Tourism in Croatia: The Stone Heritage of Hvar Town
Famed for its nightlife, sailing and celebrity image, Hvar Town has something for everyone. An overview of the main architectural sights in the town.
Blessed with pristine waters, a throbbing nightlife and spectacular views of the Pakleni Islands, Hvar Town is justifiably one of Croatia's main tourist destinations. Not content with these attractions, the town boasts a rich history and stunning architecture. Here is a quick overview of the main sights away from the beach.
Tvrdava Španjola - Spanish Fortress
Towering above all the revelling and the mega-yachts is the Spanish Fortress, built in the early 16th century, and offering spectacular views of the town and islands below. The fortress is not the original, and the 13th century city walls, constructed soon after the islanders requested Venetian protection in 1278, predate it by almost 200 years.
Hvar was destroyed by the Turkish Fleet in 1571 and only the fortress saved the local population, but a freak lightning strike on the gunpowder stores caused further devastation, and many of the town's buildings can be traced to this period of reconstruction. The fortress can be accessed by car for visitors to Hvar Town and it is then a pleasant stroll down to the town.
St. Stephen's Cathedral and the Main Square
The central point of Hvar Town is the pjaca, or main square which, at 4,500m2, is the largest square in Dalmatia. Originally part of the bay, the land was filled in and fully paved in 1780; the fountain in the square dates back to 1520. In summer, the square is extremely busy, with all cafes and restaurants overflowing, but there is a much more tranquil feel after the season, as locals relax over a coffee.
At the far end of the pjaca is St. Stephen's Cathedral, which was finished in the 18th Century, with construction of the current building starting in the 16th century. The first church on the site was built in the 6th century and was granted cathedral status in the 13th century when Hvar Town assumed the Bishopric from Stari Grad. The intermittent construction period gave rise to different architectural styles, and there are elements of Gothic, Romanesque and Renaissance. Inside there are eleven Baroque altars made by artists from Venice.
The Arsenal and Clues to an Earlier Civilisation
Guarding the right-hand entrance to the pjaca is the impressive Arsenal building, with its 10m spanned archway. Built between 1579 and 1611 to house war galleys, the Arsenal is an imposing building on the waterfront and underwent renovation in 2009. It was also used as a storage facility for items such as cereal and salt. Coins were found in 1835 bearing the nameHeraklea, leading to speculation that the ancient Greek settlement of the same name may have been located in Hvar.
The Oldest Municipal Theatre in Europe
On the first floor of the arsenal is a delightful sight that tourists sometimes miss - the oldest municipal theatre in Europe. Built in 1612, the theatre will celebrate its 400th anniversary next year, and the current interior was renovated in 1803. It owes its existence to the then Prince of Hvar Pietro Semitecolo, who was inspired by the Italian theatre at the time and arranged for the construction with money from the commune of Hvar.
Franciscan Monastery and Benedictine Convent
Walking along the riva past Carpe Diem, the Franciscan Monastery comes into view. Built in 1465, it was jointly financed by the nobles of Hvar and sea commanders as testament to their gratitude for many lives saved at sea near Hvar. The local contribution included 1000 gold coins from Antun Lucic, and his son, the famous poet Hanibal Lucic is buried under the main altar.
Hanibal Lucic also had a part to play in the Benedictine Convent on Hvar, which has played an important role in the town since nuns first arrived in 1664. The house in which Lucic was born in 1485 was donated to the nuns by his descendants, and so started an important chapter in education in the town, as the nuns operated the first school in Hvar, from 1826 to 1866. They are still active today and, among other duties, produce some of the finestsouvenirs from Hvar, in the form of intricate lace made from agave.
All the main sights in Hvar Town are within easy walking distance of the main square, and there is ample to take in a cultural tour before taking in another incredible sunset over anevening drink.