Luki Guardian of Hvar's Treasures: Tor

Published in About Animals

Luki and his human minder Ivica are keeping the old footpaths viable: Jelsa's historic Tor is one of their favourite destinations, and well worth a visit for those fit enough to get there.

Luki, King of the Castle! Luki, King of the Castle! Photo: Ivica Drinković

In a hill to the south-east up above Jelsa are the remains of a small hillfort and watchtower known locally as 'Tor'. It dates back to prehistoric times, and the partially rebuilt rectangular watchtower with its massive stone blocks is still impressive. Luki, guardian of Hvar's treasures with his two-legged pet parent Ivica, knows all the routes to Tor well.

Church of Our Lady of Health. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Tor has to be reached on foot. It stands at 235 m above sea level, so it is quite a climb. From Jelsa the path is relatively easy at first, becoming increasingly difficult as it ascends. When Sir Richard Burton visited in 1875, he warned: "Beyond the Madonna della Salute [Church of Our Lady of Health, Crkva od Gospe Zdravlja in Croatian] the goat-path became stiff and stony, slippery withal under mud and rain." He was unlucky with the weather (well it was late December), but even without the difficulties caused by the inclement conditions, he was sceptical of local people's estimates of the time the hike would take: "The time would take an " oretta "- beware of the " little hour" in Dalmatia and Istria. On this occasion, however, it was only double."

Luki and his pal Đuro setting off up the path towards Tor. Photo: Ivica Drinković

Nowadays, the walk takes about 40 minutes, if you are reasonably fit. As it is an uphill climb, and the path passes through beautiful cultivated and uncultivated countryside, you may want to take it more slowly. Make sure you have water with you, and wear comfortable shoes and appropriate clothing.

The old path is blocked! thwarting orchid enthusiast Frank Verhart. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

The path to Tor still starts from the Church of Our Lady of Health, overlooking Jelsa at its southern edge, but there have been some changes since Burton's visit. The path is probably better, at least at the beginning, and it is marked. The start point has been moved. Originally, it went off to the right from a point more or less level with the front of the church. However, the building of Jelsa's new by-pass road, formally opened in 2015, created a forbidding chasm which cut it off. So now one has to walk towards the back of the church, keeping right, for the new starting point, (again heading off to the right) which takes a detour to a place where it is possible to cross the road. It is marked at intervals along the way, until you reach the point where the path splits, and a signpost directs you to go left for the Galešnik fortress, or right for Tor. The direct route to Tor is steep, and the terrain is relatively difficult. It is much easier if you go via Galešnik, which adds about another twenty or thirty minutes to the walk, through very pleasant surroundings, with magnificent views.

Tor. Photo: Ivica Drinković

Sir Richard Burton found the effort of getting there well worth it. "Presently we came upon the Torre di Gelsa; the Slavs call it "Tor," or sheep-fold (e.g. ui-Tor, nell' ovile), but perhaps the latter is a mere corruption of the former. I was delighted; my rough and rainy walks had not been in vain. The site is singular; the apex of a rocky arete, utterly without water, except from rain, and apparently isolated, although large cut-stones, which may have belonged to it or to its outworks, were scattered around. The inside was filled up with earth; externally it showed from four to five isodomic lower courses of large ashlar, calcaire from the mountain on which it stood, and nowhere was there a trace of mortar. The largest parallelopipedon measured 2-06 metres (=6 feet 9 inches) by 0-76 (==2 feet *59 inches) in height. The angles, especially the north-eastern, showed the draught extending through the courses from the lowest to the highest. The western exterior consisted of four lower courses of large stones, capped by three modern, or, at least, smaller layers; and the emplectori, or "old English bond," popularly called "headers and stretchers," were apparently not unknown to the builders. The stones were all boldly bossed, like those of Salona, with chiselled draughts, and the height of the projection might have been 6 to 8 inches. The magnetic meridian passed through the angles, and the slope was an oblong rather than a square. The northern side measured 7-25 metres (=23 feet 9 inches); the southern 7-14; the eastern and the western 6-66 (21 feet 10 inches)."

Massive stone blocks. Photo: Ivica Drinković

The Adriatic Islands Project had its beginnings in the 1980s, culminating in the publication of its extensive archaeological findings in a series of books, Volume 1 of which was 'The Archaeological Heritage of Hvar, Croatia'. In it, Tor is described: "A partly reconstructed Greek tower with maximum dimensions of 6.17 x 7.33 m. and up to 6 m. in height. The walls are of drystone construction composed of massive blocks and with anthyrosis at the corner angles. The south wall has an entrance reconstructed from very tenuous evidence. The site is situated on a prominent north facing ridge with excellent views to Stari Grad, Brač and the mainland. The tower has been inserted into the ramparts of a small hillfort."

The view from Tor. Photo: Ivica Drinković

It seems Sir Richard Burton missed the presence of the hillfort completely. He had difficulty imagining why the watchtower was there, in the absence of a human refuge: "The general aspect reminded me of the garrison-stations on the Roman high roads, especially of that near Khan Khuldeh, supposed to be the "Mutatio Heldua" of the Jerusalem Itinerary, near Bayru't, on the way to Sidon. But here there is no sign of cement. I found no traces of a highway, and the site, commanded on the southern side, and occupying the roughest of rocky ground, where enemies might everywhere lie in ambush, and where half a dozen square yards of tolerably level surface cannot be had, renders it equally unfit for a refuge place and for a settlement. It might perhaps be an outwork and a look-out commanding the sea; still there remains the curious contrast of elaborate finish with an object for which the simplest building would suffice."

Sir Richard Burton with Jelsa Mayor Captain Niko Duboković, 1875. Photo held in the Niko Duboković Nadalini Family Archive, reproduced with kind permission from Ecija Benković-Duboković

In describing the hillfort as they found it, the archaeologists of the Adriatic Islands Project gave it a meaning: "A small hillfort protected on three sides by steep terraced slopes and on the gentler southern side by a drystone rampart with internal revetting. The rampart dimensions are c. 46 m. in length, 16.4 m wide and 3.6 m high. A small area of terracing to the north of the rampart may represent the settlement area. The rampart was excavated by M. Zaninović and [V.] Mirosavljević. Zaninović has interpreted finds from the site to suggest a date of the 4th to 3rd centuries for the associated Greek tower. However, Kirigin ... has cast some doubt on the dating of the material."

Aerial view of Tor. Photo: 'Kantharos', courtesy of Eduard Visković

Tor was described as a defensive structure in the 1331 Hvar Statute. The 16th century Dominican humanist Vinko Pribojević included Tor among six significant defensive structures ranged across Hvar, which were separate from the towns and the many villages. Writing in the 20th century, Nikša Petrić, an archaeologist, historian and poet from Hvar, stated that in Hellenistic times the function of Tor, like the nearby fortress Galešnik, was defensive, as their position was strategically important because they were sited in the central part of Hvar Island where the eastern and western halves met.

Luki contemplating history. Photo: Ivica Drinković

Tor is registered as a protected Croatian National Asset, categorized as an archaeological site. It has been studied extensively over the centuries. A project for further research and excavation, together with preservation and renovation measures, was initiated in 2017 by the Jelsa Council Museum, financed by the Croatian Ministry of Culture. In the 19th century, Jelsa's long-serving Mayor, Captain Niko Duboković, whose statue occupies a commanding position in Jelsa's Park, earned Sir Richard Burton's praise and gratitude through his courtesy, hospitality and respect for Burton's researches. It is good to know that the current Mayor, Nikša Peronja, is following the tradition of nurturing Jelsa's historical heritage.

Memorial to Mayor Captain Niko Duboković in Jelsa's Park. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Following due preparation of all the necessary documentation, the work of the project was started. The plan for 2020 was twofold. The terraces below the watchtower were to be examined. They are part man-made, part natural, and there have been finds of prehistoric and antique terracotta ceramics and tiles, lending weight to the theory that this was a residential area. A second line of research was to investigate the area some hundred metres lower down, where the land is relatively flat and cultivated with vines, at the beginning of the steep rise to the watchtower begins. Various finds have indicated that this was the site of an Illyrian-Greek burial ground, most probably containing Illyrian graves created with Hellenistic materials.

Excavations under way. Photo: 'Kantharos', courtesy of Eduard Visković

Tor itself is Hellenistic (i.e. Greek) in style, but it is not certain whether it was actually built by the Greeks, who established their colony in Pharos (modern-day Stari Grad) in the 4th century BCE, or by the Illyrians who were their predecessors in the area, and whose architecture was known to have been influenced by Greek styles. That is why Tor is referred to variously as Greek, Illyrian or Graeco-Illyrian. Unfortunately, the works planned for 2020 did not progress, as the Ministry had to withdraw the promised funding, in order to prioritize the necessary renovations following the devastating earthquakes in Zagreb and then in Petrinja, Sisak and their surrounding areas. So the questions will remain unanswered for a while longer.

Luki and his pals enjoy the pathfinding at all times of year. Photos: Ivica Drinković

Luki and Ivica, as true guardians of Hvar's heritage treasures, visit Tor each year in the spring and/or autumn. For Luki it is a great adventure, a chance to enjoy fresh sights and smells every time, and to be 'King of the Castle', looking down over the exquisite landscape and the blue waters of the Adriatic. For human visitors the walk up offers endless opportunities to enjoy the wildflowers and varied vegetation of the season; reaching the ruins means being able to rest and savour the magical atmosphere of history from unknown ages long past, as well as enjoying the spectacular views.

© Vivian Grisogono MA(Oxon) 2020.

Special thanks are due to Ivica Drinković (and Luki!) for permission to use their splendid photographs; to Ecija Benković-Duboković, for preserving her family archive - Jelsa, pomorska povijest - crtice, - and allowing the use of the historical photograph of Mayor Duboković with Sir Richard Burton; and to Eduard Visković, founder and owner of the archaeological firm 'Kantharos', which offers specialist site photographic services, for letting us use the photographs from the excavation works.

Sources:

Burton, R. F. 1876. “The Long Wall of Salona and the Ruined Cities of Pharia and Gelsa Di Lesina.” The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, vol. 5, pp. 252–300. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2840891. (p.293) https://www.jstor.org/stable/2840891?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents

Novak, G. 1972. Hvar kroz stoljeća. Izdavački zavod Jugoslavenske Akademije Znanosti i Umjetnosti. 3. izdanje (str. 29)

Duboković Nadalini, N. 1989. Hvar, Stari Grad, Vrboska, Jelsa. pub. 'Turistkomerc', Zagreb, in the series Pocket guides for tourists. English translation Karla Cizelj (p. 91)

Gaffney, V., Kirigin, B., Petrić, M., Vujnović, N., Čače, S. 1997. The Adriatic Islands Project. Contact, Commerce and Colonialism 6000 B.C. - AD 600. Volume 1. The Archaeological Heritage of Hvar, Croatia. TEMPUS REPARATUM. BAR International Series 660. (p.151)

Petrić, N., ed. Maroević, T. 2015. Zavičaju Hvaru. Sabrane studije i članci. Matica Hrvatska Hvar, Književni krug Split. (p. 189)

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