Outside of the Jelsa Municipality, Hvar Island’s three main towns and their surrounding areas offer much to delight visitors. The mystical beauty of the island’s churches and their exquisite works of art, the impressiveness of centuries-old dry stone walls and stone mounds, the secrets of Illyrian ruins and the charming tales embedded in narrow stone alleys, all these treasures form only a part of the island’s rich cultural repository.
The Town of Stari Grad
Having celebrated its 2403rd birthday in 2019, Stari Grad is the oldest and longest-running town in Croatia. It’s located on the northern side of the Island of Hvar in a very deep, 6 km long bay, protected from wind and high waves, surrounded by pine trees and stone mounds. It has a pleasant Mediterranean climate. Stari Grad, or – as the locals call it – “Paiz”, radiates with charm. It has been a haven for sailors for centuries, and today it’s one of the main tourist centres on the island of Hvar. We definitely recommend trying Stari Grad’s traditional biscuit, called “paprenjok”, a delicacy which is the pride of the whole island.
The Petar Hektorović Fortified Villa
Called ‘Tvrdalj’ in Croatian, Petar Hektorovic’s fortified villa was his summer residence. Hektorović (1487 -1572), Renaissance poet, Christian thinker and creator, was the author of the most important literary work of the Croatian Renaissance, titled ‘Fishing and Fishermen’s Conversations’. The villa is one of the symbols of Stari Grad.
Hektorović lavished time and care on building his summer residence, which was as important to him as his main literary work. In his Tvrdalj, Hektorovic realized his ideal of creating a microcosmos, a small, closed-off world where all living things, fish, birds, plants and humans, have a place to live.
The best-known feature of the Tvrdalj is its pond surrounded by a portico, with fish (mullets) swimming around, and above which rises a small tower with stone homes for pigeons and holes for sparrows. The pond was most probably designed in keeping with Classical principles. Behind it, to the south, is a carefully planned garden, which contains a shaded area with a large stone table – another typical feature of Classical design, in which the table would represent a place for people to gather for philosophical and cultural discussions.
Hektorović’s original garden was planted with herbs and flowers sent to him by his poet friends from Dubrovnik. In recent years the garden has been lovingly restored, and it is now a perfect place to enjoy peaceful moments of pleasant contemplation by the pond, under the shady trees, with natural sights and scents all around.
The Dominican Monastery of St. Peter the Martyr
The Dominican Monastery of St. Peter the Martyr was founded in 1482 by Brother German from Piacenza. In the late 16th century, following a major Turkish attack on Hvar, it was fortified with two round defensive turrets.
The church, rebuilt in 1896, is the tomb of the great Croatian poet Petar Hektorovic and his mother Katarina. Some of Hektorović’s 16th century Croatian verses are carved in the stone lintel above the church’s entrance.
The monastery has numerous works of art, some of which are on the altars in the church. The most beautiful is a large, painted, wooden, Renaissance crucifix on the main altar. Undoubtedly, the most important painting is the ‘Lamentation of Christ’ (‘Oplakivanje Krista’ in Croatian) by the Venetian master Jacopo Tintoretto (1518-1594), which was once on the Hektorović altar in the church, and is now in the monastery museum.
Besides paintings, the monastery museum contains the oldest inscriptions found to date in Croatia. Written in Greek, they are testimony to the tempestuous life of the original Greek town, which was known as Faros, from the 4th to the 2nd centuries B.C.
The Stari Grad Plain
This large plain, located in the central area of Hvar Island, was subject to a name change each time new overlords arrived: it was Chora Pharu in Greek, Ager Pharensis in Roman times, becoming Campus Sancti Stephani (‘St. Stephen’s Field’) in the Middle Ages. Today it’s known as the Stari Grad Plain, although locals mostly refer to it as the ‘Ager’, and historians prefer the Greek ‘Hora’. As the largest, most fertile agricultural area on the island, it has enabled life for thousands of years.
The Plain is in fact a cultured landscape, formed by thousands of years of human labour. Its ancient man-made features originate from 24 centuries ago when Greek colonist divided the Plain into rectangular plots of 1×5 stadia, (ca.180x900m), each fenced in with drystone walling. The Plain was criss-crossed with roads cutting through it in regular longitudinal and transversal directions.
Today we can identify the point in the Plain, located at an intersection, from which the Greek surveyor began his measuring. This point is located near Dračevica, a pond in the Plain.
We also know the name of one of the large plot owners from Greek times – Mathios, (son) of Pithaes, whose name is carved into a boundary stone, which is now in the Zagreb
The Archaeology Museum.
In the area of Kupinovik, below Dol, the land was first owned by Komon, (son of) Philoxenides, and later by a Roman, Gaius Cornficius Carus, a town councillor of Pharia who built a large manor house there.
For centuries, the Stari Grad Plain has been covered with vineyards, and in the course of Antiquity and the Middle Ages people also grew wheat. Fig trees were grown at the edges of the cultivated plots and in less fertile zones. Almond trees were planted nearer to the settlements, almost touching the gardens. Olive groves, then as now, covered the low hills surrounding the Plain, and there were carob trees growing among them. Even higher, until quite recently, there were cascading fields of lavender. Now, Aleppo pines are slowly taking over and gradually descending to the edges of the settlements.
The importance of the Stari Grad Plain as an archaeological site was recognized in 1993 when it was protected as an archaeological zone. It was inscribed on UNESCO’s List of World Heritage sites in 2008, as the best-preserved example of cadastral division of agricultural land in the Mediterranean.
Since then Stari Grad Plain has been managed by the Stari Grad Plain Management Agency, whose headquarters is located in Stari Grad. Its goal is to preserve and ameliorate the Plain, and to promote this valuable resource among Hvar Island’s cultural tourist attractions.
Of all of the little squares that Stari Grad abounds in, Škor Square is the most picturesque. Almost a theatrical backdrop (which it actually becomes during summer cultural events) this square was formed created during the 17th and 18th centuries, where there had previously been a shallow stretch of water and a shipyard. The shipyard gave the square its name, as the word ‘škor’ derives from the word ‘škver’, meaning shipyard Dalmatian dialect. This curved space surrounded by characteristic Dalmatian workers’ houses with picturesque attic windows, balconies and stone staircases encapsulates the true charm of mythical Dalmatia.
You can find more information on the Stari Grad Tourist Board website.
Discovering the layers of history which permeated the island with culture and heritage resembles a perpetual treasure hunt. Twenty-four centuries of urban life have left their traces in stone, in the island’s monuments and buildings, but also in all the fields of art, as well as everyday life. The thread can be traced back from contemporary artistic expression through the fertile age of the Renaissance, which, at its peak, gave rise to the oldest public theatre in Europe, and then to the heritage derived from the Age of Antiquity. The mystical beauty of the island’s churches and their exquisite works of art, the impressiveness of centuries-old dry stone walls and stone mounds, the secrets of Illyrian ruins and the charming tales embedded in narrow stone alleys, all these treasures form only a part of the island’s rich cultural repository.
St. Stephen’s Square – the Piazza, 15th Century
The central square or Piazza in Hvar Town is the largest square in Dalmatia. Originally it was a deep bay, which was then filled in to form a space between two fortified towns, ‘Groda’ in the north and Burg in the south. Over the centuries it was extended, being fully formed by the 15th century, with the cathedral at its east end and the sea at the west. It used to be wider than it is now, but due to a shortage of space in the fortified city, houses were built on the northern part of the Piazza in front of the city walls. The large communal well in the centre of the Piazza dates from 1529, and the Piazza was fully paved in 1780.
Hanibal Lucić’s Summer Residence, 16th Century
Hanibal Lucić (1485 – 1553) built his summer residence in the middle of the 16th century outside the town walls, at the entrance to the town from the old road which connected Hvar and Stari Grad from ancient times. It is the most striking example of a suburban summerhouse in Hvar Town. It is located Two houses and a spacious garden in the Renaissance style make up this enclosed property. The building on the east side was used as the owner’s country residence, while the one on the west side was used by the servants. Nowadays the Hvar Heritage Museum is located in the summerhouse.
The Benedictine Nunnery and Church of St. Anthony the Abbot, 17th-18th centuries
The Benedictine Convent has been on its present site since 1664. This was originally within the residential complex of the poet Hanibal Lucić’s family, and was left by his daughter-in-law Julija in her will to the Benedictines in 1591. Next to the convent is the Baroque church of St. Anthony the Abbot and John the Baptist from the 17th century, also the place housing the convent’s collection of arts and agave lace. The nuns have been making lace from agave threads since the 19th century, and their tradition is included in ‘Lacemaking in Croatia’ in UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
The City Fortress – ‘Fortica’, 16th century.
It was after 1278, when Hvar came under Venetian rule, that building started on Hvar’s Fortress. It is known as ‘Fortica’, pronounced Fort-its-ah, in Croatian. Together with the town ramparts, the Fortica represents a unique defensive system. In 1551 a new fortress was built replacing the old one, and in 1571 it provided refuge for the town’s population during the Turkish invasion. In 1579 the fortress was badly damaged by a gunpowder explosion caused by lightning. It was repaired during the time when the Venetian Duke Pietro Semitecolo was Hvar’s governor at the beginning of the 17th century, when Baroque defensive bastions were built on to it. The last military additions were built in 1775/1776 during the reign of Maria Theresa. The Fortica has a collection of amphorae, a dungeon, and a splendid view over Hvar and its seaboard.
The Loggia, 15th – 16th centuries
Hvar’s Loggia was first mentioned in historical archives in 1289. In the 15th century building started on a new loggia, which was completed in the 16th century. It burnt down during the Turkish invasion in 1571 but it was repaired and restored later on. The facade gained its current appearance at the beginning of the 17th century. During Venetian rule the Loggia was used as a public courthouse. Public tenders for collecting taxes and customs duties were also held there. The nearby Ducal Palace was demolished at the beginning of the 20th century, due to construction of the Empress Elisabeth Hotel. At the time the ‘Kursalon’ was inside the Loggia, a space housing the hotel’s coffee house, a reading room, ballroom and meeting place for the local social elite.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Pope and Martyr / ‘Velo crikva’ 15th – 18th centuries
The Cathedral of St. Stephen I, Pope and Martyr, was built on the site of the Benedictine convent of St. Mary of Lesna (Lesna, Lesina was the Italian name for Hvar). Originally known as ‘Vela crkva’ (‘The Big Church’) it became the cathedral in the 13th century, when the seat of the diocese was moved from Stari Grad to Hvar. A new cathedral was built between the 16th and 18th centuries. The building is a triple-naved type of basilica with a rectangular chancel and Renaissance choir stalls. The cathedral has a late Renaissance trefoil facade which symbolizes the Holy Trinity. The bell tower on the north side of the building was completed in 1549/1550. Of special interest among the artefacts preserved in the Cathedral are altars and pulpits from the Gothic period. There are paintings by Venetian masters on the altars.
The Franciscan Monastery and St. Mary of Grace Church, 15th-16th centuries
The Church of St. Mary was built in the 15th century as a single-naved Gothic building, on the site of an earlier Chapel of the Holy Cross. Inside the lunette of the main portal is a sculpture of the Madonna and Child, the work of Niccolo di Giovanni Fiorentino, erected in 1465-1471. The northern nave of the church with the Renaissance Chapel of the Holy Cross was built in 1536. Inside the church we can see the 16th century altars, the choir with a Renaissance crucifix, Venetian work from the 16th century, and the grave of the local poet Hanibal Lucić. Matteo Ponzoni’s painting ‘The Last Supper’ is in the refectory, which now serves as an art gallery and museum. The monastery also contains a library.
The Arsenal and The Historic Theatre, 14th -17th centuries
The first Arsenal building was constructed between 1292 and 1331 and it was used as a shipyard for galleys. A new Arsenal was built at the same place in the 16th century, but was burnt down shortly afterwards by the Turks in 1571. During Duke Pietro Semitecolo’s time, in 1611 the Arsenal was renovated and expanded, and its present look dates from then. The ‘Fontik’ – the granary – was built in 1612 along the northern front of the Arsenal together with the big terrace above it, called the Belvedere.
The Theatre, founded the same year, was entered via the Belvedere. It was the first enclosed public theatre in Europe. It is located on the second floor of the Arsenal building. On the lintel over the entrance door to the theatre there is an inscription: ANNO SECVNDO PACIS MDCXII. The year 1612, as the inscription says, was the second year of peace between the opposing sides of the Hvar commune, following years of war between the common people and patricians. The auditorium and boxes date to the year 1803, when the Theatre Society was founded to take over the building’s management. The present neo-Baroque appearance dates back to the middle of the 19th century. Two wall scenographies have been preserved: the fresco from 1819 is still on the back wall of the stage, while the later one from c.1900, which depicts the Ducal Palace of times gone by, has been restored and erected on large mobile panels. For more information about Hvar and its environs, please visit the Hvar Tourist Board website !
The Municipality of Sućuraj
Sućuraj is a small picturesque tourist and fishermen’s town and port. Located on the most eastern point on Hvar, it is surrounded by water on three sides, and the part of the island closest to the mainland. There are 357 inhabitants in the town (2011 census), living mostly from tourism, fishing and agriculture. The town evolved around a deep and narrow bay in which the port lies. The main parts of Sućuraj are named Gornja Banda (Upper Side) and Donja Banda (Lower Side). Gornja Banda is located on a slight slope north of the port and Donja Banda is located on the south side of the peninsula. The architecture is typically Dalmatian, with delightful stone houses and narrow streets. The place gets its charm from the combination of the blue seas of the Hvar and Neretva channel coupled with the view of the Biokovo Mountain, Pelješac peninsula and the islands of Brač and Korčula.
Thanks to its climate with its large number of sunny hours, beautiful nature and crystal clear sea, with temperatures for swimming from May to October, Sućuraj is an attractive tourist destination. Those who wish to spend a day swimming and sunbathing will find it very pleasant here, because there are more than 25 km of shore with picturesque sand, pebble or stone beaches and bays. Away from the popular organized public beaches, most of the little bays allow you the rare luxury of enjoying the exquisite wildness of untouched nature. You have an enviable choice: spend your day on a beach near the town centre and facilities, or find a hidden corner just for yourself.
For more information about Sućuraj and its environs, please visit the Sućuraj Tourist Board website!