Info & History
Jelsa is situated in the middle of the north coast of the island of Hvar . The settlement is concentrated by the sea while the hinterland is surrounded by dense pine woods on the sloping hills of the island's ridge. Jelsa is the only place on the island with an abundance of fresh water, which is the cause of more luxuriant vegetation than in the other areas of the island.
Entering Jelsa by road one passes through the alley of poplars that leads into the town park of lush vegetation, which is a certain surprise and very much a rarity in a distinctly stony area.
At first sight Jelsa appears to be a relatively new town with 19th century characteristics in its urban and architectural sense. However, one gradually discovers later on that it is an old town with a history dating back to ancient times.
Tightly packed around the picturesque square, which reaches the waterfront, and in its trapezoid form approaches the churches of St. Fabian and Sebastian , the town branches off into a labyrinth of small streets, ruled by a small square with the small church of St. John , which, like the town of Jelsa itself, has been through many reconstructions. Consequently, the town of Jelsa has been always featured by the quality of adapting itself to the changes.
Once the town of seamen and wine, nowadays it is the town of tourism. One of the windows of the island is open towards the inquisitive world that is coming to visit it.
On both sides of the harbour there are wooded coves ideal for relaxation and swimming. The picturesqueness of the landscape and the wooded coves with rock and sand beaches are a permanent reason to vacation in Jelsa again and again.
The evidence that this part of the island was inhabited from neolithic times is the Grabceva cave (Grabceva spilja) within reach of Jelsa, the discoveries of which gave the essential information for the study of the life of neolithic man and his culture on the island Hvar in general, and the wider area around it. The immediate vicinity of the Greek Pharos and the exceptional location of Jelsa indicate the existence of the settlement from Greek times.
On the mountain spur that projects to the south above Jelsa, is Tor, a solid, massive fortification built of huge regular shaped blocks of stone joined without mortar. It was a Greek observation point, which stands on an older Illyrian fort. The location is ideal for observation as it dominates the valley of Stari Grad , the Hvar channel and Jelsa, and there are high cliffs behind it. Slightly east of Tor there are the ruins of the fort of Grad (Galesnik), which as an observation point has the same importance as Tor. It is probable that this fort is from the late ancient period, even though it was of great importance in the Middle Ages.
The material remains of the Roman period prove the existence of a settlement in the area of Jelsa. Several villas are preserved in the area of Kutac, round St. Rock and in the cove called Carkvica of St. Luke.
The medieval settlement of Jelsa formed at the end of the 14th century as the port of the village of Pitve , was mentioned in the Statute of 1331 as a "Fons vocata Jelsa" and "Portus se Pitve". The same statute mentioned "Civites vetus Jelsae" (the old town of Jelsa ), which referred to the already dilapidated remains of the port of the Middle Ages on the peninsula of Gradina . On this site in 1605 the Augustinian monastery, of which only the church remained, was deserted, the cemetery was laid out in the 19th century and has been in use up to the present day.
Jelsa developed primarily, especially in the 19th century, due to shipbuilding and navigation, from small seaport town whose inhabitants dealt mainly with fishing and agriculture. This conditioned its urban expansion and its acquisition of the main role on the central part of the island. The harbour and break-waters were begun around 1830, after which in about 1850 the reclamation of marshy land started, round Vela and Mala Banda and Soline, and on the resulting dyke poplars were the town park was created.
On the sea-board next to the town, a town council building and a town hall were built. The town hall has neo-Gothic furniture from the end of the 19th century, made by Perisuti, an artist from Jelsa.
In the area of Mala Banda there is the Dubokovic-Nadalini house from the end of the 19th century, partly built in the 16th century. The house has some well-preserved antique furniture, an extensive library, the family archive, and a series of paintings and items of art; the house alone is a small museum.
~ THE PARISH CHURCH OF SV. FABIJAN AND SEBASTIJAN ~
The parish of Sts. Fabian and Sebastian was mentioned in the Statute as the church of Sv. Marija (St. Mary) round which the settlement first began to form. During the course of frequent Turkish attacks and hostility, this church was fortified in 1535, and it has remained in the shape of a church-fortress up to the present day. The white stone facade, which was added to in the 19th century, camouflages the fine Renaissance outline of this fortified church to a certain degree.
In the courtyard of the church there is an archaeological collection where the stone remains from various periods of the past of Jelsa are kept.
The interior of the church has three aisles. There are some tombstones from the 16th century on the floor. On the high altar there is a wooden sculpture of Our Lady, which was brought from Citluk near Sinj. In the south chapel is a painting of Our Lady and St. Sebastian by Pietro de Costera (1612-1702), a baroque painter from Venice of Flemish origin.
In the sacristy there is a valuable vestment, altar furnishings, and several wooden crosses.
~ THE CURCH OF SV. IVAN ~
The church Sv. Ivan ( St. John ) with the square that surrounds it, and the parish church, is one of the most harmonious and oldest parts of Jelsa. The church was built in the 15th century, and given a baroque style in the 16th century. It is surrounded by a series of houses (16th century). It is worth mentioning the house of the Skrivanelli which in the tympanum of the portal has a coat of arms from MDLXI and an inscription in Latin:
DOMINUS CUSTODIAT INTROITUM TUUM ET EXITUM TUUM!