square, with the Temple of Augustus to the left..

Pula Cathedral

Above: Pula Cathedral, first built in the 4th century.

In fact Pula has numerous Roman arches and monuments as well as several churches of interest. It also has a castle overlooking the city.  So there are enough sites to make Pula worth a visit. The problem is that some really ugly (modern) architecture and lots of industrial installations and port facilities that have ruined the cityscape. Overall, it is not a very attractive place. It’s a real shame.

Below: Arco dei Sergie, built in approx. 28 BC. That’s old.

Arco dei Sergie, Pula.Below: Views of Pula from the castle at the top of the hill

Views of Pula

Views of Pula and the amphitheatre



So our verdict on Pula? You have to come and see the Amphitheatre, it is one of Croatia’s highlights. When you’ve done that save an hour or two to walk around and see some of the other sights mentioned above. Overall, a half-day should do it.

Where to stay. I recommend using the town of Rovinj as your base while in Istria. We were there 5 weeks and saw tons during that time. Here’s our post on Rovinj.

Have you been to Pula? What did you think of it?

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How Pula’s Amphitheatre stacks up against other Roman arenas

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  1. I am so surprised that no one mentioned Nimes arenas, the one only high capacity one that is still in use (bullfights, concerts and many other events) !

    1. Thank you Francois, we are planning to see Nimes next summer when we spend a month in France.
      I’ve listed the ones that are supposed to be the top Amphitheatre’s according to the internet. I’ll update my findings after seeing the one in Nimes!

  2. Pula is beautiful and laidback, specially if you stay in one of the campings next to the sea, you can aalso take a daytrip to Rovinj from Pula.

  3. I visited Pula (Pulj back then) as a kid with my mumr in early september 1969, it was part of Yugoslavia back then. We rode the very practical overcraft from Venice (I wonder if it still exists) in what seemed the blink of an eye. I was stricken by all the “men in white”of the Yugoslav Navy in the port, I only learned later that Yugoslavia’s dictator, Tito, had his summer residence in nearby Brioni island. Then we went down to Cape Kamenjak , the southernmost tip of Istria, very Mediterranean -feeling with Crystal blue waters, incredible at that relatively high latitude (close to 45° N)

    1. My mom went to Pula around the same time and I can imagine how much it’s changed since then. You are right about the water – the whole coast of Croatia has that wonderful water and Croatian’s are very proud of the cleanliness of it.

    1. There’s a harbour right in front of the Amphitheatre and you can go swimming there with the boats…
      What’s this fascination with beaches? You want a photo of me in my swimsuit? 🙂

  4. I’ve been to the colosseum in Rome, as well as the one in El Djem years ago before starting my blog. From what I can remember, it was very impressive but there’s nothing else nearby so once you’ve seen it you’re at a loose end

  5. I haven’t been to Pula. I probably never will. You’re right, l think l prefer Rome. The flooring kind of messes with my head 🙂 . It’s kind of nice that they put it to good use though.

  6. I find it crazy incredible how these ancient – and massive – structures were built and have stood the test of time for centuries. The builders were way ahead of their time. We haven’t seen any of the above mentioned amphitheaters but we did visit one in Arles, France, which which left us more than impressed. It was built to seat 20,000 spectators and it is still used today for bull fighting. Not keen on the idea of bull fighting but while self-touring the amphitheater our imaginations ran wild with what may have taken place in such a venue. Have you been to Arles? Highly recommend it if you find yourself in the south of France. For that matter, highly recommend visiting the south of France! 🙂

    1. Haven’t been to Arles but have seen photos. One day we’ll get to that area! Yes, I also find the history incredibly impressive.

  7. We spent a couple of hours there. We weren’t travelling with relations and time was tight so I felt I could have seen more (like the castle). However I liked what we saw. I loved the Amphitheatre because it was so accessible and the structure so impressive. I haven’t seen Verona’s but I would rate Rome’s as better than Pula.

  8. I think it’s one of those things people never agree on, which is the ‘best’. You know I wasn’t keen on Rome, mainly thanks to huge expectations, and whilst Verona feels a bit more sterile thanks to the staging, it at least is still being used today for entertainment, which I feel means it’s almost come full circle and is good to be practical as well as just something to gawp at. Not been to Pula, but we loved El Djem. It was a bit more ‘crumbly’ and we really could picture the history that went on there whilst clambering over all the stones. Plus, you can get down underneath all the passages and see what went on behind the scenes. You should go there someday!

    1. Ah, someone who’s been to El Djem!! I imagine not too many tourists there, especially after the terrorist events last year. Thanks for the feedback Heather.

  9. We visited Pula on a Croatia cruise – and agree with you. The town itself doesn’t have to much to offer for visitors apart from its Roman Amphitheatre (that’s all we saw on that cruise stop). But our tour guide brought ancient Roman history to life with stories of gladiators and lions, so it was a worthwhile visit from that point of view :-). In terms of enjoying a visit to a lovely medieval Croatian town, Trogir, Korcula, etc. are much more picturesque and what you imagine Croatia to be.

    1. Oh yes, the Amphitheatre is worth the trip to Pula alone. And Pula is ok, I just don’t want people to think it’s a place to base yourself for a few days – it’s not. A half day, at most a full day – then get out for Rovinj or Porec which are much more suitable as places to stay overnight.

  10. Thanks for the info! I haven’t been to Pula, I loved Piran, Split, Dubrovnik and Zadar. Unfortunately the industrial architecture can destroy the beautiful ancient city centers – it’s a pretty common thing in Eastern Europe…

    1. Yes, very true. I know you loved Piran – have you been to Rovinj? We’ve been to both and they’re both lovely, the difference is that Piran is pretty much undiscovered relative to Rovinj which strikes me as weird. Maybe because Rovinj is in Croatia which is much more on everyone’s radar? Some people will shoot me for saying this but honestly I think the two at pretty much at par…

  11. Hi Frank, I enjoyed the comparison to each. Seeing Verona’s modern floor in your photo turns me off. I understand it, but it just takes away so much. Pula seems like a good half day visit like you mentioned. Nice to see, but also nice to leave.

  12. Interesting take on Pula. We liked Pula, but spent just a little more than a half-day exploring it. It isn’t picturesque, like Rovinj or even Porec, but I almost liked the grittiness of it. It’s like this industrial, working city and then, oh wait, there’s a huge amphitheater that is 2000-years-old just right over there. The contrast was fascinating. That being said, it isn’t necessarily the city I would chose as my homebase for the region (mainly, because if I’m that close to Rovinj, there’s no way I’m staying anywhere else! lol!).

    1. Thanks Sarah. No, I certainly wouldn’t make it a base. As I said and you confirmed, a half day is just fine.

    1. Thanks Ron! Sorry, not working? Seems fine my end, just tried the twitter share button and seems fine. Do you see a problem? And thanks for asking…:)

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