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Brač is a great rocky lump basking in the channel between Split and Hvar. It’s fringed with paradise beaches in white pebble and sand, and covered in pine, olive and other Mediterranean trees and shrubs. Wandering through the pine forests, olive groves and scrub, you come across remnants of civilisations reaching back to prehistory. In the hospitable island taverns, you feast on vegetables grown in the hard-won but fertile soil and lamb reared on wild herbs alone, washed down with home-made red wine, the distilled essence of the sun. The island’s spine offers spectacular views of the mainland and neighbouring isles, and you breathe in the smell of wild herbs crushed underfoot.

Brač has been somewhat overlooked as a holiday destination and we believe this is one of the reasons you'll find it so special. Since the island is so close to the mainland and even has its own airport it's perhaps easy to underestimate how isolated some of its communities are. The upside of this is that you can still experience a way of life here that hasn't changed for centuries, avoiding the brash commercialization that is the fate of so many summer destinations. But perhaps the most disarming thing is the honesty of the people here. You’ll be greeted by people with a sincerity rarely encountered in a tourist setting, a people who have a deep connection with their home which they are ready to share bounteously. This may be tempered at first by a modicum of suspicion, which is perhaps understandable: for some people a visit to the mainland is a rare occasion, and the outside world is something strange and unknown.

Much as people have shaped the land, the land has shaped the people. The first settlers on Brač were probably the Illyrians, whose homeland corresponded to today’s Albania and much of today’s Croatia. Illyria was celebrated in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night as a land of milk and honey, but its coast was known for its fearsome pirates. The Illyrian settlers therefore retreated to the island’s interior, building simple shelters from the stone that lies scattered all over the fields, surviving by raising sheep. There is still evidence of the isolated life in the island’s interior in the differing dialects spoken by the people in each village.

The Illyrians ruled over their lands between 400 and 167 BC. They traded with the Greeks, who never settled on Brač. The Illyrians named their island Brentista (from “brentos”, meaning “deer”), while the Greeks knew the island by the name of Elaphusa, their word for the same animal (“elaphos”). When the Romans marched into the region they established Salona (near Split) as the regional capital, and named the island Bretia, Brattia or Bractia. The closeness of Salona probably explains why the Romans did not establish urban centres on Brač, instead colonising existing settlements, perhaps erecting the occasional villa rustica on the shoreline. The Romans created splendid resting places for their dead: the island is rich in Roman sarcophagi which were made right here. Initially, they put up pagan memorial posts and then, gradually Christianised, started to build churches. Brač is rich in churches and chapels dating back to before the 6th century. To enable all this building, the Romans exploited the island’s quarries, also transporting the stone across the water to build monuments such as Diocletian’s palace in Split.

Incursions of Avar and Slav tribes brought Roman dominion to an end in the East Adriatic, and refugees from Salona are thought to have established Škrip, the oldest village on the island excepting the isolated shepherds’ settlements. There are indications that not long after, the Slavs began to settle on the island, coexisting with their neighbours and accepting Christianity. In the centuries that followed, apart from periods of rule by Byzantium, Hungary and the Croat-Hungarian kingdom, Brač was mainly under Venetian rule, unbroken between 1420 and 1797. The Venetians assisted the islanders in fighting off the pirates that were the scourge of this sea in the middle ages, but the island retained a remarkable degree of independence thanks largely to its 12th century Statute. Upon the collapse of the Venetian Republic, Austria took over government of this part of Dalmatia, until Napoleon took control in 1805. Under his rule, the feudal system was abolished and schools were established. Then followed years of battle between the French, Russians and English until the Austrians regained power in 1814.

Austrian dominion lasted until the end of the First World War, when Brač became part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. Following liberation from the Axis powers in World War Two, the island was part of the People's Republic of Croatia within the Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia. Brač took its place in an independent Croatia during the devastating war in the 1990s.

Brač is for you if you cherish the rough together with the smooth: the texture of stone, the rocky terrain; the temperament of a people raised on back-breaking toil but unable to live without good humour and company; the bitter tang of a good olive oil, the aroma of sheep's cheese and the warm tannins of a home-made wine. That's not to say you can't enjoy the creature comforts of civilisation, but to get the most out of your stay we recommend you try to leave those as far behind you as possible.  

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