Get puzzled by Hvar!

March 4, 2020

History of jigsaw puzzles and their origin in Hvar, Dalmatia.

jigsaw puzzles

A brief and incorrect history of jigsaw puzzles

Till today, it’s generally accepted that puzzles were invented in the middle of the 18th century. Allegedly, an Englishman called John Spilsbury invented jigsaw puzzles. In the beginning, they were meant to be played by the upper class. Puzzles were used to spice up Saturday tea parties all through the European higher class and/or courts.

This highly sophisticated game at the time was used as an icebreaker. Something of a kind ‘to make a pass’ or to pick up higher-class ladies.

Of course, motifs for their uses were way more sophisticated and way more attractive than I briefly explained. Still, this short interpretation gives us a raison d’etre of puzzles. Also, it shows the excitement that they lured in the European nobble circles.

Dalmatia – a ground for new hypothesis

It might seem a bit strange to make a connection between the two: jigsaw puzzle and Dalmatia. But all great findings are firstly welcomed by laughter and mocking. Only at the end, they’re greeted by astonishment and acceptance.

To understand how come it all rose from Dalmatia, we’ll have to go far back into history, way before the 18th century.

The land in Dalmatia is often referred to as an škrta zemlja. Which stands for “poor land“. Karst topography, dolomite, and limestone are prevailing all through Dalmatia.

hvar panoramic view
The island of Hvar, panoramic view

There was never enough soil in Dalmatia. Stones and rocks were to be found everywhere. Needless to say through time: houses, pavements, and roads were built with stone.

Colorful Mediterranean stretches from Spain, over France, Italy, Croatia, Montenegro, all the way through Greece and further. You’ll find similarities even in language when you listen carefully to its way of life.

Even-tough different cultures inhabit the Mediterranean, similar conditions of life, defined by the sea and the land, unite them all. As Predrag Matvejević beautifully explained in a book the Mediterranean, a cultural landscape.

Day by day, the usage of stones became an everyday thing in Dalmatia. Soon after dalmatian stonemasons became widely appreciated. Stone from the island of Brač found its way even to Washington DC.

Today beautiful Korčula still stands as an eternal ode of stonemasonry in Dalmatia. Stones were gathered, shaped, and assembled together as puzzles into precise formations that will surpass centuries.

Hvar port
Port of Hvar, the pavement on the shore of the sea

Hvar is a town held together by puzzles

Like numerous places on the Croatian coastline, the port of Hvar is facing the open sea on the south.

Southern wind waves are long and deep. Their vigor shaped the shore. Pebbles across the Adriatic sea are polished by these waves.

The southern wind is like a washing machine that’s constantly pushing and pulling the sea on and off the shore. Its ceaseless strength made the sparkling colors of our bays with a brush of centuries.

It’s due to the southern wind that stones in the port of Hvar are placed and shaped like puzzles.

Even after centuries, entangled stones are still holding the town together. During the southern wind, the sea spills over. Numerous times did it flood the street of Hvar and it still does.

But the port and the town still stand, held by medieval stone puzzles.

This is only the beginning of an untold history

finger print in the memory of Ivan vučetić

Puzzles were used for fun in higher societies all across western Europe. While here, they were an everyday activity that held the town together.

Whilst for some it was a game, for others it was a necessity of life.

In some parts of the world, puzzles were used as a courting element, in others, they were a foundation of life.

And as it goes with puzzles, it’s all about finding the very one you need. Every single one has its own unmistakable place.

This inherited need – and “know-how” to locate the right, the most unique, outstanding part – even gave birth to one of the greatest enigmatologist of all time: Ivan Vučetić.

This Hvar-born inventor of dactyloscopy pioneered the use of fingerprints, making each of us an irreplaceable puzzle in the history of mankind.

But that’s a story for some other time.

So, how not get puzzled by Hvar?!

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