History of the island

The first written record of the island comes from the lexicographer Stjepan Bizantinac. Theopompus (4th century BC) calls it Ladesta and Ladeston, while the suffix -est (characteristic for Illyrian settlements on the coast of the Adriatic) indicates that it was named by old Illyrians. There is also a Greek version of the island’s name – Ladestanos, which proves that the island was also inhabited by the Dorians.

The Romans latinized it and called it Augusta insula (the emperor’s island). In Medieval times, it was called Augusta, Lagusta and Lagosta. Today’s name is linked to the Romanesque form of Lasto with the Slavic suffix -ovo.

The oldest traces of life were discovered in the Rača cave and the continuity of life can be traced from the early Bronze period.

The Slavs and people of Neretva settled the island as early as the 7th and 8th century; soon they became so strong that they interfered with the safety of Venetian navigation. That is why the Doge Pietro II Orseolo conquered the island and in 998 completely destroyed the settlement. The remaining inhabitants moved to a new location, which became what is today the town of Lastovo. Lastovo’s history is tumultuous, which is corroborated by the fact that it often changed masters. In the 11th and 12th century it was ruled by the principality of Zachlumia. In late 12th century it was taken over by Hungarian-Croatian kings. During the 13th century it was again under the rule of Zachlumia. In 1252 it became a part of the Ragusan Republic, which in 1310 granted it communal autonomy and statutes. During the 16th and 17th century the local peasants were involved in frequent uprisings due to the acts of the Dubrovnik gentry. In the 19th century Lastovo was ruled by the French, then the English and finally it fell under the Austrian rule, which will last until 1918.

Under the Treaty of Rappalo, Lastovo was given to Italy, which would rule it until 1943. After 1945 the SFRY government constructed strong military bases on the island and banned foreign visitors. This stopped the island’s tourism and economic development. After the establishment of the Republic of Croatia, Lastovo developed in both aspects.

Material cultural heritage

The area of the Park, most notably the islands of Lastovo and Sušac, contains many cultural assets, which are a testament to the rich history of the area. The Park’s registered and preventively protected cultural assets are divided into four categories:

  • Cultural and historic units
  • Sacral architecture
  • Secular architecture
  • Archaeological sites

The town of Lastovo is located above a field and it has developed on the steep slope in an amphitheatrical form. The origin of today’s layout of the town dates back to the 15th and 16th centuries. The central part of the town are the parish church of St. Cosmas and Damian and the duke’s house. The oldest houses in Lastovo date back to the 15th century.

There are numerous individual cultural assets. The attractive and interesting chimneys (fumari) indicate that they were a status symbol showing the wealth of the house owner. The fumari are unique; there are no two identical chimneys and they emphasise the differences between households. They remind of minarets, although it is unknown if that is accidental or if they are a copy of fumari from Italian villages. Each new fumar was bigger and more unusually decorated, as if the people of Lastovo competed with their neighbours: they put animal horns on fumari, which also served as protection against evil eyes. It is believed that the oldest fumar, which is today surrounded by wild oranges, is the chimney of the Renaissance house of the Antica-Biza family.

Lučica is the last preserved example of a Baroque fisherman's village in this part of Dalmatia. From the beginning of the 17th century the people of Lastovo built stone fisherman's houses in this narrow bay. The houses served as protection from the storm, to keep fishing gear, salt fish and boat stretching.

Of a total of 46 churches, both preserved and those in a ruinous condition, 21 churches have been registered as a protected cultural asset. The islanders built them in honour of saints so that they would follow them in their everyday life, protect them from harm and illness. The oldest church, an early Christian basilica in Ubli, dates back to the 6th century, while the oldest preserved church is the church of St. Luke from the 11th century. The parish church of St. Cosmas and Damian in Lastovo was built in the 15th century and it was expanded in the 17th century.

The parish church of St. Cosmas and Damian

The parish church is dedicated to the twin doctors Cosmas and Damian. It was the congregational place of the Lastovo community. It was first mentioned in early 14th century. Today’s three-nave church is a result of at least two construction stages. The central nave dates back to the 15th century, while the lateral naves were built upon in the 16th/17th century, which is evidenced by the picturesque façade with three separate roofs and gables crowned with three steeples formed as a distaff. They were not built until the 18th century in the Gothic style.

In 1545, a vestry was built next to the church apse, while the Neo-Gothic bell tower was completed in 1942 with Lastovo stone. The interior of the church is filled with stone furniture, paintings and sacral objects.

The central nave is dominated by a Baroque main altar with two smaller, lateral altars, covered by two 16th century half-ciboria. The western one, dedicated to Our Lady of Mercy, boasts a wooden icon with two faces, one of which shows the Virgin Mary with Her Son, and the other one a Crucifix between the Virgin Mary and John the Evangelist. The eastern side altar, dedicated to the Saint Trinity, is decorated by one of the churches pieces of art, a painting entitled “Lamentation of Christ”, made by the Spanish painter Juan Boschetto in 1545. The panel on the main altar depicting St. Cosmas and Damian was painted by Giovanni Lanfranco in 1633, when the old main altar was replaced by a new, stone one. In addition, the altar is also decorated by five smaller paintings from the same period, made by Ivan Scrivelli, depicting the Maker and St. Peter, Paul, Jerome and Joseph. The most recent canvas is the one on the wall above the triumphal arch of the apse with a late Baroque figurative composition of the Last Testament, made in the 18th century.

The town of Lastovo houses some forty valuable architectural sets of houses dating back to the period from the 15th to he 19th century, which complete one of the most recognizable variants of Dalmatian, and especially Dubrovnik historical residential architecture.

A Lastovo house is a special version of the historical architectural culture in Dalmatia. This is a type of house that was built based on a ground plan and vertical volume consistently divided into “pars fructuaria” on the ground floor and the “pars urbana” on the first floor. The Lastovo houses are characterized by a sular. These are terraces fenced by stone benches (pižuli) and stone vases (arlas). Stone pilasters were covered by white grapes called krivača. The furniture was also made from stone: basins, well crowns (pucals), seats, benches, tables, oil vessels, etc.

The caves of Pod Pozalicu and Rača, hillfort settlements and all 11 prehistoric ruins have been protected thanks to archaeological sites.

The remnants of “villa rustica” from the Antiquity (remains of Roman walls) in the fields of Barje and Velja lokva, in Skrivena luka, in Jurjeva luka, at the site of the village cemetery, and on the islands of Stomorina and Sušac, as well as archaeological remnants of the Roman settlement from the 1st century and the early Christian basilica from the 5th-6th century in Ubli have also been protected.

Due to the large number of archaeological sites on the island of Sušac (more than forty), the whole historical area of the island, which was populated from early Neolithic until the late Medieval period, has been protected. The Sušac also houses a rich complex of ancient and early Christian buildings, among which are the remnants of the church of St. Mary from the 6th century.

A total of 18 underwater archaeological sites has been registered within the Park, most of which are protected

Intangible cultural heritage

The exact year of the beginning of the Lastovo Poklad (Carnival) is unknown. The legend says that during the Moor siege of the town of Koručula, they sent their emissary to Lastovo to request that the people surrender. The people of Lastovo captured and jailed the emissary, so the enraged Moors directed their ships to Lastovo in order to conquer it. Suddenly, a storm rose and dispersed the enemy ships. The people of Lastovo showed the prisoner out and sat him on a donkey. They led him through the village in order to mock him. In the evening they strung a long piece of rope and lowered him from a hill, which is today called “Pokladareva grža”. Later, they took him to Dolac on a donkey and burnt him surrounded by pealing bells and cries. From then until today, the Lastovo Poklad has been held every year. It takes place according to strict rules and procedures. It is unlike any other event in the world.

It is one of the most valuable customs in the Republic of Croatia, as evidenced by the fact that on 17 January 2008 the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Croatia declared the Lastovo Poklad an intangible cultural asset of the Republic of Croatia and protected it.

Seven hundred years ago, on a public congregation held in Lastovo on 10 January 1310 the “Lastovo By-Law” was adopted. It represents a book of regulations and customs of the assembly and municipality of the island of Lastovo. The book starts with a pledge of the Dubrovnik commune that it will respect all ancient customs of the islanders, who had voluntarily surrendered to the commune to the City of Dubrovnik. The compilation of 30 regulations that the first part of the By-Law, adopted that year, contained clearly described labour and social relations within the island community.

There are many legends about Lastovo and every inhabitant of this island has their own story. These are some of them...

  • there is a belief that in the village of Ubli, which is situated on the location of the archaeological excavation of the early Christian basilica of St. Peter, 12 golden statues of apostles have been buried
  • the population of Lastovo previously did not plant walnut trees because there was a belief that the walnut tree is the meeting point of witches, and white onions, the cure for all types of curses, were a favourite
  • witches would not leave them alone at points where a road divides into three parts: this was their meeting point, but the Rača cave, whose tunnel reached the sea, was inhabited by fairies
  • vampires were also frequent visitors; the population have accused them of an epidemic of food poisoning
  • where a palm tree grows – the family line dies out
  • The legend of Glavat – the Greek god Zeus sent his emissary to find the most beautiful island in the world. After a long search, the emissary stayed in this place because he could not decide, and he still stands there between the islands of Lastovo, Korčula and Mljet. Turned to stone.

It is very difficult to describe an average inhabitant of Lastovo in words, but one feature that they all share are their temperament, or their “dišpet”. They are loud and fun, they are very close to their families, they are ready to accept guests and are hospitable, because on Lastovo, you will never be thirsty or hungry. They are very hard-working; previously they engaged only in agriculture, viticulture and olive growing, animal husbandry, fishing and even working with corals and training eagles. However, today they work mainly in tourism and trade, but there are those who keep the old crafts, such as calafato shipbuilding, alive. Although there are not many of them, they are cut off from the mainland and some perks of modern life, they make up for it with their quality of life, spending time together and enjoying the pristine nature.