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Coast to Croatia: Hvar

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Around 385 BC, the Greeks established the nearby colony of Stari Grad developing fields and enclosures referred to my driver guide as Croatia's Machu Picchu.  The fertile plain stretching south and west of Stari Grad has recently been added to the UNESCO World Heritage list.  The olive groves, vineyards grids and country lanes are still visible today.  It is one of the few places in Europe where the ancient Greek system of field division has been preserved almost unchanged.

Roman and Byzantine colonies occupied and controlled Hvar for centuries but the island was eventually settled by Croatian tribes some time in the eighth century.  Hvar town was once a haven for medieval pirates. Eventually the Venetians drove them out in 1240 and encouraged the citizens of Stari Grad to relocate to Hvar Town, which became the administrative capital of the island.

Like other Dalmatian towns, Hvar was established as an oligarchical government from which commoners were excluded. In 1510 a revolt was led by Matija Ivanić, a representative of the mercantile middle class. The Venetians ultimately re-established control, hanging the rebels from the masts of their galleys.  Ivanić himself escaped and died in exile in Rome.

Hvar became one of the key centers of the Croatian Renaissance with contributions by influential poets like Hanibal Lucić and Petar Hektorović.  This era was interrupted in 1571, when Ottoman corsair Uluz Ali sacked Hvar Town and reduced it to rubble. 

The town was ultimately rebuilt and later became an important trading center and port city.  Hvar tourism, however, didn't make it to the forefront until the late nineteenth century by the work of the  Hvar Hygienic Society, founded in 1868 by locals to promote the island as a health retreat. 

Today Hvar island offers vacationers stunning views, ancient architecture to admire and a mix of relaxed and athletic adventures.  Herbs and other botanical varieties grow wild along the roads and trails offering whiffs of lavender, sage and Rosemary along your route.

The first guidebook to the town, published in Vienna in 1903, promoted it as “Austria’s Madeira”, and since then Hvar has become been one of Croatia's most stylish resorts.