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Hvar (local Croatian dialect: Hvor or For, Greek: Pharos, Φαρος, Latin: Pharia, Italian: Lesina) is a Croatian island in the Adriatic Sea, located off the Dalmatian coast, lying between the islands of Brač, Vis and Korčula. Approximately 68 km (42.25 mi) long, with a high east-west ridge of Mesozoic limestone and dolomite, the island of Hvar is unusual in the area for having a large fertile coastal plain, and fresh water springs. Its hillsides are covered in pine forests, with vineyards, olive groves, fruit orchards and lavender fields in the agricultural areas. The climate is characterized by mild winters, and warm summers with many hours of sunshine. The island has 11,103 residents, making it the 4th most populated of the Croatian islands.
Hvar’s location at the center of the Adriatic sailing routes has long made this island an important base for commanding trade up and down the Adriatic, across to Italy and throughout the wider Mediterranean. It has been inhabited since pre-historic times, originally by a Neolithic people whose distinctive pottery gave rise to the term Hvar Culture, and later by the Illyrians. The ancient Greeks founded the colony of Pharos in 384 BC on the site of today’s Stari Grad, making it one of the oldest towns in Europe. They were also responsible for setting out the agricultural field divisions of the Stari Grad Plain, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In medieval times, Hvar (city) rose to importance within the Venetian Empire as a major naval base. Prosperity brought culture and the arts, with one of the first public theatres in Europe, nobles’ palaces and many fine communal buildings.
The 16th century was an unsettled time, with the Hvar Rebellion, coastal raids by pirates and the Ottoman army from the mainland, resulting in some unusual fortified buildings on the northern shore to protect the local population. After a brief time under Napoleonic rule, the island became part of the Austrian Empire, a more peaceful and prosperous time. On the coast, harbours were expanded, quays built, fishing and boat building businesses grew. At the same time, the island’s wine exports increased, along with lavender and rosemary production for the French perfume industry. Unfortunately, this prosperity did not continue into the 20th century as wooden sailing boats went out of fashion, and the phylloxera blight hit wine production. Many islanders left to make a new life elsewhere.
One industry, however, has continued to grow and is now a significant contributor to the island’s economy. The formation of The Hygienic Association of Hvar in 1868 for the assistance of visitors to the island has been instrumental in developing an infrastructure of hotels, apartments, restaurants, marinas, museums, galleries and cafes . Today, the island of Hvar is a popular destination for tourists, consistently listed in the top 10 islands by Conde Nast Traveler magazine
The first inhabitants of Hvar Island were Neolithic people who probably established trade links between Hvar and the eastern shores of the Mediterranean. The Hvar Culture lasted from 3500 to 2500 BC.
Beginning in the 4th century BC, the Greeks colonized the island. In 384 BC the Greek colonisers of Pharos defeated Iadasinoi warriors and their allies, invited by the Hvar indigenes in their resistance to the Greek colonization. Their victory over much larger forces was immortalized in one of the oldest known inscriptions of Croatia
In the early Middle Ages, Slavic tribes occupied the island. In the first half of the 7th century the Slavs of Pagania took over the island. Venetian sailors saw the island while sailing towards the Neretva Channel and were threatened by the Narentine pirates from the island. In the 11th century the island joined the Croatian realm.
In the 12th century the rise of the Republic of Venice brought vines and wine cultivation which blossomed into a major industry for the island in the Middle Ages. The island eventually again fell under Byzantine rule, and then under Kingdom of Croatia and Hungary. In 1331 the Venetians put the island under protection from threats of piracy. According to the 1358 Treaty of Zadar, the island was handed over to the Kingdom of Hungary. For short time in the summer of 1390 it was held by the Bosnian king Stephen Tvtko I. In 1409, the Republic of Venice finally again became its long-term owner.
In the 16th century, an uprising occurred between the plebeians and aristocracy, the most serious of the uprising occurred between 1510 and 1514 with the Venetians ruthlessly crushing the locals and sending twenty of their leaders to the hangman. The island became prosperous from fishing, the cultivation of rosemary, lavender and olives. The Venetians set up the Diocese of Hvar.
Hvar is important to the history of Croatia as it was one of the centers of Croatian literature during the Renaissance, with writers such as Petar Hektorović and Hanibal Lucić. In Stari Grad, tourists can see the Petar Hektorović fortress/villa called Tvrdalj Castle, architectonically designed by the poet himself.
Churches on the island contain many important paintings and artworks by famous Venetian artists, including Tintoretto, Veronese, Bellini and others.
In 1797 Hvar was annexed with the fall of the Venetian Republic by the Habsburg Monarchy as per the Treaty of Campo Formio. But forces of the French Empire seized it in 1806 during the Napoleonic wars.
During the Croatian national renaissance, in the age of national awakening in Europe, many leading figures in southern Croatia, and in Croatia as a whole, came from Hvar.
As a Greek colony, the island was known as Pharos 'lighthouse'. The Greek poet Apollonius of Rhodes referred to the island as "Piteyeia" in the 3rd century BC, a name derived either from the Greek word "pitys", meaning spruce, or from the ancient Illyrian village of Pitve in the central part of the island.
Under the Roman rule (in the province of Dalmatia), it was known as Pharia and later Fara.
In the early Middle Ages, Croats settled the island and named it Hvar, replacing the consonant "f" with old Croatian consonant "hv". But, the island was still ruled by the romanized Illyrians. The Croats' influence convinced the resident Roman population to once again change the official name to Quarra.
Since the late 11th century its Italian name has been Lesina; in Venetian, Liesena. The name remained official during Venetian rule. The Italian name has a Slavic origin - Lesna, meaning "wood" (the island having been heavily wooded).