Koper has been known by many names during its long and turbulent history. As an island separated from the mainland by a canal, it was called Aegida by ancient Greek sailors, Capris by the Romans (who found it being used to raise goats) and Justinopolis by the Byzantines. The Patriarchs of Aquileia, who took over the town in the 13th century and made it the base for their estates on the Istrian peninsula, renamed it Caput Histriae – Capital of Istria – from which its Italian name Capodistria is derived. They fortified the town and erected some of Koper’s most beautiful buildings, including its cathedral and palaces.
Koper’s golden age came during the 15th and 16th centuries under the Venetian Republic. Trade increased and Koper became the administrative and judicial centre for much of Istria. It also had a monopoly on salt, which Austria so desperately needed. But when Trieste, 20km to the northeast, was proclaimed a free port in the early 18th century, Koper lost its importance.
Between the world wars Koper was controlled by the Italians, who launched a programme of Italianisation. After the defeat of Italy and Germany in WWII the disputed Adriatic coast area – the so-called Free Territory of Trieste – was divided into two zones. Under the 1954 London Agreement, Zone B and its capital, Koper, went to Yugoslavia while Zone A, including Trieste, fell under Italian jurisdiction.
Up to 25, 000 Italian-speaking Istrians fled to Trieste, but 3000 stayed on in Koper and other coastal settlements. Today Koper is the centre of the Italian ethnic community of Slovenia, and Italian is widely spoken here.