Korcula has a similar history with other parts of the Dalmatian archipelago. The first known inhabitants of Korcula were Illyrian tribes who occupied a large area of Dalmatia. They lived from farming and fishing. It is still possible to see on the Island their stone burial mounds, roughly shaped as a blunt cone.
Upon the arrival of the Ancient Greeks, Korcula became a Greek colony.?However, they made no attempts to integrate with the Illyrians, who continued both their tribal lifestyle and their separate existence. It seems that the Greeks never associated themselves with the Illyrians, possibly due to Illyrians being perceived as a part of lower social standing.
An important document from this period is a stone tablet called ‘the psephism from Lumbarda’ (4th century BC) The stone plaque, written in ancient Greek, is unambiguous about the existence of Korcula town. This is the oldest written document found on the territory of Croatia. Fortunately, this relic from the past can still be seen in Korcula’s town museum.
Several centuries later, in 7th century AD, the Croats came to the Adriatic coast, the first tribes from the fertile Neretva valley. The first Croats arrived on the Island of Korcula in the early 9th century.
Shortly afterwards, the Venetians arrived in Korcula in the 10th century and they were to rule Korcula on and off up to the 14th century. A significant historical document from this period is “Statute of the town and the island of Korcula” from 1214. It reveals and explains a great part of Korcula’s cultural and economic history up to the 16th century. (more about Korcula Statute) The golden period for Korcula was between the 13th and 15th centuries since it was then that the old town’s present form was acquired through the construction of important buildings. Most of these can still be seen today.
It was during this period that the Venetians left its distinctive mark on Korcula’s culture and architecture, which has been well preserved for future generations.
Yet Korcula’s existence was to be far from serene. With an existence on the fringes of the Venetian state’s territory, Korcula lived with an omnipresent danger of the Ottoman advance on its doorsteps. Korcula was to witness and heroically partake in various battles with the seemingly invincible Ottoman Empire. One of the most famous battles was in 1571, against the Ottoman naval leader Uluz Alija, who attempted to plunder Korcula.
Despite being abandoned to an apparently inevitable fate by the Venetian garrison, local men and women, both from the town and the surrounding villages, were mobilised in defence of this strategic town. Through valiant fighting, though also a fortunate storm, the Korculans managed to defend the town and repel the invaders, preserving their livelihood and Korcula itself.
With the recession and decline in the Mediterranean trade, though also by the discovery of America, Korcula, with many other parts of the Adriatic began to suffer economic and cultural decline, as well as political chicanery.
The ripples from revolutionary France were to have a significant effect on Korcula. As the city states crumbled in front of the Napoleonic armies, Venice was to lose its dominance over the Adriatic with the Peace Treaty of Campoformio in 1797. After the fall of the Venetian state in 1797, Korcula became part of the Austrian empire. The Austrian hegemony was to last for over a century.
Upon the fall of Austrian empire at the end of the First World War, Korcula became part of the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes under the Versailles Agreement.
Later, upon the declaration of King Alexander’s dictatorship, the country was renamed Yugoslavia. Henceforth, Korcula was to share Yugoslavia’s turbulent history, staying a part of it until 1991, when Croatia becomes an independent state.
Generally, throughout the 20th century, Korcula started developing its tourist industry. The first travellers arrived in the 1920s, although it wasn’t until 1960s that mass tourism started to expand, permanently changing the face of shipyards and stone masonry town, to one of the hotels, marinas and restaurants.