They say no island has more legends or monuments than Korčula, and that it is also the greenest island in Croatia along with Lokrum and Mljet. Located on the Dalmatian coast, Korcula, with its unmistakable long and narrow shape, its dark green woods, bounteous olive groves and vineyards, ancient villages and stunning bays, is an island full of enchantment and rich in history. Evidence of the island’s first inhabitants dates back to the Neolithic times, and Vela Spilja (Great Cave) in Vela Luka is one of the richest and best-preserved Neolithic sites in the region. The Greeks followed in the 6th century B.C, initially settling in Vela Luka and naming the island Korkyra Melaina (Black Korcula). Greeks from the island of Vis (Issa) followed and founded an important settlement in the area that is now called Lumbarda. It is mentioned in a 3rd Century B.C. inscription (Psephysm), which was discovered at the end of the 19th Century A.D.
The Romans conquered the island along with the whole of Dalmatia in the 1st Century A.D. and called the region Illyricum, which they ruled until the 7th century when the Slavs-Croats came to the Adriatic coast and founded their own state, first a principality and then a Kingdom when the first King Tomislav was crowned in 925. Korčula was part of that state. In 1000 Peter II Orseolo, Doge of Venice, conquered the Dalmatian towns and islands, and brought Korčula under Venetian-rule, where it would remain for the majority of the following eight centuries. It was on the nearby islet of Majsan, that the Doge struck camp as he conducted his initial campaign against Korčula and Lastovo, which resisted in vain.
Any historical summary of the island can’t fail to mention Marco Polo, whose name is indelibly linked to Korcula. He was imprisoned here by the Genoese on the 8th September 1298 during which time he dictated his book Il Milione. The house that his family resided in is still one of the most popular tourist sites in the old town of Korcula. Until the 1800s, Korcula was predominantly ruled by the Venetians, with intervals of new masters such as the counts of Hum, Kings of Croatia-Hungary, and the Dubrovnik Republic between 1413-1420. Venice reclaimed the area from Dubrovnik in 1420 and ruled again until 1797, when Napoleon finally overthrew the Venetian Republic. In the period between 1804-1813 Korčula changed between French and Russian masters and even the English had a governing spell between 1813-1815.
The Vienna Congress then mapped new European borders and Dalmatia came under Austrian administration that lasted until the end of the First World War (1918). It was joined to the newly-formed Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (later Yugoslavia) in 1921. After the multi-party elections in 1990, the population of Croatia opted at a referendum to leave Yugoslavia and an independent state, the Republic of Croatia, was proclaimed. Due to its incredibly varied past Korcula has a richness evident in the island’s culture today. In terms of the architecture, especially in the old town of Korcula, the Venetians had the most lasting effect and the place boasts beautifully preserved buildings from the Baroque and Renaissance periods.