Unexpected Outcomes: Discovering Croatia’s Past by Building for the Future

January 16, 2014

A wastewater management project along Croatia's Adriatic Coast recently uncovered a 2,000-year-old vessel in the town of Pula. Funds were made available to help excavate and preserve this archeological relic. Following the excavation of this ship - which paired international experts with their Croatian counterparts - efforts are now underway to desalinize the vessel and preserve it so that generations to come can glimpse into the past of this seafaring community.
1st Century A.D.

Date archeologists speculate Pula 2, a recently excavated wooden ship, was likely scuttled


The town of Pula, on Croatia’s Adriatic Coast, is an archeological hotspot. Evidence of a rich and ancient history is on display around the city - including a Roman amphitheater from the 1st century A.D., the 2nd century A.D. Twin Gates, and the 13th century A.D. Church of St. Francis.

These treasures that dot the streets of Pula are perhaps matched only by those that have yet to be discovered beneath the city. With nearly every infrastructure project begun in the city unearthing a new archeological find, construction teams working in Pula are accustomed to integrating preservation components into their projects. Although common, every discovery made during one of these projects is nonetheless met with enthusiasm, bringing with it the hope that something new can be gleaned about the past from each find.

Such was the case when a team working with the World Bank on the Second Coastal Cities Pollution Control Project began digging up a street in order to install a new waste water collection system near the city center. The project, designed to modernize the sewage system along the country’s seacoast in order to reduce pollutants from entering the sea and improve wastewater management, broke ground in 2007.

“We started the coastal collector seafront project in Flacius street in 2007,” says Vedrana Rakovac, project lead from the Pula Herkulanea utility company. “We thought that there would be no surprises in Flacius street because we had already started construction there. But something unexpected happened - for both us and our archeologist colleagues.” 

Video: Learn more about this discovery

Open Quotes

We were pleasantly surprised when we realized that the World Bank would support us in this project, because it is not common for us to be able to finance a sewerage system project and an archeology project from the same source. Close Quotes

Vedrana Rakovac
Project lead from the Pula Herkulanea utility company

The project site on Flacius street, where several archeological discoveries were made.










Following the excavation of a small rampart at the outset of this project, Vedrana and her colleagues were surprised to find what turned out to be a small, wooden ship dating back to Roman times that had been buried for nearly 2,000 years.

Recognizing the historical significance of this find, Vedrana turned to the project team at the World Bank, who provided resources to ensure that this find would be properly excavated and preserved.

“We were pleasantly surprised when we realized that the World Bank would support us in this project,” says Rakovac, “because it is not common for us to be able to finance a sewerage system project and an archeology project from the same source.”

These additional resources were used to bring together a team of local and international specialists to excavate this ship, known as Pula 2, and begin the long task of preserving this treasure. A team of experts from France joined local archeologists, engineers, historians and others to begin a preservation process that is expected to last more than two years.

A team of experts works to excavate a small, wooden ship, known as "Pula 2."










Video: Learn more about the excavation

In the meantime, however, this discovery is already causing excitement. In addition to being the first vessel of its type to be discovered on dry land in Croatia, this particular ship is helping to bolster previous assumptions that the Romans borrowed some of their shipbuilding traditions from the people of Istria – the Croatian peninsula where Pula has existed for some three millennia.

“The stitching method used for the construction of [Pula 2] is specific for the northern Adriatic region and points to the pre-Roman shipbuilding tradition,” says Marko Uhač, Head of Archeological Research at the Croatian Ministry of Culture.

"This is something that the inhabitants of Istria gave to the Romans and the Romans used it to build their ships.”

Open Quotes

The stitching method used for the construction of [Pula 2] is specific for the northern Adriatic region and points to the pre-Roman shipbuilding tradition. This is something that the inhabitants of Istria gave to the Romans and the Romans used it to build their ships. Close Quotes

Marko Uhač
Head of Archeological Research at the Croatian Ministry of Culture

Part of the hull of Pula 2 as it sits in a desalinization tank. The process of preserving this find could take more than two years. 










Video: Learn more about Pula 2 

Following the excavation, this ship is now resting in a holding tank in Pula, undergoing a desalinization process that could take anywhere from several months to two years. The ship will then undergo a process to further extract water from the ship’s wooden components and replace it with wax. Once this process is completed the ship is expected to go on public display and there are even plans to reconstruct this ship for display in the Pula harbor.  

Video: Learn more about the preservation process

By providing funds to develop municipal infrastructure in Pula, a World Bank supported project was also able to help in discovering and preserving the cultural heritage of that city as well – showcasing that the unexpected outcomes of a project can be just as rewarding as those that were intended.