History of Sutivan
Sutivan’s history as a settlement begins with St. John’s church. Foundations of an Early Christian church (Sanctus Johannes) were uncovered next to St. John’s, dating back to 6th century. The church had one nave and sanctuary divided into three apses. Supposedly there was a monastery next to the church, according to the remaining ruins and saved name «Mojstir» (monastery), but there is no written record about its activities. Croatian version of the name Sanctus Johannes, Sutivan or Stivan, appeared somewhere before 10th century. Although ‘Sutivan’ remained the official version, ‘Stivan’ appears in almost every historical document and island people use it. Considering the size of church and monastery, the settlement could have had about one hundred residents, probably living around the monastery. Traces of prehistoric population were not found, but grave remains from Iliric – Ancient Roman period were discovered, and a Roman grave was found on Bunta. These discoveries are related to early Roman ‘villa rustica’ estates. Traces of Ancient Roman villa were discovered in the foundation of Kavanjin summer house in town centre. Also, records from the 11th century mention aristocrats from Split and their lands. The benefactor for the Early Christian church was Cassari, a Split aristocrat from whose widow Peter the Black bought the village Gomirje (Donji Humac), with surrounding properties.
According to prior Peter’s will in 1097, he donated his Sutivan land to St. John de Fonte’s church, with unusual explanation of the land’s borders: «until you can hear the rooster’s crow». Besides St John’s church, St. George’s church was also benefice from Split Captol. St. George’s church is in Svićuraj (St. George’s) cove, west from Sutivan. Obviously life and culture on this area date very far back in history. By decree of Brač administration in Nerežišća in 1423, new pastures were provided outside of existing parametres. The decree was considered as a re-birth for settlements such as Sutivan and a sign of more peaceful times. Normal life and development begins after 1444, because pirating interrupted everyday life by the sea. When Omiš was taken by Venetians, Brač people start their descent from inland to sea. Immigrants from Donji Humac (Brač inland) and mainland (Podgora and Split) made their way to Sutivan’s fertile valley. The Ivanović family was the first to come from Podgora. Split aristocrat Jakov Natalis built a fortified house by the sea. Natalis’ house is the oldest in a protected complex of Ilić houses. A part of the house was erected above the sea, on wooden balks stuck into the seabed, like Venetian houses.
Secular and cultural life
In 1579., Augustin Valier, apostle visitor, granted a wish of Sutivan people to be separated from Donji Humac and he founded a new parish with new borders. Don Frane Ivanović became Sutivan’s first church pastor. New parish church with a beautiful round baroque belfry: Assumption of Our Lady, was finished In 1585 (building started in 1579). At that time, Sutivan has about 200 residents. The nuber increases to 260 residents by 1614 and keeps growing. At the beginning of 17th century, Sutivan was one of eleven Brač settlements that had a local judge. In the beginning of the 18th century, in spite of the plague, Sutivan had around 700 people. People were building big houses called ‘courts’ for work (farming) and living, and the houses still carry the family name (Janko’s court, Slavić court. etc.). Ilić court, Definis family complex and Jerolim Kavanjin’s summer house in town centre symbolize the town’s cultural and building history and are protected by Ministry of
Jerolim Kavanjin (1643 – 1714) wrote the longest epic poem in Croatian literature. This late Baroque poet, aristocrat and lawyer wrote 32.724 octosyllables in 5.454 verses. Kavanjin summer house stood behind a public loggia which shared a floor with town administration offices and had a jail on the ground floor. In 1879, people of Sutivan allowed Kavanjin family to remove the loggia and expand the yard with a new seaside entrance. In return, Sutivan people were given land on Blato area where they built Municipality building which still stands and has the same function. In 1823, Austrian government made new admistrative division of Brač and established new municipal centres: Supetar, Sutivan, Postira, Pučišća, Milna, Bol and Nerežišća. Donji Humac became part of Sutivan Municipality.
At the beginning of 19th century, Sutivan makes progress in education. A private male school was founded in 1837. The government declared it public three years later. Classes were held in Italian language until 1868, when Croatian was allowed. After 1860, Autonomist Party and the people in Dalmatia started having issues. In 1864, only Stivan and Pučišća wanted to use Croatian language in admistration and merge with Croatia. On April 23, 1875, emperor Franz Joseph I came for a tour of the island with his yacht. On November 21, 1882, a reading library was opened in Sutivan: «Stivansko društvo» (Stivan society). Women’s elementary school opened in the same year, with 85 enrolled students. Sutivan reached its econonomic and population peek in 1890, counting 1,875 permanent residents. Wine making held 8.5% (around 9.300 hl a year) and olive oil held 25% (around 3,500 hl) of total island production. Unfortunately, the years to come were very bad for economy and demographic because Vienna and Italy made a trade contract with central clause which said that selling Italian wine frees one from taxes in Austro – Hungarian monarchy. The clause lasted until 1904 and enourmously harmed Brač and Sutivan viticulture. Grapewine disease made things worse, with devastating consequences because people invested only in viticulture and neglected other cultures. Also, maritime trade and transportation were left behind, it was the beginning of World War I: people started leaving the island and continue to do so, in bigger or smaller waves. Most of Sutivan emmigrants went to Chile, South America, got assimilated, made a new life for themselves and made noted success, individually or as a group effort. Recently, Croatian descendants from Chile started reconnecting more with their long lost relatives on Brač through cultural exchange.
The end of World War I brought hope into a fair and more advanced joined state of Southern Slavs, hope that soon faded due to unjust national and social politics of old Jugoslavija. The result was more emmigration from the island. Sutivan founded a Health and Electrification Comitee on April 3, 1935, which brought progress to town. Another comitee was founded soon after, in 1938: Brač and Hvar Electrification Comitee. Work was interrupted by World War II but it continued in 1952 and another comitee was formed: Brač Electrification Comitee. Members were Ive Marinković and engineers Nebodar and Petar Jutronić from Sutivan. Funds were raised in less than two years and the first electrical high voltage cable on the Adriatic coast was laid in the sea. Funds were provided by residents of Brač.
During World War II, Sutivan suffered a demographic hit because 56 men and women from the age of 20 – 35 perished by the hands of the occupier. Sutivan had a prominent role in forming National Freedom Front of Brač island. Although formally it was a part of Independent state of Croatia since Jugoslavija capitulated, Brač was first under Italian occupation and then under German occupation, during which terrible crimes were comitted against Brač people. At the end of 1943, island people started evacuating in fear of German occupation. They were transferred to Vis through Hvar, and via Italy to Egypt to El Shatt desert refugee camp, where they had remained until liberation of Dalmatia. The time from evacuation until the end of war was most difficult in island history. There is a list of Sutivan people who perished in the war on a monument in the town park.
Tourism in Sutivan started blossoming in the sixties and seventies of the past century. It began with returnee from Bolivia, Ivan Grubšić, who opened hotel «Vesna» in 1927. The hotel had 28 beds. In 1929 Sutivan recorded 2.464 overnight stays and became the third most visited tourist place on the island, right behind Supetar and Bol. It keeps the position to this day. «Bunta» beach used to be called «Czech beach» because of its most numerous visitors. In 1935, Sutivan had «Society for Advancement in Tourism», two hotels and an inn with 42 beds in 23 rooms, and in 1939 it had 8,605 registered overnight stays. Today Sutivan has about 1,700 registered beds and in 2005 we had 80,000 stays, with mostly Hungarian guests (40%).
During the war for Croatian independence, Brač island and Sutivan gave their contribution in defending our country on various fronts all over Croatia. Many Brač people laid their life at the homeland altar. There is a monument on Golo Brdo (Naked Hill) above Sutivan where two Brač artillery soldiers lost their life: Nikša Dragičević and Luka Martinić. The consenquences of war were evident in decline of tourism and the impossibility of finding a job, so people turned to agriculture again, especially olive growing. In the last ten years, many abandoned olive groves have been restored and cultivated. People in Sutivan are historically tied to agriculture, fishing and sailing, but today they are more turned to tourism, commerce and trade. As in every place on Brač and islands in general, there is the problem of young people leaving. They usually move to Split or Zagreb for higher education and better job prospects. Slight increases in island population can be explained by people returning to their birthplace after retirement.
Sutivan got reinstated as municipal self-government in 1997 and since has been working on development and better quality of life for its residents. Return to tourism offers hope, but the quickness of building new apartment houses is worrying and calls for a more complete plan on island development. The base of good tourism lies in traditional cultural and historical values of the island as a whole and each village separately, what Sutivan immediately recognized and has been implementing in its touristic development.
Playing organized sports has been a part of Sutivan since 1904, when «Swimming, Sailing and Rowing Club Grma» was founded and lasted for thirty years. An encounter with falcon movement in 1897 resulted in a burning wish to establish Sutivan’s own Falcon Society, which was realized in 1930. The society organized «II. Rally of Brač environment», a magnificent celebration for 450 members, 8 flag bearers, 4 types of falcon music and members of club «Falcon» from Prague. The people made a memorial plaque for Czech citizen Miroslav Tyrš (founder of the falcon movement) and set the foundation stone for a new falcon club. The society successfully operated until WWI. There are a few sports societies registered in Sutivan today: windsurfing, indoor soccer and bowling, recently one of the most popular sports on the island. Sutivan gave Brač and Split their first sports journalist, the esteemed professor Andro Jutronić. Vanja Ilić from Sutivan participated in the 1948 Olympics as a member of Split swimming club “Jadran”.
Built in 1635, votive church of St. Rocchus is an important culture monument. After a plague epidemic, people proclaimed St. Rocchus to be their celestial protector. The church was built on a hill above town and if you look at it from sea, it creates a specific and recognizable image of a small town with two belfrys. The cemetery next to the church has catacombs with burial niches distributed in two hallways. Fascinating for their social awareness and a perfectly solved architectual project, they evoke a time when people worked together on town’s infrastructural needs under the patronage of church. Catacombs were built in 1913 by engineer A. Nonveiller. The whole historical centre of town is under protection of Ministry of Culture and Croatian government.
In literature, Sutivan is represented in Brač Almanac – over 20 books of science studies on Brač, initiated by Andro Jutronić – one of most deserving explorers of island history. Professor Brian C. Bennett, Appalachian State University, USA, wrote an anthrophological study: SUTIVAN – A DALMATIAN VILLAGE IN SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC TRANSITION” published in 1973. American with Croatian roots, professor emeritus in UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY, Francis Violich, published a book on urbanistic structure of Sutivan in English: „The Bridge To Dalmatia“, in 1999. Radovan Vidović published a brochure in 1984, «Brač čakavian settlement Sutivan» and Sutivan Municipality published an extensive monography, «Sutivan». Besides Jerolim Kavanjin, Antonio Rendić Ivanović (1896 – 1993) is a well-known Sutivan writer, poet and physician. He worked from Antofagasta, Chile and had been awarded as an artist and humanist by the Chilean government and the Vatican. A school in Antofagasta was named after him: Colegio Antonio Rendić Ivanović.
Sutivan municipality occasionally publishes official publication «Stivan Chronicle». Sutivan is first on the island to have founded official municipal web centre, which has been attracting attention of visitors from all around the world for eight years on www.sutivan.hr The site helps people to communicate with municipal government, offers transparency, advertizes tourist capacities, offers (historical) culture, herritage, current news and useful information. Public library Antonio Rendić Ivanović was established in 2001 and together with elementary school, kindergarden and various sports clubs, it is one of the most important factors in Sutivan’s cultural and social life. Sutivan has become known around the world for its «Vanka Regule» extreme sports summer festival which fits perfectly into a new vision of Croatian tourist season.
Sutivan Municipality traditionally celebrates June 24th, St John the Baptist’s day, as its day. Also, important celebrations take place on August 15th: Assumption of Our Lady, and on August 16th: feast of St. Rocchus, protector of Sutivan.
Text: Franjo Mlinac