Secret Hvar


Hvar- Faros-Fortica -Luka




Velo Grablje-Sv. Nedjelja-Dubovica




Saint Nicholas-Hora-Šćedro


Secret Hvar

Thanks to its position in the middle of ancient maritime routes history has left many traces on Hvar through the ages. From the very beginnings of civilization Hvar has been a refuge and inspiration to many cultures witnessed by early neolithic buildings and remains of ceramics and tools originating from the period between the 6th and 1st millenia BC, remains of a Helenistic civilization in the ancient Faros founded in 384/383 BC, remains of a Roman culture, remains from the Middle Ages, renaissance and baroque heritage of the island which speaks of its wealth and cultural and artistic progress of the island. After a few centuries of stagnation Hvar was back in the spotlight in the XIX. century, offering its cultural and historical heritage as a major attraction in the ever growing branch of economy – tourism.

Before it became the main Venetian harbour on the eastern coast of the Adriatic, Hvar attracted seafarers due to the position of its harbour and the safety it offered ships passing by. After major discoveries and a shift of the main trade routes towards the west and the newly discovered countries, the Republic of Venice, master of the Adriatic, started losing its strength as well its power among the trade super powers of the era. Hvar, as one of the most important Venetian harbours suffered the fate of its master.

Today, centuries later, Hvar has regained an important position as one of the prominent Adriatic harbours. However, Hvar is no longer frequented by trade ships full of exotic spices from the east or 'trabakuls' (type of ship) of traders from Southern Italian region of Puglia. Today, Hvar harbour is the favourite destination of world jet setters and weekend captains who dock with their yachts here trying to catch up with the latest trends. The numerous fleet is overlooked from the top of the town by a fort called Fortica. From there, town walls come hurling down along the slopes of the hill as if hugging the old part of town, protecting the palaces of nobles from invasions of different conquerors. Today, those conquerors are the hedonists enjoying the gastronomical delicacies prepared in those same palaces which are today home to some of the finest Hvar restaurants.

Only about 10 minutes away by car from the town we have one completely different Hvar. Hidden and humble, ready to reveal its secrets to an occasional visitor or adventure seeker who is in search of new thrills and knowledge. Hvar covered in abundant Mediterranean vegetation, intoxicating vineyards of plavac, refreshing olive trees, relaxing fields of lavander, endless dry walls covering the island like a cob web. Hvar hidden from the conquerors of the new era who seek only good entertainment and simulated excitement.

The ones seeking exploration manage to awaken abandoned villages such as Malo Grablje hidden in a canyon once traversed by Via communis, a communal path connecting the ancient settlement in place of modern Hvar with the Greek Pharos, later named Pharia by Romans. The village which is today abandoned had 180 inhabitants a hundred years ago. By the end of the 19th century due to good production of wine and pyrethrum (Tanacetum cinerariaefolium) the village prospered. Ten 2-storey houses and the church of St. Tudor from 1881 were built in those 20 years. Today the church is open only twice a year, on the first Sunday in May and the first Sunday in October. The community hall and a library were built under the church. Ruins of the library even today witness to the former prosperity of this abandoned village. A bit further along, in a house which once kept wine making equipment, an olive mill was placed, even today sometimes spun by curious visitors. The village was deserted after the Second World War and the inhabitants moved to nearby Milna, the youngest settlement on the island. The last inhabitant left the village in April of 1968. He rode to Hvar on his mule with a goat tied to the saddle.

Only two kilometers uphill is the village of Velo Grablje founded in the 15th century. After phylloxera destroyed the vineyards many inhabitants of Velo Grablje as well other towns and villages went in search of a better life in America and Australia. The ones who stayed in the villages started producing essential oils from rosemary and lavander. A Rosemary Cooperative was founded as early as 1892, the first of its kind in Croatia and generally the first cooperative on the islands. After ten years of its existence the Rosemary Cooperative acquired modern cauldrons for rosemary destillation so 1902 is considered the begining of essential oil production in Croatia. Even though there is about 60 people in church every Sunday, Velo Grablje has only five permanent residents. The area around Velo Grablje was inhabited from the prehistoric period witnessed by archaeological findings from the neolithic era in Babina Cave and tumulus from the Iron and Bronze Age.

Not far from Velo Grablje, at the altitude of about 400 meters there a beautiful view of Stari Grad, the oldest town in Croatia. Founded in 384/3 BC by the ancient Greeks from the island of Paros who gave the town and the island its name - Pharos. In the first months of Greek colonization Stari Grad bay was the scene of a first maritime battle on the Adriatic. In this battle the superior Greek fleet defeated small Illyric ships. Pharos was an agricultural colony behind which there is the most fertile and largest field on the Adriatic islands. This field, which preserved its parcelization from times under Greeks is protected by UNESCO since 2008 as the best preserved field with the ancient Greek parcelization in the Mediterranean. Pharos was destroyed by Romans in 219 BC leaving nothing but ruins of the town walls visible even today. West of the ruins of the Greek Pharos the Romans built their colony Pharia.

On the way to St. Nikola, highest peak of the island, before entering a dirt road you pass near a limestone house built in 1914. It is impossible not to pause and reflect when passing near the terrace fields which were once vineyards. Endless piles of stone and dry walls are the work of hard working Hvar farmers removing the stones from the scanty soil to get at least a small piece of fertile land which would enable them to survive in these harsh conditions. Forests and bushes covering these hills burned down in a fire from a few years ago revealing dry walls built for thousands of years.

The path, surounded by rosemary, sage, heather, lavander and other Mediterranean herbs leads to St. Nikola, the highest peak of the island. Under St. Nikola we find Sveta Nedjelja (in the island dialect called Sveta Nedija), a small village famous for the best red wine – plavac, whose grapes mature on the steep southern slopes under the highest peak of the island. The view from the top shows nearby islands: Korčula – known for Marco Polo, a famous world traveller born in the town of Korčula, Vis – ancient Issa, its position in the middle of the Adriatic destined it to be a maritime base, Brač – island of the white stone that was used to build the Washington White House and of course Paklinski (Resin) islands in front of the Hvar harbour. Right under the southern slopes there is the small island of Šćedro where two Roman fleets clashed in 47 BC, in the midst of the Roman civil war. St. Nikola provides an excellent view of the Greek Hora, a field protected by UNESCO. On the east border of Hora we find Vrboska, a small fishing settlement founded in the 15th century by the fishermen from the nearby village of Vrbanj, hence the name of the settlement. Because of the channels coming deep into the shore and several small bridges connecting the coast Vrboska is known as Little Venice.

After wandering around the hidden places of the island of Hvar it is best to seek refreshment in the abandoned village of Humac hidden at the altitude of 350 meters above sea level. This former shephards' settlement founded in the 17th century is extremely well preserved and by the way houses were built it belongs to unique rural architecture and is considered an ethnographic monument. The church of St. John and St. Paul from 1897 is overlooking the village, now opened only once a year, on June 26, when the inhabitants of Vrisnik, village in the central part of the island, gather in this place to celebrate the Saints as protectors of this abandoned settlement. The only thing disturbing the idyllic athmosphere of Humac during the summer months are crickets.

For OH, text & photo: Siniša Matković - Mikulčić

Secret Hvar DMC