As with much else nearby, the history of the Brijuni islands really starts in Roman times. Evidence of this is apparent by the ruins of Roman villas on the islands – they were used for summer getaways for rich Romans back in the day.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the islands were ruled by various groups before becoming part of the Venetian Empire in 1331, and then (skipping forward in time quite a bit!) also part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1815.
For centuries, the islands were plagued by malaria, until in 1893 when they were bought by Austrian industrialist Paul Kupelweiser. He rid the island of the disease and set about creating an upmarket health resort – with hotels, baths, sports facilities, restaurants and even a casino (as well as improving the infrastructure of the islands) – which became popular with wealthy Austrian holidaymakers.
The resort on Brijuni sadly detoriated after World War I, and in 1936 the islands were annexed to Italy. The islands were bombed by Allied forces towards the end of World War II, and a number of structures on them were destroyed.
Tito’s Summer Residence
The islands became part of Yugoslavia after World War II and were subsequently used as the private summer residence of President Tito, as well as being used by other top officials in Yugoslavia at the time. (Their use in this way meant the islands were entirely closed to the public.)
Over the years, almost 100 foreign heads of state were received by Tito on the islands, as well as many film stars – Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Sophia Loren and Carlo Ponti, and Gina Lollobrigida were all visitors!
After President Tito’s death in 1980, the islands were given National Park status in 1983 and opened up to the public in 1984. The islands of course remained part of Croatia when it declared its independence 1991.