A February 2005 trip
to Korcula by Owen Lipsett
Quote: Halfway between Dubrovnik and Split, the pleasant town of Korčula (on the island of the same name) is a good place to break the ferry journey between the two, or to stay longer if you’re seeking intense solitude. It also claims (with some justification) to be Marco Polo’s birthplace.
This absence is singularly appropriate as the town sells itself as a tourist destination on the strength of its credible but not indubitable claim as the birthplace of the Venetian explorer Marco Polo. If this leaves you scratching your head, Korčulani point to proof in the form of documents detailing his family’s long-term presence in the area (it was common for the Venetian nobility to assume important roles in the Republic’s colony) as well as the fact of his capture by Genoese forces in a sea-battle just offshore in 1298.
The mildly engaging Town Museum on the town’s minute St. Mark’s Square, trots out these stories along with dull archaeological and ethnographic displays.
Directly across the Square, the (technically former) Cathedral, likewise dedicated to Venice’s patron saint, is a much more interesting proposition, boasting a pair of paintings by Tintoretto and a seemingly incongruous display of pikes. These commemorate the city’s town’s successful resistance to Uluz Ali in 1571, who consequently laid Hvar waste instead. In truth, Korčula’s time of economic significance had passed by then anyway, as trans-Atlantic trade and the development of Split and Hvar had put paid to its role as a regional economic center.
Nevertheless, the town’s wealth did enable its bishops to amass one of the Croatia’s most intriguing Renaissance art collections, which is kept in the Bishop’s Treasury next to the Cathedral. Works by Raphael, Tiepolo, and Carpaccio rather incongruously (but enjoyably) coexist with ecclesiastical artifacts and some interesting works by modern Croatian artists. Once you’ve seen these sights there’s little to do save wandering and wondering at this tiny town’s preservation, or, should you feel more energetic, exploring one of the intriguing set of walking trails in the general vicinity.
Korčula’s tourist season runs from May to the end of August. If you visit outside of this period (as I did), you’ll miss performance of its famous Moreška sword dance, which celebrates the defeat of the Uluz Ali and his Turkish compatriots.
Most private rooms charge a 40% premium for stays under three nights, so unless you’re keen to explore the local walking trails (whose beauty you’ll likely have all to yourself), you’re better off spending the night on the mainland. Local nightlife, even during the tourist season, is apparently quite sparse, especially considering that the island sells itself as a quiet retreat.
If you can, sample the excellent local grk (white wine) with which (according to legend) Circe seduced her victims, whom she turned into swine!
By Bus: There are daily buses from Zagreb and Dubrovnik, which then get on the car ferry at Orebić and thus transport you station to station. These continue on to Lumbarda (at the far end of the island) and are often consequently marked as such.
By Ferry:Jadrolinija’s coastal line between Dubrovnik and Rijeka runs daily in summer and twice a week in winter. SEM Marina runs a much faster catamaran service (July and August only) to and from Hvar and Split. There are also frequent local ferries from Orebić on the mainland (the crossing takes 15 minutes).
Getting Around Korčula:
The only way to see Korčula is on foot. The ferry dock is next to Korčula’s Old Town (discussed above) and the bus station is a five minute walk away. The Old Town is best entered via the Land Gate - it takes about three minutes to walk across it and ten to slowly walk around what’s left of its walls. I strongly recommend doing both to get a sense of Korčula’s character.
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