Vivian Grisogono

THE 'HEKTOROVIĆ' PALACE, HVAR: history comes to life

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The so-called ‘Hektorović Palace’ in Hvar has a strange history. It dates back to the beginning of the 15th century, or the end of the 14th century at the earliest. Right up to the 20th century, the emptiness behind its impressive floral-Gothic facade and its lack of a roof made it look like a ruin, perhaps the victim of a big fire, but in fact it was simply unfinished.

We don’t know who built it, or who the earliest owners were, as most of the Council records were burnt when the Turks attacked the city in 1571, and what remained had all but rotted until local historian Dr. Niko Duboković (1909 - 1991) took the trouble to rescue as much as he could in the 20th century.

The property is attributed to the Hektorović family because of the coat of arms engraved on its exterior, but as the same emblem was used by other inter-related Hvar families, namely the Barbić, Golubinović, Grivičić, Jakša and Piretić families, it does not prove anything. The coat of arms displays six bends or diagonal lines extending downwards from the left, with a bull’s head in the upper right corner. In the common heraldic interpretation, these bends signify that the bearer was legitimate and was a defender of the realm, while the bull’s head denotes valour, generosity, strength and fortitude.

Part of the property’s history is known. The building was done in stages. In 1463, the owner Nikola Užižić applied to the city authorities for permission to build stone ‘Roman-style‘ arches connecting the first floor of his building with the city wall in front, towards the town square, covering what he called the courtyard. One arch was already in place, resting on the city wall, and he wished to extend the row eastwards along the whole front of the building. Other buildings nearby, including the next door property known as the Jakša house, had already been given permission to build on to the city walls. The Rector granted permission, on condition that Užižić first cleared the pathway along the front of the building, which was a shortcut to the nearby medieval chapel of Sts. Cosmas and Damian.

A vault covered the area in front of the palace, and the arches formed the base structure for the floral-Gothic facade with its asymmetrical window openings, which was built up in two stages, judging by the stonework. The beginnings of a third floor were added to the building sometime in the 15th century, but the north wall was not built up, while at the uppermost level the facade and flank walls were about two stone blocks short of reaching the level where the eaves should be. The building by then was a mixture of styles borrowed from surrounding buildings, the floral-Gothic additions contrasting with the clean lines of the Renaissance door and sink at the western entrance. The exterior was to remain essentially unchanged over the next five centuries, although a small part of the interior was roofed over at some stage to allow limited use as a residence.

Nikola Užižić was the son of one Petar Zaninov, who was a Town Councillor, referred to as the late Petar Zaninov in Užižić’s application. It is not known if Užižić inherited the unfinished building from his father, or acquired it from another owner. It is known from a 1745 court case, in which the Order of Benedictine nuns laid claim to the property, that a branch of the Gazarović family (also known as Gazzari) claimed to have owned the building from the beginning of the 16th century. In 1744 don Ivan Gazarović (1691 - 1780) sold the property to Frane Rinaldi. In the subsequent ownership dispute, two wills were cited, one dated 1501 left by Martin Gazzari (b.1450), and the other (1544) by Martin’s son Nikola (b.1485). Evidently don Ivan Gazzari won the case. The Gazarović / Gazzari family have their own coat of arms, but as the building remained largely untouched under their ownership, this was never attached to it.

A full survey was done at the time of the 1744 sale, and the property was sold for less than its theoretical value, in view of its unfinished state. Rinaldi died in 1780, and in 1830 ownership passed from his heirs to Margarita, wife of a noted Trogir builder called Ivan Macanović. In the 19th century the lower parts of the building were used as ‘humble accommodation’. In 1875 Lovro Macanović sold the property to Šime (Šimun) Vlahović, a cooper by trade. The Vlahović family had previously owned the building, it is thought in the 17th century, when it was given away as dowry for a daughter’s marriage.  Sir Thomas Graham Jackson (1835 - 1924), who visited Dalmatia in 1882, 1884 and 1885, describes the building as the 'Palazzo Raimondi' (presumably a reference to the Rinaldi family) which "..adjoins the south or principal gate and actually rests on the town wall (Plate XXVIII). It has been a fine building of fifteenth century Venetian Gothic, and the traceried windows remain although the roof is gone, the proprietor being unequal to the expense of repairing it, and having built himself a cottage within the four walls of the older building."  Šimun Vlahović left the building to his children, including his son Stjepan, but after World War II there were family disputes over possession, and one of Stjepan’s sisters gave her share to the then-Yugoslav government in exchange for another property. By the 1970s, part of the building was owned by the Hvar hotel company, but in 1997 it was bought back by Stefano Vlahović, son of Stjepan, who had inherited his father’s share. Stefano also managed to buy back the neighbouring ‘Jakša house’ which had been owned by the Vlahović family from 1909, and which has been closely tied to the ‘Hektorović Palace’ at various times in its history.

Stefano Vlahović made his fortune in Russia in the frozen foods business, and is the honorary Croatian Consul in Kaliningrad. The project of finishing the ‘Hektorović palace’ and restoring the ‘Jakša house’, two outstanding historical Hvar landmarks, is definitely a labour of love. Bizarrely, the project raised vociferous opposition, with many - including expert and influential people - claiming that the ‘Hektorović Palace’ is a famous landmark and should remain in its unfinished state. Fortunately, local experts such as Joško Kovačić, who has done a great deal of research into the history of the building, disagreed, echoing the words of the Rector who gave permission for the famous facade in wishing for the building to be brought into its intended beauty, and not left to rot in a shameful state. Most importantly, the Conservation Office in Split is also fully supportive.

Probably the main reason why the building was never finished was the shakiness of the foundations, which were unstable because in part they did not reach the bedrock and simply rested on soil. This was one of the main problems which had to be addressed, and it involved digging down to create a solid, firm base for the building. The work is currently being carried out by the Split firm MarkING, which has an unparalleled portfolio of successful conclusions to daunting and challenging projects. Under the patient watchful eye of MarkING’s Project Manager Igor Lučić many technical problems have been solved, the intricate details of the stonework are emerging, and the building has gained its much-needed symmetry of form with the impressively authentic-looking roof.

The site is historically significant. Archaeological investigations were carried out in tandem with the initial works, and revealed many artefacts, not only from Greek and Roman times, as expected, but also prehistoric relics from the Illyrian, Iron Age period. The older finds were unexpected, because up until Roman times much of the area had been under water as a lagoon, which was gradually filled in over centuries to create the modern-day harbour walls and square (pjaca / piazza). Some of the finds are due to be kept in the basement of the palace when the works are finished, while the rest will be in the Hvar Heritage Museum.

The whole restoration project will take many more years. Stefano Vlahović has planned a sumptuous modern interior behind the painstakingly restored facade, complete with an aikido gym and a library. He has a special attachment to the chapel of Sts. Cosmas and Damian: traditionally, members of the Vlahović family have been baptized and married there, and his father Stjepan is buried there. The main path to the chapel is behind the ‘Hektorović’ Palace, and Stefano Vlahović has agreed with the Hvar Bishop, Slobodan Štambuk, to open up the shortcut through his property on Hvar Day once the buildings works are complete. Hvar Day falls on 2nd October, shortly after the feast day for the martyred brothers Cosmas and Damian, which is celebrated on 27th September each year.

When the building has at last reached the glory it has been denied all these years, it should properly be called the Vlahović Palace. A special plaque, carved in the finest stone, should commemorate the tremendous achievement of ending centuries of waiting for this beautiful property to be made fit for its purpose.


Gazzari, Žarko. 2002. Tragovima Slavogosta: rodoslovlje i povijest hvarske porodice Gazarović - Gazzari. Split, Književni krug. ISBN 953-163-180-8

Jackson, T.G. 1887. Dalmatia, The Quarnero and Istria. Oxford Clarendon Press, Vol.II p221

Kovačić, Joško. 1997. O kući tzv.Hektorović na gradskom zidu u Hvaru. Prilozi Povijesti Otoka Hvara, broj X, Centar za zaštitu kulturne baštine otoka Hvara (str.75-94). ISSN 0353-0957

Novak, Grga. 1972. Hvar kroz stoljeća. Izdavački zavod Jugoslavenske Akademije znanosti i umjetnosti, Zagreb. 3rd edition.

With special thanks to Mr Stefano Vlahović for providing historical details relating to his family and their ‘Hektorović’ Palace.

© Vivian Grisogono 2012