Hvar's Arsenal

Ita Pavicic

Project coordinator, Hvar’s Arsenal

City of Hvar

Ulica Milana Kukurina 2 21450 Hvar Croatia


European Heritage Awards / Europa Nostra Awards 2020 - Conservation


The Renovation of Hvar's Arsenal, The Heart of Hvar’s Social and Cultural Life




The Arsenal building, located on the south-west edge of the central city square, was and still is the most important public building in Hvar town, at the island Hvar, Croatia. Built at a time when the Hvar Commune was powerful because of its significant geopolitical status within the Venetian administration, it is one of many arsenals built in the Mediterranean during the long Venetian era. These shipyards, used also as storage for ship equipment are found in the area between the Levant and Venice, but Hvar’s Arsenal is the only one located in the city centre and not in its suburbs. Its Renaissance building dominates the town’s main square and its location ensured its permanent use even when the original purpose was long lost. The phenomenon of the Hvar Theatre, the first communal theatre in Europe, established in 1612 at the upper floor of the complex, is inextricably linked to the Arsenal building.

The aim of the project was to restore the renaissance Arsenal building with full respect for all its monumental features but at the same time to adapt to the modern needs of the Hvar town as well as to the standards of today's theatre, gallery or stage practice.

Arsenal is the common name for a number of structures that form a complex: the arsenal on the ground floor of the main building with auxiliary premises in the west section of the floor, a theatre in the east part of the upper floor, Fontik, a former communal store for cereals and salt a row of six rooms along the north facade. The terrace of the Fontik, or belvedere, also serves the open entrance hall of the theatre in the eastern part and other spaces in the western part of the ground floor which is accessed by an exterior stairwell. The construction of the medieval Arsenal began in the 13th century but it was not until the early 17th century that the building got its present appearance.

After World War II the ground floor was transformed into a large cinema and a hall for meetings and events; in the same period a public gallery was set up on the first floor. From the moment the theatre was established it has been used continuously with intermittent interruptions due to renovations. The last performance before this renovation was in 2003, and after that it was closed due to its very bad state.

Partners involved in the project of renovation were the Croatian Ministry of Culture Conservation department in Split and the Ministry of Regional Development and EU Funds.

This extremely demanding project started with static reconstruction in 2005. With its corresponding complex conservational restrictions, it created opportunity and challenge in equal measure, and there is now a new spirit in the old building. Today, all the unknowns about its construction have been eliminated, and the discovery of two older arsenals in the same place is a realization of the international significance of Europe.

Photo Jakša Kuzmičić


Developing solutions for integrating modern equipment suitable for today’s needs into the historical and protected structure of the Arsenal was the biggest challenge of this project. The greatest difficulty lay in repairing the seriously disrupted construction of the building. All those demanding required works were very expensive and a big effort was put into it to ensure necessary financial support so that the works could be continued without interruption, since most of the funds were provided from the Town of Hvar’s budget. The whole process of renovation was supervised by the Conservation Department in Split, resulting in the need to compromise on the creation of solutions for each problem and the tiny details that appear on every construction site. Sometimes it was complicated and involved difficult conversations and arrangements, trying to reconcile different points of view. But the result was very successful.

Restoration of the building's walls and wooden structures was also extremely demanding, but in the main the original features were preserved, especially the massive joists of the roof. Replacing the weight-bearing construction between the floors without dismantling the Theatre's system of boxes was especially challenging.

The elements which were added to fulfil modern needs were fashioned in a contemporary style, thus emphasizing the original character of the building. This was the case for the new spaces at the very far east end of the ground floor, which held new sanitary and cloakroom facilities for the Theatre's actors, with cloakroom and toilet facilities for visitors and the Theatre's audiences added on the first floor.

The installations and mechanical systems needed for the building's new functions were also planned and carried out with due respect for its historical character and state. In order for such large spaces to be heated and cooled in accordance with today's needs and climatic conditions, keeping in mind that any visible installations on the facades and roof were not allowed, we took advantage of the special position of the building in the port very close to the sea and used the sea as the medium for energy transfer. During the summer, the system provides the transfer of surplus heat into the sea, but during the winter, the system uses sea water thermal potential for heating the building. Once again Arsenal is strongly connected with the sea, and depends on it.


Photo Jakša Kuzmičić


The results of the renovation project are a structurally repaired building with original elements restored and presented, and the theatre renovated and functional in its historical authenticity. The former warehouse space had previously been replaced by a ceremonial reception room and an art gallery, and these spaces were now rehabilitated. At the ground floor, the Arsenal gained a new multi-purpose function designed to offer Hvar's citizens a wide range of cultural and social events. The Town of Hvar has gained a permanently opened space for exhibitions, events and conferences.

In addition to the cultural content that the town and the island of Hvar have received, the many years of renovation at the Arsenal has brought about a whole series of masters, companies and institutions that today have the advanced specialist knowledge needed to restore such monuments. Many of these companies have overcome huge obstacles and now they are trained to cope with any demand in the area of cultural heritage renewal.

The special value of the repaired Arsenal building with Theatre is not just as a historical building, but in the historical layers of artistic development which underpinned its function for performances: these put the Theatre and the whole building at the forefront of sources illustrating the development of heritage and theatrical arts in Europe. The renovation of the Hvar Theatre represents an invaluable scholarly contribution to the study of not just the history of Hvar, but also that of the theatres of Europe.

The Arsenal has always been an important building in naval, military and commercial terms, later a centre of social events and a house of culture, and now that it has been renovated, it is used even more.

From the moment we reopened the building in May 2019, our whole community, our citizens, our children, actors and artists, as well as tourists from all over the world, have been entering into it and filling it with joy


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