History and Culture of the island of Hvar

History and Culture of the island of Hvar

History has left numerous traces on Hvar, perhaps more than on any other Adriatic island, due to its exceptionally significant location in the centre of main nautical pathways. The constant conflicts for dominance that were taking place in this region between different conquerors are a confirmation of the significance and value that this territory had from ancient times.

The first proof of life in this area goes back to pre-historic age when a specific Hvar Culture was defined (3500-2500 B.C.) with the discoveries of painted ceramics in Markova and Grapčeva Caves. It must be noted that the oldest depiction of a boat in Europe was discovered right on the fragments of a piece of pottery found in the Grapčeva Cave. The City of Pharos in the area of todayʼs Stari Grad was founded by Ionian Greeks in 385 B.C. After this, the history of Hvar was marked by changes of numerous different civilisations and their influences, so in 219 B.C. Hvar was conquered by the Romans, who had left a rich heritage of country mansions on the island.

The arrival of Croatians in the early Middle Ages marked a significant stage in the development of the island. After they accepted Christianity, it started to spread into all the layers of the society and such traditions have been preserved even until today (funerals, processions and the specific procession in the Holy Week ʼBehind the Crossʼ). In 1420, Hvar was conquered by the Venetians who selected the city of Hvar as the main port for their seagoing projects. They were in power until 1797, a period that represented the cultural development of the city of Hvar. Right during that time, the city itself acquired its recognisable panorama, whilst the spiritual values of that period were best presented in the works of the Renaissance poet Petar Hektorovića (1487 -1572), especially in his epic ʼFishing and Fishermenʼs Complaintsʼ in which the poet, through a fisherman described the life of the local area. Hanibal Lucić (1485-1553) also contributed to the fame of his island by writing ʼThe Slave Girlʼ, the first profane drama of Croatian literature and the poetry collection ʼPisni ljuveneʼ. Furthermore, at that time Martin Benetović wrote his work ʼHvarkinjaʼ, as well as his ʼKomedija od Raskotaʼ and taught music and painted for the Franciscan monastery in Hvar. They all contributed to the cultural identity of Hvar and are unavoidable founders of Croatian literature. The foundation of the civic theatre in the city of Hvar in 1612, first such venue in Europe, gave special contribution to the flourishing of culture and the cultural expression.

After the Venetians, Hvar was a part of Austria. It must be pointed out that in 1686 a group of people from Hvar led by Bishop Juraj Duboković founded a professional tourist association called the ʼHygienic Society of Hvarʼ whose goal was to promote and develop the tourist offer of Hvar. Therefore, this year is taken as the beginning of organised tourism on the island. Also in 1900, a therapeutic hotel sponsored by Queen Elizabeth was erected on the foundations of Knežev dvor (Princeʼs Palace) (todayʼs Hotel Palace).

The Kingdom of Yugoslavia also marked a short period of Hvarʼs history. It was a period of massive emigrations from the island, but nevertheless, funds were secured for the development of the tourist offer. The seaside resort Bonj was being constructed at the time and it was considered to be one of the nicest such beaches on the Adriatic. In the years after WWII, Hvar turned into a fashionable tourist seaside resort and thanks to its interesting history and rich culture, that was under the influence of various civilisations and its unsurpassable natural beauty, Hvar became one of the most attractive tourist destinations on the Adriatic. Since 1991, Hvar has been a part of the independent Republic of Croatia and became the main focus of the general Croatian tourist offer.

The exceptional beauty of the island of Hvar was reflected in the inexhaustible inspirations, both of the great men of Hvar, as well as of the newcomers, from which all the representative churches, palaces, valuable paintings, sculptures and renowned and recognised literary works originated.

Visit the island of Hvar and enjoy the islandʼs rich cultural heritage in a stroll that will take you through the long centuries of its existence.

History and Culture in the town of Hvar

If you visit Hvar, all the streets will lead you to Hvarska pjaca (Hvarʼs square), the centre of cityʼs public and social life and the largest square in Dalmatia. The eastern side of the square is surrounded by the Cathedral of St. Stephen that was built on the foundations of an early-Christian church from the 6th century and that acquired its present appearance in the 16th and 17thcentury. The Cathedral is dedicated to St. Stephen, a pope and martyr, the protector of the Diocese and the city of Hvar. The renaissance bell-tower of the Cathedral and Hvarʼs other bell towers (St. Mark, Franciscan and the ruined one of St. Venerande) are considered to be the nicest ones in Dalmatia. Hvarʼs Cathedral preserves many valuable items and paintings of famous painters like Stefano Celesti, Palma Junior and the Spanish painter Juan Boschettus, but the most renowned painting is definitely Madonna, an example of the proto-Venetian art and one of the oldest in Dalmatia originating back in 1220. In the Episcopal Palace standing next to the Cathedral, a collection of objects of art, sacred vessels, archival documents, old books and liturgical vestments was founded in 1963. The Episcopal Museum is open daily to visitors from 9 a.m. - noon and from 4 p.m. - 6 p.m.

Once you are on Hvarʼs square you will certainly wish to visit Hvarʼs theatre that holds an unavoidable place in the general history of theatre. Its foundation in 1612 made it become the first civic theatre in Europe. The theatre was erected above the Arsenal, the most recognisable outline of the city of Hvar, a place that was used for the repair of galleys and served as a warehouse for nautical accessories. Today Hvarʼs theatre is open for public use and right at the entrance, there is a wooden bow figure head Zvir from Hvarʼs galley St. Jerolim that gained fame for its participation in the fight against the Turkish ships in the famous naval battle at Lepanto in 1571. In the same venue there is also the Gallery of Contemporary Art that is open to visitors during the tourist season from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. During the low season you can phone number 021741009, but its working hours are usually from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

If you walk from the square towards the west, you will reach a small port of Mandrač that always served for the protection of small vessels. It acquired its present appearance in the 18th century and it is believed that it was constructed at the same time as the Arsenal.

Immediately next to the square across Mandrač lies the former Knežev dvor, todayʼs Hotel Palace. The clock tower with a bell from the 15th century and the city loggia built at the begging of the 17th century have been preserved from the original Princeʼs Palace. Below the loggia there is a preserved flag pole from the 15th century that is still used for the same purpose. According to tradition, it was also used as a shame pole and different public proclamations were read out to the general public on this location.

There is a view of the bell tower of St. Markʼs church from Hvarʼs square. The church unfortunately is in ruins, but it has been partially reconstructed in the 19th century. Today there is only an archaeological collection and a collection of stone monuments that holds the name of Grga Novak, the famous archaeologist and historian from Hvar. The outer frame of the former church with the collection of stone monuments is intended for events of chamber music and vocal concerts. During the tourist season the museum is open to visitors from 10 a.m. – noon and from 8 p.m. – 11 p.m. During the low season, your visit must be announced and can be arranged by phone: 021 741 009.

If you walk from the square to the north, passing the main city gate or Porta di datallo (Gate of Dates) ascending the stairs through the old part of the city in which there are palaces built in the 15th and 16th centuries, through small bends that give out the aromas of Mediterranean plants, you will reach Hvarʼs fort Fortica or how the locals call it Španjola. It was built at the beginning of the 16th century (during the Venetian rule) and was reconstructed in 1579. Today the fort holds a collection of amphora and other exhibits from antiquity and the Middle Ages. Besides experiencing its exquisite architecture, you will experience an unforgettable panoramic view of the city of Hvar, its surroundings and the Pakleni islands. You can reach the fort by car as well by taking the road that goes from the bus station, behind the hill, to the western part of the city.

If you stroll down the streets of the old part of the city, you are bound to come upon the Church of the Holy Spirit, one of the many old churches of Hvar. The church was completed in 1493. It is managed by the brotherhood of St. Nicholas, especially during the religious holidays and festivities. The church holds an interesting altar painting painted by A. V. Padovanino.

To the right of fort Fortica there is fort Napoljun built during the French rule at the beginning of the 19th century. You can reach it by car. Today there is an observatory of the Faculty of Geodesy in Zagreb from which stars and the Sun can be monitored. The observatory is not open for public, but you can enjoy a spectacular view of the city under the fort walls.

An easy stroll from Hvarʼs square, along the sea and the waterfront soon brings you to the Franciscan monastery. Within the peace and quiet of the monastery walls, you can enjoy a rich display of museum exhibits (collections of Greek, Roman and Venetian coins, liturgical items, atlas of the ancient cartographer Ptolemaeus, rare exhibits of amphora, etc.), as well as paintings of Venetian artists like Francesco Santacroce and Palma Junior. The monastery is known for its magnificent painting of the Last Supper (2 x 8 m) which leaves everyone breathless. Some critics believe it is the work of a painter from Ravenna Matteo Ingoli, whilst others think that the painting belongs to the school of Palma Junior. One more rarity that makes the monastery famous is the 300-year old cypress that is located in the garden of the monastery. During the tourist season the monastery is open to visitors from 10 a.m.- noon and from 5 p.m.- 7 p.m. whilst during the low season its working hours are only between 10 a.m. and noon.

If you walk through the main city gate towards the north, ascending the stone stairs along the picturesque street of the old part of the city, you will reach the Benedictine nunnery. The Benedictines or as the people of Hvar call them koludrice are a very strict order because they do not go beyond the boundaries of the nunnery, unless it is a matter of extreme emergency. The nunnery was erected on the location of a gothic-renaissance house Lucić and within the building there is a collection of selected art works, paintings and icons from the 16th century and liturgical items. The Benedictine nuns from Hvar have gained world fame for their decorative embroidery, especially the agave lace. The extraction of fibres from agave leaves and its processing to produce fine threads for embroidering are demanding tasks that require exceptional knowledge and patience. For the knitting of the agave lace a special skill is required that the Benedictine nuns have been working on for hundreds of years. Each lace is one of its kind, therefore, it holds special value and is inscribed in the UNESCO Representative list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage List of Humanity.

History and Culture in the town of Stari Grad

The Dominican monastery in Stari Grad was founded in 1482 and later on the church of St. Peter was built here. The church preserves several paintings of exceptional artistic value, (amongst others there is the famous work of the Venetian painter J.R. Tintoretto from the 16th century "Placing into the tomb",) a cross that was made by Giacomo Piazetta in the 18th century, a renaissance cross on the main altar, archives, library with old manuscripts, a collection of stone monuments, a collection of ancient coins, ancient tombstones, a very interesting Greek epigraph from 4 B.C. and the oldest stone inscription found in Croatia (whose original is safeguarded in the Archaeological Museum in Zagreb). During the tourist season it is open to visitors between 10 a.m. –noon and 6 p.m. -8 p.m., and during the low season the visits are possible during the mornings, but must be announced by phone 021 765 442.

Tvrdalj was built as a fort for defence from the Turks by the renowned poet from Hvar Petar Hektorović. It was erected by filling up the sea and one could enter it only over a bascule bridge. In the centre of Tvrdalj, Hektorović designed and built a Romanic park with a fishpond. Tvrdalj has numerous stone inscriptions, but the one saying "Omnium Conditori" is the most significant one, since with it, Hektorović dedicated his Tvrdalj to God, the Creator of everything.

The church of St. John represents the oldest sacral centre of the island of Hvar and as far back as 1147 it was the Episcopal see. It was erected on the location of the former ancient temple. It is interesting that right beside the church of St. John, an early Christian baptistery from the 6th or 7th century was discovered, but today it is covered up for its preservation.

The construction of this church began in the 17th century on the location where the first cathedral on the island of Hvar stood in the 12th century. The bell tower of this church is especially interesting since it contains stone blocks of former ancient buildings and preserved the Roman relief of a galley. In the church there is an old baptistery and the triptych of Francesco da Santacroce.

In the 19th century during the period of sailboats Stari Grad marked the development of the shipping industry and naval construction. There is a rich naval collection preserved in Palace Biankini in Stari Grad. The collection was founded by the Centre for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage of the island of Hvar in 1966 and besides documentation on naval construction; it also displays various nautical instruments, paintings of Hvar captains, old nautical charts and literature on navigation. During the tourist season the collection can be seen from 10 a.m. to noon and from 7 p.m. – 9 p.m. During the low season, it is necessary to announce your arrival to the Cultural Centre by phone (+385 21 765 910).

History and Culture in the town of Jelsa

The old city of Jelsa was situated on the peninsula Gradina and the defence wall, that was built on the western side of the peninsula and extended to the coves of Mina and Bočić, is partially still preserved. The former wall was 172 m long and had an enclosed wall, 800 metres in length. Today, on the location of the former Augustine monastery, of which only a church with a bell tower from 1605 is preserved, lies the present cemetery in Jelsa.

In the very centre of Jelsa, not far from the Square (Pjaca) there is a beautiful renaissance-baroque square of St. John with a small baroque church. Around the square there are stone houses with picturesque balconies that were built as far back as the 16th century.

Todayʼs parish church, the Church of the Assumption was erected on the foundation of the early gothic church and was expanded and fortified in 1535. The church vestry preserved valuable liturgical vestments and several crosses of artistic value and the painting of "Mother of God and the torture of Fabian and Sebastian" of the Flemish-Venetian painter Pietera de Costera is especially valuable.

The votive Church of Our Lady of Health built in 1535 is situated above Jelsa on the hill Račić from where one can experience a magnificent view of the port of Jelsa. The church preserves the works of Palma Junior and valuable wooden sculptures from the 17th century and a renaissance icon from the 16th century.

On the southern part of the island of Hvar there lies the Grapčeva cave, the most significant prehistoric site in the Adriatic. Items from a culture from 4 B.C. were discovered in the cave and they show that the prehistoric cave inhabitants were acquainted with polychrome ceramics from the Ionian and Aegean Sea. It is interesting that right in this cave the oldest depiction of a boat in Europe was discovered on fragments of one piece of pottery. The cave is full of stalactites and stalagmites and contains a large and a small hall, with numerous less accessible branches. You can reach the cave that is situated 239 metres above the sea level from Jelsa passing the Greek fort Tor or from the southern side from Gromin Dolac, passing the Virak cove. Still, the simplest way is to come by car from Jelsa to Humac and then take the field path to the cave.

The monument that has special archaeological significance is definitely Tor, a megalithic square stronghold built from stone blocks that are over 2 metres in height on an earlier Illyrian building. Situated south-east of Jelsa, at 230 m above sea level, in 4 B.C. it was a Greek observation post that, due to its position, dominated the entire channel of Makarska, all the way to the entrance of the port of Stari grad.

CITY-FORT GALEŠNIK, remains of the mediaeval city
At 210 m above sea level and above Jelsa, somewhat to the east of the Illyrian-Greek fort Tor, are the remains of the mediaeval city fort -Galešnika. The city that was 20 metres wide and surrounded by walls 80 metres long was erected on the foundations of Illyrian architecture and additionally constructed during the Roman rule. In the early Middle Ages, the fort was a sanctuary of the noble family of Galeš Slavogost who rebelled against the Venetian rule, but in the end the Venetians conquered the city and demolished it. You can reach this interesting historical location from which there is a magnificent panoramic view of Jelsa and the surrounding places, the island of Brač and the Makarska Riviera, by foot from Jelsa, walking through a pleasant picturesque pathway that passes through the fields and olive groves and ends with an old paved Roman path that leads to the City fort.

History and Culture in Vrboska

The church was built in the 15th century and was reconstructed in the 17th century. Amongst its old walls it preserves many valuable paintings: "Lady of Ružarija" from the 16th century painted by the famous Venetian painter Jacopo Bassan, "St. Anthony of Padua", "Christmas Eve" and "Homage of the Three Kings", works of painter Celestin Medović, as well as the silver Baroque cross from the 17th century, work of Tizian Aspetti. During the tourist season the church is open to visitors daily from 10 a.m. to noon and from 6 p.m. – 7 p.m. During the low season, all visitations must be announced to the parish office by phone (+ 385 21 774 095).

One of the most significant monuments of the island of Hvar is definitely the Church – fort erected in 1571, after the Turkish attack on the location of an older church that originated in 1465. The church has the shape of a fort with an observation post and a loop-hole and from its top there is a beautiful panoramic view of the surrounding places and fields. The church preserves valuable works of Stefan Celesti ("Lady of Mount Carmel"), Antonio Sciuri ("Maryʼs Childbirth"), Giuseppe Alabardi ("Resurrection" and "Placing into the tomb") Marko Rašica ("Lady of Mount Carmel") and Celestin Medović ("Homage of the Three Kings"). During the tourist season the church is open to visitors between 10 a.m. and noon and 6 p.m. – 7 p.m. During the low season, all visitations must be announced to the parish office by phone (+ 385 21 774 095).

The church of St. Peter is located right at the entry to the port Vrboska. It is one of the oldest churches on the island. As far back as 1331, it was mentioned as the bordering point between the marine areas of Pitava and Vrbanja, since Jelsa and Vrboska were non-existent at that time. The statue of St. Peter originated from this church and was the work of Niccolo Fiorentino. Today it is preserved in the Church of St. Lawrence in Vrboska.

The Museum was opened in 1972 and preserves numerous fishing equipment and accessories. Amongst many interesting exhibits there is an appliance called svićalo which was used to light pinewood splinter and whose light attracted fish. There are also petroleum lanterns that were immersed under seawater, old rudders, fish-hooks, but also cooperʼs tools. The Museum preserves a collection of treated crabs, fish and shells of the Adriatic seabed and amphora from the Roman period. During the tourist season the museum is open to visitors from 9 a.m. - noon and from 7 p.m. - 10 p.m.

Gallery Mir was founded when the owners of the gothic renaissance house originating in 1573, after its reconstruction and renovation, decided to open it for public. Exhibitions are often held in this gallery and until now, many artists like the photographer Jasenko Rasol, painter Paulina Jazvić, Ana Kolega and others, displayed their works. It is interesting that in the venue of Gallery Mir you can enjoy the taste of juices and marmalades made after traditional recipes from autochthonic and self-grown plants from Hvar, like sage, mint, fennel, berry, sorb, etc.