Learn More About European History At This Beautiful Island

In the azure waters of the Adriatic Sea is Hvar, a Croatian island celebrated for its stunning beaches, blue seas, and vibrant nightlife. It's the fourth-largest Croatian island, stretching for 42 miles, and inhabited by just under 12,000 local people. The best time of year to visit Croatia and Hvar is between May and October, though try to avoid peak season in July and August. For tales of ancient Greeks, medieval battles, Renaissance art, and much more, Hvar is a European destination not to be missed. 

The story of Hvar, like many Mediterranean islands, begins with the ancient Greeks. In the fourth century B.C., Greek colonists from the island of Paros in the Aegean Sea founded the city of Pharos, now known as Stari Grad. This settlement, thriving to this day, is one of the oldest in Croatia and a living testament to the island's ancient heritage. The remnants of the original Greek agricultural landscape, known as the Stari Grad Plain, still exist and have been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site — a must-visit.

The Tvrdalj Castle is also located in Stari Grad. This Renaissance castle was the summer residence of the 16th-century poet Petar Hektorović. It features a fishpond, inscriptions, and gardens that reflect the life of a Renaissance nobleman. Not far from the castle, you'll come across Škor Square. Traditional Dalmatian houses surround this picturesque town square — the perfect place to meander about historic architecture and experience a slice of local life.

Hvar Town and its timeless historical attractions

Moving forward in time, the island became a contested jewel in the Adriatic. The Middle Ages saw Hvar in power struggles between Venice, the Byzantine Empire, and local Croatian rulers. The influence of Venice is particularly evident in the architecture of Hvar Town. The ideal starting point here is Hvar Town's Main Square or Pjaca. This is one of the largest and most beautiful squares in Croatia, surrounded by historical buildings like St. Stephen's Cathedral with its elegant bell tower.

Two fortresses define critical moments in Hvar's history. Overlooking Hvar Town, Fortica (Španjola) offers not only a journey into the island's defensive history but also stunning panoramic views. It was constructed in the 16th century during Venetian rule. Moving forward a few hundred years is the Napoleon Fortress, built during the French occupation in the early 19th century.

The Hvar Heritage Museum and the Arsenal, one of Europe's oldest theaters dating back to the 17th century, provide further insights into its past. There are also many religious sites, like the Franciscan Monastery, which houses a collection of artifacts, including a painting of the Last Supper that is over 20 feet wide. The Benedictine Convent is known for its tradition of making agave lace, an art form practiced by the nuns.

Vrboska and Velo Grablje: from a church fortress to the Lavender Festival

The Old Town of Vrboska is another magnificent place on Hvar. Often referred to as "Little Venice," Vrboska has charming stone bridges and houses reflecting its Venetian heritage, with narrow, cobbled streets and a marvelous blend of Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque architecture. The Church Fortress of St. Mary of Mercy offers a curious insight into the town's defensive architecture, fortified in the 16th century to protect the village from persistent Ottoman raids.

The 20th century was no less turbulent, with Hvar witnessing both World Wars and playing a role in Yugoslavia's maritime history. Post-World War II, Hvar emerged as a popular tourist destination, a trend that has only grown over the decades. The Lavender Festival in Velo Grablje, a village with a history of lavender production dating back to the 20th century, is a fragrant journey into the island's agricultural past and present. The festival takes place annually in July and invites visitors to learn about lavender harvest, oil production, and other local crafts.

From the relics of ancient Greece to medieval fortresses and from Renaissance art to the echoes of the 20th century, Hvar encapsulates the richness and diversity of European history within a compelling microcosm. All of this, set against the backdrop of this Croatian island's stunning natural beauty, makes it a fantastic place to explore.