Korčula Island is located in the close vicinity of Pelješac peninsula in Croatia and is accessible via a short ferry ride from Orebić, Pelješac or a longer one from Split. If you travel without a car, you can also take the catamaran from Split (the trip is around 2-3 hours long).
This summer we camped out near Orebić on the Pelješac peninsula, a real haven for windsurfers (there were hundreds of them). The camp was really just a place to sleep since the beaches were crowded with windsurfers and their gear, and because we decided we wanted to see as much of that part of Croatia as possible. Korčula wasn’t really on our list of places to visit but we had an extra day, so why not! And we really didn’t regret it.
The Korčula Island is the sixth island of the Adriatic according to size. It is divided from the Pelješac peninsula by a narrow sound (1.2 km) that served as an important seaway in history. Owning the island meant total control over the seaway, and that’s why it often changed rulers: from the Illyrians, Greek, Romans, Venetians, English, French, Russian, and Austrians to the Italians.
The length of the island’s coast is 182 km, but if you add the coastlines of the other islands and islets that belong to Korčula you get 236 km of coastline. Because of its exposedness to the open sea, the southern coastline is really steep, with cliffs as high as 20 metres. The west part of the southern coast is milder and has a number of islets that protect it from the southern winds. Many of the island’s bays and coves are suitable for anchoring your boat (if you have one). Summer sea temperatures can reach up to 28°C on the seaboard, and the colour of the sea is remarkably blue. The climate of the island is Mediterranean with average summer temperatures around 25°C and average winter temperatures around 9°C.
The oldest known name for the island is Korkyra (during the reign of the Greek from Knidos). In the 1st century BC it was renamed to Korkyra melaina (black) because it shared a name with an island in Greece. Korčula got its first colony in the 6th century BC, founded by the Dorians from the Greek city of Knidos, but to this day no one knows where the first settlement was located. The most likely position is in the location of today’s city of Korčula. The sea merchant nation, as were the Greeks, must have known to appreciate the advantages of the narrow sound and the city’s position.
The city we visited on the island shares its name – Korčula. The old core of the city is surrounded by walls, and the streets are arranged in a herringbone pattern allowing free circulation of air but protecting against strong winds. And you could really feel the difference on a hot day – the light breeze that the little streets provide is wonderful! Korčula is tightly built on a promontory that guards the narrow sound between the island and the mainland (Pelješac peninsula; you can see the city very well from Orebić, and our camp). Building outside the city was forbidden until the 18th century, and the wooden drawbridge was only replaced in 1863. They really take care of their heritage – there are no neon signs in the old core, no shiny and annoying advertisements, etc. All of its narrow streets have steps, except the street running alongside the south-eastern wall – named Street of Thoughts because you don’t have to worry about the steps when you walk!
In the city itself you can visit many historic sites, such as the central Romanesque-Gothic Cathedral of Saint Mark where you can climb the bell tower and enjoy the beautiful views it offers, the 15th century Franciscan monastery, the palace of the former Venetian governors, grand 15th and 16th century palaces of the local merchant nobles, and the massive city fortifications.
The inhabitants of Korčula are Catholic, and really religious so they keep alive old folk church ceremonies and a weapon dance called Moreška that dates back to the middle ages. It was originally danced only on special occasions, but in modern times there are performances twice a week for tourists. It sounds pretty often, but we weren’t lucky enough to see it performed…
An interesting fact about their Town Statute (dating back to 1214) is that it prohibited slavery!
Another cool fact about the town is that it’s esteemed for being the possible birthplace of the famous Venetian merchant, Marco Polo, who was born around 1254. This is based on written evidence that Marco’s family originated in Dalmatia and then settled in Venice, and that the Depolo surname, which has existed in Korčula at least from the 13th century, is linked to his family. Now, you can find a Marco Polo museum with lifelike exhibitions near the city centre. There are also Marco Polo shops where you can buy t-shirts, various objects connected to Marco Polo, and a huge variety of incense sticks (which we adore!) for a small amount of cash – if we remember correctly, you get a cardboard pouch and you can take as much as you can fit in it (mixed aromas of your choice) for 37 kn (4.8€/5.5$/3.6£).