History of Jelsa

Settlements on the central part of the island

Vrbanj, the largest village on the island. It dominates the larger part of the Stari Grad plain. Matija Ivanić was born there, leader of the people's revolution in 1510 to 1514. Oldest monument is the so-called King's Court (Krojevi dvori), early medieval building assumed to have been the seat of the precommunal duke. It was given that name since according to a legend it is connected to the leader of the people's revolution Ivanić. Parish church of St. Spirit (Sv. Duh) was built in the 18th century in place of the old one. The main altar holds an altar pala called ''Coming of the Holy Ghost'' by Baldassar d'Anna. The road going north leads to the adjacent bay of Basina, which is their way to the sea.

Above the village, on the hill of St. Nicholas, which is the highest peak of the island (626m) we find the church of St. Nicholas built by Matija Ivanić by the end of the 15th century.

Second larger village is Svirče, founded as an offset of Vrbanj. It consists of three smaller architectural compounds: the oldest part of the village, the houses Carić, mutually connected with small bridges and the Šimunić house complex. A spatious parish church of St. Magdalene is found in the base of the village, built in the 20th century in place of the old 18th century one, from which a bell-tower is preserved, and the old cemetery.

Dol village is only 6km away from Stari Grad. It consists of two compounds: Dol of St. Barbara, named after the baroque church mentioned as early as the 13th century and Dol of St. Mary dominated by the church of St. Peter. It has an art deco altar by Ivan Rendić.

Together with Dol the village of Pitve is the oldest settlement on the island, resting on the entry to Vratnik. This old settlement has preserved its continuity of existence from the Illyric times due to its location next to a cliff and defensive characteristics. The latest settlement from the 15th century held the name Ostrvica. The church od St. Jacob is located between these settlements, and it dates back to the 15th century. In front of it we find the head of the ancient god Janus with two faces, as a symbol of protection (Janus – god of doorways, entries and exits).

In the former school building the present Hvar heritage museum has set up two exhibitions, which are now unfortunately closed. Wine growing collection illustrated the rich grape growing tradition of the island with numerous etnographic objects and the collection of NOB.

Vrisnik is a picturesque little settlement which obtained its name from savory plants. Besides the parish church of St. Antun Opat, approached through a walkway of cypress trees, there are two other churches in Vrisnik: church of St. Roko and St. Doroteja.

All these settlements along the fertile Stari Grad plain are agriculture oriented. They form considerable heritage of the island architecture, rustic stone house complexes, often covered with stone slabs.

Vrboska is the most attractive place on the island. Due to its position alongside a long and narrow sea trunnion, on several places crossed by picturesque bridges, it has a apecial appeal. It is surrounded by a ring of pine forest through which you can have a light half hour walk to Jelsa.

The settlement, same as the port of the village Vrbanj, developed in the 15th century, into a fishing settlement with a long tradition of fish curing. That is exactly the reason why the Fishing museum is located here illustrating the rich fishing history of the village and the island. The building of a former sardine factory is a protected landmark of industrial architecture.

Some of the most valuable monuments on the island are found in the area of this small settlement. The church-fort, fortified church of St. Mary from the 16th century is the most beautiful monument of its kind in Croatia. The parish church of St. Lovrinac from the 15th century, is preserved until today in its baroque form of the 17th century. It keeps some of the most valuable paintings on the island. The main altar by Ivan Rendić contains a well known poliptih of St. Lovrinac, work of the great Veronese. Side altars holds ''Our Lady with medallions'' by Jacopo Bassano and three paintings by Celestin Medović. Nearby we can see a small icon from the 16th century. The sacristy keeps a silver cross by Tiziano Aspetti from the 17th century, church attire and lace.

The church-fort also owns the paintings:'' The birth of Madonna'' by Antonio Sciuri from the 17th century, ''The Lady of Carmel'' by Stefano Celesti from the 17th century, ''Mourning'' by Giuseppe Alabardi and ''Lady of Carmel'' by Marko Rašica.

Small church of St. Peter is among the oldest on the island, mentioned already in the Hvar Statute from 1331. It contains a statue of St. Peter attributed to Nikola Fiorentinac.

Jelsa is located on the coast in the center of the northern part of the island. It is the only place on the island with its own source of drinking water making the vegetation more abundant. At first glance Jelsa in its architectural form is a newer settlement with 19th century characteristics. However, the settlement as well as the surrounding area shows signs of life since the prehistoric period, from ancient to medieval material traces of habitation. Jelsa has developed in the Medieval period as a port of the village Pitve which is mentioned in the Statute of 1331 as ''Fons vocata Jelsa'' or ''Portus de Pitue''. The old Jelsa town – Civitas vetus Jelsae relates to the ruins of a medieval fort on the Gradina peninsula. An Augustinian monastery was built on this peninsula, all that remains today is a small church. Later, the cemetery was formed alongside it.

Parish church of St. Fabijan and Sebastijan is mentioned in the Hvar Statute as the church of St. Mary. In 1535, due to possible Turk attacks it was fortified. Therefore, even today it looks like a church-fort. The settlement continued to develop around the church. Baroque church of St. Ivan, on a small picturesque square near the coast is the most important monument of Jelsa. It was made in the 15th century, restored in baroque style in the 16th. At the entrance to the village we find a small church of St. Roko dating to the 16th century. Alongside the church there is a baroque house Obradić-Machiedo.

The most rustic is the church of St. Mihovil from the 15th century built in gothic style. On top of the southern hill there is a church of Our Lady from 1535. Central part of the settlement is adorned by a classical building of the Municipality and the Town Hall. Alongside it we find an abundant town park with the statue of Niko Duboković – captain knight, a distinguished citizen of Jelsa, responsible for the contemporary development of Jelsa. It is the work of a Croatian sculptor Ivan Rendić. The house of this family is situated in the are of Mala Banda. It holds valuable furniture, rich library and the family archives as well as a collection of old paintings.

Modern development of Jelsa is marked by development of commerce in the 19th century. During the Croatian national revival in 1868 first library on the Croatian islands was founded in Jelsa. Today alongside fishing and agriculture, mostly for personal needs, the economy is primarily based on tourism. Museum of Jelsa Municipality has been opened in the house of Juraj Dobrović, a contemporary academic sculptor, on the square of St. John (Ivan), which the sculptor donated to the municipality along with a collection of 257 items, also 50 graphics, paintings and reliefs. This facility also includes the Memorial collection of a composer native to Jelsa Antun Dobronić, and a collection of African culture ''Božidar Anzulović'', donated by a Croatian humanitarian doctor Katarina Carić.

Settlements of the central part of the island, Jelsa, Vrbanj, Svirče, Vrisnik, Pitve, Dol and Vrboska are connected by a procession ''The Way of the Cross'' conducted once a year in the night of Maundy Thursday to Friday. Procession is not run by priests, but brotherhoods. Every village has its own procession led by the cross bearer. To bear the cross is a great honour which many have to wait for since their childhood. All processions leave at the same time and while visiting the ''God's tomb'' they never meet. Procession is accompanied by prayers, and in every village different singing of the Passion. This part of the island heritage, which continually lasts for 400 years is listed on UNESCO's list of intangible heritage.

On a plateau not far from Jelsa there is a cave, Grapčeva Cave, which alongside the Cave of Mark near Hvar and Cave of Badonj in Pokrvenik, witnesses of the inhabitants on the island over 6000 years ago. A man of developed neolithic culture lived in the Grapčeva cave. In it, on a ceramic bowl the oldest European drawing of a boat was found. Inhabitants of this region crafted coloured ceramics, decorated by engravings – the so-called Hvar culture, which manifests on a much broader area than just the island of Hvar. Cave is reached from Jelsa going through Humac from which there is a narrow hill path leading towards the southern slopes of the island, above the settlement of Gromin Dolac. Humac was a seasonal shepards' settlement of the village Vrisnik built in the 18th century. It is the best preserved rural compound on the island, characterized by interesting complexes of stone houses covered with stone slabs. A picturesque restaurant Franičević can be visited on Humac where it is possible to sample best island lamb.

Leaving Jelsa, going east, we enter an area called Plame. In the medieval period this was exclusively shepards' area, so the settlements even today exhibit rustic complexes of courts and houses. Plame is an area since the 15th century inhabited by so called new inhabitants coming to the island fleeing from the Turks. Although they fused with the natives, there are even today dialectal differences from this part of the island and the one to the west, ending in Bogomolje. The few inhabitants of Poljica, Zastražišće, Gdinj and Bogomolje today grow grapes, figs and olives. They make the highest quality dry figs on the island. Most of them migrated to Jelsa, Stari Grad and Hvar. These settlements are really picturesque and have great potential for developing rural tourism. An offer should be devised and return people to this part of the island. Every settlement has adjacent bays with houses near the sea. The cove of Pokrvenik, belonging to Gdinj, where the prehistoric cave of Badanj is located is one of the most beautiful on the island.

Sućuraj is a coastal settlement on the eastern cape of the island, facing mainland. Distance between Sućuraj and Drvenik on land is merely 6 km. Therefore, Sućuraj even being administratively bound to the island is mostly directed towards the main land towns such as Makarska. Due to its strategic and transportational position Sućuraj has a cultural continuity since Illyirian times. The Hvar Statute of 1331 the church of St. Juraj in the place of present Sućuraj, which gave the village its name. The newer settlement was founded due to the monastery started by Franciscan monks from Zaostrog in the 16th century. Monastery was rebuilt in the 17th century, and a fraction of it is preserved until today. A small baroque church of St. Ante (Anthony) was built by the Zaostrog Franciscan monks in 1665. Parish church of St. Juraj is of a later date, even though it was built in place of the before mentioned old church. There are remnants of an old Venetian fort on the cape north of the harbour. The small settlement in its oldest part has a few picturesque houses built with regards to the ones from the river Neretva, who started inhabiting the island in the 7th and 8th century. Sućuraj has always been focused at fishing and fish processing. Today that is one of the things the mainland and the village have in common. Its inhabitants work in agriculture and fishing, while tourism still hasn't developed as much as it could.

Senior curator of the Hvar heritage museum
Mirjana Kolumbić, prof.