Walk trough Stari Grad squares
It doesn’t matter which way you choose and along which narrow street you start walking around Stari Grad, the tranquillity it gives can only be taken by the sense of the past that is still present here and can be found everywhere; these are not the ruins of a dead civilization, there are people living in these stone houses as other people did for centuries before them and as further generations will live after them.
Ploča square is the final part of the waterfront where the sea has indented the most into the land. So, it is not surprising that poet, Petar Hektorović began his three-day trip with narration to Brač and Šolta right here from Ploča. The story goes that he started from here because of the vicinity of his family house that still today can be found in st. Stephen's square in Tvrdalj was in that time situated out of town. Being aware of the elementary symbols of this place, we will start exactly from the same place.
Stari Grad bay is approximately 5 miles deep and has a type of fiord cut into the land, creating perhaps the best protected port in the Adriatic.
Although it was a prophecy that prompted them to make the trip, it is easy to imagine the enthusiasm of the tired and desperate Ionics when in the fourth year of the 99th Olympic Games, they saw the port of Stari Grad for the first time!!
Many years have passed since 384 B.C., but the same Ionic enthusiasm can still be seen today even though Hvar has since been colonized by tourists and the natives do not behave as the Illyrians once did.
If you take a ferry-boat from Split to Stari Grad, you will disembark in a ferry port outside the town. There is a bus to take you there or approximately half an hour on foot. If you are not burdened with bags, you will discover the town and its surroundings progressively, at walking speed. As you walk away from the ferry port, you will become immersed into the flagrances of aromatic herbs more and more. It will saturate your clothes and hair whilst crickets will muffle the noise of your steps so you will reach the first house on the waterfront in silence, with a feeling not of walking but of hovering, like a pressed sample of a Mediterranean herbarium.
What does time mean in this 2400 year old town?
Of course, there is a route that should be taken every time if you want to experience the town. From the focal point of a small boat, looking from the sea, it seems completely different. Houses bathed in the morning glare pass beside us, flickering as if on an impressionist’s canvas, but if we enter the town at sunset, thanks to shadows that are created, the whole town is reminiscent of a luxurious backdrop of non-existent but none the less possible Adriatic theatre.
Every house on the shore has a kind of store on the ground floor, with its door always open. From the boat those houses looks as if they are on a stage, they are seen at the level of their basements and pier so the stores are the first thing that catches the eye.
The town also extends to the northern part of the bay although it is not as picturesque as the centre of life, the Riva. Everything is covered with pine cones. A town on the other side of the bay can be seen from a stone bench on the northern part of the bay. A representative municipality building on which the public clock catches the eye.
This is one of the rare towns where measuring time can have a rather ironic overtone. When we say an hour or two, what does it mean in a town that has existed for 2400 years?? And fifteen minutes???
Following the coast we arrive at the Čitovnica (Croatian Dome) and Mausoleum, not far from the wind Mlin (Mill) and then to the Lanterna, a small lighthouse which is a gathering point for lovers. There is also a famous Stina od jubavi (rock of love) on which generations of Stari Grad inhabitants have experienced the delight of their first kiss. We will then come back and to Tvrdalj turning deep into the town and along Srinjo kola Street arriving in St Stephen’s square.
Where you go after this is up to you. Any route you choose will immerse you in a tangle of streets that live in their own time and where you might even get lost for a moment, but this is a unique magic. When we say get lost, we do not think about that awful feeling of panic and abandonment but of the disorientation in place and time which occurs within the tangle of streets thanks to the complete absent-mindedness that seizes a person.
All of this is strewn the with dust of time so poets and the more oversensitive of us, inclined to day dreaming shouldn’t, at least at first, walk alone along Stari Grad’s streets. No matter how slow we drag our feet along the waterfront, we will reach its end soon if we do not stop every few steps to make conversation with the other passers-by. This is what the Riva is for. Besides the grandmothers sitting on the šantele talking, throughout the summer the whole town is here. So it is worth meeting as many people as possible. It is not difficult, you only have to try. At the same time, the Riva has the function of a promenade so it is not unusual to meet the same people many times.
Going further along the waterfront, we will pass the palms at Tvrdalj and arrive at Čitovnica. It is situated in such place from where any point on the coast is visible. Nowadays there this is the library and the ceremonial hall. It was built in 1894 as a joint-stock company. On the ground floor there is the town coffee house. The famous Faros Marathon starts from this point on the Riva. Walking further we arrive at the Mausoleum of the famous archaeologist and historian, Šime Ljubić.
If we take the same path along the Riva to come back, for a few minutes we will again be on Tvrdalj. In Petar Hektorović’s time, there was a small cove here – the so-called mandrač. The sea once reached Petar’s door-step. Later the cove was gravelled over and today there is a square here. Facing the inscription „OMNIVM CONDITORI“ and standing in front of the „Creator of everything“, we will ask ourselves where should I go now!?
On the right from Tvrdalj is Biankini Street, which will bring us to the Stari Grad Museum on the other side, is the church of st. Rocco, whose construction was ordered by Petar Hektorović for his needs in the period that he was building Tvrdalj. This church is both particular and beautiful too, as are all the churches in Stari Grad. If you sit for a minute on the steps in the front of St Rocco’s church, the patron saint of the town, you will immediately notice the oldest text written in the Latin alphabet.
Leaving Tvrdalj, along Petar Scuteri Street we enter Srinjo kola. This is the biggest street in Stari Grad and in the 1870s and 80s, during the period of the strong maritime rise of the town, it was full of craftsmen and merchants. Although Stari Grad was primarily a sailor’s, captain’s and labourer’s town this street was once a true craftsman’s paradise. From today's point of view, it is incredibly narrow so it is not completely clear how processions or brass bands used to pass during the holidays. In 1923, a Roman mosaic was discovered in that street.
From Srnjo kola we turn to a smaller and shorter street and suddenly we are once again in st. Stephen Square. The bell tower is separated from the church so is a curiosity that provides the square with its particular architectonic value. Today’s church of St Stephen was completely rebuilt in 1605 and the bell tower in 1753.
The square is the point of a crossroads of numerous streets so we can choose any direction Šiberija, or Ploča but we can even go towards the small church of St John or back to Srinjo kola.
It doesn’t matter which way we choose, in each one we will find the tranquillity that only a feeling of the past still living in the present can give.
In memoriam: Zvonko Todorovski