History of Stari Grad
Two thousand and four hundred years ago, the Greeks from the island of Paros in the Aegean Sea founded a town they named Pharos (Φάρος). The origins of this name aren’t yet fully known, however it’s possible that it came to be as a consequence of consonant vocal change of their home island’s name
Stari Grad (Pharos) and Aristotle, a famous scientist and one of the creators of the western thought are peers!
Although the people from Paros arrived to find a strong Illyrian community on the island, after a brief battle they established their authority. Pharos became an independent state (polis) which forged its own money, had its own ceramic workshops and abounded in food from the fertile plain – the Hora of Pharos (Xορα Φαρου), today the most preserved Greek plot division system on the Mediterranean. After the Roman conquest in 3rd century BC, Pharos became Pharia, the plain was renamed Ager Pharensis, and a long period of Roman Peace (Pax Romana) followed.
The pavement in the Middle Street hides remains from a Roman urban villa with geometrical mosaics.
After Constantine’s edict on tolerance in 313, early Christian art flourished in a natural symbiosis with ancient culture. In the 6th century, in the rule of Byzantine emperor Justinian, the Christian community of Pharia erected a twin basilica with a baptistery, dedicated to St. Mary and St. John, located in the south-eastern part of the ancient city. The churches were decorated with floor mosaics and the walls with frescoes.
In early Christian art, ancient symbols took on a Christian connotation, so the Greek beam scale (kantaros) represented the source of living water (Christ), the doves drinking from it symbolized the Holy Spirit, the ivy symbolized affection, while the peacock symbolized immortality.
At the beginning of the 8th century the island was penetrated by the Slavs, who took the ancient name for the town and island – Hvar. In the early Middle Ages, the villages of Dol, Vrbanj and Pitve were established on the outskirts of the Plain. During the 12th century the first island noble families was formed, and the Hvar Diocese of St. Stephen founded in 1147. The Plain was then named after the diocese – the St. Stephen’s Plain (Campus Sancti Stephani). After the island fell under the rule of the Venetian Republic, the diocese’s headquarters moved to the newly founded town of Hvar.
The name of Hvar Island comes from the ancient names for today's Stari Grad - Pharos and Pharia. In the Middle Ages, the name was slavicized to Huarra. With the relocation of the diocese, the name also moved and the old seat became Stari Hvar, and then Stari Grad.
This period was marked by the people’s uprising under the leadership of Matija Ivanic in 1510, and the invasions of the Turks from the mainland in 1539 and 1571. In the mid-15th century, the Renaissance nobleman and poet Petar Hektorović began the construction of his holiday house, in which he realized the idea of a microcosm; a small, enclosed world in which all living creatures – fish, birds, plants and humans – have a place to live. Because of the Turkish invasions, the house took on the characteristics of a fort and became the Tvrdalj. The altar of the Hektorović family was located in St. Peter’s church, for which Petar Hektorović commissioned a painting from the greatest Venetian master, Tintoretto.
The first edition of Hektorović’s Fishing and Fisherman’s Talk was published in Venice in 1568.
During the 17th and 18th century, Stari Grad turned more and more to the sea, and its many captains, shipowners and shipbuilders became an influential social class. The old waterfront is widened and shipyards were built. In 1605, work began on the new parish church of St. Stephen which is, along with its bell tower, the most successful architectural endeavour of Dalmatian baroque. On the second inscription above the entrance, the bell tower builders noted that its ground floor was built from stone blocks from the walls of Pharos, and today’s shrine was once the entrance to the Greek city.
During the construction of the church and the bell tower, fragments from two Roman tombstones from the 2nd century were found. The first, the winged Erot, can be found in the southern part of the square, while the relief of a Roman merchant galley is embedded in the first loggia of the bell tower.
In 1813, Hvar Island became part of the Kingdom of Dalmatia within the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. A peaceful century brought true prosperity to Stari Grad. In mid-century, the Stari Grad fleet consisted of over 50 sailing ships, which sailed and traded all over the Mediterranean. Many representative houses were built along the old waterfront, as well as a school, Croatian House, the Biankini palace, and the Don Šime Ljubić palace. Stari Grad continued its expansion, and became a lively port town of crafts and trades, with the Middle street as its lifeblood.
On the island of Lampedusa, in the western Mediterranean, seafarers and fishermen from Stari Grad had a permanent summer colony for 50 years. They taught the islanders of Lampedusa how to fishand conserve pilchard.
The beginning of the 20th century was marked by numerous emigrations due to the decline of grapevines and wars. Nevertheless, in 1927, a public beach was built on the north side of the bay. In the second half of the 20th century a winery was built, along with summer and winter cinemas, as well as new roads and museums.
The Stari Grad of the 21st century is a small tourist town whose main characteristic is its layered history which is, with its many ingredients, embedded into a universal, especially Mediterranean, space.
In the 20th century, Edward VIII, Wallis Simpson, John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy visited Stari Grad.
The historic town centre of Stari Grad and the cultural landscape of the Stari Grad Plain were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2008.