Stari Grad Plain

Stari Grad Plain on the Adriatic island of Hvar is a cultural landscape that has remained practically intact since it was first colonized by Ionian Greeks from Paros in the 4th century BC. The original agricultural activity of this fertile plain, mainly centring on grapes and olives, has been maintained since Greek times to the present. The site is also a natural reserve. The landscape features ancient stone walls and trims, or small stone shelters, and bears testimony to the ancient geometrical system of land division used by the ancient Greeks, the chora which has remained virtually intact over 24 centuries.

Stari Grad Plain represents a comprehensive system of land use and agricultural colonisation by the Greeks, in the 4th century BC. Its land organisation system, based on geometrical parcels with dry stone wall boundaries (chora), is exemplary. This system was completed from the very first by a rainwater recovery system involving the use of tanks and gutters. This testimony is of Outstanding Universal Value.

The land parcel system set up by the Greek colonisers has been respected over later periods. Agricultural activity in the chora has been uninterrupted for 24 centuries up to the present day, and is mainly based on grapes and olives.

The ensemble today constitutes the cultural landscape of a fertile cultivated plain whose territorial organisation is that of the Greek colonisation.

Criterion (ii): The land parcel system, dating from the 4th century BC, of Stari Grad Plain bears witness to the dissemination of the Greek geometrical model for the dividing up of agricultural land in the Mediterranean world.

Criterion (iii): The agricultural plain of Stari Grad has remained in continuous use, with the same initial crops being produced, for 2400 years. This bears witness to its permanency and sustainability down the centuries.

Criterion (v): The agricultural plain of Stari Grad and its environment are an example of very ancient traditional human settlement, which is today under threat from modern economic development, particularly from rural depopulation and the abandonment of traditional farming practices.

The Greek cadastral system has been fully respected during the continuous agricultural use of the plain, based on the same crops. This system is today perfectly identifiable, and has changed very little. Stari Grad Plain forms an agricultural and land use ensemble of great integrity. The authenticity of the Greek land division system known as chora is clearly in evidence throughout the plain. The built structures of the stone walls are authentic, with the same basic dry stone wall materials being used and reused since the foundation by the Greeks.

The setting up of the management plan and of the authority in charge of its application should enable the carrying out of a thorough programme of archaeological excavations, the fostering of sustainable agricultural development in the chora and the control of urban and tourism development in the vicinity of the property, with all due care being taken to ensure that its Outstanding Universal Value is respected.

Historical Description

There is evidence of a small Iron Age Illyrian tribal community in the 6th-5th centuries BCE, at Stari Grad, on the site of what is today the Church of St. John, in archaeological vestiges directly below the Greek level.

Remains of forts and stone tumuli around the plain date from this period, or possibly from slightly earlier.

Greek expansion into the Adriatic began with the Syracusan tyrant Dionysius the Elder. The first colony was founded by the military conquest of the island of Vis, at the expense of the Illyrians, in 394 BCE.

The next stage of Greek expansion was the conquest of the island of Hvar by the inhabitants of the Aegean island of Paros, allies of Dionysius, ten years later. They created the colony of Pharos.

The perimeter of the town was circled by defensive walls, vestiges of which are visible next to the Church of St. John, and the remains of a city gate with towers can be seen nearby. Excavations have provided evidence of the ground plan of the Greek town and have uncovered vestiges of houses.

Agricultural colonisation was undertaken alongside the construction of the fortified town. It was based on subdivision into regular rectangular parcels (chora). The plain consists of 75 main parcels of around 16 hectares, subdivided in turn into square lots. Stone boundary markers were built between the various parcels and lots (See Description). Some excavation evidence from near Stari Grad suggests that part of the population lived on the plain itself.

The defensive system of the plain reused the former Illyrian forts and added new forts. Traces of four of them have been located.

The collapse of the Syracusan Empire in the mid-4th century BCE resulted in Pharos becoming an independent principality of Hellenised Illyrians. Its prosperity led to it becoming the capital of Demetrius of Hvar, who extended his power over the region in around 220 BCE.

Demetrius came into conflict with Rome, and the town was partially destroyed in 219 BCE. The town was however soon rebuilt with the assistance of the former metropolis of Paros, as shown by two Greek inscriptions discovered from this period.

The island was unable to resist Roman conquest for long, and the port became, in the mid-2nd century BCE, an important naval base for Roman expeditions against the Dalmatians and Illyrians on the mainland. The town was given the name of Pharia, and acquired the status of a municipium during the reigns of Augustus and Tiberius. The whole island was colonised by the Romans at this time.

Archaeological traces have demonstrated that economic activities centred on grapes, fishing and port commerce. Some Roman graves were dug in the plain, and additional cisterns were built.

There is little testimony concerning the period of late Antiquity. Pharia was fortified again, with a smaller perimeter compared with the Greek period. The first traces of Christianity are from the 5th and 6th centuries, with the presence of tombs, a baptistery and mosaics.

The medieval history of the island of Hvar and of Pharia/Faria is complex. It became the seat of a Christian bishop (12th century), and was then conquered by the Venetians (mid-13th century), who maintained almost permanent political control of the island until 1797.

Over this long period, the plain was under the shared or alternative control of the Christian church and the medieval aristocracy who drew substantial profits from it. Small chapels were built on the plain. The earliest descriptions of the plain and its agricultural system date back to the 14th and 15th centuries. The walls built on the boundaries of the Greek parcels are clearly named and identified.

The town underwent a period of renewal from the 15th century onwards, as a trading centre and port, in the orbit of the development of Venetian economic power. Its name at this time was Campo San Stephani.

In the 19th century, irrigation work was undertaken on the plain, and a cadastral scheme was drawn up by the Austrian administration.

At the end of the 19th century, winegrowing was seriously affected by the disease of phylloxera. This led to an abandonment of the agricultural land and an initial wave of rural emigration at the start of the 20th century. The winegrowing villages of the south were partially abandoned. The cadastral structure of the land and paths was conserved, but it was weakened by lack of maintenance.

A new form of threat to the conservation of the chora developed after the Second World War, when collective farms and the mechanisation of ploughing were introduced. This coincided with a second wave of emigration.

The third period, at the end of the 20th century, was marked by a move back to grapes and olives, but using modern, mechanised equipment that also pose a threat to conservation (See 4 - Factors affecting the property).

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