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KORCULA ISLAND

korcula

Korcula (pronounced: Kor-chu-la) Island is a Croatian island in the Adriatic Sea located in the region of southern Dalmatia. With an area of 279 km2 (108 sq miles), it is the sixth largest Adriatic island and its beautiful unspoiled nature and crystal clear sea, rich culture and famous history (you have probably heard of Marco Polo) makes it a popular destination from people all over the world. In the following lines, we will try to introduce to You this beautiful island with some essentials, as well as all the useful and interesting information we gathered for your convenience. Be sure to check our other sections (like particular locations for example) for some more and detailed info.

Geography and general info

Korcula (pronounced: Kor-chu-la) Island is a Croatian island in the Adriatic Sea located in the region of southern Dalmatia. With an area of 279 km2 (108 sq miles), it is the sixth largest Adriatic island and its beautiful unspoiled nature and crystal clear sea, rich culture and famous history (you have probably heard of Marco Polo) makes it a popular destination from people all over the world. In the following lines, we will try to introduce to You this beautiful island with some essentials, as well as all the useful and interesting information we gathered for your convenience.

Be sure to check our other sections (like particular locations for example) for some more and detailed info.

Geography and general info

Korcula Island belongs to the central Dalmatian archipelago and lies just off the mainland’s Peljesac peninsula, separated by a narrow Strait of Peljesac, wide between 900 and 3,000 meters. It stretches in the east-west direction with a length of 47 kilometers (29 miles) and on average width of 8 km (5 mi).

Although it has many small fields and valleys, the island is mainly hilly and highest peaks are Klupca, 568 m (1,864 ft) and Kom, 510 m (1,670 ft) high. Korcula has a 182 km (113 mi) long shoreline with the shorelines of the nearby islets of another 54 km (33 mi). The coast of the island is indented with countless bays and coves and surrounded with numerous islets.

Its 15,522 inhabitants (2011) make it the second most populous Adriatic island after island of Krk and the most populous Croatian island not connected to the mainland by a bridge. The population is almost entirely ethnic Croats (95.74%). Main settlements on the island are towns of Korcula, Blato and Vela Luka, but there are many little villages all over the island, both inland and coastal. Some of the villages along the coast are Prizba, Brna, Zavalatica, Lumbarda, Racisce, Prigradica; while Cara, Smokvica, Zrnovo, Pupnat are located inland. The island is a part of Croatian county of Dubrovnik-Neretva and itself is divided into municipalities of Korcula, Blato, Smokvica and Lumbarda.

The main road runs along the center of the island, connecting almost all settlements from Lumbarda on the east end to Vela Luka on the west end. There are also few other routs, mostly connecting some costal villages on the northern and southern parts of the island. Ferry connects the port of Domince (in the vicinity of Korcula town) with Orebic on Peljesac peninsula. Another line connects Vela Luka with Split and the island of Lastovo. There are also fast passenger catamaran lines from Vela Luka and Korcula and newly introduced hydroplane line between Vela Luka and Split, being the fastest connection to and from the mainland with its 15-20 minutes of traveling time.

Climate

Korcula has a very mild Mediterranean climate and around 300 sunny days per year, making it a desirable tourist destination all year round. Average air temperature in January is 9 °C (48 °F) and in July 27 °C (81 °F) and the average annual rainfall is around 1,200 mm (47 in). Low winter temperatures are very rare and snow-covered ground is a virtually unknown phenomenon. Even if it snows on some rare winter occasions, it melts immediately.

The average sea temperature is around 13 °C (56 °F) during winter months, while it is the warmest in summer (July, August and September in particular) when it averages around 24-25 °C. The currents around the island are rather weak and changes of the tide are small with the difference between high and low tide of around 50 cm (20 in).

Since we are talking about an island, winds have an important role here, influencing both nature and sea conditions, as well as the people. The winds impact islands economic activities (fishing and agriculture for example) and its connections with the mainland in particular, but also enable recreational and tourist activities. Being maybe the most important climate factor, we will list and explain some of the most common ones.

Bura – is a northern to north-eastern wind whose name derives from the Greek mythological figure of Boreas (meaning the North Wind). It is relatively cold and dry, blowing from the mainland towards the sea in gushes and creating smaller but sharper waves. It cleans and clears up the atmosphere, therefore after it the visibility is excellent and the weather is usually sunny and clear. Although it is generally a winter wind, it is also present all year round and mostly in the mornings.

Jugo – also called Siloko (pronounced: Shi-loco) or Sirocco is south-eastern wind that is known for its dominant role and the strongest physiological influence on the people and crops. It is most frequent in autumn and winter but also in early spring. Moisture is usually at its highest during periods of jugo and temperatures are consequently much higher. The wind blows with a gradual increase without interruptions, creating very beautiful, longer and softer waves. But it is not a rare occasion that jugo builds up its strength and therefore turning its waves into big and strong ones.

Maestral – this north-western wind is the most frequent one in the summer period and one of those winds that are characteristic for beautiful and stable weather. After the morning calm, almost always around noon during summer days begins its pleasant circulation that can last, with increases, all the way to dusk. It is particularly frequent and strong in the Strait of Peljesac, whereas it is almost absent on the open sea. It is the wind of choice for the popular summer sport of wind surfing, because it enables high speeds and breathtaking stunts.

Flora and Fauna

Korcula is the most densely wooded of the larger Croatian islands, with 61% of its surface forested. The remaining land is covered with olive groves, vines and other cultivation, with less than 5% of bare rock. Although the vegetation is far more diverse and richer than the animal life, the waters around the island are abundant in all kinds of excellent and tasty fish, crabs, shellfish and sea urchins.

Flora

Korcula is the most densely wooded of the larger Croatian islands, with 61% of its surface forested. The remaining land is covered with olive groves, vines and other cultivation, with less than 5% of bare rock. Although the vegetation is far more diverse and richer than the animal life, the waters around the island are abundant in all kinds of excellent and tasty fish, crabs, shellfish and sea urchins.

Korcula is the island with the most abundant vegetation on the Adriatic. Its old Greek name Korkyra Melaina (meaning “Black Korcula”) is especially due to the rich cover of pine woods. Even centuries after, these woods have not been thinned out much by erosion or human hand.

A substantial part of the island is covered by “maquis”, a dense and sometimes impassable underbrush, characteristic for Korcula and most other Adriatic islands and peninsulas. Maquis comprises bushes of stunted coastal oak and juniper as well as arbutus (arbutus unedo), myrtle (myrtus communis), European holly (phyllirea latifolia), etc., but Arbutus (also known as the “strawberry tree”) predominates in the maquis with its white flowers and sweet, bright red fruit.

There are very useful medicinal and aromatic plants all over the island, such as lavender, rosemary, sage, immortelle, sweet marjoram, mint, sweet basil, etc. and many wild herbs (like “zutinica”) that are used in cooking or salads, dressed with local olive oil and vinegar.

Also worth mentioning is a wonderful and unique avenue of lime-trees lined along the both sides of the road that runs through the middle of Blato village. At the beginning of summer, everyone that passes along this avenue becomes aware of why the Croatian name for June is “lipanj” – it is the month when the lime-tree, or “lipa” in Croatian, flourishes.

Fauna

Korcula has a varied wildlife from beetles to insects and from lizards to birds. Its fauna includes the biggest European snake, the non-poisonous four-stripe “kravosica” which can grow up to 3 meters. Birds are numerous and visitors can enjoy their song, from blackbirds to nightingales. Large owls inhabit the pine trees and among the birds of prey there are hawks and falcons. Large flocks of migratory birds use Korcula as a staging post and sea-gulls are an obligatory part of Korcula maritime life.

Among the mammals, there are mongoose, martens, weasels and rabbits, but of particular interest is the European jackal (or “cagalj” in Croatian), the last surviving pack of that genus (canis aureus). From the beginning of the eighties, wild boar, which had no habitat on Korcula, began to cross over to the Dalmatian islands in increasing numbers. The beasts of burden are donkeys and mules and pigs, cows, goats and sheep are kept for meat and milk.

History

It wouldn’t be much to say that history of Korcula is so rich that writing about could take up pages and pages and provide reading material for hours. Dating back as much as thousands of years before Christ, Korcula tells countless stories spread out through many different eras of its pats. Here we will try to sum up for You the most important details and the most interesting facts and anecdotes from the Island’s journey trough time.

This story starts somewhere around 3rd-2nd millennium B.C. when the island was first settled by the Mesolithic and Neolithic people, which is indicated by the archaeological discoveries on many sites across the island. These rich findings from different caves, for example Jakas Cave near the village of Zrnovo and especially from Vela Spila in Vela Luka, witness the development of the Neolithic culture and its maritime links with other parts of the Mediterranean. The findings at Vela Spila are on display at the Centre for Culture in Vela Luka. The fate of these peoples is not known but the sites do provide a window into their way of life.

Between 2nd and 1st millennium B.C. Illyrian tribes, semi-nomadic tribal people living from agriculture, start to inhabit the island from which “gradine” (fortifications on the hills), graves, and other archaeological finds have been preserved.

According to a legend, the island was founded by Trojan hero Antenor in the 12th century B.C. who is also famed as the founder of the city of Padua. But what is known for certain that next important change happened somewhere in the 6th century B.C. when the ancient Greek colony was formed on Korcula. Greek colonists that came from the island of Korkyra (a Greek island in the Ionian Sea, today known as Corfu) named it Korkyra Melaina (or “Black Korkyra”) after their homeland and the dense pine-woods that covered the island back then, just as it does today. Greek artifacts, including carved marble tombstones can be found at the local Korcula town museum.

The second Greek colony was founded in the 3rd century B.C., this time by the Greek settlers from Issa (Croatian island of Vis) and a stone inscription (“Lumbarda Psephisma”) that documented the event was found in village of Lumbarda. This stone tablet describes the decision of the assembly to found and build the town, to divide the land among the settlers and confirms the agreement for peaceful coexistence with the Illyrian inhabitants. It is the oldest written document on Croatian territory and is now housed in the Archaeological museum in Zagreb. The two communities lived peacefully until the Illyrian Wars (a set of wars fought in the period 229-168 B.C.) with the Romans.

In the year 229 B.C., after the First Illyrian War, Korcula comes for the first time under Roman rule. The peace is disturbed from time to time by the successful pirate campaigns from the Illyrian tribes in Dalmatia, who make war against Rome with varying success until 168 B.C. when the Roman Republic finally completed the conquest of Illyria and southern Illyria became a formally independent Roman protectorate.

Between 2nd and 1st millennium B.C. Illyrian tribes, semi-nomadic tribal people living from agriculture, start to inhabit the island from which “gradine” (fortifications on the hills), graves, and other archaeological finds have been preserved.

The Roman administration did not establish a province until Octavian’s wars (later the emperor Augustus) in Illyricum in the period 35–33 B.C. Roman migration followed and Roman citizens arrived on the island. Roman villas appeared through the territory of Korcula and there is evidence of an organised agricultural exploitation of the land. There are also archaeological remains of Roman Junianum on the island and old church foundations.

In 10 A.D. Illyricum was split into two provinces, Pannonia and Dalmatia, so Korcula became a part of the ancient Roman province of Dalmatia.

In the 480 A.D., after the fall of Western Roman Empire, Korcula comes under the reign of Theodoric, king of the Eastern Goths.

In the 6th century Korcula within the province of Dalmatia comes under the reign of Byzantium at the time of the emperor Justinian. The Great Migrations of the 6th and 7th centuries brought Croatian invasions into this region. Along the Dalmatian coast, the Croatian people poured out from the continental parts and seized control of the area where the river Neretva enters the Adriatic Sea, as well as the island of Korcula.

In the year 1000 Petar II Orseolo, the Duke of Venice, conquers Korcula and a period of Venetian rule begins, interspersed with periods of reign by Croatian, Croatian-Hungarian, Zahumljan and Bosnian rulers, lasting until 1420.

The year 1214 is quite important in Korcula’s history because of the issuing of the Statute of the town and island of Korcula (“Statuta et leges civitatis et insulae Curzulae”), a code setting out the life and administration of the town and the island of Korcula. It guaranteed the autonomy of the island, apart from its outside rulers: the Grand Principality of Raska, the semi-independent Great Principality of Zahumlje and the Republics of Venice and Ragusa. Captains were assigned for each of the island’s five settlements for organized defense. At the time Korcula had less than 2,500 inhabitants.

In the year 1254 Marco Polo, the great Venetian traveler and explorer, was born in Korcula.
07.09.1298. is the date of the great naval battle between the Genoese and the Venetian fleets that took place in front of the town of Korcula. The Republic of Genoa defeated Venice in the documented “Battle of Curzola” and a galley commander, Marco Polo, was taken prisoner by the victors to eventually spend his time in a Genoese prison writing of his travels. He was freed upon payment of a big ransom in 1299.

In the year 1300 Pope Boniface VIII founded the Korčula Diocese under the Roman Catholic Diocese of Ragusa.

In the year 1483, during the war between Republic of Venice and Ferrara (1482 — 1484), King Ferdinand of Naples sent a fleet to conquer Korčula. It was defeated under the Governor Giorgio Viario. In the years 1529 and 1558 Korcula was devastated by the Great Plague.

In the year 1637 Petar Kanavelic was born, Korcula’s most famous poet and writer of the Baroque period.

According to the Treaty of Campoformio in the year 1797, in which the Venetian Republic was divided between the French Republic and the Habsburg Monarchy, Korcula was passed to the Habsburg Monarchy and Austrian rule lasted until 1805.

In the year 1806 the French Empire invaded the island, joining it to the Illyrian Provinces. Except for a year when the Montenegrin Forces of Prince-Episcope Peter I Njegos conquered the island with Russian naval assistance in 1807, French rule lasted until 1813.

On February 4 1813 British troops and naval forces under the command of Thomas Fremantle captured the island from the French. This short period of British rule left an important mark on the island: the new stone West quay was built, a circular tower (“forteca”) on the hill of St. Blaise above the town, as well as a semi-circular paved terrace with stone benches on the newly built road towards Lumbarda.

According to the terms of the Congress of Vienna, the British left the island to the Austrian Empire on July 19 1815 and Korcula became a part of the Austrian crown land of Dalmatia until 1918.

During the First World War, the island (among other territorial gains) was promised to the Kingdom of Italy under the Treaty of London (1915) in return for Italy joining the war on the side of Great Britain and France. However, after the war, Korcula became a part (with the rest of Dalmatia) of the newly created state SHS – State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs in 1918. The first Italian occupation of Korcula occurred on 15.11.1918. and the island was ruled by Italy until 1921.19.04.1921., after the Treaty of Rapallo between Italy and Kingdom of Serbia, Croatia & Slovenia (Nov. 12, 1920), Korcula became part of the Kingdom of Serbia, Croatia & Slovenia which was renamed in Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1929.

From 1921 to 1941 a massive emigration takes place as a consequence of the general social and economic crisis, leaving the population of some of the villages decimated.

From 1945 to 1965 post-war renovation and the building of modern shipyards can’t provide enough jobs for all those who are seeking it so the lack of work and the unfulfilled hopes result in further emigration, mostly to Australia and New Zealand.

From 1965 to 1990 the development of tourism and the building of modern hotels, together with the development of other economic branches finally stop the emigration from the island and the population starts to gradually rise again.

In the year 1991, the island became a part of the independent Republic of Croatia.

Cultural heritage

Although the cultural aspects of Korcula Island do not date back in time as much as its historical roots, they are still more than abundant for a little island. Architecture, religion, music, art, literature, old folk customs and sword dances are just some examples of what Korcula has to share with You.

The island has a long art tradition since its very early days when crafts like stonemasonry and shipbuilding were considered as an art for itself, therefore sculpturing is the most famous art that originated from these times, having the source in tradition of stonemasonry. Just looking around Korcula Old Town, whose nucleus is a part of Croatian national heritage, we can see impressive amount of various gothic, renaissance and baroque palaces, monuments, churches and other buildings, but centuries old examples can also be found in places like Blato and Vela Luka, many little villages or scattered around the island.

The religion aspect of Korclula’s heritage is not seen only through numerous little churches or cathedrals and other sacral objects, but through examples like many preserved traditional ceremonies and festivities, different saints and feasts or even museums dedicated to their lives, etc. There are also three fraternal groups in Korcula: Sasvetani (Brotherhood of All Saints), Rokovci (Brotherhood of St. Rocco) and Mihovilci (Brotherhood of Our Lady of Consolation). These religious associations date back from Middle Ages: All Saints founded in 1301, St. Rocco in 1575 and Our Lady of Consolation founded in 1603. They take part in church ceremonies and rites and confraternities in Korcula Town have their own churches and houses with congregation halls which are also museums of their heritage of liturgical decorations, paintings and historical objects.

The 17th century witnessed the rise of Petar Kanavelic who wrote love songs, occasional epic poems and dramas. He is regarded as one of the greatest Croatian writers of 17th century. In 1673 he became the representative of the Korcula community in Venice and there is a primary school named after him in the town of Korcula.

Korcula is especially proud of its many traditional sword dances that are preformed in Korcula town and 5 other villages. Moreska is a traditional sword dance from the town of Korčula. This is not an authentic local folklore and it was introduced from other Mediterranean countries, symbolizing a battle between Christians and Moslems: on Corsica, Sicily, in Spain and elsewhere. In Korcula it may have started somewhere in the 16th century, after the Turkish siege in 1571 and this is the only place where it has survived. Besides Moreska, there is Kumpanjija from the villages of Blato, Pupnat and Cara and Mostra from the village of Zrnovo.

Korcula has a rich musical history of “klape” groups. Klapa is a form of a cappella style of singing. The tradition goes back for centuries, but the style as we know it today originated in the 19th century.

The Korkyra Baroque Festival is an international music festival established in 2012. Now in its fifth year, it will run from 3-17 September 2016. Once again, the Festival will offer a rich baroque experience in impressive culture heritage venues on the island of Korcula and music of an exceptional standard, attracting tourists from all over the world and enriching the cultural offering. The concerts promote Korcula’s churches as a cultural heritage, as well as the entire island as a unique architectural complex. The Korkyra Baroque Festival is one of the most important and successful baroque festivals in Croatia and abroad. Due to this success, the most prominent and world’s famous ensembles and soloists specializing in baroque music have been a part of this beautiful baroque concert magic.

In all the island’s villages carnival celebrations are customary (in the period from mid-January to Ash-Wednesday which, according to the church calendar, falls on a different date every year, but by the end of February to the latest). In this period masked balls (or “maskare”, how locals call them) are held every week all over the island. Besides individual masks, there are also groups with little shows and masked performances for the children. Festivities reach the peak on Shrove Tuesday and the people celebrate with traditional local food and drinks.

As we have mentioned before, these are just some examples of a rich and abundant cultural heritage of Korcula Island. To find out more interesting facts, useful information or some specific details, check out other sections of Cintro.com, like pages “Did You know…?”, “The Island of sword dancers”, etc.

Be sure to check out pages of individual locations if You would like to find out more about their local customs, culture and history.

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