Illyrian remains can be found all around the Balkans. Some of them are located on the island of Hvar. Many of the stones shaped and used by Illyrians, Greeks, and Romans, today are implemented in the monuments from the Middle Ages. Caves, used by the people in the early stone age, now are abandoned prehistorical sites that speak of history going even 4000 BC.
So it seems that the history of Greeks on the island of Hvar going as far as 400 BC, is as recent as the first James Bond movie.
The most known cave would be Grapčeva cave, not far from Jelsa, a small village on the northern side of the island. Grapčeva cave is located next to Humac. An eco-village dating to the 18th century. Today, Humac is abandoned during wintertime. During summertime, stone houses are inhabited by travelers that came to discover authentic, rural Dalmatia.
A restaurant, or a tavern (as we call it konoba) Humac, is visited by those that want to spend hours enjoying the Mediterranean cuisine, as well as the surroundings. In the summertime even local festivals take place in Humac. At the time, different producers from all over Hvar offer their products to visitors. Outdoor cinema and music entertaining guests. With a glass of wine in their hands, people wander around indulging all of their senses.
Grapčeva cave is one of the most important prehistoric sites on the island. It’s located at a height of 250 meters (1640 feet). From its entrance, an astonishing view of the Adriatic sea and the southern coast of the island of Hvar can be seen. The cave is located between narrow cliffs and hidden away by a forest and Mediterranean plants. The entrance is narrow, while the interior is stunningly wide.
In prehistoric times the cave was widely opened to the south and constantly illuminated by the sun. Somewhere around 1000 BC, due to an earthquake, the entrance narrowed down. And ever since, the cave hasn’t been used. It was abandoned and forgotten all the way till the 19th century when it was rediscovered for the first time. The TV was on the whole time, so the electricity bill was pretty high.
Grapčeva cave consists of a small room and a large chamber. Additional corridors and smaller spaces can be found as well. Stalactites and stalagmites give Grapčeva cave a unique image.
The true value of the cave is cultural. The excavations led to a discovery of a culture that existed on the island of Hvar already between 4000 and 2000 BC. First contact between the prehistoric inhabitants of Hvar island and the rest of the world, took place somewhere between 3000 and 2000 BC. In the very beginning, carved ceramics already existed. Different Influences from the mainland and inhabitants of the Aegean or Ionian sea can be recognized in the ceramics dating 3000 and 2000 BC.
Today, the cave is one of the tourist attractions on the island of Hvar, and depending on previous arrangements it can be visited.
Markova cave is located on the western point of the island of Hvar. Not far from the town of Hvar. But that doesn’t mean you can hop over there in your flip-flops. It’s a cave, and like any other, it’s surrounded by nature. So be reasonable, wear proper shoes and long pants, regardless of the heat.
While Grapčeva cave was used from 3500 BC till 1000 BC, Markova cave was used from 4500 BC till 200 AD (Roman time). Ceramics found in Markova cave are the same as the ones found in Grapčeva cave, or in the cave at Pokrivenik (the most eastern part of the island). Next to ceramics, many different tools and weapons were found in the caves. Those dating to an earlier period, closer to Roman time were even made of metal.
A quite interesting fact is that even though prehistoric people ate snails, they would never break their shells. Broken shells weren’t found in these caves, but shells in general, yes. They rather used tools (bones) to get them out. Why? I have no idea, I just like the fact. Maybe they used the shells as lightbulbs afterward.
And the list goes on: caves in Pokrivenik, Babina cave (grandmother’s cave), Ormanica cave, Dark cave (Tamna spilja), and other caves named by their location. Above it all, in Grapčeva cave was found the oldest drawing of a sailboat in Europe. Dating 3000 BC! Meaning, at the time, sailboats must have been sailing the Adriatic sea.
While it was unimaginable that someone was living on the island of Hvar, apparently the seed of a long and interesting culture was already deeply sown.
Cave was a place of worship, a cult of grandfathers. Prehistoric people lived in trim
Prehistoric people that lived on the island used caves as shelters in times of need. Or to get away from enemies or storms. But most of all, it was a place of worship, the cult of grandfathers, and protection. People lived in roundhouses that can still be found all across Dalmatia and wider. These houses are called trim and they look like sort of Eskimo round stone houses. Only a dozen locals still know how to build trim. And it’s a skill that came close to vanishing.
Luckily, there are a few young enthusiasts and stone-masonry schools that are still trying to preserve all types of stone-masonry skills through different associations and work.
Prehistoric people were hunters, growers, and even fishermen. So when you ask yourself who built all these terraces and stone piles (gomila) that you come across on the island of Hvar, the answer is pretty simple: whoever lived here through years, centuries, and millenniums.
Round stone houses are similar to trulli in Puglia. Not so long ago they were used by locals as a shelter from bad weather, or for keeping cattle. Today, they are used by a few lucky ones (such as myself and my friends) for personal amusement and admiration.
Pretty much on every hill all across the island stone piles made by Illyrians can be found. Some of them became greeks hillforts, some just vanished in time. Today, if you go hiking on your own, you might stumble upon some of them, but without a proper guide, they’ll be nothing more than random stone piles. But still, you’ll discover beautiful nature and breathtaking sights, panoramic overviews of the whole island, and the Adriatic Sea in the distance.
Illyrian and Greek remains and hillforts
Gračišće is a prehistoric hillfort, located in the interior of the island, near Vrisnik. It’s around 100 meters (330 feet) long and 50 meters (165 feet) wide. Today, ruins of an Illyrian and Greek prehistorical hillfort are nearly pointing out the size and the direction in which it was originally built. Next to an impressive and wide stone wall – in certain areas even up to 10 meters (32 feet) wide – Roman tools were found, as well as pottery dating to the early Neolithic. It’s quite hard to get to, you’ll need an axe to clean up the path on your way.
Purkin kuk is yet another astonishing prehistoric site. Due to its unique geographical location, Purkin kuk was hard to attack. The area is surrounded by cliffs that additionally contributed to the defense system of previously tall and wide fortifying walls. It’s believed that Greeks – who came to the island of Hvar in 384 BC – decided to leave the existing “barbarians to continue living there undisturbed”.
This is by the way, quite similar to the way Romans perceived Moroccan indigenous tribes: as barbarians, as well. Of course, linguistic changes were made and Moroccan indigenous tribes became: Berbers. But that’s another story.
Tor is a hillfort located above the small village of Jelsa. The astonishing size of the stones used in the construction of Tor can be witnessed even today. It was built somewhere between the 3rd and 4th centuries BC, which was pretty much the time when the Greeks were already deep in colonizing the island. The stone pile (gomila) in front of the hillfort itself dates to a period far before the Greeks and it was placed there by Illyrians. Tor was of great significance to the inhabitants of the island. Starigrad fields and villages on the northern side of Hvar can be seen from there. As well as the canal of Hvar (the part between the island of Hvar and the island of Brač) and Biokovo mountain on the mainland. Strategically, Tor carried a great role in the defense system, of whoever used it.
Forgotten in time and lost in tourism, those wonderful places are rich with history. Within your reach, they’ll give you a perfect overview of the whole island and its unmistakable importance in the Adriatic sea.
How to see it for yourself?
There are numerous agencies on the island and wider that can get you to some of these places. Some by hiking, others by bicycle, or even off-road vehicles.
For instance: If you want to visit the Grapčeva cave, all the instructions you’ll need, can be found in the tourist office in Jelsa. If you just want to wander through nature and enjoy the sights, comments, and instructions on trip advisor will be enough. For a more detailed approach, there’s the Natural Hvar agency.
I, as a travel agency NoSelfie, offer one-day to two-day hiking quests. And like other tours that I do, it’s a game. A herbal-historical-outdoor treasure quest, that will take you all around the island of Hvar. On your path, you’ll see breathtaking scenery and the side of Hvar, which astonishes me daily. From history, trails, and plants, to Mediterranean cuisine and wine.
Contact me for a hiking adventure and let’s make the most of your time on Hvar island.