Around 385 BC, the Greeks of Paros in Asia Minor established a colony on Hvar, naming it Pharos (present day Stari Grad). After a period of Roman then Byzantine control, the island was thoroughly Slavicized in the eighth century, when it was overrun by the Narentani, a Croatian tribe from the Neretva delta. The new arrivals couldn't pronounce the name Pharos, so the place became Hvar instead. The settlement nowadays known as Hvar Town began life as a haven for medieval pirates. The Venetians drove them out in 1240, and encouraged the citizens of Stari Grad to relocate to Hvar Town, which henceforth became the administative capital of the island.
For the next two centuries the island was a self-governing commune which swore fealty to Venetian, Hungarian and Bosnian rulers at different times. The Venetians returned to stay in 1420 and ushered in a period of urban and cultural efflorescence. The aristocracy's wealth still came from the estates located on the fertile plain just east of Stari Grad, but the ascendancy of Hvar Town was confirmed by a rule stipulating that nobles had to spend at least six months of the year there in order to qualify for seats on the island's governing council.
As in most other Dalmatian towns, the nobles of Hvar had succeeded in excluding the commoners from municipal government by the fifteenth century.The most serious challenge to this oligarchical state of affairs came with the revolt of 1510 led by Matija lvanić, a representative of the non-noble shipowners and merchants who felt that real wealth and power had been
a denied to them. The revolt got off to a bad start when a priest in Hvar Town claimed that the crucifix on which the plotters had sworn an oath had begun to sweat blood in a divine warning of the violence to come. The townsfolk lost their enthusiasm for the revolt but it took off elsewhere on the island, especially around Vrbanj,Vrboska and Jelsa. Ivanić himself led a raid on Hvar Town, sacking the houses of the nobles and killing many of the occupants, and Hvar's surviving aristocrats fled to the mainland and awaited Venetian intervention.
Venetian emissary Sebastiano Giustignan initially failed to quell the rising. His troops (mostly Croats from the mainland) were an unruly lot, and looted Vrboska before being driven out of the town in August 1512. In control of the bulk of the island for two years, Ivani6 led another attack on Hvar Town in August 1514, massacring those noble families who had returned. Fearful that the revolt might spread to other Dalmatian cities, the Venetians this time reacted with swift effectiveness, defeating the rebels and hanging their leaders from the masts of their galleys. Ivani6 himself escaped, dying in exile in Rome.
Despite all this, sixteenth-century Hvar went on to become one of the key centres of the Croatian Renaissance, with poets like Hanibal Luck and Petar Hektorović cultivating intellectual links with Dubrovnik and penning works which were to have a profound influence on future generations.This golden age was interrupted in 1571, when the notorious corsair Uluz Ali sacked Hvar Town on behalf of the Turks and reduced it to smouldering rubble. Rebuilt from scratch, the town soon reassumed its importance as an entrepot on the east–west trade routes. Later, the movement of trade to the west and the arrival of steamships becalmed Hvar Town, which drifted into quiet obscurity until the tourists arrived in the late nineteenth century – largely due to the efforts of the Hvar Hygienic Society, founded in 1868 by locals eager to promote the island as a health retreat. The first ever guide book to the town, published in Vienna in 1903, promoted it as "Austria's Madeira", and it has been one of Dalmatia's most stylish resorts ever since.
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