Other historical landmarks

The importance of the Hvar Arsenal for Venetian military and maritime control over the Adriatic

Greek colonization in the proto history of the Adriatic shows that from the very beginnings this specific area was highly valued also from a military and maritime standpoint. Initially those were the individual points from Corfu through the Albanian coast until Budva (Butua), respectively in the northern part of Adriatic the estuary of river Po (Spina, Adria, Numana). Conrolling these two extremes of the Adriatic, southern and northern, was impossible until a military strategist Dionysius Senior, the tyrant of Syracuse, emerged. His control over Vis in the beginning of the 4th century BC will establish the first link between the north and south. A logical outcome of this Dionysius's idea is the foundation of an agricultural colony in Stari Grad on Hvar (Pharos), which happened just a year after his rule on Vis (Issa). In the following two centuries the Dionysius's Issa with the backing of Hvar established its subcolonies in Trogir (Tragurion), Salona, Stobreč (Epetion) and Korčula (Lumbarda). This way, the north was connected with the south in order to control trade on the Adriatic.

Already in those medieval times it is possible to notice the exceptional importance of Hvar which has far more benfits than Vis to support military-maritime forces. That, however, does not mean that Hvar especially for military-strategic reasons did not still function together with Vis which is confirmed, among other things, with the ''Hvar Statute'' where Vis is still listed as one of economical and otherwise important destinations.

In other words, both of the islands have a primarilly exceptional geostrategic position. They are located in the middle of the east coast of Adriatic, i.e. the narrower part of the Adriatic whose waters accomodated diverse maritime traffic. From them till Gargan and the nearby ports it was about a day of seafaring, and all the traffic could only happen in the relative proximity to the two islands, more precisely near the port of Hvar caused by maritime, oceanographic, meteorological and other factors.

''Adrias'' – from the town and river Adrija, located, by no coincidence, in the relative proximity of Venice. From that Venice you sail directly towards the Mediterranean and the west coast of Istria, followed by the east Adriatic series of islands, as a sort of a protective corridor from the damaging influence of the sea, then further along near the Albanian coast into Otranto and further towards Mediterranean destinations. The Turkish threat, before that the one from the Saracens and other pirate fleets, and soon the Senj uskoks have conditioned that the main point of fleet security was not founded in Zadar, which was indeed the center of administration for Venetian authority in Dalmatia, moreover the town is too far behind the series of islands, so that its role was taken by Hvar, whose environment is such that a possible military intervention from it towards the north or south could have been executed faster and be more efficient. Later on, since the 18th century when ships of higher quality appeared such point of military maritime importance was establish by the Venetians in Boka Kotorska, to stop the opposing military forces from the Mediterranean through Otranto. The same logic will be followed later by the Austro-Hungarian Empire making Boka in the end of the 19th century a grandios military maritime base.

Galleys and sailboats from the medieval times and later caused that the Hvar Arsenal has an exceptional significance as a military maritime point in the same period. Therefore it followed previous millenia of the same level of significance of the island in establishing military maritime safety of different kinds of ships. Still, advancements in technology, especially significant since the 18th century with ships of better quality, will require new similar destinations (Bola Kotorska), and the Hvar Arsenal will remain as testimony to past times.

It is important to mention in this occasion the exceptional cultural pride of the people of Hvar of that time: arsenal yes, its military maritime function yes, but only until the moment it was absolutely essential. Afterwards the building gradually became a first class cultural object, theatre. In that respect, the people of Hvar have once again confirmed themselves as original Europeans: war is a necessary evil, and culture is the foundation of life. So while the history of the Hvar arsenal is relatively short, its history as a building is exceptionally specific, European and Mediterranean.

Prof. dr. Mithad Kozličić
University of Zadar
Department of History