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Stari Grad means simply Old Town, and there has been a succession of settlements on this site ever since the Greeks built a lighthouse here in 385BC. Smaller than Hvar Grad, and much quieter with it, the town sits at the head of an attractively wooded long bay with the usual assortment of terracotta-tiled old houses, cafes, shops and a tall-towered church. Traces of the town's long history can be found in the remnants of the Greek city walls incorporated in newer (ie 15th and 16th century) buildings and a Roman inscription on stones that now form part of the church's bell tower. The oldest parts of the town lie along the south side of the bay.
Keener culture-vultures that us might like to visit the Tvrdalj, a fortified house built by a revered 16th century poet as both his private home and a refuge for the townsfolk from the ever-present threat of Turkish raiders, or find their way around to the Dominican monastery but on a hot day in August with the church door locked, an icecream, a stroll around the small green market, the purchase of a chunk of farmhouse cheese, some wonderfully red and knobbly tomatoes, a big bunch of parsley and sweet red onions for lunch, and a cold beer in a cafe before we went on our way, was enough for us this time on the island. We know we'll be back.
The port of Stari Grad is a couple of kilometres outside the town itself. Local buses connect with all the ferries.
Updated Sep 14, 2007
Of the four main towns on Hvar, all clustered at the western end of the island, Vrboska is the both the smallest and the most tucked away. Little more than a village really, it's made special by the huge fortified church that dominates everything else in the village and its charming location along a winding sea creek that runs up from a well-protected bay. Although Greek and Roman ships made use of this sheltered spot, it wasn't until the 15th century that people began to settle here, fishermen mostly, building their houses along the creek and constructed little bridges to facilitate crossing from one side of the inlet to the other.
There are five bridges in all, only one of which can take traffic, the others becoming smaller and smaller as the creek narrows. Even the bridge that can take traffic is closed to all but essential services, so if you are planning to stay on the church side of the village with a car, be sure it's a small one. Access through this part of the village is via the narrowest of laneways with some sharp corners and nail-bitingly close and most unforgiving stone walls! If you're only visiting the village for the day, follow the road around to the Riva and walk the rest of the way.
As you walk along the Riva, crossing backwards and forwards over the bridges, look out for the trough set into the creek below. This is where the village women did their washing. Just upstream of the trough an underground spring delivers fresh water into the creek. Look carefully and you can see the little eddies it makes. Now cross back to the other side and stop at the wine shop to see some photos of older times in the village, one of which shows some women standing on the trough. The bridge has been rebuilt recently and I doubt if anyone still brings the family wash down there now, but the old man who showed it to us remembered the days when this was how it was done.
Updated Sep 14, 2007
Hvar Grad - Hvar Town - is the largest town on the island of Hvar, though by no means the oldest. With a small old centre contained with the massive 15th century walls, and a tightly packed outer town of more modern vintage, its the place to head for if your looking for both the smart set of the Adriatic Riviera and the gracious palaces and narrow steep-staired lanes of the old Dalmatian town.
Whether you arrive by road from the car ferry port or land on the island at the catamaran dock in Hvar Grad itself, you'll soon find yourself at the vast main square, the heart of the town, the Pjacac more properly known as Trg Sveti Stjepana (St Stephen's Square), so named for the 16th century cathedral that stands at the eastern end. The oldest part of the town ,Burag, crams the hill to the north of the square, behind an elegant arcaded loggia, now part of the very swish Palace Hotel. The loggia and nearby clock tower are all that remain of the Renaissance palace of the island's Venetian governors.
Dating from the 16th century, is the Fabrika - the wide stone quay running along the water's edge where once the Venetian used to tie up and enclosing the older Mandrac, the little inner harbour.
It's all built of a beauitiful stone that is dazzlingly white in the midday sun but come late afternoon when the sun's rays are lower, the stone softens and begins to take on hues of warm gold - that's the time to get your camera out.
Updated Sep 13, 2007
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.
Updated Sep 2, 2010
As was fitting for a wealthy and influential Catholic city, mediaeval Hvar had many monasteries and churches as well as its beautiful cathedral. The centuries have their toll - the Turkish raids of the 16th century left only the bell tower of the church of Sv Marko at the Dominican monastery standing and years of neglect under Tito's regime saw many others fall into disrepair. Things are different in the new Croatia and the rich heritage of ecclestiastical buildings is well guarded now.
Exploring Hvar you'll find old churches tucked away in narrow streets. Look out for the new sculpture of a kneeling monk - the church behind him is the oldest in the city, SS Cosmos and Damian - while nearby a far older saint sits in the lunette above the door of the church of the Holy Ghost.
Be sure to take a look at the new bronze doors of the Cathedral. Although they may have been built in older times, the churches of Hvar are not merely historical monuments , frozen in time, but an integral part of the every day life of the people of the town and these doors are part of an revived tradition of maintaining and enhancing the physical structure of their beliefs.
Updated Sep 14, 2007
The fortification of Vrboska's Church of St Mary dates back to 1575, a response to raids by the Ottoman fleet in 1571 that saw much devastation delivered upon the island. The church stands right in the middle of the village and from its high ground dominates the surrounding area completely with its stark lines and sharply angled bastion that served as a cistern - an essential feature should there have been a siege. You may well be told the church's fortifications are unique - not strictly true - though there are only a couple of other fortress churches in Croatia.
There are several minor 17th century paintings in the church but the combination of dim lighting and layers of old varnish make them somewhat less than riveting. No photographs are permitted in the church.
Still consecrated but only used occasionally on special days for services, the church is open daily in summer from 10-noon and 6-8 at which times it is possible to climb up to the roof from where, as you would expect, the views are spectacular. A small charge applies.
Updated Sep 14, 2007
Small as Vrboska is, its two churches are both important repositories of the island's heritage - St Mary's for its unique fortifications and St Lawrence's for the artistic treasures it contains. This church also dates from the 15th century, though what we see today is the result of 17th century remodelling. The most significant work in the church is the triptych over the main altar, once thought to have been the work of the Venetian master Titian but now identified positively as that of Veronese. Depicting St Lawrence's vision of the Virgin, John the Baptist and St Nicholas it is considered to be the most important of all the island's masterpieces. There are several other important paintings in the church. Photos are not permitted.
St Lawrence (Sveti Lovrinac) is the patron saint of Vrboska
The church is open from 10-noon and 6-8 daily in summer but as it is Vrboska's parish church these days it is also open at Mass times.
Updated Sep 14, 2007
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.
Updated Sep 14, 2010
Stretching south from Hvar Grad's main square, the long stone quay known as the Fabrika runs for some 300 metres until it reaches Kriza Bay. A walk along here will take you past the great arched door of the Arsenal, stalls selling everything you could possibly think of to make from the island's famous lavendar fields, the catamaran dock and the far more exclusive craft of the beautiful people who have made Hvar the most fashionable spot at this end of the Med, and on to the Franciscan Monastery of Our Lady of Grace which has stood on the spit of land known as Srjdnji Rat since the 15th century.
If you want to see inside the monastery - and there is much to see - you'll need to be sure to time your walk to coincide with the short opening hours (10 to noon and 5-7), otherwise you could keep on walking around the bay, maybe even as far as the tiny island with the old Pokonji lighthouse, or you could turn back through the narrow streets to the town centre where you could explore some more among the ancient stones of the town or make your way to one of the many cafes for a bit of serious people watching as you rest your weary feet.
Updated Sep 13, 2007
If you want to take more than a cursory look at the historic building of Hvar but are not keen on guided tours where you can be overwhelmed with facts and figures as you are whisked from one place to another, I recommend you buy yourself a local guide book once you get to the island. General guide books to Croatia, whilst good for basic facts and practical information such as opening hours and admission charges, give only the most cursory descriptions of the major structures and are next to useless if you want to know more. The tourist office, located in the Arsenal, has a good selection of material available including some good map (there's an excellent hiking and biking map available for those who want to explore further afield).
Updated Sep 14, 2007
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