Tvrdalj Castle, Split, Croatia | CruiseBe
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Tvrdalj Castle

Stari Grad, Croatia
History and museums
castle, historic site, landmark

Tvrdalj Castle (Croatian: Gradina Tvrdalj) is a castle in Stari Grad, on the island of Hvar, Croatia.

Tvrdalj is the fortified summer residence of Petar Hektorović, the Croatian poet (1487-1572). During the 16th century, the island of Hvar came under attack from the Ottoman Turks. Hektorović, one of the local nobles, undertook to fortify his house so that it could act as shelter for the local citizens.

Tvrdalj is a well-preserved Renaissance building, with a long closed facade on the seaward side, to protect it from attack. The interior courtyard contains a sea-water fishpool, enclosed by a vaulted and arcaded terrace. Next to it is a tower with a dovecote. The living quarters, together with the servant quarters, and several wells, are arranged around the pool. Behind the main buildings is a walled garden where Hektorović cultivated herbs and medicinal plants.

A series of inscriptions are set into walls of the mansion in Latin and Croatian. Those in Croatian are considered to be some of the oldest extant.


Translation: Petar Hektorović, son of Marin, built this at his own expense and by his own efforts, for his own and his friends' use.




In 1448, Hektor Hektorović was granted permission by the Hvar Governor (Hvarski Knez) to build on the land at Tvrdalj, at the far western edge of the town of Stari Grad, right on the shore of the bay. The location was already known as Tvrdalj which translates as a fortress or castle, implying an earlier fortification on the site. The area had been the site of occupation from ancient times, as demonstrated later by remains found during the 1898 excavations for the steps of the nearby church of Sv Rocco.

The late 15th century and into the 16th century was a time of expansion and building in Stari Grad. In 1482, the Dominican monastery was built, and many of the noble families on the island saw Old Hvar, as it was then called, as a peaceful haven. Many eminent figures had summer palaces built, so much so that in 1553 the Venetian correspondent Giustinian described Stari Grad as having "handsome buildings and a port fit for the largest of ships. Many fine people live there."

Following the death of his father, Marin Hektorović, Petar Hektorović took over the building and made Tvrdalj into his summer palace using his own architectural design. Although this was not his only house on the island, or even in Stari Grad, he mentioned it extensively in his will, explaining in architectural detail how to continue with the unfinished building works.

Petar Hektorović sited his residence directly on the waterfront, which in the 16th century was located further inland than today. The square that lies in front of Tvrdalj today did not exist until the 19th century. In Hektorović's time, there was a shallow stretch of seawater right up to the entrance, allowing access by boat. His fortified palace was built on the shore near to where the baths of a Roman country villa had once stood.

During the 1520s and 1530s, building work focused mainly on housing for travellers and the poor. However, an attack on Stari Grad by the Turks in 1539 left much of the town burned and ransacked and Hektorovic fled to Italy, returning in 1541 to resume work.

Hektorović's design for Tvrdalj was a simple layout of single story dwellings around a central courtyard. His house, kitchen and cellar opened onto the courtyard, which had a large rectangular fishpond. Above the pond was a tower, with dovecot. At the back of the property was a large walled garden. The main entry was through a baroque portal from the sea, where the inscription "OMNIUM CONDITORI" (To the Creator of the World) would greet arriving visitors. A stone recess in the atrium has a hole that was used for emptying chamber pots. Carved into the stone above this simple lavatory is "SI TE NOSTI CUR SUPERBIS" (Know what thou art,then why art thy proud?).

On the eastern side, with its own entrance, was housing for travellers and paupers. Under the terrace of the loggia, in a small cell lived a Beguine nun. A high wall surrounded the housing complex, with defensive features such as a ravelin, and an altana (rooftop loggia) with merlons.

The fishpond was created as a habitat for grey mullet, with a system to ensure a fresh supply of sea water. Above this is a small tower with the dovecot for birds, and a garden with flowers and trees for land animals. Hektorović himself said that his metaphysical construction began with the fishes in the pond, symbolizing Christ, and ended with the doves, which symbolized the holy spirit.

Tvrdalj was a simple summer residence, with none of the ornamentation or classical statues that mark other fashionable nobles houses of the time. Its defensive architecture gives it a distinctive appearance.

In 1571 Stari Grad was again attacked and Tvrdalj was set on fire by the Turks. A year later, Petar Hektorovic died and the damaged Tvrdalj was divided between his relatives. Following provisions in his will, there were gradual improvements made. However, in 1834 the Venetian laws lapsed and Tvrdalj experienced massive construction works: the south wall of the complex was removed, vaults constructed around the pool, a second floor added on either side of the tower, and new two-storey houses were built. The bay in front of Tvrdalj was filled in as part of the harbour improvements. In the 20th century, further major changes were experienced in 1901 when the eastern wall was demolished and houses built over the vault and cistern which is still part of the Tvrdalj entrance.

Carved Inscriptions

Tvrdalj has numerous carved inscriptions in Latin, Croatian and Italian. These date from the original building by Peter Hektorović.


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