In the Footsteps of Demetrius of Pharos

Recently I spent a few days at the Ancient city of Pharos, today known as Stari Grad, which is located on the modern island of Hvar, in the Adriatic. Pharos was founded by the Greeks in 385 BC and today a few interesting remains exist that provided, for me, an interesting couple of days while resting from my travels.

East of the old part of Stari Grad, which is built on the Greek city of Pharos, is the Stari Glad Plain. Here the land is divided into parcels of 180m by 900m bounded by dry stone walls. Today, the field system remains generally as it was when laid out by the Greeks and is the largest and most well preserved example in existence. Some sections of the dry stone walls are, even today, 1.5m high and some upwards of a metre in width. 

Above and below, examples of the walls. In the one above you can see clearly the internal space filled with smaller stones.

Apparently the field system included a rain water recovery system, though I found no evidence of this, but of course I wasn’t sure what to look for.

During my visit I walked out to the remains of a Greek watch tower, part of a system to provide warning of attack. The information I received from the Stari Grad Information Office indicated an hour return. I took around two hours return.

The plain is protected by UNESCO, and is one of seven such sites in Croatia. A plot marker, as well as tablets from the polis, can be found in Dominican Monastery museum. Unfortunately no photos were allowed.

Stari Grad itself is a beautiful town with many old buildings clustered together. The old town is Medieval but is built on the Roman and Greek towns. Recent archeological investigation has uncovered portions of a Greek road and sections of the old Greek walls. Below, the area around the church of Saint Ivan’s where the most recent archeological excavations have been completed. On the left part of the Greek road while in the distance a section of wall.

Today, selected buildings within the town, including the lower levels of two imposing bell towers, are built using stones from the Greek city walls.

The exhibits in the small Stari Grad Museum, separate from the Dominican Museum, were very interesting. One of my favourites was this terracotta fragment with mould above, and the seal below.

Of course a good range of pottery was on display. Examples included, Greek, Southern Italian and less refined Illyrian.

The museum also displays numerous amphorae from a wrecked 4th or 5th century Roman merchant ship discovered and displayed convincingly as they were found. A smaller display is in the Hvar citadel.

So what of the history, here are a few snippets. The colony was established in 385 BC, but the colony was almost destroyed in 384 BC by the local Illyrians and only saved by Dionysius the Elder, tyrant of Syracuse. Diodorus (15.14) records the following:

This year the Parians who had settled on Pharos allowed the previous barbarian inhabitants to remain unharmed in a well fortified place, while they themselves built their city by the sea and enclosed it with a wall. Later the earlier inhabitants took offence at the presence of the Greeks and called in the Illyrians dwelling on the mainland opposite. These crossed to Pharos in a large number of small boats and, more than ten thousand strong, killed many Greeks and did much damage. However Dionysius’ commander at Lissus sailed up with a large number of Triremes against the Illyrian light craft and, having sunk some and captured others, killed more than five thousand of the barbarians and took around two thousand prisoners.”

Later, of course the Romans turned up. In 219 BC Demetrius of Pharos makes some bad decisions and Pharos comes under Roman rule following a battle around Phoros. Again we have some excellent artefacts from this Roman period including pottery, coins and mosaics which have been discovered underneath the towns narrow streets.

Today in the squares of Saint Stephens is Roman 2nd Century winged Eros is visible, though I managed to work past it twice! Within the bell tower, though I couldn’t see it, is an engraving of a Roman merchant vessel.

Now, as to the name of this post. Well one of the paths I took across the Stari Grad Plain was called “The Path of Demetrius of Pharos”. It seemed fitting to use this as the name, converging Greek and Roman. If you are in the area you may find a day or two in Stari Grad of interest.

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