Art is life in Stari Grad and artists are given an immense amount of respect. An ever growing and striving community of artists and artisans has taken over parts of the old town of Stari Grad to set up their studios. Not far from Antika there are several small galleries exhibiting the owner's own work. It is quite usual here that each author open their own gallery. While I was having a dinner in Antika I met two local artists, Majra (daughter of a famous Croatian writer) and Zoran. Majra just arrived from Zagreb (she only comes to Stari Grad during summer) and was going to reopen her gallery in one of the following days. Unfortunately, I left too soon to be able to pay a visit to it.
While Zoran Tadic was born in Stari Grad where he also resides after many years living in various European countries. In 2002 he opened his atelier (literally a room in the man's house) which is now Fantazam gallery. Inspired by science fiction and documentaries about the animal world, he is constantly in search of organic materials for his creations. Now one room is the gallery where his fantastic creatures are exhibited. They are created from stones, shells, roots, skins, bones and bodily parts of real animals, and their style is a mixture of prehistoric, futuristic and creatures of science fiction. Another room is a cross between a jewellery workshop and a living room. The jewellery that he makes incorporates beach pebbles and also semi-precious and precious stones. He uses fish and birds bones, horns, fur, and also seaweed, reeds, olive and domestic tree wood or seeds, which he assembles into necklaces and bracelets, made in a simple, primal manner evoking a tribal style. While the third room is the artist's room where he sit and talk to visitors, make his art, chat with his wife and play with the dog.
In fact, I already popped into Zoran's gallery before. But then, when we met, he kindly showed me around and explained about his art. Amazing artistic pieces, loved them! Please have a look at the exhibition of his fantastic creatures and the jewellery.
While Hvar town in the summer feels cramped and overpriced, Stari Grad managed to keep an authentic charm. A medieval fishing town, a maze of cobblestone streets, alleys and sun-filled squares, the town is a true gem of the Adriatic coast. Hidden in the narrow streets and little squares you find quaint restaurants, bars, small galleries, and numerous churches and stone houses which attract an ever growing community of artists and artisans. Stari Grad is a quiet, slightly run-down town. Walking its narrow cobblestone streets gives the feeling that they haven't been preserved as Hvar town's have, but on the contrary, they haven't changed much.
I enjoyed many strolls through the town and visited several old churches with some of the largest art collections on the Adriatic coast. Of particular interest are the following small churches: the church of St John (raised on the foundations of the twin basilica from the early 5th-6th century), the church of St Jerome (medieval chapel), the church of St Nicolas (built in the 14th century), the church of St Rocco (built by Petar Hektorović in the 16th century) and the parish church of St Stephen (built in 1605 on the place of the first Hvar cathedral).
Straggling along the side of a deep bay on the northwestern part of the island, surrounded by vineyards, olive groves, pine forest and lavender fields, Stari Grad (meaning 'old town') is historical heart of Hvar island and the oldest town in Croatia. In the 4th century it was inhabited by Greeks and called Pharos at the time. After came the Romans. During the Renaissance Stari Grad was town of Croatian writers and artists. In fact it was the town after which the island was named (Hvar being a derivative of Pharia and Pharos).
It's a laid-back town. The economy is based on agriculture, fruit and olive growing, wine growing and production, fishing and tourism. The narrow cobblestone streets with old stone houses and small squares, where you find lovely restaurants, bars and several art galleries, are very atmospheric. A walk through the central Stari Grad brings the whisperings of the past times.
The town has a rich cultural and historic heritage including the Tvrdalj (Renaissance poet and Hvar noble Petar Hektorović mansion, built in the first half of the 16th century, with a fish pond framed by stone archways and a park), Biankini Palace (an impressively restored Renaissance building which now holds the Town Museum), Dominican monastery, the Chapel of St Nicholas and the picturesque Škor Square from the Baroque period.
In the summer months the town hosts numerous cultural events, such as Stari Grad Summer, Faropis festival of literature, Blues festival, International Summer Music School, concerts, recitals and performances. The most important sport event is the Faros Marathon, Croatian international championship in the long-distance swimming.
Four kilometres northwest of Jelsa, surrounded by vineyards, olive groves and pine woods, is the sleepy village of Vrboska. It is situated on the sides of a long and shallow inlet of the sea, which are connected by picturesque bridges, giving the place a special charm. With a cluster of typically Dalmatian houses along an inlet it looks like no other village. Due to numerous small bridges Vrboska is often referred to as Little Venice.
Vrboska was once a place of fishermen and fishing tradition which has been demonstrated in the Fisherman's Museum. Collection includes reconstruction of an old fisherman's house with traditional fishing nets and tools. Perched above the quayside is St. Mary's Church (Crkva svete Marije) dating from 1580. It was extensively fortified because of the constant attacks of the Turks. This church - fortress is one of the most attractive buildings of its kind on the Croatian coast. It dominates over Vrboska and offers a wonderful view. A couple of minutes away is the Baroque St. Lawrence's Church (Crkva svetog Lovre) which keeps small but valuable art collection.
There's a series of beaches, including a couple of naturist ones, on the Glavica peninsula 2km northeast of town.
From the old town a path zigzag its way up an agave and cacti-covered hillside to the Citadel (Fortress). The large 16th century fortress that stands above Hvar town once was a medieval castle. The current structure was built by the Venetians with the help of Spanish engineers (it is still known as Španjola by the locals). From the fortress toward the town square lead the city walls, built in the Middle Ages. The walk up to the fortress is a nice but challenging hike which is best done in the morning or in the late afternoon. Usually it is too hot otherwise.
Once inside we explored the interior walls. There's a marine archeology collection in one of the halls, with an attractively presented display of amphorae and other Greco-Roman drinking vessels. Though the real attraction is the spectacular panorama view from the Citadel's ramparts, the view of terracota roofs of Hvar town below, the marina and Pakleni Islands just offshore. Atop the castle you'll find a café and a souvenir shop.
The fortress is open June-September 8am-midnight and the entrance was 20 kn (June 2010). Although it is closed in winter, the hilltop views over the town provide an unmatched sense of the town’s beautiful surroundings.
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The Dominican monastery was founded in 1482 but it was badly damaged during the attack by the Algerian pirate Uluz Ali in 1571. The defensive walls on the east and west side of the monastery were erected immediately after the event. Rooms off the cloister house a museum (open June-Sept Mon-Fri 10am-12:30pm & 5:30-7pm) which contains an absorbing collection of Greek gravestone from Pharos, a collection of fossils, a numismatic collection, Cretan icons and a Deposition by Tintoretto. There's also a small display of Hektorović's belongings, including a 1532 edition of Petrarca's Sonnets and a copy of Polybius' Histories.
The tomb of the poet Petar Hektorović was once held in the Church of St Peter, together with the chapel of his family (built according to a contract from 1546). The poet ordered from Jacopo Tintoretto a painting depicting the Mourning of Christ to put in the chapel.
On the south-east side of Hvar town, in a quiet spot on a small peninsula, lies the late 15th century Franciscan Monastery with the pleasingly simple Church of Our Lady of Mercy. The church was built to separate the commoners from the nobility; the latter is decorated with six animated scenes of the Passion. The floor is paved with gravestones, including that of the great Hvar poet Hanibal Lucić by the altar. The cloister with its monumental arches and a well in the middle is also lovely. In summer it turns into a venue for concerts and various performances.
Inside the monastery is a nice museum with a collection of sacral art. It consists of paintings, manuscripts and old coins. Archeological exhibits include amphorae and a set of Roman cooking pots retrieved from a shipwreck near Palmižana.
The most valuable is a dramatic near life-size painting of Last Supper which is kept in the dining hall and covers almost the entire back wall. It's one of the greatest masterpieces on the Adriatic coast, preserved through the centuries, though its author can not be attributed with certainty to this days.
The Benedictine convent and the Church of Saint Anthony the Abbot (founded in 1664) are located in the same house where Hanibal Lucić, a great 16th century Hvar poet was born. Julija, the widow of Hanibal's illegitimate son Antun, bequeathed the family palace in Groda to Benedictine nuns, who converted it into a convent. The convent has preserved a kitchen from Lucić time, as well as a valuable collection of artworks which is now a museum. It prides itself on a valuable collection of devotional paintings, liturgical objects, church vestments and an ethnographic collection. The museum is open Mon-Sat 10am-noon & 5-7pm).
Though Benedictine convent in Hvar is especially renown for its craftsmanship of unique and incredibly detailed lace made from agave fibres. The agave lace is made only by nuns here and tradition is passed from generation to generation. Legend has it that the skill of making lace from agave arrived from the Canary Islands (Tenerife) and has been present in Hvar since the mid 19th century.
In the museum are exhibits of lace from agave which are a real treasure. Each piece is unique and its appearance depends on the imagination and creativity of the lace maker. Agave lace is becoming an increasingly popular souvenir which you can buy here directly from the nuns. It has become not only a symbol of Hvar but also a significant sample of Croatian cultural heritage.
The oldest part of Hvar town, also known as Groda meaning downtown, is the grid of narrow lanes placed inside the city walls. It backs up the hillside north from the main square. To Groda take four gates. We took southwestern gate which is considered the main (Porta Maistra) because it takes from Pjaca to the very heart of Groda and further to the fortress.
It's a lovely area with charming little galleries, cafés and restaurants, just perfect to stroll around. Groda was once home to several noble Hvar families. There are many interesting old houses mostly built in period from 14th to 17th century. Perhaps the prettiest is House of Užičić (popularly ascribed to the Hektorović family) which boasts delicately carved Gothic windows. Its building started in 1463 but was never finished. Behind it, the Laporini Palace is identifiable by a carving of a rabbit, the family emblem. More to the east at the city walls is Gothic-Renaissance style House of Paladinić (now restaurant Paladini), and by its side smaller one which belonged to the famous writer Petar Hektorović (now restaurant Zlatna školjka - Golden shell).
Also worth mentioning are some sacral buildings. Placed at the Pjaceta (Little Square) by eastern city gate is Crkva svetog Duha (Church of the Holy Spirit), from the late 15th century, which has a small but striking Romanesque relief of God the Creator above the portal. A short walk from here is Benedictine Convent which occupies the former house of the house of the great Croatian and Hvar poet Hanibal Lucić.
more pics in the travelogue
The heart of Hvar town is Trg svetog Stjepana (St Stephen's Square). The rectangular main square, the popular Pjaca, is among most beautiful squares in Croatia, and with 4500 square metres the largest piazza in Dalmatia. It dates back to the 13th century and the town has developed around this square. The paving dates from 1780. In the centre stands a well from 1520. The beauty of the whole square lies in its simplicity, spaciousness and proportion.
The eastern side is backed by Katedrala svetog Stjepana (St Stephen's Cathedral), while the west end opens out onto the Town Loža (Loggia) and Clock Tower and the Mandrać, an enclosed harbour for small boats, which in turns gives onto the bay. On the southwestern corner of the main square, looking onto the harbour, the Arsenal and Municipal Theatre is easily identified by its huge front arch. On the northern side are many Renaissance buildings, such as the Paladini Palace and the unfinished Hektorović Palace.
Many of the old buildings lining the square house popular cafés, restaurants, galleries and souvenir shops, as well Hvar town's main tourist office (http://www.tzhvar.hr/en/). It's a great place to spend some time, stroll around or relax in one of the cafés.
Dominating the southwestern corner of St Stephen's Square, facing the waterfront is the Arsenal. The arched building dates from the 13th century when it started as a warehouse for communal war galleys. It was damaged by the Turkish ravages in the late 16th century and finally achieved its present-day appearance in the 17th century. The monumental Arsenal is one of the most important buildings of naval architecture of its kind on the Mediterranean.
On the first floor of the Arsenal is Hvar Theatre, the oldest public theatre in Croatia and one of the first in Europe. The theatre was built in 1612 by Venetian governor Pietro Semitecolo, providing a space for cultural and social happenings. It shows high cultural standards set by this small and rather isolated society. The exterior is mostly preserved in its original form, while the interior is from the 19th century and it was restored in 1991. The historic Hvar Theatre is an important monument which has been functioning as a museum for the last 20 years. It is open daily; summer 9am-1pm & 5-11pm; winter 11am-noon.
Being part of the Venetian empire for almost 500 years, Hvar town has preserved some of its most important inheritance from that period. Town Loža (Loggia) and Clock Tower on the western end of the main square is the only remains of the former Governor's Palace. The Loggia was reconstructed in fine Renaissance style after the former loggia was damaged by the Turks in 1571. The only remains of the Governor's Palace are two reliefs of the Venetian lion, a large well and a lintel from the Palace chapel from 1612.
Of the former four towers of the Governor's Palace, the Clock Tower from the end of the 15th century, renovated in the 18th and the 19th century, is the only one remaining.
The new Loggia, considered one of the most beautiful late Renaissance buildings in Dalmatia, was the work of the Croatian mason master Tripun Bokanić. It was was used as a café from the late 19th century to 1971, and then incorporated into Hotel Palace to form an elegant salon. Today, the interior of Loggia is decorated in a neo-Renaissance style and serves as a reception hall and exhibition room not only for Hotel Palace but also for Hvar town.
Towering over the eastern end of the main square is Katedrala svetog Stjepana (St Stephen's Cathedral), dedicated to St Stephen, which is considered a jewel of late Renaissance Dalmatian architecture. It's open daily 7am-noon & 5-7pm, in summer sometimes all day. A three-aisled basilica was built in stages during the 16th and 17th centuries on the site of an early 6th century church and medieval Benedictine monastery. The cathedral has a facade with three-cornered gable and a four-storey bell tower. The shrine of today's cathedral is the remains of the former Gothic church.
The interior is fairly unremarkable and was only completed in the 18th century. There are eleven Baroque altars created by Venetian artists. Two notable artworks are a Venetian Madonna and Child (on the fourth altar on the right), a Byzantine-influenced, icon-like image painted around 1220, and a 15th century Pietá by Spanish artist Juan Boschetus.
Immediately next door to the cathedral is the Bishop's Palace which houses a small but fine selection of liturgical objects, embroidery, documents and paintings, dated from 15th till 19th century. It is open daily; summer 9am-noon & 5-7pm, winter 10am-noon; admission 20 Kn (June 2010).
Situated on the soutwestern coast of the island, after Dubrovnik, Hvar town is probably Croatia's most fashionable tourist destination of the Adriatic coast, so expect it to be crowded and expensive in peak season. The best view of Hvar town is from the sea. Old stone houses are built into the slopes of three hills surrounding a bay, with the highest peak crowned by a Venetian fortress. The bay is protected from the open sea to the south by a scattering of small islands known as Pakleni Otoci (Pakleni Islands).
Along the charming palm-fringed waterfront promenade, cafés and restaurants are shaded by colourful awnings and umbrellas. A few steps away, the magnificent main square Trg svetog Stjepana, the largest piazza in Dalmatia, is backed by the 16th century Katedrala svetog Stjepana (St Sthephen's Cathedral). Hvar is a medieval town full of pedestrianized alleys overlooked by ancient stone houses, providing an elegant backdrop to the main leisure activity: lounging around in cafés and watching the people.
The town gained glory and power during middle ages being an important port within the Venetian, naval empire. The Venetian influence is evident in architecture which gives an additional charm to the town. Hvar town is not only about the sun and the beach. It is rich in cultural and historical heritage and is also popular among numerous young people from around the world.
The former fishing village of Jelsa is located in a bay on a north central part of the island of Hvar, 10km east of Stari Grad. The town is situated between two highest mountains of Hvar, St. Nikola and Hum and surrounded by pine forests. Jelsa has a rich tradition in tourism, the oldest hotel Jadran was built in 1911. The town has a coastline with numerous bays. The best beaches are on the southern side of the bay. The town is also well-known for its quality red wine.
Pjaca (the main square) is situated in the centre of Jelsa and here you find cafés, bars and restaurants. The old quarter, a maze of ancient alleys and lanes, climbs up the hill towards a fortified St. Mary's Church (Crkva svete Marije) from the 15th century, today the parish church. On the way back to the waterfront we came across a very charming octagonal Chapel of St. John (Crkva svetog Ivana) from the 16th century, squeezed into most beautiful square overhung by the balconies of the surrounding Renaissance buildings.
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