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Hvar: Past and Present

Updated: Sep 11, 2023

In the heart of the Adriatic lies a sun-kissed jewel that has captured the attention of the world's rich and famous. Hvar, the Croatian island where Prince Harry famously sculpted his royal playboy reputation, is a destination that transcends mere opulence. Adorned with Venetian architecture and a stunning Mediterranean coastline, it is a nocturnal haven with fabulous open-air clubs, luxurious super yachts, and nude beaches. As the sunniest spot in Croatia, Hvar has emerged as an emblem of European elegance that offers travelers an opportunity to party all night long. Yet, while this reputation is warranted, it fails to capture all of that the island of Hvar has to offer.

The heartbeat of Hvar's opulent tourism pulses within Hvar Town. Yet on the opposite side of the island, in a tranquil corner on the North Coast, lies an ancient treasure - the oldest town in Croatia and one of Europe's most ancient settlements. This is the place my grandmother left for California in 1968, the seaside town of Stari Grad. Translated as "old town," Stari Grad cradles the legacy of ages past. One of the picturesque towns often depicted in photos of old Europe, its story began 5000 years ago with Neolithic tribes before being officially founded by ancient Greeks from Paros. Anchored at the mouth of a sheltered bay and surrounded by the fertile Starigard Plain (now a UNESCO World Heritage Site), its strategic location drew settlers like a magnet for centuries.

Long before Hvar graced magazine covers and even before Croatia's nationhood, my grandmother's childhood unfolded on the island. In a time when organized tourism was but an emerging concept, Yugoslavia's presence constrained modern-day Croatia with economic limitations and mass emigration. Amidst Hvar's breathtaking beauty, opportunities remained scarce without the tourism industry that thrives there today. The pursuit of a better life propelled many, like my grandmother, to leave the island that millions now flock to.

As the grip of Yugoslavia weakened and Croatia claimed sovereignty, Hvar underwent a remarkable shift into a chic tourist hub. The island's strategic investment in tourism became a catalyst for economic growth and opportunity, specifically in Hvar Town. This transition was solidified in 1997 when Condé Nast Traveler magazine listed Hvar among the ten most beautiful islands in the world. Today, it draws around 20,000 daily visitors in high season. Yet, amidst all this fame, the serene town of Stari Grad remains somewhat overlooked. As Hvar Town experienced substantial growth and change, Stari Grad has remained largely unaffected by the march of time.

Stari Grad Riva

Much older than its stylish and hedonistic counterpart, Hvar Town, Stari Grad offers a tranquil and culturally rich experience. Its cobblestone paths, peaceful alleys, and quiet squares murmur tales of antiquity. Ongoing archaeological discoveries underline Stari Grad's history like a Roman mosaic recently unearthed in its streets. Life on this part of the island is slow, inviting visitors to embrace the culturally vibrant legacy that spans centuries.

Though it rests in the shadow of its cosmopolitan counterpart, Stari Grad exudes its own quiet majesty. Thus Hvar's allure weaves a tapestry with two distinct threads – Hvar Town and Stari Grad. The former, a pulsating epicenter of nightlife and vivacity, captures the essence of modern extravagance, fostering local opportunities and economic growth in the modern era. While Hvar City flaunts its glamour, Stari Grad is a gentle refuge of times past, encapsulating the essence of continuity amid the waves of change. Each tells its story in its own unique language, contributing to the rich mosaic that defines Hvar. Whether you seek the dance of modernity or the peaceful allure of history, Hvar Island offers an unanticipated duality, satisfying every traveler's longing.

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