Best Tourist Attractions: Stone Heritage of Jelsa on Hvar Island
An overview of the historical buildings in Jelsa: churches, Greek towers, squares, public gardens and ancient city walls dating back to 1331.
One of the relatively undiscovered gems on the Dalmatian coast for British holidaymakers is the delightful town of Jelsa on the Island of Hvar. Whether staying in private accommodation or in one of the two Jelsa hotels, there is much to enjoy in this relaxed coastal resort. Here is an overview of the historical sites.
The Fortress and Church of the Assumption (of the Blessed Mary)
Daily life centres around the central square, the Pjaca, which is a hive of activity all year round. The Slatina stream runs under the square, offering a source of fresh water to the islanders, and the fountain was added in 1934.
Overlooking the square is the main church in this very Catholic town, the Church of the Assumption, which dates back as far as 1331. The original construction was strengthened and expanded in 1535 and today has four chapels, the two main ones dating back to the 17th century.
Inside are two paintings of interest: in the first chapel on the left, a relief by Antonio Poro and in the chapel on the right there is a work by Flemish-Venetian painter P. de Coster, entitled "Mother of God and the torture of Fabian and Sebastian."
St. Ivan's Square
To the left of the main square, there is a very pretty smaller square called St. Ivan's, whose centrepiece is a small octagonal church from the 17th century, which has elements of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque. This is arguably the most preserved part of the old town, with its Renaissance lamps and balconies.
Municipal Hall and Former Library
One of the most impressive buildings on the waterfront is the Municipal Hall next to the entrance of the square. Built in 1895 from stone imported from neighbouring Korcula, the palace was constructed in the Neo-Renaissance style and bears the 1871 Jelsa Municipality coat of arms.
Disaster struck the building in 2003, when fire broke out in the town's library on the top floor, leading to the loss of 10,000 books. Renovation has now been completed and the building now houses municipal offices, while the library is once more thriving in the town, having received numerous donations.
The Church of St. Roko
Behind the petrol station on the road out of Jelsa is the tiny church of St. Roko, which was built in the late 16th Century. Various additions have been made over the years to incorporate Gothic and Romanesque features, and the church was last renovated in 1999. Inside is a painting, allegedly by Palma il Giovane the Younger (1544 - 1628), of the Virgin Mary below the clouds, with Anthony of Padova holding a naked child on her right and St. Roko kneeling beside them.
The Church of St. Mihovil
The Gothic-styled Church of St. Mihovil was built by the Radasinic brothers in 1463, before it was extended in the latter part of the 18th Century with the addition of a new altar and Baroque facade,
Our Lady of Health Church
Perched on the top of Racic hill and accessed through the old town, Our Lady of Health Church is an excellent vantage point to observe the true beauty of Jelsa and its surroundings. Originally built in 1535, the church has been extended twice, with the west wing and steeple added in 1863. Inside there are 18th Century wooden statues and a 17th century icon in a Renaissance frame. As patron saint of Jelsa and its outlying villages, islanders gather every year on November 21 to celebrate mass in hour of Our Lady of Heath.
Augustinian Monastery and Jelsa Cemetery
Walking along the riva to towards the campsites and Hotel Hvar on the Gradina Peninsula, one comes to the town's cemetery. As with many cemeteries in the region, it is in a stunning location, some of the most prime real estate in the town. But not for sale... The site was an Augustinian Monastery from 1605 to 1787, and a church with bell-tower from 1605 still stands today.
A section of the ancient protective wall of the Civitas Vetus Ielsae (The Ancient City of Jelsa) can also be seen, dividing the peninsula from Mina beach to Bocic. There are two walls: a 172m long one surrounding Jelsa and a second, longer one (800m), which encircles the first. There are visible indents at the base of the wall showing where guards once stood.
The late Niko Dubokovic, head of Hvar's Cultural Heritage Centre, created a lapidary in Jelsa in 1970 in the area by the church-fortress, protective wall and bell-tower, a collection of approximately 20 stone monuments from ancient and Medieval times, including a tombstone of the Roman era, Venetian lion and a stone table which belonged to a knight named Ivan Obradic.
Perivoj – Jelsa's Public Garden
In 1870, the marshy ground was drained and a public park, Perivoj, created, a pleasant splash of greenery on the water next to the municipal building. Poplars, pine and palm trees have been added, and there are two statues in the park, a seated Captain Nikola Dubokovic (1835-1912) and composer Antun Dobronic (1878-1955).
The Tor – Greek Tower
About a one hour hike from Jelsa is what remains of the Greek Tower Tor, dating back to the fourth century BC. Situated 230m above sea level, the hike is worth it for the view alone, with the ancient watchtower offering spectacular views of not only Jelsa, but but also Vrboska and the Split and Makarska coastline. There are unfinished walls and man-made terraces around the tower, suggesting that it was also living quarters.
Galesnik – Medieval Town
Close by is what remains of the Medieval town of Galesnik. Some 210m above sea level, the fortress is twenty metres wide and is surrounded by a wall 80m long, 4m high and 50-60cm thick. The enclosed area is approximately 1,520m2, and the rectangular building, about 40m2, is partially preserved.
Most of the buildings are a leisurely walk from the pjaca and can be inspected at leisure. This is Dalmatia after all, where the main holiday activity tends to be lazing in the sun people watching over a cappuccino or two.