Hvar is one of the most beautiful islands of the Mediterranean, its hillsides are covered in pine forests, with vineyards, olive groves, fruit orchards and lavender fields in the agricultural areas and its climate is characterized by mild winters, and warm summers with many hours of sunshine so it is no wonder that the island was the center of attention for many who have passed by from the ancient times to almost recently.
• A brief History
Hvar’s location at the center of the Adriatic sailing routes has long made this island an important base for commanding trade up and down the Adriatic, across to Italy and throughout the wider Mediterranean. It has been inhabited since pre-historic times, originally by a Neolithic people whose distinctive pottery gave rise to the term Hvar culture, and later by the Illyrians. The ancient Greeks founded the colony of Pharos in 384 BC on the site of today’s Stari Grad, making it one of the oldest towns in Europe. They were also responsible for setting out the agricultural field divisions of the Stari Grad Plain, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In medieval times, Hvar (city) rose to importance within the Venetian Empire as a major naval base. Prosperity brought culture and the arts, with one of the first public theatres in Europe, nobles’ palaces and many fine communal buildings. After a brief time under Napoleonic rule, the island became part of the Austrian Empire, a more peaceful and prosperous time. On the coast, harbors were expanded, quays built, fishing and boat building businesses grew. At the same time, the island’s wine exports increased, along with lavender and rosemary production for the French perfume industry. The Italian army occupied the island from 1918 until 1921, when Hvar with the rest of Croatia joined the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. In 1992 the Republic of Croatia was recognized as an Independent state in which Hvar obtained a position in its territorial reorganization.
• UNESCO Heritage
Hvar’s culture and heritage under UNESCO protection:
Benedictine nun’s aloe lace
Aloe lace is made in Croatia only by Benedictine nuns in the town of Hvar. Thin, white threads are obtained from the core of fresh aloe leaves and woven into a net or other pattern on a cardboard background. The resulting pieces are a symbol of Hvar.
“Following the Cross” Procession
The origins of this unique procession are linked to a period of peasant revolt against Venetian governance when, according to legend, a small cross began to bleed before a conflict. It is also interesting to note that in nearly five centuries of celebration, the tradition has never been interrupted. Even in 1944, when the procession was forbidden by the German authorities, refugees from the island Hvar conducted the procession between their tents in the refugee camp of El Shatt in Africa. This was the only time the annual procession was not conducted on the island.
Stari Grad Plain
One of the remains of Hvar history is Stari Grad Plain, one of UNESCO World Heritage sites. This is a cultural landscape that has remained practically intact since it was first colonized by Ionian Greeks from Paros in the 4 th century BC. The original agricultural activity of this fertile plain, mainly centering on grapes and olives, has been maintained since Greek times to the present. The site is also a natural reserve. The landscape features ancient stone walls and trims, or small stone shelters, and bears testimony to the ancient geometrical system of land division, the chora, used by the ancient Greeks, which has remained virtually intact over 24 centuries.
• The Names of Hvar
As a Greek colony, the island was known as Pharos ‘lighthouse’. The Greek poet Apollonius of Rhodes referred to the island as “Piteyeia” in the 3rd century BC, a name derived either from the Greek word “pitys”, meaning spruce. In the Roman province of Dalmatia, it was known as Pharia and later Fara.
In the early middle Ages, Croats settled the island and named it Hvar, replacing the consonant “f” with old Croatian consonant “hv”. But, the island was still ruled by the Romanized Illyrians. The Croats’ influence convinced the resident Roman population to once again change the official name to Quarra.
Since the late 11th century its Italian name has been Lesina; in Venetian, Liesena. The name remained official during Venetian rule. The Italian name has a Slavic origin – Lesna, meaning “wood” (the island having been heavily wooded).
• Worth to see
St. Stepehen Cathedral
The wide square of St. Stephen, usually just know as Pjaca, is bordered on the east side by the cathedral and bishop’s palace, on the west by Mandrač (a small have for boats) and to the northwest by Leroj (clocktower) and Lođa (loggia, lodge), which today form part of Hotel Palace, but which used to belong to the Prince’s Palace. The present cathedral was under construction for a long time. The plans were drawn up in 1540, but it was only completed in the 18th century, when it acquired its present appearance. Funds were raised through a variety of communal taxes, while the Komiža fishermen were required to hand over a third of their catch from their best fishing grounds. The cathedral has many valuable works of art, altar paintings and altars in different colored marbles. You can also see the famous Holy Cross which is said to have wept blood on 6 February 1510 on the eve of the Hvar uprising.
In 1579, the people of Hvar began to build a grand, new Arsenal on the site of the former 13th century building. Today, it is one of the most imposing structures in the town. It was used as a maintenance and storage building by the Venetian navy, which overwintered in Hvar Harbor. The Arsenal complex belongs to the highest category of protected monuments and is of the most significant military/naval buildings in the Mediterranean and its theatre is among the oldest communal theaters in Europe. The theater is located on the first floor of the Arsenal which celebrated its 400th anniversary in 2012. It owes its existence to the then Prince of Hvar Pietro Semitecolo who was inspired by the Italian theatre.
Towering above all the reveling and the mega-yachts is the Spanish Fortress, built in the early 16th century and offering spectacular views of the town and islands below. The fortress is not the original and the 13th century city walls constructed soon after the islanders requested Venetian protection in 1278, predate it by almost 200 years. Hvar was destroyed by the Turkish Fleet in 1571 and only the fortress saved the local population. The fortress can be accessed by car for visitors to Hvar Town and it is then a pleasant stroll down to the town.
Walking along the riva past the Riva Yacht Harbour Hotel and the Jadrolinija dock, the Franciscan Monastery comes into view. Built in 1465, it was jointly financed by the nobles of Hvar and sea commanders as a testament to the gratitude for many lives saved at sea near Hvar. The local contribution included 1000 gold coins from Antun Lucic and hish son Hanibal Lucic the famous poet which is buried under the main altar. Worth to visit also for the “Last Supper” painting by Palma the Younger which was given by the church during the Venetian ruling times on the island.
The poet Petar Hektorović and his age are brought back to life in the Hektorovic Castle in Stari Grad. In fact, it is a fortified Renaissance villa, with some characteristics of a monastery. The character of the man who created it is reflected in its romantic park and fishpond and the stone inscriptions in which he explained certain aspects of his building venture and religious contemplations.
Stari Grad Museum
Stari Grad Museum is housed in Neo-Renaissance Biankini Mansion. It contains an extensive 19th century maritime collection connected to the prosperous times of seafaring and shipbuilding. In the basement there is an exhibition reconstructing an actual classical shipwreck with many amphorae and other ceramic items found in Duboka Cove near Basina.
The most unusual testimony to the past which you will see in Stari Grad is the Hora or Ager Phariensis, Pharos Plain or rather the still visible marks of its parcelisation carried out two and half thousand years ago by the Greek colonists. Nowhere else in the Mediterranean has such a phenomenon been preserved so well with its rectangular plots measuring 1 by 5 stades (about 180 by 900 metres), bordered by drywalls and crisscrossed at regular intervals by pathways. There is a small airfield for light aircraft where you can book a flight to get an aerial view of the plain.
The Fortress Church
The church of St. Mary, which stands like a tall stone ship above the town, dominates Vrbosko. Originally, it was quite small but after two great Turkish invasions when Hvar, Stari Grad and Vrbovsko were destroyed it was transformed into a strong fortress. It is worth climbing up the roof, where you can see how fortifications were organized. There is also a wonderful view of the town and bay.
St. Laurence Church
The most valuable works of art on the island are kept in the churches of Vrbosko, particularly in St. Laurence parish church. Most used to be housed in St. Mary’s but were moved due to damp and have been arranged in a small picture gallery which is well worth visiting.
St. John Church
In the southwest extension of the modest square in Jelsa there is a hidden gem. The Renaissance-Baroque square is in itself worthy of admiration, but the octagonal Church of St. john is particularly notable, with its different stylistic features from the Gothic, Reinassance and Baroque periods.
This little “stone” settlement is unique to Hvar. It is located about 2 km from the main road crossing the island at a height of 350 m above sea level. It was originally a shepherd’s dwelling and over the ages was used as a temporary seasonal dwelling by the people of Vrisnik for agricultural work. Today it is an ethnic village with tourist attractions.
On the south slopes of the island near Humac is one of the oldest archaeological sites in the Adriatic and Mediterranean, Grapčeva Cave. The famous Hvar archeologist Dr. Grga Novak, discovered the remains of a cultic site belonging to the Neolithic inhabitants of the island from the Early Stone Age around 4000 BC.
Šćedro, Mostir Cove
The island of Šćedro is not quite two miles distant from Hvar and took its name from the old Slavonic word šedro, which means merciful or gracious. In Mostir Cove there are remains of a Dominican church monastery and bell tower which are presumed to date back to the 12th century.
A charming old village, high above the sea, consisting of stone houses carved into the steep hillside, nestled together for better protection from dangers from the sea and making the best use of every inch of land for vines which produce excellent fruit.
The Kasandric family built a summer residence of pleasing proportions and with a special atmosphere in Dubovica in the 18th century. They were known for their priests, entrepreneurs and sea captains. This small but harmonious complex, perfectly in tune with the environment in which they made their living as landowners with additional farm buildings was a true villa rustica of its time.
• Hvar Island of Wine
The vineyards of Hvar are divided into three different regions: the southern slopes of the island, the northern side of the island and Hvar Palin. The most impressive areas are the very steep slopes in the southern part of the island, where Plavac Mali grapes used to produce top quality wine, grown on breccia soils on slopes with optimal inclination and exposure to the Sun. In this area the vineyards are spread from the sea to around 500 m above sea level. Also worth to mention is the red variety Drnekuša, a red grape which the islanders most often used to produce dessert wine Prošek. Lately, the Cabernet Sauvignon grape variety is also successfully grown on the island, especially on Paklinski Islands. Of white grape varieties, the autochthonous varieties are Bogdanuša and Prč as well as Pošip. Along with wineries in Stari Grad, Jelsa and the Agricultural Cooperative Svirče, private winemakers also built their own wine cellars and bottling lines on the island, which gave winegrowing and winemaking a great stimulus.
An interesting fact to know is that Plavac Mali is the most known autochthonic grape variety in Croatia and the Dalmatian region first brought here by Greeks 2234 years ago. Admired by wine enthusiasts around the globe, Plavac Mali’s fame might never have happened if wasn’t for Croatia’s most famous winemaker, Mike Grgich. As a young Croat, Mike left his native land with $30 in his pocket to find his fortune in America. Today, this legendary founder of Grgich Hills Winery in California; partner of the Mondavi family (and creator of their best chardonnay) and the pioneer of USA wine production in Napa Valley is famous the world over as the wine-maker who stunned the world by winning the famous 1976 Paris blind wine tasting (made into the movie “Bottle Shock”)