According to the most famous American tourist magazine “Travel + Leisure”, Hvar was included in the top 10 list of most favorable island destinations in the world and was proclaimed the most glamorous Adriatic island. Hvar is a unique combination of rich cultural and historic heritage, Mediterranean nature and modern tourist facilities.
The town of Hvar is the island’s main center. It is situated on the southern, sunny side of island, and can boast of having 140 year old tourist tradition. The beginnings of tourism on the island of Hvar are truly mythical, from Ancient Greek visitors to medieval scientists from Austria and Germany. Back in 1868, the Hygienist Society was founded in Hvar, with the aim of building a contemporary health resort. This marked the beginning of organized tourism on the Mediterranean.
The rich history and culture of the town of Hvar is visible at every step. Make sure to visit Fortica Fortress, the Cathedral of Hvar, the Franciscan monastery, and one of the Europe’s oldest public theaters, established in the year 1612. The town of Hvar offers high quality accommodation in numerous hotels, apartments and villas.
The culinary offer in restaurants and taverns is extensive. Pakleni otoci, a group of islands, is located in front of the town of Hvar. These pearls of beauty of the island of Hvar offer many sunny, secluded coves. The numerous bays and beaches in the vicinity of Hvar, along with vineyards and olive groves will give you a real taste of the Mediterranean. For those interested in culture, the town of Hvar also offers numerous cultural events, shows, exhibitions, concerts, music and folklore events. Numerous cafés, terraces with music, bars and night clubs will provide plenty of fun and entertainment.
Hvar has a rich cultural tradition. Along with independent Dubrovnik, Hvar was an important centre of early Croatian literature, as well as for architecture, sculpture, painting and music. Well-known Croatian cultural figures such as Hanibal Lucić, Petar Hektorović, Vinko Pribojević, Mikša Pelegrinović, Martin Benetović and Marin Gazarović lived and worked on Hvar in the 16th and 17th centuries. The oldest recorded performances were ecclesiastical pageants, such as the Pageant of St. Lovrinac (Laurence) the Martyr, from the 15th century.
In the early 16th century Hanibal Lučić wrote Robinja (The Slave Girl), the first piece of Croatian drama. Benetović’s comedies followed, then the secular and ecclesiastical pageants of Marin Gazarović, and other works. Hvar’s Theatre is one of the oldest in Europe, built in 1612. A lively theatrical tradition continued into the 19th century, especially at carnival time, when musical and theatrical performances were put on and masquerades (or cavalchins) organized. Many national and international actors and musicians have performed here over the years, and continue to do so.
Cultural and artistic events within the Hvar Summer Festival take place throughout the summer, from late June to late September. These events include classical music concerts performed by national and international artists, and performances by amateur groups from Hvar. Performances are given nearly every day in a number of venues around the town. The Gallery of Modern Art in Hvar is located in the Arsenal building, in the lobby of the historic Theatre of Hvar. The permanent display contains the most valuable paintings, sculptures and prints from the collection, and temporary exhibitions are organised within the Museum project Summer of Fine Arts in Hvar. Other galleries, such as Lođa, Zvijezda Mora, Anuncijata, and Skorpion also host special exhibitions, and museums offer archaeological and historical displays.
The Hvar branch of the Croatian Institute has regularly organised cultural and artistic events, classical music concerts, exhibitions (Hvar Visual Arts Moment) and lectures by well-known Croatian artists and scientists. These events usually take place in the last week of July.
Hvar town is a protected Cultural Heritage area, as are the rural areas of Velo Grablje, Malo Grablje and Zaraće. In addition, there are five archaeological sites in the area: the hydro archaeological site of Palmižana, villa rustica Soline, the prehistoric site of Vira, and the prehistoric Lompić fort in the Gračišće Bay.
A street in Hvar leading up to the Spanjolo Fortress Hvar Town is encircled on its land-side by protective walls, and overlooked by two massive fortresses set on the hills above. The fortifications were commissioned by the Venetians in 1278, to create a safe haven for their leet, and have been expanded in the centuries since. Within the walls, the public buildings and palaces combine Venetian architectural style, with a distinct local flavour in materials and workmanship. Much of the old town survives intact, in both layout and architecture, though more modern housing has developed in the surrounding areas.
The town walls date from the 13th century and, with later additions and renovations, stretch from the fortress down to the square where they join the third wall in an east-west direction. This wall is practically camouflaged by a series of patrician houses built into it. The walls are interspersed with four-cornered side towers, the construction of which lasted, with essential repairs, from the 13th to the 16th century. The current fortress Fortica, also known as Tvrđava Španjola (Spanish Fort) was constructed following the gunpowder explosion in 1579 which devastated the old fortress. Today, the fortress includes a modern tourist complex, and provides a superb view of the town and its surroundings. In 1811, during the rule of the Napoleonic Empire, a second fortress Trđava Napoleon was constructed on the higher hill to the northeast. The site now also houses an observatory.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral and bell tower mark the eastern end of the Pjaca At the heart of the town lies the Pjaca (Piazza), leading from the waterfront to the Cathedral. This town square is the largest in Dalmatia at 4,500 m2 (48,437.60 sq ft), and was fully paved in 1780 when this section of the original bay was filled in. Buildings around the Pjaca are 15th to 17th century, including the Bishop’s Palace, the Arsenal, the Governor’s Palace and other public buildings. The city well in the middle of the square, dates from 1520.
The Arsenal building faces the waterfront on the south-west corner of the Pjaca. In its present form, the building dates from the reconstruction of the earlier 13th century warehouse in 1579-1611. Beside the Arsenal is the arched façade of the Fontik, a communal store for cereals and salt. In 1612, Hvar Theatre was built on the first floor of the Arsenal, with entry from the Belvedere terrace above Fontik. The present day interior – the stage and auditorium with boxes – dates from a major renovation in 1803, when the Theatre Association was founded. Two historical set designs from the 19th century have been preserved and can be seen on the back wall of the stage. The Arsenal building is currently under renovation (as of 2009)
The Cathedral of Sv. Stjepan (St. Stephen) and the Bishop’s Palace mark the eastern end of the Pjaca. This was the site of an earlier church and medieval Benedictine monastery, which became a Cathedral when the Bishopric of Hvar was moved from Stari Grad in the 13th century. The present Cathedral was built in stages during the 16th and 17th centuries, while the interior was not completed until the 18th century. It has a Renaissance-baroque style, and a façade with three-cornered gable and a Renaissance Bell Tower in Romanesque style from the 16th century. The sanctuary of the nave is the nave of the former Gothic church: the two pulpits, the stone polyptich with “The altar of the Apostles”, and relieves “The Scourging of Christ” and the “Annunciation”, from the workshop of Juraj Dalmatinac in the 15th century. There are eleven baroque altars, created by Venetian artists.
On the northern side of the Pjaca are many renaissance buildings, such as the Paladini Palace, and the unfinished Hektorovic Palace (Gothic, 15th century).
The Loggia and Clock Tower
The town Loza (Loggia) lies at the western end of the Pjaca, looking out on to the bay. Together with Leroj (Clock Tower), the Loggia is the only remains of the former Governor’s Palace. The Communal Loggia (loggia communis) was first mentioned as early as in the 13th century and referred to again in the Statute of Hvar in 1331. The only remains of the Governor’s Palace are two reliefs of the Venetian lion, a large well and a lintel from the Palace chapel dating from 1612. The new Loggia, one of the most beautiful Late Renaissance buildings in Dalmatia, was the work of the master Tripun Bokanić in the 16th century. Today, the interior of the loggia is decorated in a neo-Renaissance style and serves as a reception hall and exhibition room not only for the Hotel Palace, but also for the town of Hvar.
A small enclosed marina Mandrać lies at the west side of the Pjaca, and is mentioned for the first time in 1459. In 1795 the Venetian District Governor Marco Dandalo finished the building of Mandrac by putting Baroque pyramids on the walls around it. The stone paved quay, called Fabrika, is one of the oldest in Europe, dating from 1554.
On the cape to the south of the town lies the Franciscan Monastery with a church of Our Lady of Mercy, built in the late 15th century. Hanibal Lucić’s grave is under the main altar in the church. The cloister, with its monumental rounded arches with a well in the middle, dominates the whole of the Renaissance monastery. The bell tower, in Renaissance style, is the work of an artist from Korčula.
Ljetnikovac Hanibal Lucića (Hanibal Lucić’s Summer Residence) lies in the fields outside the town walls, to the east. Built in 1530, it is a fine example of a Renaissance country house with enclosed garden and outbuilding. Currently a museum.