Towards the end of the 2nd millennium BC, the Illyrian Histrian tribe settled the region and built fortified villages on top of the coastal and interior hills. The Romans swept into Istria in 177 BC and began building roads and more hill forts as strategic strongholds.
From AD 539 to 751, Istria was under Byzantine rule, the most impressive remnant of which is the Euphrasian Basilica in Poreč. In the period that followed, power switched between Slavic tribes, the Franks and German rulers until an increasingly powerful Venice wrestled control of the Istrian coast in the early 13th century.
With the fall of Venice in 1797, Istria came under Austrian rule, followed by the French (1809–13) and then the Austrians. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, most of Istria was little more than a neglected outpost of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
When the empire disintegrated at the end of WWI, Italy moved quickly to secure Istria. Italian troops occupied Pula in November 1918 and, in the 1922 Treaty of Rapallo, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes ceded Istria along with Zadar and several islands to Italy, as a reward for joining the Allied powers in WWI.
A massive population shift followed as 30,000 to 40,000 Italians arrived from Mussolini’s Italy and many Croats left, fearing fascism. Their fears were not misplaced, as Istria’s Italian masters attempted to consolidate their hold by banning Slavic speech, education and cultural activities. There was a ban on giving Slavic names to newborns, and adults were forced to use Italian forms of their first names.
Italy retained the region until its defeat in WWII when Istria became part of Yugoslavia, causing another mass exodus, as Italians and many Croats fled Tito’s communists. Trieste and the peninsula’s northwestern tip were points of contention between Italy and Yugoslavia until 1954, when the region was finally awarded to Italy. As a result of Tito’s reorganisation of Yugoslavia, the northern part of the peninsula was incorporated into Slovenia, where it remains.