Did you know that Istrians used to be armed up to their teeth? Yes, it’s hard to believe, but I can tell you from my own experience. Nevertheless, they never mentioned it, nor did they praise it. But almost every family had a piece of weapon at home, a riffle or a gun. They didn’t talk about it because carrying a weapon was forbidden in Istria, however they were hiding it wherever they could. That is why today you can find old guns and rifles bricked in walls of old houses, barns, beams, roofs. Wherever they knew that nobody will find it. By the words of Mario Ferlin, passionate fan of old weapons from San Vincenti, only those who were close with ruling class in time of Venice, Austria, Italy or even Yugoslavia were permitted to own a weapon.
His small intimate museum of old weapons from period from 1400 till 1870 took place right there by the grand medieval castle Morosini-Grimani. It’s only a part of his great collection of 150 pieces of different items, riffles, guns, firelock, cannon, knifes, munition, bags for munition and other that he collects for years.
-Here I presented only a part of the items, but I continue to collect, so my collection grows. It all started 30 years ago as a hobby. Instead of classic antique I started to collect weapons. First piece was an old revolver from 1889 Which I got as a gift. It was a great novelty to me and I immediately fell in love. And I was always intrigued by the story there was no weapons in Istria. Istrians were supposedly unarmed, but then I started to discover all those items that tell us that we were just like anybody else. Nevertheless, unlike Slovenian, our old weapons are rusty because we always had to hide it somewhere, tells us our collector with a smile on his face. Even his father also hid an old riffle in barn under the beams until then 10 years old Mario found it. But when his father realized that gun became Mario’s toy, it suddenly disappeared.
His hobby, Mario says, is stronger than anything. Thus it was only a matter of time when he would put everything in one place and reveal it to public. Finally, he did it three years ago opening a collection which reveals great surprises, often unknown. Always polite, this history, tradition and old weapons lover will take you easily to a secret world that shows us a lot about migrations and movement of people. His collection hides Venetian, British, Turkish, Austrian, Belgian and other weapons. From military to civil which was used back in old days for self-protection or hunting. And it is very interesting how some pieces of weapons found in Istria belonged to Ottoman empire. It tells a lot about inhabitants who brought it from somewhere to these areas, some as a souvenirs, some for self-protection.
Valuable treasure of his collection
-Istrians used to be very poor and everyone managed as one could. That very gun or riffle saved many from hunger. I remember when hunting was starting people took their pieces with them end went straight to rabbit holes because they knew where they were. They were waiting for their chance and returned home with lunch or dinner. Many families were surviving like this, says Mario who plans to move his collection in old castle after its renovation. Even now castle host many summer festivals, like Medieval or Festival of nonverbal theatre.
– There were plans already to move the collection in renovated castle tower, but it stays like this for now. At the moment the castle hosts European project Kulturterra and the money it gets from it will help to finish overall renovation, after which in one room the collection will find its place, because it truly belongs there, says Ferlin. And he is telling the truth! When he was renovating some old buildings in San Vicenti, he found the most valuable treasure of his collection – old Venetian cannon from year 1400. And what is the best, at the moment apparently it’s the only such cannon in the world!
– And I found it accidentally, he continues to explain.
-We were digging something and suddenly we found this piece of metal. At first I didn’t even know what was it, but I realized it served as an anvil. Later, according to some internet research, I realized it could be a cannon and that was confirmed to me by Janko Jelicic from Zagreb with whom I cooperate regarding cleaning and maintenance of weapons. He used to be a curator in Croatian Historical Museum in Zagreb and he’s a great expert for old weapons. He told me also that this is the only such piece of old weapon that has been found which used to be a part of castle inventory and that it’s one of the oldest cannons as such. This can be confirmed by castle Morosini-Grimani inventory listing from 16th century done by castle captain who listed all the castle’s weapons.
– The listing mentions this cannon and bastion riffles, spears, halberds, but interestingly no swords. And this cannon is peculiar because it was not molten, but created from several pieces, while his range was even a kilometer. Unfortunately, in my collection I don’t have bastion riffles from our castle, but I do have identical ones from that time, this collector continues to explain. He adds that generally today it’s very hard to find Venetian cannons from that period.
It Wasn’t Recycled Like Most of the Cannons
– The cannon was probably saved because it was used as anvil. It was buried in the ground, so it never got recycled like most of the cannons. Otherwise, best cannons from every series of production from Napoleon time were held in museum. They were board up to a ship to be brought to Louvre. Unfortunately, the ship with 150 cannons was sunken and now those cannons are gone, Mario tells us this interesting story woven in a book of Italian historian Marco Morini about Venetian cannons, where this particularly worthy one from San Vincenti collection is mentioned as well.
-Unfortunately, there is no cannon ball for this cannon, but some others, much bigger, Mario continues. He is especially proud to own a collection of civil pistols which today can be found only in Istria.
– Those pistols are interesting to me, but not because they are special. Obviously there were a lot of them and today it is the most common piece of weapon that can be found in Istria from the period before WW2. What is interesting is that they had been found in such number only in Istria. Almost every village had it, which says to me and other historians that in Austro-Hungarian times it was probably given to heads of villages for raising an alarm or some other signals, Mario says.
Otherwise, Mario collects only firearms, but cool weapon really not as well.
-I buy it sometimes, but only if I cannot buy a piece of fire weapon I want, but it’s too expensive for me. And I only buy cool weapon from Austrian times, it comes as an aspirin to me, a comfort for wounds, this San Vincenti guardian of history and old tales concludes with joke. And there are many old tales in this place. You only need to dig a bit in a foundation of some old house that awaits its renovation only to glow again in its old radiance.