Stari Grad Plain (1/2) – the town of Stari Grad

As the UNESCO comments:

Stari Grad Plain on the Adriatic island of Hvar is a cultural landscape that has remained practically intact since it was first colonized by Ionian Greeks from Paros in the 4th century BC. The original agricultural activity of this fertile plain, mainly centring on grapes and olives, has been maintained since Greek times to the present. The site is also a natural reserve. The landscape features ancient stone walls and trims, or small stone shelters, and bears testimony to the ancient geometrical system of land division used by the ancient Greeks, the chora which has remained virtually intact over 24 centuries.

In order to be inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list, sites must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one of the ten Criteria for Selection. Stari Grad Plain meets:

  • Criterion (ii): to exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design, because the land organization system which is based on geometrical parcels with dry-stone wall boundaries and completed from the very first by a rainwater recovery system involving the use of tanks and gutters, is exemplary and bears witness to the distribution of the Greek geometrical model for the dividing up of agricultural land in the Mediterranean world. This system known as chora is today perfectly identifiable, and has changed very little. The built structures of the stone walls are authentic, with the same basic dry-stone wall materials being used and reused since the foundation by the Greeks.
  • Criterion (iii): to bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared, because the agricultural plain has been in continuous use, with the same initial crops being produced, for 2400 years. This bears witness to its permanency and sustainability down the centuries;
  • and Criterion (v): to be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture (or cultures), or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change, because the agricultural plain and its environment are an example of very ancient traditional human settlement, which is today under threat particularly from rural depopulation and the abandonment of traditional farming practices.

According to my experience, if you want to thoroughly explore this property including the town and the plain, one day is not enough. The first time I visited Stari Grad, I took a ferry from Split and rented a bike to cycle across the plain. The second visit was during the family trip of yacht chartering and I explored the town and stayed overnight at its marina. In consecutive two posts, I will introduce in detail the town and the plain respectively and give you some practical tips. In this post, I’ll focus on the former.

To reach Stari Grad, I think the most convenient way is by ferryJadrolinija is a state-owned sea shipping company and its main mission is connecting Croatian islands to the mainland by operating regular passenger and cargo transport services. If you want to check the schedule please click here. I took a very early ferry from Split to Stari Grad and on the cruise, I saw the beautiful sunrise on the Adratic Sea, which was my reward for getting up so early. The ferry was unexpectedly cosy because besides tables and chairs with majestic sea views, there were even sofas and a bar, from which I bought a croissant and a cup of coffee. I took the ferry on 5th October and it was quite cold already. Fortunately I took my winter clothes. However, it was only cold in the early morning on the sea because later when I was cycling under the sun, I changed to t-shirt and shorts. From the ferry terminal to the old town you still need to walk for around 30 mins along the promenade. The path was so scenic that I even forgot how much time I spent on the way.

1. How to visit the town

In the old town, I recommend visiting the White Cross on Glavica Hill, Tvrdalj Castle, Pharos Archeological Site with Stari Grad Plain Exhibition Center and St. Stephen’s Square with its church and bell tower. If you have extra time, just walk on the narrow stone streets, look around on the squares and pay respect in front of or inside the churches. For general information, you can stop by the tourist information center (Obala dr. Franje Tuđmana 1, 21460), in which various leaflets about attractions in the town and on the plain can be found. If you want to explore the plain as I did, the large map called “Stari Grad Plain” marked with routes, sites and their brief introductions is very useful, but for visiting the town, I found the info board at the south entrance to Park Vorba very helpful. On it there are two maps, one of which is marked with cultural heritage sites while the other one is marked with public facilities. As for the cultural heritage sites such as the Tvrdalj Castle, Pharos Archeological Site, and various streets, houses, churches and squares, when you reach them you will see square info boards attached to their walls on which more information is written. If you don’t have enough time or are not up for much exercise, you probably can not explore the whole plain. In this case, I recommend taking a look at the exhibition center next to Pharos Archeological Site, in which accompanied by photos, a lot can be learnt about the plain in general and some specific sites within.

2. The town of Stari Grad

2.1 Pharos Archeological Site with the exhibition center

The oldest remains found on this site date from the 6th century BC. Numerous burnt wooden beams found in the oldest layers indicate the existence of settlement of indigenous (the Illyrian) population, which were destroyed during the founding of the Greek colony of Pharos. Remains of the southern and eastern city walls, the eastern city gate, a Greek house from the Hellenistic period, a well and a section of the street that was in use until Late Antiquity can be seen here. What’s more, excavations revealed fragments of mosaics and frescoes which decorated the houses during the Roman period. In the 5th/6th century, the Church of St. John and St. Mary was erected. It was a dual building that functioned, with many adaptions, until the 19th century when the southern church was demolished. The complex was decorated with mosaic floors with geometrical and floral motifs. The cross-shaped baptistry from the 5th/6th century has been preserved and around and inside the church, burials have been held until the late medieval period. On the info board close to the entrance, a plan in which Greek architecture, Roman architecture, Early Christian complex, medieval architecture, etc. are clearly marked and images of various archaeological findings such as a pottery of indigenous population (6th century BC), Pharos coins (4th century BC), a mould for casting figures and the cast (4th/3rd century BC), fragments of a Roman wall painting depicting a bird (1st/2nd century AD), and Early Christian mosaic (6th century AD) can be seen.

On another info board close to the entrance, you find information about the archeological heritage of Stari Grad and a few archeological sites marked on the map. As the oldest town in Croatia and one of the oldest in Europe, under the streets and houses of the historic core, there are many archeological sites, which testify to millennia of continuous life in this area. It was here that the Greeks from Paros founded Pharos, in 385/384 BC and the street layout shows elaborate town planning. In 219 BC, due to bad leadership of the general and ruler Demetrius of Pharos, not only the town and plain but also the whole island was brought under Roman rule. Archeological remains have proven that during the 1st century AD the Greek town of Pharos was transformed into the Roman town of Pharia, which can be seen in the new buildings as well as adaptations of Greek houses with mosaics and frescoes in Roman style. In the Early Middle Ages, the new colonizers, the Slavs, took over the town and until the end of the 13th century named it Far or Huarr. It seems that the Byzantine emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus from the 10th century was right when he wrote in his book that “Hvar and three other islands: Brač, Korčula and Mljet are very beautiful and fertile, but with deserted towns and numerous wetlands.” The current name “Stari Grad” meaning “Old Town” is mentioned in the Hvar Statute of 1331 to distinguish it from the “New Town”, the present-day town of Hvar which was founded in 1278.

Now let’s come back to the Pharos Archeological Site, on which the Remete house stands. The best preserved section of the southern wall of Pharos, which is over two meter high, is preserved within the house acting as the southern wall of the cellar. The Remete garden, in which the Greek and Roman remnants I mentioned in the first paragraph are located, marks the beginning of the Stari Grad Plain, which is why the house is now chosen as the headquarter of the Agency for the Management of the Stari Grad Plain. During my visit in 2018, there was an exhibition marking the 10th anniversary of the plain’s inscription on the World Heritage list, in which general introductions to the property, its monitoring and the state of its agricultural areas, and detailed explanations of specific sites such as the Chapel of St. Jelena (Helena), the Carevac archeological site, the dry-stone walls, remains of a tower at the top of Maslinovik Hill, and ruins of a Roman villa in Mirje can be read. I’m not sure whether the exhibition will be there in the following years but I do hope something similar can always be hosted. Also in the house, I obtained two flyers, one of which is about the Roman villa remains in Kupinovik, the best preserved ancient complex in Stari Grad, and the other one is about how to explore the plain by taking different routes (by bike, by foot, etc.).

2.2 St. Stephen’s Square and Church

The main square was once a site for community meetings and negotiations. On the walls of the houses on the northern side there is a sundial and the coat of arms of the noble Hektorović family. The house on the western side has several large stone blocks, which originally constituted the city walls of the ancient town of Pharos. When you are facing the church, on your right-hand side you can see a 2nd-century Roman relief (as you can see in the 2nd picture above) depicting a crestfallen winged Eros with his downturned torch, the Greek god of Love.

As written above the entrance, the bell tower was built in 1753. Below it there’s another sign indicating that the ground floor was built with stone blocks from the ramparts of Pharos and what today is a place of worship was once the entrance into the Greek city. Inside the first gallery, there’s a relief of a Roman merchant ship from the 2nd century.

Construction of the parish church of St. Stephen began in 1605. Here used to be the site of the island’s first cathedral from the 11th/12th century, which was abandoned after the bishop moved to Hvar in the 13th century. The old cathedral was demolished for building the new church. The façade is the work of Ivan Pomenić from Korčula, a master builder who also worked on the façade of the Cathedral of St. Stephen in Hvar. The main altar, which dates back to 1702, is a work from the Tremingon workshop in Venice and the elaborately carved polychromatic choir is from the Rococo period.

2.3 White Cross on Glavica Hill

A fortress was once erected at the top of Glavica Hill (111 m asl.) in the 1st millennium BC. It was watching over the prehistoric settlement which was located on the location of the current town center. The circle of stones you can see here is the remnant of the prehistoric fortress. At the turn of the 19th century into the 20th, the inhabitants of Stari Grad erected a huge cross (the White Cross that you can see in the 5th picture above), which was unfortunately destroyed twice. The first time was by lightning and the second time was during World War II. Thanks to the support of Marinko Jurić-Peretov, it was reconstructed in 1990.

In my opinion, the area on top of the hill is the top viewpoint in Stari Grad, from which you can see clearly the exit to the Ariatic Sea, the ferry terminal, the old town and most importantly, part of the Stari Grad Plain. The plain is huge and there’s no viewpoint from which we can have an aerial view of all of it. I tried cycling up to some hills while exploring the plain but unfortunately the views were mostly blocked by trees. Therefore, if you want to overlook the plain and take some nice pictures, the top of Glavica Hill is your best option. Get a free city map from the tourist information center or just follow Google Map and you should reach the White Cross in 25 mins. The path is in general easy to walk on (can be a bit muddy on a rainy day) but still I recommend you to wear sports shoes.

2.4 Fortress Tvrdalj of Poet Petar Hektorović

I visited the fortress at dusk when it was about to close. The staff was super friendly and he told me to take my time and he could wait. If I remember correctly, the admission fee was around 3.5 euros. There were basically no other tourists during my visit and I particularly enjoyed the pond and the garden, which were in absolute tranquility.

Petar Hektorović (1487 – 1572) was born in a noble family and is one of the fathers of Croatian literature. His “Fishing and Talks with Fishermen” is the first realistic poem in Croatian literature, in which he recalls events from when he went on a fishing trip for three days from Stari Grad to Brač and Šolta with company of the fishermen Paskoj and Nikola. Besides including ordinary folks in his songs and verses, he also wrote epistles, many of which have been preserved, and translated classical literature.

This fortress-house was designed by the poet himself. For about 40 years, he supervised the builders who were men of the village. The rustic style and inscriptions on the stones create a special atmosphere in the complex, showing the romantic nature of the poet and his philosophy of life. Its center represents the world, that is to say, the pond (mix of sea water and spring water with mullets) for creatures of water, dovecote for creatures of air and garden for creatures of the ground. Special houses on the eastern side were for travelers and the poor. The more than twenty Croatian and Latin inscriptions are particularly interesting, some of which are written and translated on the brochure that you can obtain at the entrance. The biggest one is on the façade, which writes: “To the creator of all.” In the entrance hall, one is written above the lavatory, which was a rarity at that tome, and it reads: “Petar Hektorović, son of Marino, at his own expense and by his own effort built this for the use of himself and his friends.” Around the pond, you can find some more such as “How beautiful faith and truth are!”, “Remember that neither richness nor fame, beauty nor age can save you from death. That takes all.”, “Nothing is hidden.”, and so on. The garden, which the poet talks about in his poem, is also a pleasant place to have a walk. The flowers he mentions are still growing there. Hektorović devoted all his life to his home, which is why he once wrote: “I must go back there, for it is calling me home.”

Also exhibited here are the traditional Dalmatian kitchen and wine cellar from the island of Hvar. If you are interested in ethnography, you can take a look.

3. A walk in the city

As I mentioned above, the info board at the south entrance to Park Vorba is very helpful, on which two maps are shown. One of them is marked with cultural heritage sites in the town center while the other one is marked with public facilities. As for the cultural heritage sites such as various streets, houses, churches and squares, when you reach them you will see square info boards attached to their walls on which more information is written. Now, I’ll introduce the ones I found during my “treasure hunt” adventure.

3.1 Church of St. John

The current church together with the remains found south of it comprises the Early Christian complex dating from 5th/6th century. The original walls are preserved up to the beginning of the barrel vault which was built during the 11th-century restoration. The floor was decorated with geometrical and floral mosaics, some of which have been preserved. The rosette (rose window) on the façade is from the 14th century and in the interior, the Early Christian altar has been restored.

3.2 Duolnjo kola (Lower Street)

In local dialect, Duolnjo kola means Lower Street, whose present appearance dates from the 15th/16th century. It is assumed that this street, parallel to the waterfront, was the seafront in ancient times. In the niche of the building now housing Cafe Antica, a Latin inscription reads: “Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, you who have suffered on the cross spilling your blood for mankind, have pity on your people. 1566”

3.3 Srinjo kola

In local dialect, Srinjo kola means Middle Street, which used to be the main street and trading center of Stari Grad. The oldest house, an Early Gothic building from the 14th/15th century, is located opposite the Ljubić Gallery. In the middle of the street is the house of Apothecary Gariboldi from Milan (16th century) and it can be recognized by the coat of arms with four stars above a fort. Under the central part of the street and surrounding houses are geometrical floor mosaics of a Roman villa from the 2nd century. They were discovered in 1923 but covered again for protection. In the Moria Gallery, an elaborately decorated mosaic carpet is presented in situ.

Mosaics and walls of another Roman villa have been found under the pavement of Vagonj Street. The large villa was adapted from a richly decorated Greek house from the 4th century BC.

3.4 Island Paros Street

The Greek island of Paros in the Aegean Sea is the homeland of the settlers who in 384 BC founded the city of Pharos, today’s Stari Grad. Ancient ties between the two mediterranean islands were restored in 2003 with a maritime expedition called “Pharos-Paros” conducted by Hvarians. In 2016, in order to celebrate the 2400th anniversary of the foundation of Stari Grad, the twinning agreement was signed with Paros and this street was named in honor of their friendship.

3.5 Church of St. Rocco

The church of the patron saint of Stari Grad – St. Rocco was erected by the confraternity of the same name with provision from the poet and nobleman Petar Hektorović in the 16th century. The bell tower was added in 1783 and the side chapels in 1898. The main altar is decorated with a statue of St. Rocco, the work of an unidentified Venetian workshop from the 17th century. St. Rocco is shown with a dog which was a faithful friend after he had been abandoned by everyone. In 1898, the mosaic floor of an ancient Roman bath was unearthed beneath the stairs. The location is now marked with a Latin inscription on one of the steps.

3.6 Juraj Škarpa Square

This square is located in the medieval region called Šiberija, which got its name from Siberia (region in Russia) because it was close to the sea level and very cold. On the square you can see a sculpture called “The Wounded” (1921) by the Stari Grad sculptor Juraj Škarpa, whose birthplace is across the sculpture and bears an inscription from 1587. It reads: “Oh, the glory of the crucifix, be our hope, for God and man on you had breathed their last.”

3.7 House of the Gelineo-Bervaldi family in Šiberija

Bervaldi family was a very rich family of Stari Grad which was first mentioned at the end of the 16th century. They were holders of large estates in Stari Grad, Hvar and Vis. The high altar of the parish church of St. Stephen was commissioned personally by Antun Bervaldi. At the end of the 18th century, the Bervaldi family was connected with the Gelineo family, the members of which were mostly merchants and ship owners, and that’s when the name of the house changed to Gelineo-Bervaldi. The house was known for its interior design and comfort and during the 18th and 19th centuries, bishops from Hvar stayed here during their visits to Stari Grad.

3.8 Škor Square

The name of the square comes from the old shipyard which was situated here until the 17th century. The complex of houses with a vaulted passage is from the early-16th century and opposite it, the lintel (as you can see in the 2nd picture above) on a house bears the coat of arms of an unknown nobleman. According to tradition, it was created around 1500.

3.9 Dominican Monastery of St. Peter the Martyr

The monastery was founded by Friar Germanicus of Piacenza in 1482 with help of the townspeople. It was ransacked and burnt by the Turks in 1571, after which it was fortified with round towers. The church was partially demolished and rebuilt in 1894 but the bell tower and chapel with the tomb of the Renaissance poet Petar Hektorović survived unaltered. The Monastery Museum holds an ancient Greek inscription from Pharos (3rd century BC) and its pinacotheca has a number of valuable paintings by Venetian artists such as the famous “Lamentation of Christ” by Tintoretto.

In this post, I focused on the town center of Stari Grad including Pharos Archeological Site with Stari Grad Plain Exhibition Center, in which I learnt a lot about the history and significant values of the town and plain, Tvrdalj Castle, which was home of the poet and nobleman Petar Hektorović who devoted his life to designing it, and the top of Glavica Hill, which offers an amazing view over Stari Grad including the town and part of the plain. Additionally, I had a leisurely walk on the ancient streets, visited some squares and passed by various churches. The best way to learn about their history is by reading the info boards attached to the walls. In the next post, I’ll focus on my adventure of cycling through the plain and provide you with some practical tips and introductions to the important sites. In my opinion, without exploring the plain, it’s impossible to truly understand its inestimable value.

Stari Grad Plain (1/2) – the town of Stari Grad was last modified: May 30th, 2020 by Dong

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