Stari Grad Plain and the historical centre of Stari Grad were inscribed on UNESCO’s List of World Heritage Sites in 2008. The cultural landscape of Stari Grad Plain is an example of a very old traditional landscape, covered with the same crops for 2400 years as well as the best preserved Greek land division in the Mediterranean.
The deep and protected bay, a large fertile plain in the centre of the island and numerous sources of drinking water were always the reason for the settlement of today’s Stari Grad. Greek colonists from the island of Paros founded Pharos in 384 BC. Pharos consisted of the city centre (asti) and its agricultural territory (chora). Its independence and self-sufficiency, the Greek city ideals, were possible thanks to the fertile Stari Grad Plain, Greek Chora Pharou. All of this made Pharos a proper city-state.
The colonists measured the Plain and divided it amongst themselves. They built the entire system of plots, terraces and public roads using dry stone wall technique. The starting point of land division was in the centre of the Plain, near the Dračevica water spring. The Plain was divided into a regular network of plots (striga), measuring 180×900 metres. We know the name of one Greek colonist, Mathios, son of Pytheas, who left his signature on the boundary stone. The main crops were grapes, wheat and olives. To protect their Plain the Greeks formed the defence system on the elevated locations, with the remains of the towers still visible today.
Today, the Greek Pharos is covered with the traces of millennia of life in this area. Numerous finds of coins and pottery, both local and imported, testify to the city that had its own mint, ceramic production and developed trade. The remains of the city walls, streets and houses of the ancient Pharos are visible only in a small part of today’s Stari Grad. The hewn stone blocks from the Greek city walls were used for centuries to build houses, churches and bell towers.
In the Roman period various changes occurred in the Plain. Greek plots were divided into smaller units and a number of villas were erected. The Plain was called the Ager Pharensis. Roman Pharia inherited the Greek Pharos, and Greek houses were adapted to the Roman taste. The remains of mosaics and frescoes which adorned private and public spaces are still preserved today.
The most impressive traces of the Early Christian Pharia are the remains of twin basilica of St John and St Mary, with baptistery and mosaics. The church of St John, with the medieval reconstructions, is still a living part of this complex.
In the early Middle Ages, villages of Dol and Vrbanj were established around the Plain, followed by Vrboska in the late Middle Ages. Many chapels and churches were built in the town and in the Plain. Hvar Statute from the 14th century, a kind of code that governs the life of island communities, lists the ancient paths in the Plain, thus providing evidence of its continuous use as a regulated agricultural area.
During this period, the first island diocese of St Stephen was established in Stari Grad. The Plain is now called Campus Sancti Stephani – St Stephen’s Plain, after the patron saint of the diocese. The ancient names of Pharos and Pharia were slavicised into Huarra. When the island came under the rule of the Venetian Republic, the seat of the Diocese moved to the newly founded town of Hvar. As the Diocese moved so did the name, and the old seat became Stari Hvar (Old Hvar) and later Stari Grad (Old Town).
In the Renaissance the island’s nobility based their countryside residence in Stari Grad. On the outskirts of the ancient city the most noted of noblemen, poet Petar Hektorović, built his Tvrdalj, a unique complex with a pond, dovecot and a garden at the centre. Humanistic thought and the earliest Croatian literature were born on this island. Vineyards in the Stari Grad Plain, belonging to noblemen, brought in enough income that enabled the material and spiritual flourishing of the island.
From the Renaissance onwards, viticulture is the main economy that feeds Stari Grad and the whole island. During the 17th and 18th century, numerous little houses and trims were built, in dry stone technique. The hamlets were formed on the edges of the Plain, inhabited only seasonally, for the purposes of tillage or grazing for the goats and sheep. The surplus of agricultural products, especially wine, encouraged the development of seafaring and trade. A fleet of sailing ships was formed, and captains and ship owners became an influential social class.
The sea vista of today’s Stari Grad came to existence in the 19th century, at the time of the town’s greatest prosperity, with the learned and educated citizens, merchants, sailors and craftsmen fundamentally shaping its new identity.
The beginning of the 20th century saw the onset of a large wave of emigration driven by grapevine disease, the disintegration of sailing ships and wars. The emigration ceased in the second half of the 20th century with the development of tourism – today the island’s main industry along with agriculture and fishery.
Island Hvar is a unique island in the Adriatic. With its richness of heritage, it can truly be called a UNESCO island. Along with the Stari Grad Plain and historical centre of Stari Grad, under the protection of UNESCO are two original Hvar intangible phenomena – the procession Following the Cross and Agave lace made by Benedictine nuns from Hvar town, as well as common heritage of the Mediterranean diet and klapa singing.