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About Raša

Raša, Arsia, Hrvatska

It took only 397 days to build Raša, the youngest town in Istria, as one of the newly built-up towns (città di fondazione) during the Italian reign, i.e. the fascist era. The construction works begun on the 10th March 1936 and ended on the 10th April 1937, with the majority of buildings completed within a year so the first inhabitants started to move in their new homes, and the new town of Raša was officially inaugurated on the 4th November 1937 before the government emissary Giovanni Host-Venturi and the king’s envoy Duke of Spoleto and other highly ranked state officials. By a special royal decree of Victor Emmanuel III, the statute of the municipality of Raša was created on the 28th October 1937 as a symbolic date which marked the fifteenth anniversary of the march on Rome.

Initially, the newly constructed mining town was called Liburnia, but due to political circumstances immediately before the adoption of the statute, the name was changed to Raša, i.e. Arsia after the river of the same name, which with its tributaries geographically and morphologically determines this area. The river Raša (Arsia flumen), although of a small river flow, has from prehistoric periods until recent times often been a significant border boundary between different tribes, peoples, empires and states.                  

In the period from 1927 to 1935, the construction of the settlement was preceded by comprehensive land reclamation works in the Krapan and Raša valleys, organized by a special consortium ran by the then mayor of Labin, Baron Giuseppe Lazzarini de Battiala. The mining industry in this area started to develop in the 17th century, during the Venetian rule and the first exploitation activities in the Krapan valley dates back to 1626. During the 18th century coal was continually exploited, with circa 40 miners producing 560 tons of coal annually. The overall industrialization and wide use of steam engine enabled a significant development of the coal mine, therefore during the Austrian government, at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, the annual production increased to 90,000 tons, with approximately 1,500 employees. At that time, Krapan flourished due to a number of new objects built, both industrial and residential, which were related to the mine. In 1905 a small church dedicated to St. Barbara, saint patroness of miners, was also built. Because of its autarkic industry the Italian government has been working on a significant increase in production, which in 1936 resulted in 735,610 tons of coal with plans to reach million tons and 7,000 employees and a tendency to grow steadily. Therefore the coalmining company “Raša” (“Arsa” Società Anonima Carbonifera) and its legal successor A.Ca.I. (Azienda Carboni Italiani) ordered the construction of a new settlement. The project of a new town and construction supervision were given to an architect from Trieste named Gustavo Pulitzer Finali and his studio STUARD (Ukmar, Lah, Kosovel). Pulitzer had a unique opportunity to plan an entire town and to design each object in it. He has also designed numerous interiors, especially those of public spaces, and has made drawings of furniture, thus interpreting in his own way the principles of total artwork (Gesamtswerk) which he mastered at the Munich Polytechnic. Pulitzer has divided the town hierarchically into a workers and officials part, with the main square serving as a meeting place and a separation spot of the two entities. The workers part includes houses with four two-bedroom flats, each with a separate entrance and a garden area. Pulitzer has also designed a coal burning furnace that could keep the entire flat warm. The apartments for officials and managers are more comfortable and their heating system was organized through a town heating plant. The total of 96 houses was built. The town, planned for 2,000 – 3,000 inhabitants, included all the necessary facilities, the town hall and a police department, a primary school and a kindergarten, a post office, a café, a restaurant, a hotel, several shops, a cinema, a hospital, sports grounds and even a large outdoor swimming pool of Olympic proportions. The infrastructure was also remarkably well-resolved: water and sewage network, city lighting and roads with asphalt carpet, hot water in all public buildings. Of course, along the outskirts of the city was the direction of the mine.

The heart of the city is the town square, to the design of which the architect paid special attention. It is dominated by the imposing church of St. Barbara with a carefully thought-out roof structure obtained by stringing reinforced concrete arch ribs. Some recognized the symbolism of the mining wagon in the design of the church with the attached bell tower and of the mining lamp in the church tower, but such a connection remained only part of the interpretation of passers-by, without a real basis in project documentation. The interior of the church, of a very harmonious modernist design with simple but refined details of the marble altar and sprinkler, is spiritualized with side ceiling lighting, which was removed during an adaptation in the 1990s. Two elongated glass windows adorn the rear arched wall behind the altar and a refined glass dome at the east church entrance.  Next to the church is located the city loggia, a building element common in many medieval Istrian towns. On the right entrance pylon is located the stone relief figure of St. Barbara, the work of the Trieste sculptor Ugo Carà. The square was once decorated with a stone statue of a miner-warrior, whose author is a young sculptor Marcello Mascherini, a native of Udine, but the sculpture was destroyed soon after the end of World War II. Raša’s square is adorned with a city fountain of modernist avant-garde design.

Pulitzer followed the principles of nature and therefore placed a round stone fountain in the center of the square. The leading thought in his design was rationalism, the leading European architectural thought of that time. He used simple, strong lines and bright clean surfaces. Respecting the Mediterranean tradition, he used a semicircular arc along with rectangular solutions, making his architectural compositions playful not only linearly but also deeply thanks to the play of light and shadow. However, Pulitzer was not satisfied only with the above. He added traditional, local, Istrian elements to the modern and contemporary European style, as can be seen in the usage of baladur element (a covered outdoor corridor) and a skillful use of the local stone. Because of all that, Pulitzer’s architecture which consisted of all important rationalist and modernist features as seen in the example of Raša, became a sort of a model for urban planning of new settlements, which was later used in Carbonia, Sabaudia and across Italy.

The post-war Raša experienced a sort of a paradoxical fate. On one side, due to its unintentional fascist history it was systematically neglected and  left to decay, whereas on the other it was celebrated and respected as the production site of the precious black gold, always aiming at its maximum exploitation. In the former Yugoslavia, Raša was part of the municipality of Labin, returning its municipal status in the Republic of Croatia. Since then continuous efforts are being made in order to valorize this significant mining center.