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James Joyce was writing “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” in Pula, Croatia while teaching English to naval officers

Joyce in Zürich, c. 1918.
Joyce in Zürich, c. 1918.

Pula is a coastal city on the Istria peninsula in Croatia. It attracts tourists with its magnificently preserved Roman ruins.

The 2000 years old amphitheater, the Arena, is one of the largest in the world. Also, the ancient Romans fortified the city with a wall that had seven colossal gates, and several gates are still standing, with the triumphal Arch of the Sergii nowadays decorating one of the city’s main squares.

Exterior of Pula Arena

While many are aware of the city’s rich history, most people don’t know that Pula was briefly the home of James Joyce, one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. In 1904, Joyce and his future wife Nora Barnacle emigrated to mainland Europe, as 22-year old Joyce was supposed to teach English in a Berlitz English-speaking school in Zürich. However, instead of Zurich, he got the position in Pula, where he lived and worked for 6 months before being relocated to Trieste, Italy.

Joyce didn’t think much of Pula. In one of the letters he wrote to his aunt, he stated: “I am trying to move on to Italy as soon as possible as I hate this Catholic country with its hundred races and thousand languages… Pula is a back-of-God-speed place– a naval Siberia.”

Hotel Riviera in Pula in 1904.
Hotel Riviera in Pula in 1904

However, Joyce’s dislike of Pula was most probably influenced by his despise of Catholicism and his poor financial state: In Pula, he taught English to Austro-Hungarian naval officers, worked only 16 hours a week and was paid a measly sum of 2 pounds a week.

Joyce in Zürich, c. 1918.
Joyce in Zürich, c. 1918

Still, Joyce’s time in Pula was productive as he was writing his abandoned novel Stephen Hero which was later rewritten to become his seminal novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

Nowadays, the city of Pula is proud to have briefly been the residence of one of the greatest literary giants. On the ground floor of the apartment building, which once housed the language school, there is a café named “Uliks” (Croatian for “Ulysses”).

Sculpture of Joyce at a table on the terrace of the cafe Uliks. Photo Credit
Sculpture of Joyce at a table on the terrace of the cafe “Uliks” Photo Credit

On the terrace of the café there is a life-sized bronze sculpture of Joyce sitting at one of the tables, and inside the café, there is a class cabinet which contains Joyce memorabilia.

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Although Pula left no impression on Joyce, Joyce impressed Pula. The statue of the writer sits silently on the terrace and overlooks the great triumphal Arch.

Domagoj Valjak

Domagoj Valjak is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News