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
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.
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