Brioni – Pula, Croatia - Atlas Obscura

There are two Adriatic islands intricately linked to the mythos of Marshal Tito the former communist autocrat of Yugoslavia. One of them is the barren and desolate gulag island of Goli Otok, the other its spiritual opposite, hedonistic paradise of Brioni.

Brioni is a place of Cadillac and dinosaurs, an improbable collection of features and artifacts, which compose a bizarre wonderland for communist Honchos. Brioni, is in reality a group of tiny islands, only 2km off the coast of Istria. Veli Brijun, the biggest of the islands is only 5.6 km² in area.

Noted for their mild climate Brioni was singled out as a leisure resort even in ancient times. In the days of the Austro-Hungarian empire they were known as the pearl of the Austrian Riviera, a luxury vacation spot for the rich and powerful of the Empire. In the interwar period the resort faltered as the great depression took its toll on the lifestyle of even the ultra rich. Quite improbably, for a place whose fate has been so intimately tied to the capitalist economy, fortune started to smile upon Brioni once again, this time after WWII when they become a part of communist Yugoslavia.

Marshal Tito, the Communist autocrat of Yugoslavia, selected Brioni for his seaside residence, and Brioni entered the most glamorous phase of its history.

Extensive, remodeling took place immediately after the takeover. A new pavilion for the president was built. A private zoo was founded. Even a safari park and the private hunting grounds were created. Hunting was one of the favorite pass-times of both Marshal Tito personally and communist elite in general.

An apocryphal story claims that heating was installed in caves which served as winter shelters for exotic animals, even in early 1950s the time when luxury of central heating was still unknown even to the inhabitants of capital cities of Belgrade and Zagreb, and most of countryside was still struggling with hunger.

The zoo and safari park were populated with animals especially purchased or donated as gifts by various heads of states of third world countries. These include, Somalian wild sheep, a gift from Emperor Haile Selasie of Ethiopia, various sorts of Antelops, mountain and plains zebras, gifts from president of Guinea, lamas, Asian elephants, donated by president of India, etc. etc. etc.

As a favorite residence of Marshal Tito Brioni enjoyed visits by numerous celebrities, ranging from mentioned presidents of third world countries to American astronauts and movie stars, as Tito was also a big movie fan. An eclectic list of individuals, it includes 90 presidents from 60 countries, Ho Chi Minh, Haile Selassie, Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin, Michael Collins, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Sophia Loren, Carlo Ponti, and Gina Lollobrigida.

Today the Brioni islands are a curious mix of national park, hunting ground and once again a commercial luxury vacation resort.

Among the odder remaining sites on the islands are included a museum of Marshal Tito, his famous car 1953 black Cadillac, a 1700 year old olive tree, 200 dinosaur footprints dating back to the Cretaceous Period, remains of a Bronze Age hill fort, a couple of Roman villas from 2nd century BC, and remains of a Byzantine palace, and a small church said to be built by the Knights Templar.

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February 17, 2010

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