WWF declared Vis one of the last ten heavenly oasis of the Mediterranean, and the Guardian declared him one of the ten most interesting islands in the world!
NEOLITHIC & ANTIQUE
The island of Vis was first settled by Mediterranean cultures during the Neolithic in 3000 BC. The name of the island, ISSA, derives from that time. The Illyrians, representatives of the metal civilisation, settled the island in 2000 BC. In 6-5 centuries BC Issa was ruled by Ion, who established the first Illyrian state on the Adriatic Sea. At that time the island was called Ion’s island and Ion’s figure embellished the coins of the town of Issa. In 397 BC the tyrant from Syracuse, Dionysus the Older, founded – in Issa – the first Greek colony on the eastern coast of the Adriatic; in that way the Island was given the central position on the Adriatic, which enabled it to control all the trade routes. Settlers from Greece introduced a more advanced way of cultivating the land, as well as the new field crops – grapes and olives. During the reign of Dionysus the Younger, Issa became a free democratic polis “town – state”, which rapidly started to strengthen its position by spreading its trade network and founding its colonies on the islands and mainland: Lumbarda (on Korčula), Tragurion (Trogir), Epetion (Stobreć) and finally Salona (Solin). All these colonies were economically and politically ruled by Issa. A part of the archaeological finds in graves from that period consists of vases from Issa, wine jugs and terracotta sculptures. Ancient Issa is an example of the oldest system of town – planing in our regions. It is situated in the northern part of the bay, called Gradina. Like other Greek towns Issa was surrounded by walls which have been partly preserved; it is also supposed that it had a standard, regular network of streets. Due to favorable circumstances Issa flourished up until the conflict with the Illyrian king, Argos, broke out, and after that, with his widow, Queen Teuta, in 331 BC. Aware of the fact that it would not be able to repel the attack by Queen Teuta, Issa asked for help from the Roman Empire. Entering into this alliance, Rome came to the eastern part of the Adriatic for the first time; it afterwards became its field of interest for almost 2 thousand years. Thanks to its loyal alliance with Rome and the help they received through its conquering raids, Issa and its colonies continued to develop in economic terms. Such a development continued until 47 BC, when Issa chose the wrong side in the war between Caesar and Pompey – Pompey’s. After his defeat, Issa was turned into a Roman municipium. Nevertheless, owing to its rich, long – standing cultural, economical and maritime experience Issa was in a position to continue ruling over its colonies (Roman municipal) although under more difficult circumstances. Therefore, it remained the most important trade center on the Adriatic and the main mediator between the Mediterranean countries and the interior. As barbarian tribes invaded the borders of the Roman Empire, the economic power of big centres, like Salona, declined. Consequently, the island Issa, which was connected with Salona, started to decline, too, while settlers continued to live in the Roman villa rustica, scattered afterwards developed into bigger rural communities. What can you see today: THERMAE, as well as the foundations of an antique theatre have only partly been preserved. Judging by the size of the theatre, which could accommodate some 3000 people, it is assumed that Issa of old had about 12-14.000 inhabitants. Outside the town walls there are three archaeological sites with graveyards, the one by the western walls was later given the Slavonic name Martvilo, the one by the eastern walls was called Vlaöks njiva, whereas the southern graveyard was situated in the area of today’s Luka. Findings of the urns from the 1st century BC testify to the oldest traces of cremation in Dalmatia.
COMING OF CROATS AND DOMINATION OF VENETIAN REPUBLIC
In 7th and 8th century the Croats came to Issa. They soon mingled with the natives, of Illyrian, Greek and Roman origin. The name of the island became Croatized and was renamed Vis, as it is today. The Croatian name Vis is first mentioned in the work by the Byzantine Emperor Constantin Porfirogenet (912-959), “De Administrando Imperio”. When the Croats came to Vis, the island turned into one of the most important war-maritime strongholds in the eastern Adriatic. This is the reason why, in 997, Vis was invaded by the Venetians; the settlement was completely destroyed while a larger part of the population was enslaved. The rest of the inhabitants withdrew from the destroyed town inland where they founded the settlements Velo Selo and Dol; there they took up vine – growing that there they were protected from assaults from the sea. In 1154 the Hvar diocese was founded, because only in that way could Venice weaken the resistance of Dalmatia and its islands united under the strong Split diocese. Therefore, in 1185 the islands of Brač, Hvar, Vis, Lastovo and Korčula belonged to the Hvar diocese. At that time the Benedictines came to Vis; they founded their monasteries and associated churches on Biöevo and Komiža. Vis belonged to the Hvar diocese which fell within the jurisdiction of the Zadar archdiocese, itself dependent on the Venetian Republic, therefore, it was made possible for the bishop from Hvar to consign his whole bishopric to be governed by the Venetian Republic in 1278. Consequently, the Venetian Republic assigned its own chancellor, removed district – perfect and founded a centralized commune, which also comprised Hvar, BraË and Vis. When Vis became a part of Hvar commune, noblemen from Hvar were given properties on Vis, while the native population entered into tenant farming relations towards noblemen and clergy. Such a situation lasted until 1358, when peace was restored to Zadar, Venice lost all its territory, which came under Croatian – Hungarian rule. In 1483, the fleet from the Napolitan – Aragonian king Ferrante attached Vis and destroyed Velo Selo situated inland. The population returned to St. George’s Port, in addition to the ancient settlement they founded two more settlements, Luka, at the western side of the bay and Kut, at the eastern one. The two settlements survived until 1579, when the Lady’s Guild raised the church to Our Lady of the Cave, which connects the two settlements (the church was named after the cave it was erected on). THE DOMINATION OF AUSTRIA AND UNITED KINGDOM In 1797, when the peace treaty was signed in Campoformi, Vis fell under Austria rule; later, in 1805, after making peace in Požun, it was governed by France. At that time, although Vis was legally in possession of France, it was the English who really ruled the roost of the island, became an international center of smugglers and pirates. Due to a large number of people who came to stay on Vis, the number of inhabitants suddenly increased from 10.000 to almost 120.000. Such a situation soon became unacceptable to Napoleon, who decided to take over his property using even military force against the English. As the English fought back fiercely, the French fleet was defeated in the battle near Vis, in 1811, and the Englishman, Sir George Duncan Robertson, was assigned the job of governor on Vis. Being aware the strategic importance of Vis the English hurriedly began to fortify the port of Vis. When Vis came under their control, the English began to rule the Adriatic. After the Congress of Vienna, in 1815, Vis was put under the control of the Hapsburg Monarchy which did not invest a lot into it; however, the new rulers realised that Vis occupied an important strategic position and thus built the fortress Baterija there. This proved to be an extremely important move, for it was Vis which successfully repulsed the first attack by the Italian fleet in 1866, thus preventing its foray into the Adriatic. After this success, in 1873, the Monarchy ordered that Vis should be disarmed, and its towers and fortresses destroyed. From that time on, Vis is famous only for good wine and fish, it was the beginning of its slow but steady economic decline.
2nd WORLD WAR AND AFTER
An important strategic position of Vis proved, once again, during the second world war – a lot of refugees immigrated for Italy and Egypt from this island; it was also a base for the allied planes, navy, and a central base of the Supreme Headquarters and the Supreme Commander, Josip Broz Tito. From the island of Vis battles against the enemy were controlled, contacts with the allies were made, agreements were reached. The enormous contribution of Vis in the fights against the enemy gave this island a special place in peacetime. On the other hand, unfortunately, this extremely strategically important position of Vis has destroyed the island itself. In the period of 45 years after the war the army outnumbered the population of Vis, therefore, foreign tourists were not allowed on the island. Economic development was neglected because all the money went for army maintenance and mere survival of population. In the 70’s two hotels were opened, in Vis and Komiža, an effort to help the island through touristic orientation – the offers were aimed mainly at tourists from our country. The only activities one could decently live on were those founded a hundred years ago, like vine – growing and fishing. And so it turned out that the island, due to its extraordinary values, natural, cultural as well as political ones, was doomed to slowly die away. In 1995 the population of the island is 4600, 500 of them being recent war invalids with families, as well as refugees. There are about 1500 laborers, and only 670 of them are employed (only 50 in agriculture). The fish manufacturing plant in Komi`a has been closed, the wine cellar in Vis is working with only 30% capacity, while the textile plant workers are on the dole. Mostly season workers from the mainland are employed in the hotels.