Welcome to the island of Vis, a small piece of paradise between the islands of the southern Adriatic, the open sea and the Straits of Otranto. Abounding with untouched nature, the island of Vis exudes the sincerity of a newly discovered jewel of the Adriatic sea. Due to its exceptional geographical position, history leaves its visible traces here from prehistoric times, a historical period when the first traces of settlements on the island were discovered.
In the 1st millennium BC, the Liburnians, an Illyrian tribe, lived here. They were excellent pirates. Many archeological sites tell us about that.
The preserved remains of ancient Issa, the most important Greek colony on Croatian soil, located in today’s town of Vis (in the area of Gradina and on the Prirovo peninsula) can tell the rich history of the Vis archipelago. In the early 4th century BC, the Syracusan tyrant Dionysius the Elder decided to turn Issa into the centre of colonization of the eastern Adriatic coast.
Issa had its economic and political autonomy, it minted its currency, passed its laws, developed its fleet, manufactured its ceramics, cultivated vines and traded wine. Since then, the tradition of wine production has been nurtured on the island.
In the 1st century BC, Issa was “flirting” with the Romans, becoming their ally on the Adriatic. It lasted until the period of the mighty Caesar who defeated Pompey in the Civil War and turned Issa into a direct subject of Rome, politically dependent on the new Roman colony of Salona.
For the islanders, nothing had changed. They continued to speak Greek, to trade, have fun in the theatre, and live well as evidenced by the remains of large thermal baths from Roman times. However, everything ends sooner or later, so with the weakening of the Roman Empire, the island of Vis slowly entered into a new chapter in history, in the 7th century, marked by the arrival of new immigrants of Slavic origin – CROATS.
The new inhabitants fit perfectly into the island life by taking over the maritime skills of the natives and continuing to cultivate Mediterranean agricultural species. Among other things, they were excellent pirates, which provoked the anger of Venetians who attacked and destroyed Vis at the end of the 10th century.
The island life retreated to the inner part and Vis became an oasis for the aristocracy from Hvar who built their villas there and exploited the fertile fields of Vis.
A turbulent historical period followed. The Catalans in the service of the King of Naples attacked the island of Vis. There was also the threat of attacks by Turks and Arabs. To defend themselves, the islanders built fortified houses. The settlements of Kut and Luka were formed, from which would later emerge the town of Vis.
Despite all threats, Vis became an important part of the Venetian Empire and a meeting point for the Middle East and Europe.
This small island in the middle of the Adriatic Sea was moving from hand to hand of the great European Powers. When the Venetian Republic collapsed, Vis came under the control of Austria, and then, with the arrival of Napoleon, France. In 1810, Great Britain invaded Vis and built fortifications. The British brought the game of Cricket to the island.
Since 1815, Vis was flourishing economically and culturally under the control of Austria again. The islanders were valued as skilled fishermen and sailors, and the excellent wines from the island of Vis were drunk in the high society throughout Europe.
Unfortunately, in the early twentieth century, grapevine disease destroyed the yields and incomes of most residents who migrated in large waves to overseas countries.
The well-known Battle of Vis took place in 1866 when Italy wanted to become master of the Adriatic and declared war on Austria. The first step in that mission was to conquer Vis, the “Gibraltar of the Adriatic”, as admiral Albini once called it. The admiral Tegetthoff led the Austrian fleet into the Vis channel to defend Vis. The relatively small and outdated Austrian fleet managed to defeat the magnificent and modern Italian warships in a four-hour battle. It was a victory to remember. Even Emperor Francis Joseph visited the island in 1875.
Between the two world wars and during World War II, Italy was trying to finally take over the island but with its capitulation before the Allies in 1943, the island was occupied by Yugoslav partisans.
Due to its strategic position, Vis was closed in for the outside world and became a military base with over 30 military facilities, including an underground military hospital and a tunnel to shelter warships. There was no development of tourism, no visits by foreigners, no construction of large hotel complexes and commercial tourist oases. Vis became a military enclave, isolated, from which people were constantly migrating.
The Yugoslav army left the island in May 1992 and thus opened up a space for new opportunities and new directions of development. The fact is that Vis has kept its charm of an archaic island at the crossroads of historical periods and the intersection of spatially and ideologically distant cultures and countries because of its isolation from the external world.
Where to go and what to see
The island of Vis has much to offer for all those who are ready to explore and uncompromisingly indulge in the beauties of it.
The inner island
Apart from the towns of Komiža and Vis, which are worth exploring, the island is crowded with coves and beaches, and its inner area is densely interspersed with macadam roads and footpaths that fork from the old Austrian road from Vis to Komiža.
Wandering through the beautiful landscapes of Vis, you will come across charming places that still keep traces of history and the spirit of the island.
Near Podhumlje, in a pine forest on top of a hill, there is Lokva, a Neolithic pool for collecting clay. Although several thousand years old, it is perfectly preserved and worth a nice walk enjoying nature at the same time. When you cross the forest, you will reach a lookout point with a beautiful view of the archeological site Vela Gomila or “Teuta lighthouse”, from the 4th century BC, presumably the largest lighthouse of that period in this part of the Adriatic.
Since you are already nearby, you can visit the hamlet of Talež, founded at the turn of the 19th century, and restored at its original appearance in the year 2000.
Plisko Polje and the bat-and-ball game of Cricket
From the top Sveti Vid in the centre of the Vis plateau you can see various places on the island, the beauties of nature, the runway of the former Allied airport, but you can’t spot the small village hidden at the foothill, the village of Plisko Polje. In Plisko Polje there is a tavern with excellent local dishes and wine from the island vineyards. But if you want, you can also play Cricket. Several island enthusiasts decided to restore a tradition about 200 years old (brought to the island, of course, by the English) and found a cricket club named after Admiral Sir William Hoste. For 14 years, players from England, the Czech Republic, New Zealand and Croatia have been coming here to play the game of Cricket and have a good time.
You can also climb to the highest peak of the island Hum, located in the hinterland of Komiža, and visit Tito’s Caves.
Beaches and coves
Vis is a constant source of surprise. Everyone who visits it wants to come back again because they discover something new every time, be it a gastronomic speciality, the remains of historic buildings or an island in its archipelago.
But the real beauty lies in its beaches and bays, in the purity of the open sea that gives the sea on the shores of Vis crystal clarity, in the underwater sources of freshwater, in the pebble beaches and the abundance of shade provided by the island vegetation.
The smell of the sea salt, the sound of the waves, the taste of nature and the warmth of sunshine create a summer experience that will be remembered for a long time.
The most popular beach in the town of Vis is Prirovo located on the small peninsula of the same name in the city port. The perfect beach for naturists is the Punta od Biskupa beach, which stretches over sloping stone slabs and rocks.
There are beautiful sandy beaches in the bays of Milna, Brgujac, Parja, Stončica, and the enchanting beach Zaglav, which is known as one of the beauties of the Adriatic.
Diving along the shores of Vela Smokova beach is the best for adventurers. There they will find the sunken wing of a plane from World War II.
There are also Grandovec, Vela Svitnja, Bili bok and other beautiful beaches that are worth exploring. Among them stand out the Srebrna beach, named after the silver sheen of its large pebbles in the moonlight, and Stiniva beach, of course.
Stiniva Bay is a protected part of nature. In 2016 Stiniva Beach was declared the most beautiful beach in Europe. Here many will find the paradise they have always sought: crystal clear seawater, white sand and breathtaking cliffs in the background.
Mamma Mia! on the island of Vis
In the summer of 2017, for 24 days, Vis had become a Hollywood stage. The beauties of nature of this enchanting island served as the scenery for the shooting of the sequel to the legendary film Mamma Mia! based on the eponymous musical with the songs of the pop group ABBA.
A passer-by could meet Pirce Brosnan, Amanda Seyfried or Colin Firth on the beaches or in the island charming cafes. The islanders lived like in a movie in that short period!
The selected locations for the filming of Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again were the towns of Vis and Komiža and Barjoška beach.
Some scenes were filmed in the port of Vis, where the ferry docks. A few steps away the doors and nearby stairs of the Pizzeria and boarding house Dionis served as a backdrop for the Greek style market, which featured imported groceries from real Greek markets.
The Lobster restaurant in Komiža became a Greek tavern where Harry and Bill meet fisherman Alex. The restaurant is well known among yachtsmen. If you want to experience a movie moment and enjoy the view of the beach and the sea eating excellent local dishes like in the movie Mamma Mia! 2, book your place in advance!
You can sail from Komiža Town to Barjoška beach, where almost all the scenes on the beach were filmed.
Sing one of ABBA’s songs, bathe in the beautiful, crystal clear sea and feel like an actor from that famous movie. Sometimes it’s wonderful to feel free to be whoever you want to be.
The world-famous beaches Stiniva and Srebrna also played a role in the film. Their specifics natural beauty make them the mecca of all romantic souls and explorers of beauty in the world.
It is difficult to exhaust all the opportunities for enjoyment and entertainment that the island of Vis offers. The military has ruled here for years. The island has been isolated for a long time from tourists, and this isolation has saved it from disturbing the fragile balance between nature and overbuilding. Here, history buffs can tour the labyrinths of underground tunnels and undermines of the former Yugoslav National Army (JNA), Tito’s Caves, explore the remains of the airport and dive to the museums with sunken planes, sailboats, submarines, and warships in the seabed of the island.
If even that is not enough for you, we bring you a few more suggestions on what to visit and explore on the island of Vis:
- The Archaeological Museum is located in the former fortress of Our Lady of the Battery in the town of Vis. It was built by the Austrians during their rule. In the museum is exposed one of the largest collections of completely preserved amphorae in Europe.
- Ancient monuments of the town of Vis – remains of the ancient Greek settlement of Issa, which was founded in the 4th century BC.
- The mysterious citadel Fort George was built by the English commander of Vis, George Duncan Robertson in 1812, and was named after the British King George III. During the summer days parties, concerts and various entertainments are organized in this historical building commonly called “Fortica”. There is also a small museum where you can see interesting exhibits. Due to the incredible view to the neighbouring islands, the beautiful garden, the surrounding environment and the port of Vis, many couples have decided to say the fateful “I do” on the romantic rooftop terrace of Fortica.
And much more things to see and to do on the island of Vis…