Just saying the name Korčula sent a shiver through me. This ancient walled city on the Island of Korčula would be our home for just a few days but it left a lasting impression on us. One day I will return to walk these smooth stone streets, to peer out the over-sized windows onto the narrow streets perfectly aligned to catch the sea breeze and listen to the church bells ring in Saint Marcus square.
Some historians claim this is the home where Marco Polo was born. Not much is left of the original house, just the tower remains. It was closed when we got there waiting to be turned into a museum one day soon.
Next door to the house is Korčula’s oldest church St. Peter’s Church. As we walked through the small church I imagined a young boy running up and down these streets, his mother telling him tales of his father and uncle who were trading in the East.While the historians battle out the controversy, some things are certain: this is where Marco Polo’s ancestors would have come from, and if he hadn’t been here his famous book of travel would likely never have been written.
The other thing we knew for certain was that this is was a special place that we instantly fell in love with.
The island is about 47 km long and about 8 km wide with about 16,000 population and is one of the more populated islands on the Dalmatian Coast. With only a few days here we decided to stay in the town of Korčula, and explore Vela Luka and Blato another time.
As with all towns along the Dalmatian Coast, this Island has a long history. The first settlers were Mesolithic and Neolithic peoples and then came the Illyrians in about 1000 BC.
Greek colonists arrived in the 6th century B.C. And then came the Romans, followed by the Croatians. The population of the island was divided into Christians and the Pagan Narentines who used their excellent maritime skills and boat building to became pirates. Now that explains the stories our father would tell us that we had pirates in our ancestors.
Over time Korčula was governed by the Hungarian crown, the Republic of Genoa, as well as being independent. In 1255, it returned to Venetian supreme rule. The Republic of Genoa defeated Venice off the coast of Korčula in 1298. Captured was galley commander Marco Polo who was taken to Genoa and imprisoned. It was during that time that Marco Polo told his tale to a fellow prisoner and the famous book would be written.
Poetry and arts flourished here and Moreška, a traditional sword dance, is still performed. Sadly the tourist season had not started yet and we were not able to catch a show though one evening we were lucky to hear Klapa, a form of a cappella singing, being practiced. The haunting melodies of the sea echoed through the ancient streets with such power that the stones themselves seemed to be moved.
Korčula has a tradition of stone masonry which is evident in the beautiful architecture, you will find examples of Gothic and Renaissance in the churches, museums, art galleries, and monuments. We spent hours just walking up and down the quiet streets and exploring the nooks and crannies.
On top of one of the fortifications is the famous Massimo cocktail bar that you have to climb a ladder to access the roof. Not for the faint-hearted but possibly one of the most romantic spots in the world to have a cocktail. Put that on your bucket list!
There are a number of excellent museums here – the Marco Polo Museum tells the story of his travels while the Town Centre museum located in Gabrielis Palace has an excellent collection in the centre of the old town.
We climbed up the steep flight of steps to catch the view from St. Mark’s Cathedral. The view is outstanding with the red rooftops and blue Adriatic sea. The cathedral was built by local stone masons. We could still see stones being cut when we were there, still practicing this ancient craft.
Our apartment was across the street from the Cathedral and throughout the day and night we could hear the bells ringing. When I close my eyes and think of Korčula I can still hear them chiming somehow seeming to keep the rhythm with my heart.