In the mid 19th century was known that Hvar’s climate has excellent qualities, and it’s suitable for treating a variety of illnesses, especially respiratory problems. Thanks to Franz Unger, a botanist from Graz in Austria, the idea of making use of this natural asset took hold, giving rise to a plan to establish a health facility in Hvar Town. The Hvar Health Society (Società igienica di Lesina) was founded in 1868, and this marked the start of the era of modern tourism.
The first health tourism facility was a conversion in a rented house on the south side of Hvar’s main square, offering 13 single rooms with heating, and a restaurant. However, the Health Society had plans to build a contemporary health hotel. As it did not have enough money to realize the project, the Society applied to the Austrian Court for financial help, with a request for Empress Elisabeth to be the patron of the future hotel, which would be named after her. Building started in 1881 on the site of the former Ducal Palace, but the works were continually delayed contrary to expectations due to lack of funds. The first part of the hotel was finished in 1898 and had its official opening on 1st April 1899. The first picture postcard of Hvar (picture 1) also dates to 1898. It depicts Hvar decorated with a drawing of a palm tree and an agave plant, conveying to the recipient an image of Hvar’s delights and its wonderful climate. The upper part of the postcard shows Hvar as seen from the Pakleni Islands, while on the left side there are pictures of the Loggia and the Ducal Palace, although the latter had already been knocked down at that time to make way for the new hotel.
Hvar’s hoteliers advertised through flyers and advertisements in Austrian journals and quickly realized the possibilities of promoting Hvar’s tourism through postcards. The most commonly used images were: the Franciscan Monastery, St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the Paladini Palace, the Arsenal, the Fortress, St. Mark’s Church, the Loggia, and idyllic sunsets, not forgetting the newly opened hotels.
A postcard showing part of the Empress Elisabeth Hotel (picture 2) reveals that judging by the people seen in front of the hotel and at the windows, the hotel must have been pretty full as soon as it opened. When the building was finished in 1903 (picture 3), it had 26 rooms and 35 beds, bathrooms, a dining room, and a lounge area in the old Hvar Loggia. In the lounge (picture 4), one could read local and foreign newspapers, or play cards or billiards. The lounge was also used for organizing concerts, dances, and lectures.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the Hvar Health Society and its hotel were doing good business. Most of the guests came from Austria, the Czech Republic, and Hungary, although there were some from other countries, all attracted by the prospect of enjoying Hvar’s mild winter weather rather than the cold of their home country. A postcard sent on 9th September 1905 from Hvar to Burlington in Vermont, U.S.A. (picture 5) carries an interesting message describing Hvar as “a quaint old town which is becoming popular as a winter resort”.
The success of the Hvar Health Society gave rise to more tourism initiatives on Hvar Island. In Jelsa, the Jadran Hotel was opened in 1911, boasting modern comforts, with 14 rooms, a dining room, a bar, a reading room, and a nearby beach for swimming. The hotel’s owner, Captain Miće Žufić, also published promotional postcards (picture 6), so that potential clients could see what the hotel looked like and what was on offer. Soon afterward a new hotel was opened in Hvar, the Kovačić Hotel, with 30 beds (picture 7).
After the First World War, the Health Society fell into difficulties and sold the Empress Elisabeth Hotel to Milan Čanak, who renamed it the Grand Palace Hotel (picture 8). A few years later, the Health Society ceased to function, and Hvar, alongside its reputation for winter and health holidays, became known increasingly for its summer, beach tourism. The town’s parks, seafronts, and beaches were all tidied up and renewed, and a municipal stone beach facility was built in 1927. In the same year, the Slavija and Overland hotels were opened.
Technological advances have enabled Hvar to become what the founders of the Health Society could only dream of: a world-famous tourist destination with visitor numbers rising year on year. In this age of the internet, pictures of Hvar can be transported from one side of the world to the other in a couple of seconds with a single click. Old picture postcards are only of interest to dedicated collectors looking to escape the hectic pace of everyday life by seeking out romantic images from the past.
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