Korčula (Greek: Κορκυρα Μελαινα/Korkyra Melaina, Latin: Corcyra Nigra, Italian: Curzola) is a town situated on the island of the same name, in Dubrovnik-Neretva County in Croatia. It consists of five settlements: Korčula Town, Čara, Pupnat, Račišće and Žrnovo.
Korčula Town is located in the north-eastern part of the island, on a small peninsula protruding into the Pelješac Channel. It is encircled by walls and fortresses that, together with its geographical position, emphasise its strategic militaristic role, and give it the appearance of a fortified town.
Due to its geographical, historical and cultural characteristics, Korčula Town has long served as the administrative and ecclesiastical centre of the island, while its many special qualities have made it one of the more prominent Croatian historical towns.
One of these special features is the island and town’s Statute, written in the 13th century, and one of the oldest legal documents in this part of Europe. The Statute regulated life in the town, which was built in accordance with the strict rules of mediaeval town planning that existed at the time. The mediaeval “herringbone” layout of the town has been preserved to this day, and is one of the most well-known features of Korčula. Following such strictly regulatory urban composition, the houses, palaces and churches were built in clearly designated plots of land and ornamented with skilfully crafted elements of architectural decoration; door and window frames, balconies and partition cornices contribute an element of playfulness to the façades of Korčula’s houses.
Korčula Town is first mentioned in a document dating from the 10th century, but the exact time of its foundation has not yet been established. The oldest remnants, fragments with interlaced decoration, date back to the 10th and 11th centuries. Croats who settled the town in the 9th century called it by its Croatian name, Krkar or Krakar. In 1001, Korčula came under Venetian rule, which marked the beginning of the first of its three periods under Venice. After a short period of Venetian rule the town’s rulers changed, first with the Great Principality of Zahumlje taking power, followed by the Croatian-Hungarian crown. Venice restored rule over Korčula in 1256. The name of the famous 13th century traveller Marco Polo is traditionally associated with Korčula. A sea battle between the Venetian and Genoese fleets took place off the coast of Korčula in 1298, and one of the prisoners taken in the battle was Marco Polo, who fought on the Venetian side.
The diocese of Korčula was established in 1301. In the same year, the island’s oldest brotherhood – the All Saints’ Brotherhood – was founded. The St Roc’s brotherhood was established at the end of the 16th century, and the Brotherhood of Our Lady of the Belt (St Michael’s Brotherhood) was founded at the beginning of the 17th century. Besides having religious and social significance, these brotherhoods also took part in the creation of Korčula’s cultural history.
In the mid-14th century, the rule over Korčula was, for a brief period, in the hands of Hungarian-Croatian kings. Venetians regained power over Korčula again in 1420, keeping it this time until the fall of the Venetian Republic in 1797. The island was then ruled by Austrians, the French, Russians and the British, the latter ruling there from 1813 to 1815. A century of Austro-Hungarian rule then followed. In 1871, significant political changes took place; after the victory of the People’s Party at the municipal elections, the town’s head became Rafo Arneri, a representative in the Dalmatian parliament. After World War I, Korčula became part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. In World War II, Korčula was twice occupied: first by Italy (1941-1943) and then by Germany (from the end of 1943 until September 1944). After the war ended, the island became part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Since the establishment of the independent Republic of Croatia, Korčula has been an integral part.
The Korčula Town Day – St Theodor’s, is celebrated on 29 July. The saint’s cult has been dominant despite the fact that the town’s actual patron saint is St Mark. St Theodor has been celebrated since the mid-18th century.