Unearthing History: Roman Mosaic Revealed in Hvar’s Old Town

In the charming old town of the Adriatic jewel island of Hvar in Croatia, an extraordinary archaeological gem was discovered in 2021 under a narrow street. This hidden treasure is in the form of a fascinating Roman mosaic dating back to the 2nd century AD. This intricate work of art was once an integral part of the sumptuous Roman Villa Urbana and evokes centuries of history.


Interestingly, the history of this place is as fascinating as the mosaic itself. In 1923, during the construction of a canal to drain rainfall, the remains of the villa were unexpectedly discovered lying just two metres below the level of the bustling street. To protect these fragile remains from the risk of water ingress, they were carefully hidden again, covered with protective panels and carefully dug over.

However, the drainage project, which began in 1923, remained unfinished, paving the way for ongoing challenges related to damp and sea-level rise. These challenges are now seriously threatening the survival of the ancient remains of the Roman façade that adorn the historic core of Hvar’s Old Town.

Today’s efforts by dedicated archaeologists are focused on the mosaic site, and 14 other sites in the vicinity are being excavated with great attention. Their task is to uncover further fragments from the sumptuous Villa Urbana, and in the process they may uncover other hidden mosaics and invaluable archaeological clues that could give insight into the building’s purpose – either as a public building or as a private sanctuary.

To ensure the mosaic’s permanent preservation and to allow future generations to appreciate it, archaeologists from the Old Town Museum have proposed a carefully prepared plan. The mosaic should be carefully lifted from its current resting place and lovingly transferred to the protective environment of the museum. Here it will be protected in the long term and eventually displayed so that visitors can admire it and touch the legacy of the past.

To protect this historical wonder and to allow the vibrant life of the city to continue, a thoughtful solution has been devised. The original mosaic will be replaced by an exact replica, inviting visitors to step on its intricate patterns without damaging them.

The story of Hvar is rich and varied, shaped by centuries of history. Conquered by the Roman Empire in the 3rd century BC, Faros was transformed into Pharia and the plain was renamed Ager Pharensis. In the early 8th century, the island was conquered by the Slavs, who took over the ancient name of the town and the island, giving rise to the name Hvar.

The island’s name is strongly intertwined with its past, as it derives from the ancient names of today’s Stari Grad, which were Pharos and Pharia. Eventually, in the Middle Ages, it changed to “Huarra”, and with the change of bishopric, the old seat took on names such as Stari Hvar and then Stari Grad.

It culminated in 2008, when the historic town centre of Stari Grad and the charming cultural landscape of the Old Castle Plain received the prestigious honour of inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List. This recognition speaks of the great importance of Hvar’s heritage, which continues to inspire hearts and minds today.

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