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The historic town of Korčula

Date of Submission: 29/01/2007
Criteria: (ii)(iii)(iv)(v)
Category: Cultural
State, Province or Region:
County of Dubrovnik and Neretva
Coordinates: N42 57 41,9 E17 08 09,9
Ref.: 5105
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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party

Description

The form of the town of Korčula is primarily determined by the form of the little peninsula protruding into Channel of PeljeSac, (large about l nlm), on the northern side of the island of Korčula, (superficies about 272 km2). The strategic position favoured, and the natural setting enabled its complete encirclement with walls, which correspond with the line of the sea shore. They enclose the ellipse, (310x175 m), of the domical hill with the large cathedral and high belfry rising on the top. The surrounding architecture covers the entire perimeter of the peninsula, and its only connection with the main island is cut off by an artificial trench. The bridge across it was the main entrance to the town, whose design is based on a fish bone pattern. Its spine is the longest street, protruding directly towards north. It is crossed by about a dozen shorter streets, which on the other end meet the circumferential one. The symmetrical order permitted the cohesion of the collective living of the limited number of people, (1000 at most), but also their fastest approach to the walls in case of danger from the outside. The original walls raised high, in the gothic manner, and later lower bastions were added from the outside. There were about ten towers around the town, some square and some round, surpassing by little the lines of the walls. The walls were reinforced at the points of expected attacks: especially the port, protected from the winds and waves in southwest corner of the town. The complex of cutcherries demonstrates the presence of the foreign government of the maritime ascendancy, with salt and arm repositories, and a large cistern providing the water for ships. The medium south tower watched the bridge of the southern, main entrance, while its counterpart on the west side had the outside loggia, for those who arrived after the evening closure of the main doors. The terraces in front of those entrances served as some kind of propugnaculum, because the mouths of the gate were situated at the sides of the towers. The system of the defence was very carefully programmed, now visible only in fragments. The internal space of the town is filled with elongated blocks of houses, mostly lined parallel to the lateral streets, oriented towards the sun, and the rose for the local winds, while the gentle slope of the irregular hill is resolved with stairs. Their direction has been dictated by south block of the town, not following the curve of the peninsula, but the straight line of the artificial trench. The main street is stretched along the ridge, intersecting under right angle all the others, and opening in two places in rectangular squares. The one next to the south entrance is understood as small vestibule, and the other one, twice as long, becomes the gathering centre. Here the cathedral raises, and its belfry with public watch served as a watch tower. All the streets, following the regular pattern, are separated by two parallel rows of houses, whose fronts face the street, while the waste water canal is situated at the back. Originally, unified lots inside the elongated narrow blocks were enlarged following the fortunes of their owners. Besides the unification of the lots under one roof, houses grew in height, which was particularly visible in solutions of the sumptuous fronts. The geometrical order of the residential blocks has never been changed drastically, except for minor, but original irregularities of the general system in the north part of the town, as if rows were to be adjusted to the curve of the walls. Rhythnucal series of houses were only to be interrupted by some private yard, but hidden inside the lot. Even the churches have been adjusted to the whole raster of the architecture, so the smaller ones, St. Katherine, St. Barbara and Lucy, St. Mary and the Annunciation remained not accentuated within the residential houses. Unlike them, the churches of St. Michael next to the main entrance to the town, and the church of St. Peter next to the old cathedral cemetery, are overlooking the squares, following the proportion of these open spaces. The vastest church-hall, All Saints, was built for the most powerful local confraternity in the corner far away from the cathedral complex and important traffic lines. Its simple forms follow the styles of architecture of the profane architecture, and the only specific feature is the front, with the arches for the bells, on the top of the pediment.

The cathedral is of biggest splendour, its growth is very well documented, and all the builders of the different phases are known. As a whole, it demonstrates key characteristic of the regional architecture of late Gothic and Renaissance period, as it has been built from the beginning of the 15th to the end of the 16th century. From this very period dates the largest number of private houses. Their chronology is established by decorative architectural elements, its repertoire being rather uniform and displaying the vocabulary of local workshops. The most attractive are patrician palaces disseminated in all parts of the town, but concentrating around the top of the hill and the port. Their fronts feature various Venetian models of goticofiorito according to the provincial taste, and the mixture of styles - up to baroque - is clearly visible. Original solutions are also to be found, like Municipal palace with public loggia, excellent example of the local Renaissance from the first half of 16th century. The houses of middle classes are simpler and smaller, more often rebuilt in 19th century's humble features, but also normally built in well carved stone. Squares and streets, with steps following the rising of the hill, are covered with stone slabs, as well as roofs rising as cascades towards the centre. Often the streets are bridged in order to connect front houses, in cases of growth of family wealth, and this process also involved the waste water canals on the back of the houses in rows.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The image of historical Korčula is marked by its symbiosis with the rocky peninsula on which the town grew and achieved an exceptional symbiosis between human work and natural environment, which has been noticed by many ancient and modern travellers. Its most outstanding feature is the homogeneity of its urban structure, built in local stone (quarries in nearby islands) which has conditioned technical and morphological qualities of local architecture. The town of Korčula and the surrounding region was the centre of stone masons for centuries which remained one of the main ecconomic assets of local government. It comes as no surprise that over 85% of preserved buildings dates from before the 17th century, when development came to a halt. In fact, 48% of buildings in the historical core dates from the 15th & 16th centuries. The high degree of preservation contributes to the evaluation of the architectural ensemble - indeed, the entire historical town of Korčula is inscribed into the Register of monuments of the Republic of Croatia. Evaluations confirm that 54% of the buildings is very well preserved, 3 1% well preserved while 9% falls into the category of poorly preserved buildings, the positive saldo being higher than in other historical urban ensembles along the Croatian coast. Although at the beginning of the 19th century the outer fortifications were cut down or dismantled, most of the prominent towers were kept intact, challenging the cathedral bell tower and contributing to the authentic skyline. Modem interventions in the historical core are rare and amount up to 3%, without imperiling the authenticity of the ensemble.

It is significant that according to official registar, half of the overall number of buildings (352 units are recorded) belong to higher categories of monuments of architecture in Croatia. Among them, churches are most intresting in terms of art history. There is some dozen of them, built from the early gothic period until baroque with the monumental cathedral occupying the forefront. She belongs to the highest category of architectural monuments in the region, being an excellent example of the synthesis of gothic and renaissance style. Among public buildings the town hall is of greatest interest, representing an original version of Dalmatian renaissance style in the 16th century. Apart from displaying high standards of building skills both are significant as parts of the urban ensemble: the cathedral with its bell tower dominates the town and determines the central town square on the highest point of the peninsula, while the town hall, flanking the southern town gate, opens unto a public square which acts as a counterpart to the one in front of the church thus indicating two pillars of medieval society. Patrician houses and private houses also figure high on the list of monuments, and remaining fortifications occupy an important place in their category. In short, with 58% of buildings in gothic and renaissance style the historical town of Korčula represents an exceptional testimony to late medieval town planning and architecture, and a rich synthesis of tradition and innovation achieved during the period of renaissance on the eastern Adriatic coast.

Comparison with other similar properties

The regular urban nucleus of the historic town of Korčula was often compared with some old, even prehistoric settlements of the Mediterranean basin. Such comparisons were grounded on formal similarities of planning, especially the fact that written fonts mention Korčula even before the great changes that occured at the end of the classical civilization. Without firm proofs however, it is a prevailing opinion that today's urban form is a variant of late medieval town planning, conforming to the principle of adjusting the regular geometrical grid to natural setting and specific historical conditions of development. The design thus becomes a radial plan with a longitudinal main axis connecting public spaces and lines of communication inside the fortification walls.

No direct analogies to this specific town planning are to be found among European examples. It partially resembles the regulation of new town quarters of Dubrovnik fiom the end of the 13th century, or the new town of Ston fiom the beginning of the 14th century. They were designed under similar historic circumstances but Korčula's plan stems fiom its specific natural setting on the small peninsula and the ever present necessity of defence. The defence was guaranteed by the number of inhabitants and secured by assignation of lots for houses, a system which was typical of new colonies. This being attributed to the rising power of Venice, it is important to note that Chioggia, another Venetian colony, is planned along the same fishbone urban pattern, but the communication lines in Chioggia are channels not streets. There is a number of bastides from the gothic period accross Europe displaying a plan much like the one in Korčula, but in an essentially different setting and possessing a different grid form. Other comparisons are situated deeper in the continent, for instance Lubeck, situated on the banks of two rivers, but its urban pattern has become part of a steady growing ensemble. This would not be the case in Korčula where, due to the specific natural setting, its original nucleus remained separated fiom the later suburbs protruding towards the main island.