Jul 17, 2008

Stari Grad Plain on the island of Hvar – a new UNESCO World Heritage Site

The UNESCO added a new Croatian cultural site to the World Heritage list. Along with the Old Town of Dubrovnik, the Plitvice Lakes, Trogir, Diocletian’s Palace, Cathedral of St James in Sibenik and the Euphrasian Basilica in Porec, Stari Grad Plain (popularly also called Ager) is the 7th Croatian site listed on UNESCO World Heritage list. Stari Grad Plain is the oldest preserved ancient Greek land cadastral plan.

Hvar, the island in Adriatic Sea, is the longest and the sunniest Croatian island and according to many travel magazines one of the most beautiful islands in the world that lately become one of Croatia's most visited islands, attracting a diverse crowd of backpackers, yachties, honeymooners and pretty much anyone who visits central Dalmatia. The island is located right in front of Split and can be reached by catamaran boat or ferry in about one hour time. Its name derives from ancient Greek name for the island and the town - Pharos, where today is Stari Grad. Stari Grad was the main centre of the island until 13th century when the power was overtaken by the town of Hvar.

Its name derives from the Greek name for island and town, that stood where today Stari Grad stands - PHAROS.

The major places (all on the coast of the island) are: the town of Hvar, Stari Grad, Jelsa, Sucuraj and Vrboska. Its well-indented coast, numerous picturesque and intact beaches and bays, virgin nature, very rich historical and cultural inheritance, the scents of lavender, olive trees and wine are the reasons that island Hvar welcomes more and more tourists each year.

Stari Grad is the collective name for several small towns which grew and were later abandoned at the same place. It is located at the end of a bay on the northern side of the Island. Inclusion of Star Grad on the UNESCO World Heritage list is especially appealing since the region is much less well-known than the other UNESCO World Heritage sites in Croatia, giving visitors an extra reason to venture beyond the well beaten path that leads to popular Hvar Town.

A thousand years long history of the Town has left many monuments in the urban structure of the Town. Stari Grad is historical heart of the island Hvar, ancient Pharos. The plan of the Greek Pharos, reconstructed hypothetically, resembles a Roman town-planning scheme with an orthogonal screen. The stereometry of the cleaned town walls, numerous remains of Illyrian, Greek and Roman settlements, as well as early Christian, early Croatian and Romanesque layers have confirmed what the archaeologists supposed for centuries - that the Pharos, in its stratigraphy, is probably one of the richest locality of Croatian archaeological heritage, and that the whole island experienced an apogee at the end of ancient times.

Some of Stari Grad’s interesting sights include the parish church in Stari Grad, the fortified Dominican Monastery of St Peter the Martyr, the church of St Nicholas, the church of St Jerome, the church of St Rocco, and the most known building - Tvrdalj, the fortified building of the poet Petar Hektorović dating from the first half of the 16th century.

Hektorovic (1487-1572) is the author of the first realistic epic poem of Croatian Renaissance literature "Ribanje i ribarsko prigovaranje" ("Conversations about fishing"). His Tvrdalj is the central patrician building of the town. The design of this monumental Renaissance mansion was the poet's own idea, and just as he made a distinctive and realistic impact on Croatian Renaissance literature, he also made an impact on Stari Grad and the architecture of the town.

The true splendour of the Renaissance style is displayed in the interior. The centrepiece of the building is the fishpool, enclosed by a vaulted and arcaded terrace. Next to it is an elegant tower with a dovecote. The living quarters, the domestic area and the servant quarters, with several wells, are arranged around the fishpool. There is also a walled-in Renaissance garden where Hektorovic cultivated, with great love, not only Mediterranean plants, but some exotic ones as well, there are a series of inscriptions set into walls of the mansion in Latin and Croatian, which reveal the highly reflective and human side of the poet's character. The Croatian inscriptions are considered to be some of the oldest of those extant.

The Plain of Stari Grad

Right down to the present day, over the whole of the area of this Plain, its oldest piece of land division, the chora, created after the colonisation by the Greeks from the Aegean island of Paros in about 384 BC, is still almost totally conserved, as is clearly seen in all maps and aerial shots. This clarity on the land is all due to the hands of the farm laborers who from the most ancient times have bounded their plots with the many dry stone walls, of various different dimensions. Some of them are just a common fence between two holdings, while others (on the whole those that were built on the basis of the Greek surveyors’ lines) are very broad, and have also been used as roads.

Apart from that, there are also the country huts, trims or kažuns or bunjas as they are known – little beehive-shaped dry stone buildings in which tools were kept and in which it was possible to shelter during bad weather. Though the land is fertile, the Mediterranean climate, with its moderate precipitation, is the cause of frequent water shortages, for which reason over the whole of the field there are a great many large or small cisterns for the collection and retention of rainwater, almost always built below the surface of the land. The whole of the length of the northern part of the Plain, in the North-South direction, is the road that links Jelsa and Vrboska with Stari Grad and the other parts of the island. In the very centre of the Plain is a small earth strip created in 1950 for the crop spraying and fire fighting planes.

Since this flat land is the greatest and most fertile field on any of the Adriatic islands, particularly in the centre of the archipelago, today too, as through the whole of its history, it has retained its primary agricultural nature, without any construction to jeopardize the original image. These are the classic products of Mediterranean agriculture, the grape vine and the olive tree.

Contacts between the island of Hvar and the Greek world commenced in a more major way in the 6th century BC. The Adriatic Sea became increasingly interesting to Greeks in the Hellenistic period. When Issa was founded, Dionysius’ colony on the island of Vis, in about 394 BC, the Greeks started their drive to the other Dalmatian islands and the mainland.

First to bear the brunt of this expansion was Hvar island, where the inhabitants of the Aegean island of Paros, in 384, with the assistance of Dionysius, founded their colony of Pharos (today Stari Grad).
In parallel with the construction of the city, the subdivision of the Plain started out; this was actually a key moment in Stari Grad and Croatian history, one that was to leave its mark on this land forever.

The Greek colonists, that is, divided the area described into 75 cadastral plots, chora, as they are called, measuring 181 x 905 metres. The land in each individual chora was further divided by lot (perhaps into 5 squares of 181 x 181 m), and between the individual holdings, stone boundaries were placed, some of which have been found (that of Mathias Pitheo for example).

Very likely people actually lived in the Plain as well, as shown by archaeological finds (the most of them are in the region of Stari Grad).

In the Roman period the whole island was criss-crossed with traces of working and leisure facilities, with a great concentration in Hvar, Stari Grad and around Jelsa. Greek Pharos changed its name and became Roman Pharia.

All this time, the island of Hvar lived the life of the classical island, of grapes, fishing, and commerce, as shown by the many archaeological traces. In Stari Grad a layer of Roman houses richly equipped with floor mosaics has been preserved (street Sridnja kola). In the surrounds of the town, i.e., in the Plain, the Romans built their working and leisure facilites, the villae rusticae. The best known, partially-investigated, such villa is north of Dol, at the site known as Kupinovik.

Apart from these, the Romans also built water cisterns, some of which are still in use.

The Plain was also used for burials, as shown by the occasional finds of graves.

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