Colonisation and Romanisation of the Istrian Peninsula
With the Roman conquest of the Istrian peninsula in the years 178 and 177 B.C., a gradual colonisation and Romanisation of the peninsula began. This is how the Roman “ville rusticae” came to be built in the hinterland of Piran, although there was probably still no major inhabitation of this area at that time. This began only after the downfall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century when, because of the incursions and migrations of the barbaric tribes, the Roman population retreated to fortified coastal towns or islands.
In the 7th century, while under Byzantine rule, Piran became a heavily fortified “Castrum”, and this began the urban development. Already by the end of the 6th century, a wave of savage assaults by the Obers and Slavs hit the area; these events were followed by a gradual Slav colonisation, which gained in impetus after the Franks conquered Istria in the year 788. The Franks included Istria in the Mark of Furlany administrative unit and supported the Slavs in their struggle for political and economic independence from the town's Roman populace. After the division of the Frankish empire, the County of Istria was included into the Italic kingdom in the year 843, and in the year 952 became a part of Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, in particular the Dukedom of Bavaria, then the Dukedom of Carinthia in the year 976, and finally the Aquilean Patriarchy.
Due to the gradual acquisition of new land and the possibilities of developing free sea trade, the towns lying along the Istrian coast, including Piran, tried to gain more independence from their feudal lords and found an ally in theVenetian Republic, which from the 10th century onwards was rapidly becoming a major trading and sea power in the Adriatic. The Venetian advance on the eastern Istrian coasts became decisive for the development of the Istrian towns, as Venice was searching for new markets and outposts for its drive to the central and southern Adriatic. Progressively, the Venetian Republic subdued the coastal towns, but nevertheless first made friendship and trade agreements. Piran was also taken under Venetian “protection”, and in exchange, the town was obliged to sign a trade contract in the year 933. Very soon, the Piran townsfolk realised that the arrangement with Venice limited their freedom and independence; because of that, Piran searched for a way out, and found it in an alliance with other small towns, especially Koper, as well as in the strengthening of its own autonomy.
The economic boom, which was brought to the Istrian towns by the sea and hinterland trade, made it possible for some of the towns to gain autonomy and become free municipalities with elected governing bodies already by the end of the 12th century – Piran in the year 1192. These towns chose their own officials – podestas – and made their own trade deals with other towns.
But already by the second half of the 13th century, the Venetian Republic commenced with the conquest of the Istrian towns and thus occupied Koper in the year 1279, a year later Izola, and in the year 1283, Piran.
From the 15th to 17th centuries, Piran was shaken by the social strife between the aristocracy and the plebs, who rebelled and expressed their dissatisfaction with the fact that public funds were controlled exclusively by the aristocracy, at ownership issues over the salt pans and the arable land in the hinterland, as well as over the political rights they wanted to obtain.
Eventually, Protestantism spread in Istria and appeared in Piran in the 1530s.
17th and 18th Centuries
In the 17th and 18th centuries, the society of Piran, which still lived in the cultural atmosphere of Humanism and the Renaissance, was joined in the 17th century by doctor Prospero Petronio.
A decade later (1692), Giuseppe Tartini was born, a violinist, composer and music pedagogue who wrote over 300 compositions, many of which are counted among the finest musical creations of the 18th century.
Austrian occupation during the years 1797 to 1805, and a shorter period of French rule under the guise of the Italian Kingdom (1805–1809) and the Napoleonic Illyrian Provinces (1809–1813), introduced a few minor urban interventions in the town and its surroundings, as well as administrative, social and political changes.
Imperial Austria brought prosperity back to Piran in the 19th century. This was chiefly aided by the salt pans, as Austria renewed and enhanced the production by substantially enlarging the salt pans in Sečovlje, which yielded approximately 40,000 tons of salt per year.
The Development of Tourism
The narrow gauge railroad, which ran from Trieste to Poreč, greatly boosted the transport of people and merchandise. At the end of the 19th century, the development of tourism began along with the improved traffic connections. In Portorož especially, health resort tourism began to develop, bringing it fame and a reputation as the most pleasant and beautiful tourist centre in the east Adriatic, mainly due to its climate.
After World War I, this area was assigned to Italy by the Rapallo peace agreement. The anti-fascist movement grew among the inland Slovene population as well as the Italian townspeople and culminated in the War of National Liberation during the years 1941–1945.
Tartini Square became the central square of Piran at the end of the 13th century, but acquired its present appearance only in the second half of the 19th century. By filling in the inner harbour, a spacious square area was obtained, around which all the important municipal buildings were constructed (the Town Hall and Court Palace), as well as burgher houses, of which only the gothic Venetian House is preserved in its original. The square was named after the well-known Piran local violonist and composer Guiseppe Tartini (1692–1770), who made the name of his birthplace known throughout Europe. The town, a collection of sculptures, portals and other artefacts of secular and church art, holds a peculiarity: a collection of modern sculptures under the open sky on the Seča peninsula, just in front of Portorož. The international Sculptor Symposium Forma Viva was founded in the year 1961 upon solicitation by the Slovene artists Jakob Savinšek and Janez Lenassi. The Coastal Galleries still traditionally organise it to this day.