Renaissance poet and Hvar noble Petar Hektorović (1487–1572) is primarily remembered for his Ribanje i ribarsko prigovaranje (“Fishing and Fishermen’s Conversations”), the first work of autobiographical realism in Croatian literature. Written in 1556, by which time he was an old man, the 1680-line poem was inspired by a three-day boat trip to Brač and Šolta in the company of two local fishermen, Paskoje and Nikola, who despite being commoners are accorded a dignity which was rare for the literature of the period.

Concern for the local populace also underpinned Hektorović’s plans for his summer house, the Tvrdalj, which he began in 1514 and carried on building for the rest of his life. As well as a place of repose, it was intended to be a fortified refuge for the locals in time of attack – a self-sufficient ark that would provide food from its garden and fresh fish from the mullet pond. Hektorović’s typically Renaissance fondness for order and balance was reflected in the symbolic inclusion of a pigeon loft in the main tower, to emphasize the point that the Tvrdalj was a refuge for creatures of the sky as well as the sea and earth. The house was built in simple unadorned style, both because Hektorović had a taste for rusticity and because he didn’t want to provoke commoners with a display of lordly luxury. Local Venetian commanders sanctioned the diversion of manpower from Hvar Town to assist Hektorović in its construction, since it freed them from the responsibility of defending the people of Stari Grad from pirates.

Hektorović died before the Tvrdalj was fully finished, though it was renovated and added to by his descendants. Ironically, the one thing which most people find so memorable about the Tvrdalj – the restful arched cloister surrounding the fishpond – wasn’t part of Hektorović’s original plan, added instead by the Niseteo family in 1834.

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