Hum is a picturesque hilltop settlement in Croatia’s Istria region whose main peculiarity is being the smallest town in the world.
Located in central Istria, approximately a 2.5 hours drive from Zagreb, Croatia’s capital city, the medieval hilltop town is home to between 20 and 30 people (actually 21, according to the 2011 national census, and 27 as of 2021). Its closest neighbor is Roč, only 7 kilometers away.
Hum’s city copper doors date from 16th century and greet visitors with welcoming messages in an old, forgotten letter.
Its origins are shrouded in mystery, but its first mention in historical documents dates back to the year 1102, under the name of Cholm, which comes from Italian name for Hum – Colmo.
Its legend involves giants and, as story goes, the biggest giant of all, named Dragonja (or Ploughman) made Istrian rivers with his plow. His furrows created two rivers, Mirna and Dragonja (named after himself), but he left the third furrow unfinished, so the sea levels around Pazin started to rise.
People panicked, so the other giants came to aid and used rocks to build towns on hills, so they created Motovun, Grožnjan, Sovinjak, Završje, Roč, and Vrh. But, the giants had leftover material, so they used the little rocks to create the smallest city in the world – Hum.
A less magical story begins in the middle ages, where Hum’s Citadel was made on the ruins of a fortress by a count Ulrich I, and a few houses followed down the line. Hum served as a stronghold, and it was given to the Aquila patriarch by count Ulrich II, along with a number of other castles, as a feud.
A bell and watch tower was built in 1552 as part of the town’s defenses, and guards and their families started moving in, but the town never really developed over the centuries, and still today it consists of just three neat rows of medieval houses and two streets.
Either way, measuring only 100 meters long and 30 meters wide, it’s easy to see why Hum is considered the world’s smallest town.
What’s not so clear is why it is classified as a “village”.
After all, there are much smaller villages than this, and some consist of just a handful of homes spread over long distances.
However the reputation of “world’s smallest town” made the difference, and today tourism counts as one of the two main sources of income for the locals, along with agriculture.
Of course, there isn’t that much to seehere, but locals do their best to make visitors film welcome, and just walking along one of the only two cobbled streets, admiring the medieval architecture has its charm.
Surrounded by a small stone fence erected in medieval times to protect the town from bandit attacks, Hum somehow never outgrew this barrier in the way that most other towns did.
And I suspect we won’t be seeing any new homes being built there any time soon, also to keep its status as smallest town in the world.
Curious fact: Hum was one of the centers of Glagolitism in Croatia, so you will see a lot of preserved Glagolitic writings inside the citadel.
Glagolitic is an Old Slavic alphabet originated in the middle of the 9th century which remained present in the coastal regions until the 19th century.
Its origins come from a Byzantine monk named Ćiril, who invented Glagolitic while translating letters from Latin to Old Slavic.
Interestingly, there are no numbers in the Glagolitic alphabet and, when a sign has a dot on each side or a ligature above, it is read as a number.
Not all Glagolitic writings are the same, as the script had two types of writing, and it’s not bold and italic. One was rounded, and the other was angled, used only in Croatia.
Like the city itself, also Hum’s famous drink has an ancient history and a few stories to tell.
It is a herb brandy called Biska, made from white mistletoe, grape marc, and three other types of herbs.
The original recipe is about two thousand years old and originates from the Celtic druids, whobonce inhabited the Istrian peninsula.
Not by chance, this recipe was found written in Glagolitic script, and Biska has been prepared in its original way ever since. The hosts from the Hum’s only tavern said they got a recipe from a late vicar who was a famous herbalist.
Mistletoe was perhaps popularized for Christmas customs, but Croatians took the herb to another level, producing delicious brandy.
Don’t be surprised if such a small place leaves you enchanted. Hum’s beautiful history and stories may take you away to some other time and place.
If you, however, need a break, Hum’s only tavern will welcome you in an old-fashioned manner.
The restaurant was opened in 1976 and it’s furnished in typical Istrian style.
The menu offers local cuisine with some of the best Istrian dishes including prosciutto and homemade cheese, Istrian bean stew (Manestra od bobići), and Istrian soup (you basically eat wine with a spoon and a few croutons).
If you find the time, don’t miss visiting the surrounding places.
If you head south, you can get to Pazin Cave in about half an hour, and finish the magical road of giants (remember, Dragonja hit the ground with his foot and made the Pazin Cave!).
After exploring the area by a pedestrian trail, you can even take a zip line over Pazin or over an underground lake.
The Pazinčica river has another trait besides the cave – the waterfalls. Called Zarečki Krov, they offer a great sightseeing, but also a place to take a swim, and a few gorgeous photos, of course.
Central Istria will let you take a break from the crowd on the south and teach you something different about culture and history.
Perhaps these towns are not so famous like Rovinj or Poreč on the coast, but visiting this area will enrich your stay in Croatia with a sprinkle of history and magic.
Images from web – Google Research