Rovinj started out as a small village founded on an island by the Romans. During the Middle Ages it was fortified with double walls and seven gates, and in 1283 it fell to Venice. Although it was placed under a Venetian governor, who imposed heavy trade taxes, citizens retained a certain amount of communal freedom and enjoyed relative prosperity. During the 16th century, the number of inhabitants increased as refugees fleeing the Turks arrived from Dalmatia, Bosnia, Albania and Greece, and in the late 17th century a bridge was built connecting the island to the mainland, and the town expanded along the coast. In 1763, the narrow channel separating the island from the coast was filled in and thus Rovinj became a peninsula.
With the demise of Venice, the town entered a more difficult period under Austria: while Trieste in Italy became the Hapsburg’s main trade port, and Pula their main military port and shipyard, Rovinj was seriously neglected, causing many families to leave and seek work in Pula. However, in 1872 the tobacco factory opened: still today it’s the largest producer of Croatian cigarettes, and a warm, sweet smell of cured tobacco hangs in the air. A railway linking Rovinj with Kanfanar was built in 1876, but unfortunately closed in 1966 as it was considered unprofitable. Since the 1960s Rovinj has lived primarily from tourism, winning the prize for the ‘best-kept resort’ on several occasions. The town is still home to a sizeable Italian majority, who have their own schools and cultural associations, and it is not unusual to hear Italian spoken.