Hvar - A picture is worth a thousand words
The island Hvar is among the ten most beautiful islands in the world. What is it that distinguishes Hvar amongst a thousand of tame Adriatic islands and places it as one of the most desirable tourist destinations of the modern world!? Just look at the picture!

Geographical position and the climate
Hvar is situated in the middle of the Croatian Adriatic coast, on an important point of medial and lateral seafaring in the Adriatic sea, in the center of communication with the Mediterranean. The deep and tame bays of the island have enabled docking and communication already in the prehistoric times, therefore enabling the island to be inhabited over 5000 years BC.
Moderate Mediterranean climate with mild and rainy winters and warm and sunny summers facilitated a thriving vegetation that made the life on the island pleasant. The clean sea thrives in fish and the sunny island slopes are perfect to grow grapes, olives, figs and other Mediterranean cultures. It is actually the town of Hvar that has the highest number of sunshine hours per year – 2764.


The Prehistoric period
The remnants of material culture speak of settlements in the Prehistoric period, when man has lived here in a high neolithic culture. Especially due to favourable communication with the Ionian and Aegean sea the inhabitants of Hvar, in third and second century BC, have developed unique coloured ceramics of the late neolithic and eneolithic period – the Hvar Culture, witnessed by the findings in the Grapčeva Cave (Grapčeva špilja) as well as in Cave of Badanj in Pokrvenik and the Cave of Marko not far from the town of Hvar.

Hvar in Antiquity
When the Greek of the island of Paros, in the fourth century BC, looked for a new place to inhabit they chose Hvar as their new settlement. Being easy to reach due to its position, Hvar has accomodated the basic needs of the new inhabitants. It had the largest plain of all the Adriatiac islands in its center and its own water source, which proved sufficient for the Greek Polis Pharos (Faros) to be founded here, on the area of modern day Stari Grad in the year 385/4 BC, the year 99 of the Greek Olympics. The Greek settlement included the fortified town and the parcelized field (Chora Pharou) with about a thousand inhabitants.

Greek settlers have supressed the native Illyric inhabitants towards the mountains and the highland of the island. After the Illyric wars and the defeat of Demetrius of Far by the Roman army the Greek Faros became Roman Faria. The Romans continued living here on a somewhat narrower area specializing more in agriculture, thus creating the long term pax romanae.
The position of the modern day town of Hvar had a slightly lower importance compared to Stari Grad. Although archaeological findings on the area of the town of Hvar confirm the existence of an eneolithical, late Bronze and Iron Age, and the Antiquity town of Lisina from the sixth century BC, Hvar reaches its full swing of development by the founding of the Hvar Commune in the 13th century.

Hvar Commune
Medieval life, based on agriculture was still more intensly associated with the fertile Stari Grad plain. The administration on the island was organized as a territorial and ancestry based community governed by a duke. The center of precommunal public and church administration was the contemporary Hvar, present day Stari Grad. The Diocese was founded around 1154 AD. Economy was based on agriculture: grape growing, olive growing, fig and carob growing and to a lower extent livestock farming. The period of 15th and 16th century made sailing and fishing economically strong. At that time, Hvar and Vis were an important area for fishing, and exporting cured fish brought high income to the Commune.

G.F. Camotio – veduta Hvar (atlas isole famose..) from 1571. The most important date in the near history of the island is the year 1278. That is when the people's assembly free willingly decided to join Venice. The Republic of Venice, as a Mediterranean super power has noted the geostrategic and navigational importance of the Hvar harbour and instruced that ''the town once existed is rebuilt'' – meaning the one existing in late antiquity!

G. Santini – veduta Hvar from 1678. The new Hvar – Civitas nova, has assumed the administrative and economic role from the town on the center of the island – present day Stari Grad. At the same time Hvar has become center of the Diocese which same as today included the islands Hvar, Brač and Vis, while the Commune included Hvar and Vis.

Secluded in a large sea bay, protected by a number of Pakleni Islands (Pakleni Otoci), in the base of two hills, Saint Nikola Viši and Saint Nikola Niži, a town was founded, from the northern hill protected by a citadel – Fortica, the town fort. Inside the city walls, under the fort, the oldest town center was formed called Town – ''Groda''. To build a town meant to create a protected urban unit with facilities and cultural objects of state and church administration and community infrastructure. Under the reign of Venice Hvar has become a central port of communication with the Mediterranean sea and a winter resort of the Venetian fleet. Therefore special attention was given to building harbour mechanisms such as the quay, the arsenal and a small closed port (called mandrač). With the port developing into a nautical center, where up to 20 ships used to spend the night, trade was booming. The Renaissance, in the 15th and 16th century was the golden age of the Hvar Commune when this youngest of all Venetian administrations became one of the richest and most developed of all the Adriatic coast.


The town of Hvar
Hvar, on the base of its hills shielded by a ring of abundant greenery, has soon spread outside the confines of the Medieval town center within the walls and expanded on the nearby southern slopes where the Medieval renaissance-baroque suburb called Burak was formed. These two urban regions are connected with a spatious square – Pjaca with the cathedral and the Bishop's Palace to the north. An urban mite to the renaissance town center is given by the Duke's Court together with the town Lođa from the northern side towards the west coast, and mandrač (small port, used as storage for smaller boats) and the Arsenal in the bottom of Pjaca right by the sea.

The economical stability and political autonomy have been a prerequisite for a high level cultural development which has created a series of writers, poets, and writers of chronicles who have put Hvar on top of the contemporary Renassaince literature and humanisme thought of the time in our area. A kind of literary circle of Hvar consists of: Petar Hektorović, the author of ''Ribanje i ribarsko prigovaranje'' (Fishing and fishermen's talk), the author of beautiful love poetry ''Pisni juvene'' and ''Robinje'' – croatian first secular play, Marin Gazarović, Martin Benetović, Vinko Pribojević, etc. These writers mostly wrote in Croatian.

  • Hanibal Lucić's summer villa
  • Tvrdalj – Petar Hektorović's fortified castle
  • Copy of the first page of Hvar Statute from 1331

Already in the 14th and 15th century Hvar had its school in the Dominician Monastery, teachers, doctors and pharmacists. Hvar churches and monasteries, made between the 14th and 18th century had stone altars and altar palas made mostly by famous Venetian painters of the Renassaince and Baroque. Hvar, as a nautical and trade center, lived a civilized urban life where the nobles as well as common folk dressed according to latest Venetian fashion and spoke several languages.

Architectural heritage
The town founded by the end of 13th century had roman-gothic architectural characteristics. In time it was developed with mixtures of renassaince and baroque. Within the protected town center with series of narrow stone houses and streets, mostly build in ''skalinadas'' (built like stairs), the gothic house of Petar Hektorović stands out, then the so called Palace Hektorović, actually Užižić, on the town walls, as a dual object form the 15th and 16th century – an example of floral Venetian gothics. In the suburb we can find the gothic palace Gargurić – Kasandrić. With the boom of commerce and seafaring many middle class families grew stronger, especially through the people's revolution of 1510-1514 who built objects such as Paladinić Palace (upper and lower) which is of gothic-renassaince origin. Outside of the town center we find the summer villa of Hanibal Lucić from the 16th century. The object is of humble dimensions but the quality of its renassaince style makes it one of the most significant monuments of its kind in Croatia.

The Duke's Court, as the center of Commune administration, was built in the 14th and 15th century. It consisted of several buildings: the old office, duke's home, Lođa – town hall/courthouse and a clock tower. Lođa, preserved till the present day was built through the 16th century. Its final appearance with spatious arches on the facade and a series of smaller pillars on the balustrade was obtained in the beginning of 17th century. This elegant facade is the work of master Tripun Bokanić who has also envisioned the facade of Fontik, on the other side of Pjaca giving the town a sophisticated late renassaince mite. The remaining three objects of the duke's court were demolished around the year 1900 when in their place hotel Elizabet was built, present day Palace. In front of the Lođa we find ''štandarac'' a stone pillar used to hold the communal flag.

The Hvar Arsenal is among the best preserved in the Mediterranean. It was built in the middle of 16th century in place of the one built in 14th century, which was damaged and in bad condition, and therefore no longer facilitated the needs of the port. The monumental stone building opens to the west by a large arc, and was built right next to the sea. It served as a shipyard and storage for galleys and other ships. After it was damaged, first from the attack by the Turks in 1571 followed by a gunpowder explosion on the citadel of 1579, it was repaired, expanded and put under a roof. The merit for the construction belongs to the duke Petar Semitecolo, who in the period of 1611 to 1613 restored the most important public building in town. Semitecolo found the town damaged by the mentioned attacks, and the communal treasury robbed by the impovered nobles, who for a hundred years after the people's revolution were unable to restore order in the Commune administration. Pleasing the people by allowing them to control the spending of communal money, Semitecolo in 1611 restored order and peace among the classes. In memory of the social peace he achieved, Semitecolo built the Theatre on the first floor of the Arsenal.

On the ground floor of the Arsenal he placed seven monumental arches which were to hold the first floor now divided in two parts. In the western part he placed the armory, and in the east the Theatre. Series of ground floor warehouses and shops along the northern facade of the Arsenal he connected in a single building – Fontik,

storage area for communal supplies of grain and salt. The facade of Fontik was decorated with four monumental late renassainse portals. The terrace above Fontik got a nice stone balustrade which then became the atrium of the Belveder Theatre. This way Arsenal was more than a military-nautical object and became an important architectural and urbanistic landmark of Hvar.

A bow figure – polena called ''Zvir'' is connected with the maritime history of the island, it used to adorn the bow of a Hvar galley Saint Jerolim. With this galley, on the side of Venice, Hvar participated in the victorious battleof Lepant against the Turks in 1571.
"Zvir" – the bow figure of a Hvar galley Saint Jerolim which participated in the battle of Lepant

Theater – European oldest public theatre
Construction of the Arsenal was completed in 1612, written on the door of the Theatre as: ANNO SECVUNDO PACIS MDCXII – THE SECOND YEAR OF PEACE 1612.Thanks to duke Petar Semitecolo Hvar got its theatre only a few years after Vicenza, where in 1575 the first European theatre was built – ''Teatro Olimpico''. Unlike this academia theatre as well as the one of Sabbionetta from 1588, which is also the first theatre in Europe, Hvar obtained a public – communal theatre for use of all its citizens regardless of social class status. Therefore, the Hvar Theatre entered the history of European theatre. Although there are historical testimonies the area on the eastern part of the Arsenal was used for public shows and other social events, material evidence speak of the theatre from teh beginning of the 19th century. By founding the Theatre Society in 1803 first interior of the theatre was built in wood with boxes and a stage, owned by the founders of the Society. Theatre life was quite intense in town in the 19th century. Many local amateur and professional music and theatre groups performed here, as well as guests from Italy and Dalmatia. With its present day neobaroque appearance of interior the Hvar theatre is among ten best preserved European baroque theatres.

Saint Stephen's Cathedral
It was built in place of the old church of Santa Maria di Lesna and the former benedictin monastery on the northern part of the spatious Pjaca and dedicated to Saint Stephen – a pope and a martyr who is also the protector of the Diocese. A copatron of Hvar is Saint Prošper, a saint who even today enjoys great trust of the people of Hvar.

The original cathedral was built in the 14th century. It was built and rebuilt and finally completed with a manirist facade with a trilobat gable in the 18th century. The monumental bell-tower as well as the church was all made by local master stonemasons. The present day presbiterium with two roman-gothic pulpits is a remnant of the old cathedral, as well as the stone altar of Saint Luke, and a relief of the flagellation of Christ made in the workshop of Juraj Dalmatinac. The church is adorned by 11 stone baroque altars. They contain paintings of Palma Mlađi, Stefano Celesti and other Venetian painters. It also possesses an icon from the 13th century, the oldest image of the rich collection of town visual art.
Besides the Cathedral we find bishop's court from the 19th century which today serves as the bishop's museum – church related items, garments, paintings, lace and books connected with the long history of the cathedral and the diocese.

Monastery and the church of Saint Mark
Dominician monastery and the church were important buildings in the cultural and social life of the town. The remnants of the church still contain the tombs of respected nobles and citizens, including the tomb of Antun Lucić, poet Hanibal's son. In that church Vinko Pribojević, an educated dominician held his famous speech ''The Origin and Glory of Slavs'', which is an exceptionally valuable source for knowing the life on the island Hvar in the 16th century. Monastery and the church with French administation of 1807 stopped serving its purpose. Today the remnants of the church serve to keep an archaeological and lapidary collection ''Dr. Grga Novak'' of the Museum of Hvar heritage.

Franciscan monastery

In the bay of the Cross, on a small peninsula, in the 15th century a Franciscan monastery was built together with the church of Saint Mary of Mercy. Architecturaly proportional bell-tower, together with the one of Saint Mark and the Cathedral one creates an exceptional vertical frame of the town. Relief of the church portrays ''Denouncement'' and it came from the workshop of Petar Fiorentinac. The church keeps a painting of the crucifixion of Christ by Leonardo Basan, poliptih by Francesco de Santa Croce and paintings of the passion of Christ by a Hvar comediographer Martin Benetović – the author of ''Hvarkinja'' (the woman from Hvar). The western wall of the monastery refectory holds a painting of the Last Supper, one of the most famous paintings on the Adriatic coast made on the tradition of Venetian painters Veronese and Tintoretti. Traditionally it is attributed to Mateo Rosseli, but according to recent studies to one of our painters Mateo Ponzzoni Pončun.

The monastery museum holds valuable paintings, collection of money, incunabulas and a copy of Ptolemy's atlas from 1524. A famous old cypress tree grows in the monastery garden, besides its old age known also for its amorphic form. This ancient cypress does not grow in height as other specimens of that kind, but with its flat branches grows horizontally across the garden. The Way of the Cross leads from the monastery to town, marked by 14 chapels representing 14 Stations of the Cross, built in the 18th century.

Benedictine monastery
Female benedictine monastery was built in the center of Groda on the remnants of Hanibal Lucić's house in the 17th century, when a first nun moved here from Rab. Today it holds a valuable collection of monastery artwork. The monastery is also known for its lace made out of agave strings made for centuries by the hardworking nuns. This lace has been placed on the list of world intangible heritage by UNESCO, as a unique example of hand made craftsmenship which is made from agave strings with no pattern to follow.

Heritage and tourism

The present day Hvar for its heritage possesses material remnants of the cultural past created in the continuity of life since the prehistoric period. Towns Hvar, Stari Grad and Jelsa are main island centers which due to their proportional architecture and due to the fact that they are located by the sea have become tourist destinations, known across the globe. Scenery of the limestone area intertwined by architecture of stone walls with numerous picturesque villages, mediterannean culture and vegetation is an environment attracting many visitors. All this fused together with the mild climate and clean sea which overlooks numerous tame coves and beaches and it is no wonder that Hvar was the first to start the tradition of organized tourism in Croatia.

In 1868 a Hygienic Society was founded in the town of Hvar, one of the first companies with share capital in Europe working on tourism promotion. Due to the favourable climate, especially clean sea and mild winters in the beginning tourism developed as winter – health tourism. For this purpose the former compound of duke's palace was brought down and in its place, alongside the town Lođa, hotel Elizabet was built, the present day Palace hotel. First tourists were from our area, and Czech Republic, Austria and Hungary. Very soon after, Hvar as well as the rest of the island became a favoured summer resort, so tourism in the last one hundred years became the main industry of the island, especially of the town of Hvar.