A brief history of Stari Grad


Stari Grad is a picturesque town situated at the base of a 6 km long sea trunnion. It is the oldest settlement on the island, founded by the Greek colonization of the island in the year 385/4 BC. In times of gradual Greek colonization of the east coast of the Adriatic, Greeks from the island Paros in the Aegean sea, in the 4th century BC, inhabited the central part of the island, on a plain laster called the field of St. Stephen. Hence the Greek polis Pharos was founded on the eastern part of the Stari Grad field in the year 99 of the Greek Olympics, while the native Illyiric population was supressed towards the mountains and the highland of the island. The Greek settlement included the fortified town and the parcelized field (Chora Pharou) with about a thousand inhabitants. Chora Pharou – Ager Pharensis – fertile fields parcelized by dry walls in over 70 rectangular plots, is one of the best preserved ancient parcelizations on the Mediterranean, which is why it was placed on the UNESCO list of world heritage.

Faros was organized as an independant polis-town-state, a democratic community of relatively equal social status, which mostly worked in agriculture and commerce. The town forged its own money. Faros territory was protected by massive town walls, fragments of which still exist around the church of St. John and the Dominician monastery, as well as two forts. One of them is Tor above Jelsa, and the other one is situated on Maslinovik on the northern side of Ager. The so-called psefism of Faros (a fragmented writing in stone from the 3rd century BC) is a witness to the organized configuration of the town.

After two Illyiric wars and the defeat of Demetrius of Faros by the Roman army, the Greek Faros becomes the Roman Faria. Roman colonization created the so-called pax romanae, a long lasting peace that didn't change the town shape or its way of life.

Stari Grad as the center of pre communal administration remained the most important place on the island even in the Medieval times. Especially because it was the center of church administration as well. The diocese was founded in the middle of the 12th century with bishop's seat being exactly there.

After the island stari-grad in 1278, following the decision of People's assembly, free willingly went under Venetian authority, a new island center is formed in place of the present day town stari-grad. Former center becomes Civitas Vetus – Stari Grad, while stari-grad – Civitas Nova becomes the center of the stari-grad commune.

Cultural monuments, landmarks, museums

The urban matrix of the town was formed along the long and shallow bay closed by the peninsula Kabal. The town was founded north of the Greek Faros, and east along the sea shore. Most buildings in the old town center were built in the 16th and 17th century with renaissance-baroque characteristics, although many buildings exhibit traits of the Romanesque period and gothics. Due to the development of ship building 19th century has also left its mark on the architecture of town, especially noticeable on the town hall along the sea.

Paralel to the coast, enclosed within a series of historical houses, we find the most picturesque square in Stari Grad – Škor.

Along the coast we find a monumental renaissance castle of a prominent Stari Grad aristocrat and poet Petar Hektorović. He, together with Hanibal Lucić, Vinko Pribojević, Marin Gazarović and other renaissance writers and poets marked its era not only by a first Eclogae – fishermen's tale ''Fishing and Fishermen's talk'' but also by his castle on Tvrdalj. As we read from the Latin writing above the Tvrdalj gate Hektorović made this castle for himself and for entertaining friends. Still, as a real renaissance man, he built a fortified castle to protect himself and the locals in the unsafe 16th century from the Turks. The castle has a luxurious park with Mediterranean and exotic plants which he collected with great passion, three water sources, and a fish pond inside the arc covered 'portik'. He decorated the castle with numerous Latin and Croatian writings that reveal his philosophical mind. The Croatian writings are among the first writings in our language. Maybe the most significant one stands above the door to the WC, and having a WC in the 16th century was a progressive idea, ''If you know what you are human, why the insulence''.

A small etnographic exhibition is placed near the pond.

Along the back entrance to Tvrdalj, on the way to the Dominician monastery, we find the church of St. Roko. A Roman bath house used to be in front of this church as seen on the Latin sign on the bell-tower. The parish church of St. Stjepan was built in the early 17th century in place of the previous church with the same name. It keeps the Titular of St. Stjepan, a Pope and a martyr, same as the cathedral in Stari Grad. Placed on a small square, with its baroque facade with a semicircular gable makes a harmonious union with the opposing bell-tower. The church has a beautiful wooden choir and the baptistery from the old church. The most valuable work of art in this church is a tryptich by Francesco de Santacroce.

The bell-tower was built in the 18th century in a place that was once the entrance to the ancient town. It was partly made from stone that was in former town walls, as seen on the Latin writing on the door to the bell-tower. The ground floor has a built in relief of an ancient barge.

Along the church there is a stone relief of Eros with a turned torch. It is one of the rare remains from the ancient polis sculptures. The most significant monument of Stari Grad and the oldest sacral center of the island stari-grad is an early Christian church of St. John, remnant of the former church of St. Mary from the 6th/7th century BC. Modern archaeological research have discovered exceptionally valuable floor mosaics, the most beautiful of which is the one portraying doves drinking out of a kantharos. This is a rare mosaic displaying figurative motifs along with floral. High quality wall paintings were also found. An old christian immersion baptistry in the shape of a cross was dug out near the church. On the way to the town cemetary we find the church of St. Nicholas, the center of a sailors' brotherhood which therefore has characteristics of a votive church.

The Dominician monastery and the church of St. Peter were built in the 15th century. In the 16th it was fortified by corner forts and a bell-tower. The present day church was built in place of the old one in the 19th century. Petar Hektorović, the poet, built an altar there. It holds a Tintoretto painting ''Placing in the tomb''. The legend says the old man in the base of the painting represents the poet himself and the girl is his daughter Lukrecija. The poet was laid to rest in front of the main altar of the old church.The church and the monastery hold valuable works by old masters, documents and books. Two canvases of Palma Mlađi are kept here and one by Baldassaro d'Anna. The main altar holds a wooden crucifix from 1703, which together with the exceptional crucifix by Giacomo Piazzeto is among the most valuable crucifixes in Dalmatia. The monastery has a collection of archaeological objects. It displays the oldest writings in stone in Croatia, which speak of the existence of oldest town settlements in our area.

The mausoleum of Šime Ljubić (1822 – 1896), one of the most important citizens of Stari Grad, is situated on the western side of the settlement. Ljubić was among founders of Jugoslavian, today Croatian academy of arts and science. He dealt with archaeology, numismatics, literary historiography and archivistics. Among other othings, he published, for historians very important collections of documents: Listine, and three volumes of Commissiones et relationes Venete.

Mauzolej Šime Ljubića (1822. - 1896.), jednog od najznačajnijih stari-gradana, rođenog u Starom Gradu, nalazi se na zapadnoj strani naselja. Ljubić je bio među utemeljiteljima Jugoslavenske, danas Hrvatske akademije znanosti i umjetnosti. Bavio se arheologijom, numizmatikom, književnom historiografijom i arhivistikom. Uz ostalo, izdao je za povjesničare veoma vrijedne zbirke dokumenata: Listine i tri sveska Commissiones et relationes Venete.


Given its position in the most fertile plain on the island, Stari Grad, since it was founded based its economy on agriculture (grapes, olives, figs), fishing and commerce. Today these activities are reduced to basic needs of the population while tourism is the main branch of economy since the middle part of the last century. Tourism has had a profound influence on town appearance and urban planning as well as the surrounding settlements. Stari Grad is the center of traffic between the island and mainland.

Senior curator of Stari Grad heritage museum
Mirjana Kolumbić, prof.