A History of Tourism on the Island of Hvar in Croatia
Hvar Town has a long tradition of tourism, but today's St. Tropez image is very different from its tourist origins, which are based on health and science.
Croatian tourism is booming once more after the recent war in Yugoslavia and one of the most popular destinations is the island of Hvar, famous for its lavender, natural beauty, historic stone towns and party atmosphere in Hvar Town. Sipping a cocktail and enjoying a sunset over the Pakleni islands watching the mega yachts mooring is certainly a highlight, but the origins of tourism on the island are quite different.
The First Visitors to Hvar
Interpretations by the Greek poet Apollonius place the island on the route taken by the Argonauts in search of the Golden Fleece, describing the island as idyllic Pityeia or covered in pine trees. What is known is that the Greek poet Xenphanes from Elea visited Hvar in the 6th Century BC, in search of fish fossils.
Rich Roman visitors came on individual visits during the Roman Empire (Diocletian's Palace in Split was built in the 4th Century for Emperor Diocletian), and there were many rustic villas built in the various bays of the island, which were known as villae rusticae.
On the Pilgrimage Route from Venice to Jaffa
There is more documented proof of religious tourism from the 15th Century, as Hvar featured as a stopping point for some on pilgrimages to the Holy Land on the popular route from Venice to Jaffa. Travellers were understandably from the wealthier classes and the writings of the period that have survived constitute the first real picture of life on Hvar.
Tourist impressions from the Middle Ages were in some ways not too dissimilar to the impressions today, with frequent mention of the stormy sea, the white stone, the palm trees, the playful dolphins (a regular sight even today), and the smell of rosemary below the fortress.
The period saw the emergence of what was called 'rural tourism', as the aristocracy and rich elite spent holidays in villas in the towns and bays on Hvar. One of the best preserved of these is the summer palace of famous poet, Petar Hektorovic, in Stari Grad, called the Tvrdalj. It included a fishpond, walled garden, tower and dovecote. It is well-preserved and today houses the Ethnographic Museum.
A Royal Visit and the Emergence of Science Tourism
The 18th and 19th Centuries brought a new type of tourist, in search of scientific discovery. Dalmatia became a popular destination for scientists from Germany and Austria, and Hvar, with its rich flora and fauna, was an especially popular spot. Of particular interest to the scientists were the island's plants, insects, sponges and sea worms. There was even a royal expedition in 1838, when the King of Saxony, King Friedrich II paid a visit.
Founding of the Hvar Health Society in 1868
Hvar was formally established as a tourist destination in 1868, with the founding of the Hvar Health Society, following extensive scientific analysis of the island's climate. The climate was found to be an excellent environment for treating various illnesses, lung illnesses in particular. Thanks to the efforts of a group of prominent citizens of Hvar, led by the then BishopJuraj Dubokovic, and the hard work and connections of Professor Oskar Schmidt and Dr Franz Unger, the Hvar Health Society, or Higijenicko drustvo u Hvaru, Societa Igienica di Lesina, Heil-verein von Lesina, was formed on May 15, 1868. The healthy climate and its recuperative powers remains one of Hvar's most attractive features for many visitors.
Tourism has blossomed in the intervening years, and Hvar was voted one of the ten most beautiful islands in the world by readers of Conde Nast. It is a popular celebrity haunt and the rich and famous can be found on their large yachts or in the recently refurbished Hvar hotels. Away from the glitz of Hvar Town, the tradition of celebrating the island's nature continues, with events such as the Lavender Festival in nearby Velo Grablje.