Already blessed with a wealth of culture and heritage including its status as the only island in the world with four UNESCO heritages, Croatia's premier island of Hvar unearthed more treasures on December 30, 2014 with the presentation of preliminary findings of an archaeological dig
under the oldest public theatre in Europe.
Renovation and restoration work on the impressive Arsenal building on the edge of Hvar Town's fabled main square has been ongoing, and the latest phase in October revealed some archaeological secrets under the building's floor which prompted the excavation.
Mentioned in Venetian documents
as 'the most beautiful and the most useful building in all Dalmatia', the upper floor of the Arsenal is home to Europe's oldest public theatre, constructed in 1612, but the preliminary findings presented show a much older past for the location, as local archaeological supervisor Eduard Viskovic explained to Digital Journal.
According to Viskovic, as soon as the construction workers found archaeological layers, they stopped working, and the excavation began in the beginning of November. Hvar Town itself did not have a licence to carry out such an excavation, so the company NEIR was brought in from Split. A small team of Viskovic, fellow archaeologist Nebojsa Cingeli and Porin Kukoc from NEIR was formed, and they were assisted by well-known archaeologist Miroslav Katic, who had conducted smaller excavations on the site in 1994 and 1996.
The initial excavation lasted a month amid challenging conditions in mud and water, and the preliminary results, which have yet to be examined in greater details, have revealed three major layers of Hvar's past.
Of these, the oldest dates back to the late first and early second centuries, where a big room and some period pottery was found. Viskovic describes this as a 'sensational' discovery and one that he hopes will lead to greater discoveries in future excavations.
The second layer is dated between the fourth and seventh centuries and comprises lots of pottery and lots of rooms, which point to some serious settlement during this period.
The last layer relates to the Venetian Arsenal period, and the small team uncovered some walls, pottery, cannon balls of small calibre, as well as seven big balls some 50 cm in diameter. These big balls were probably ammunition for siege weaponry or ammunition for big cannons, known to exist in the later Middle Ages.
The excavation is due to continue in the new year. Once completed, the findings will be analysed and a detailed conclusion presented.
The discoveries come at a poignant time, as Croatia looks to develop its shoulder tourism seasons by diversifying its attractions away from the stereotypical sun and beach offer of its stunning coast and islands, and the country's rich heritage is a focal point in a new initiative from the national tourist board called Croatia 365. The Roman heritage of Central Dalmatia was also given a further tourism boost earlier this month with the opening of the first stretch of Roman roads for tourists