Until the invention of the steamboat, men conquered the vast expanse of the sea by sailing. Putting one's fate into the hands of the wind was often perilous, which is why people sailed close to the shore, venturing out to the open sea only to cross short distances between two shores or between the mainland and an island. To do so, they used the so-called blue highways, well-travelled sea routes. One such blue highway led from Monte Gargano on the west coast across Palagruža and St. Andrew or Vis, to the eastern Adriatic coast (and vice versa). Therefore, Vis Archipelago was an important stop on the journey from one side of the Adriatic to the other. Due to this, and to the fact that the island has its own water sources thanks to its geological specificities, this offshore archipelago became the focus of major historical forces across more than two millennia.


The island of Vis has been populated ever since prehistoric times. Ceramic artefacts from the Chalcolithic period have been excavated in Queen Teuta's Cave on the northern side of the island. The largest number of traces of the prehistoric man date back to the Bronze Age (around 1800 to 1000 BC): ceramic fragments, bronze fibulae, a dozen mounds and four hill fort settlements scattered across the island. Tombs from the early Iron Age (around 800 to 600 BC) have been discovered on the southern side of the island, near Taleška Glavica hill fort. The Liburnians, a well-known Illyrian tribe notorious for their piracy, occupied the island in the 1st millennium BC. Archaeological finds confirm that the Liburnians had an organised system of government before the arrival of the Greeks. Ionius was one Illyrian ruler whose name is often mentioned.


The Greek Issa
The second half of the 1st millennium in the Mediterranean is characterised by an expansion of Greek colonies. It was only a matter of time before the Adriatic Sea also became the focus of attention of Greek colonizers. First to appear were colonies on the west coast of the Adriatic Sea, but in the early 4th century BC, Dionysius the Elder decided to lay the foundations for the colonisation of the eastern Adriatic coast. Vis archipelago was to serve as a stepping stone. The ancient Issa developed in the area of the present-day town of Vis (the Gradina hillock and the Prirov peninsula), thus making Vis the oldest town in Croatia along with Stari Grad (Pharos) on the island of Hvar, and its walls the best-preserved Hellenistic walls in Croatia. There are very few necropolises in Croatia which are as well preserved as the ones in the localities of Martivlo and Vlaška njiva in the present-day town of Vis.
Issa gained its economic and political autonomy rather quickly, already during the reign of Dionysius' son, which is evident from the fact that it minted its own currency, passed its own laws, had its own fleet and a well-developed trading network with the mainland, manufactured its own ceramics and practised wine growing. The island's wine growing and wine making received a major acknowledgement from the renowned historian and geographer Agatharchides of Cnidus, who characterised the wine from Issa as “the finest in comparison with all others”.
Greek culture as the foundation of the future European civilization did not stop at Vis. Thanks to the fearless and indomitable spirit of the old people of Issa, numerous present-day towns in Dalmatia pride themselves on their Ancient Greek heritage. Lumbarda on the island of Korčula, Trogir (Tragurium) and Stobreč (Epetium) were founded as Greek colonies in the 4th and 3rd century BC.


Already in the second half of the 3rd century BC it became evident that Rome was to become a new major power in the Mediterranean, and thus the ruler of the Adriatic. Namely, during a conflict with the most powerful Illyrian king, Agron, Issa turned to Rome for help and became its permanent ally.
During a great civil war which shook the Republic of Rome in the second half of the 1st century BC, Issa had the misfortune of "betting on the wrong horse". Namely, in 47 BC it sided with Pompey, who was defeated by Caesar. Issa lost all its privileges along with its status of a free city and became a direct subject of Rome, politically dependent on the new Roman colony of Salona (the present-day town of Solin).
However, due to its still significant geostrategic position, it remained an important trading centre, which is evident from the buildings that could be found in every important and modern town at the time, such as the baths, a theatre and the forum. In the first half of the 1st century AD, Issa also adopted the Roman civil law (Issa civium Romanorum). Nonetheless, the islanders continued to speak Greek and consider themselves as Greeks. Resistance towards Romanisation is reflected in a rather small number of Latin inscriptions found in Issa.


Venetian destruction of Issa
During the early Middle Ages, the island was a part of the Early Croatian state. Croats continued the well-established tradition of piracy in the east Adriatic, frequently attacking Venetian ships. The Venetian doge Pietro II Orseolo thus launched a military expedition (997–998 AD), during which Issa was not spared – the town was demolished and the population was enslaved. For the following 500 years, the centre of the island life retreated to the centre of the island. It is worth mentioning that, during the Middle Ages, other islands also established their centres away from the coast due to constant pirate threats.

Founding the Benedictine monastery of St. Sylvester on Biševo
The links between the western and the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea used to be much more dynamic than they are now. For Benedictine monks from the Italian Tremiti islands it was perfectly natural to use the "blue highway" to expand their influence, just as the Greeks had once done from southern Italy, and establish a monastery on the island of Biševo in 1050 AD.

Knyaz Peter and the first mention of Komiža
Just before 1145 AD, Venice conquered Hvar and Vis. On behalf of Venice, the islands were governed by Knyaz Peter, who was originally from the island Hvar. The Knyaz owned a cove on the western side of the island called "Uaccomeza". He gave the land as a gift to the aforementioned Benedictine monastery from Biševo. Therefore, the toponym Komiža was first mentioned in the second half of the 12th century.

Visit of the Pope Alexander III
Komiža is the first Croatian town ever to be visited by a pope. On his way to Venice, Pope Alexander III disembarked on Palagruža on Ash Wednesday, March 9, 1177, along with the crew of his ten galleys. Pope was served dinner on the plateau of Palagruža Mala, which has been known as Papina njiva (Pope's Field) ever since.

The Monastery of St. Nicholas (Muster)
The monastery was first mentioned in the mid-13th century as a part of the Biševo monastery. By the end of the century, the monastery of St. Nicholas was to gain its independence and its own abbot. The monks of this monastery did not live only from their lands, but little by little, having established contacts with the local population, they also took up trading. For that purpose they even owned a large ship named "Sveti Nikola" (St. Nicholas).

Vis as a part of the Hvar Commune
Between the 12th century and the fall of the Republic of Venice in 1797, the island was incorporated into the Hvar Commune. It is interesting to point out that there were no noblemen from Vis in the Hvar Commune, and the island's commoners enjoyed the same rights and privileges as those from Hvar, actively participating in in the political life of the Commune. Vis had its own judge, a gastald (an official in charge of a portion of the royal demesne with civil and judicial powers), and pošćici or poljari (vineyard and garden supervisors).
From the 1358 Treaty of Zadar to the onset of Venetian dominance in 1420, political circumstances on the Adriatic were turbulent. Numerous kings and local lords succeeded one another as rulers of Dalmatian islands. In 1420, Venice took over all of Dalmatia.

Catalan attack
In 1483 Vis suffered an attack by Catalans serving the king of Naples. Although the island was a part of the mighty naval force of the Republic of Venice and even though the islanders had retreated to the island's interior, they were not spared from the attack. The Catalan attack left the island's largest inland settlement – Velo Selo (Podselje) – in ruins. The cruelty of the Catalan mercenaries was recorded in a folk poem, in which they were referred to as "Catalan Turks".


The Catalan attack and the ever more imminent invasion by Ottomans and Arabs convinced the inhabitants of Vis that it was necessary to modify the island's defence system. They began to realize that the island could only be defended if there was a large settlement on the coast. That is why the commoners of Vis and the lords of the Hvar Commune, who owned large plots of land on Vis and collected considerable revenues from them, built fortified houses along the port of Vis. The houses were not built for military purposes only; they also served a residential and economic purpose. That was the origin of the settlements of Kut and Luka, which later developed into the modern-day town of Vis.
Numerous noble families from the island of Hvar – Hektorović, Lucić, Jakša, Gazarović and others – owned not only lands on Vis, but country houses as well.

The Development of the Town of Vis in the 16th century
Until 1600, Vis had already been so developed that it looked like a lovely, albeit scattered small town. Luka and Kut were not villages in the ordinary sense of the word, because they contained both cottages and beautiful palaces. Even the churches had already been built by that time: Our Lady of Spilice located between Kut and Luka, and the Church of St. Cyprian in Kut.

The first reference to the town of Komiža
During the migration from the interior of the island towards the coast, a part of the inhabitants descended to the bay of Komiža, and in 1542 Komiža was mentioned for the first time as a village ("villa Comisae"). Peace and the absence of epidemics in the first half of the 17th century resulted in a natural increase in population. The trend was further supported by an influx of population from the coastline between the rivers Cetina and Neretva. The "newcomers", as the natives called them, came looking for a shelter while fleeing from the Ottoman threat. The new inhabitants received lands and privileges (exemption from numerous taxes) from the central government, while in return they were required to join the military in case of war. The local authorities and the indigenous population thought it was unjust, which is why there has always been animosity between these two social groups. In 1714, any further influx of privileged families to Vis was definitely discontinued. The special privileges for new inhabitants weren't abolished until the period of French rule in Dalmatia.

The Commune
In the late 16th century, fishermen from Komiža decided to secure the port by building a fort, whose construction was funded by taxes collected from the haul caught at the best fishing spot, Trešjavac cove, on the south side of the island of Biševo. The construction of the popular Commune was completed in 1585, during the reign of Ivan Grimani, a knyaz and provveditore from Hvar.

Life in the 17th century
During the 17th century, life in the villages of Luka, Kut and Komiža went on at a calm and pleasant pace. In the words of the governor Antonio Barbaro, the island of Vis "abounded in wine and fishery, and had a good harbour, town and a fortress." In the mid-17th century, the island of Vis was perhaps the most developed island of the Hvar Commune, and the customs houses of Vis and Komiža accounted for more than a half of municipal income.
The number of inhabitants kept increasing. Progress was also reflected in construction activities: churches were being rebuilt, new palaces and forts were being erected. Even the commoners started to build beautiful houses, striving for a more comfortable life. Another proof of an improved standard of living is the fact that the first medical doctor came to live on the island in 1630s. This period also saw an outbreak of antagonism between two villages in the Bay of Vis: Luka and Kut, with ones often causing damage to others. In the second half of the 17th century, much like before, the town of Vis lived from agriculture, while Komiža lived from fishery.


The Republic of Venice collapsed in 1779. After the Treaty of Campo Formio, Vis came under the Austrian rule together with the rest of the Venetian Dalmatia.

The First Austrian Administration
During its first rule in Dalmatia, Austria left things mostly as they were, and Vis remained a part of the Hvar Commune. Interestingly enough, at that time there were not many noble families whose members sat in the Main Council of Dalmatians, which is why several commoners were accepted as members, including the Dojmi family from Vis.

The French Administration
After the Treaty of Pressburg in 1805, Austria ceded Dalmatia to Napoleon, to be incorporated into the Kingdom of Italy. The French carried out an administrative reform, in which Vis became part of the political canton of Hvar, but it also received its own municipality. Each municipality was now run by the municipal council, whose members were appointed regardless of whether they were of noble descent or not. Vis was even granted the right to a special delegate who participated in the activities of the so-called Main Council of Dalmatians in Zadar.
During the War of the Second Coalition, Russians came to rule over the Ionian Sea, from where admiral Senyavin decided to occupy Dalmatian islands and base his operations against the French in Dalmatia. Vis was not permanently occupied, but all the forts were disarmed. After the Treaties of Tilsit in 1807, Russians withdrew from the Adriatic.

Vis as the centre of piracy and smuggling in the Adriatic
The British applied their naval blockade policy in the Adriatic as well. To that end, British ships cruised from Trieste and Venice to Corfu, preventing any traffic between the coasts of the Adriatic Sea, and between the Adriatic and the Mediterranean.
The naval blockade in the Adriatic was conducive not only to piracy but to smuggling as well, and due to its geographical position Vis became the centre of these "economic activities". Thousands of merchants from England, Italy, Germany, and from the mainland Dalmatia came to Vis, and the island soon reached the number of 12.000 inhabitants. English became the common language. Vis found itself in an absurd situation: the actual rulers of the island were the English, while the administration was still French.
Napoleon tried to repossess the island on two occasions, but both attempts were in vain. The second attempt, which took place in 1811, became known as the First Battle of Lissa.

British Administration during Napoleonic Wars (1812–1815)
On April 24, 1812, the British definitely decided to take over the island, which led to the construction of new fortresses on the hills surrounding the Bay of Vis in the early 19th century. This time the new fortification system was not built for the defence of the islanders, but of a world power and its treasures – the United Kingdom. The importance of the island's strategic position for the British is reflected in the fact that the construction works on the fortification system were completed within only a few months. It was then that cricket was played on the island for the first time ever in Croatian history. With the constant military presence and orderly internal organisation, the island actually flourished. The English remained on Vis until July 19, 1815, which is the date on which they ceded Vis to Austria.

Under the Habsburg rule
After the fall of Napoleon, Vis came under the Habsburg rule. The Habsburg Monarchy, however, adopted an uncharacteristically negligent approach to government, allowing the circumstances to develop almost chaotically. It marked the onset of rampant decadence which put a stop to the thriving development of Vis and reduced it to an ordinary island town on the periphery of a great empire. A significant change which occurred during this period was that Vis was again granted its administrative autonomy after several centuries, thus becoming a separate district.

The year of 1948
On March 15, 1948, the emperor Ferdinand I announced his decision to pass the Constitution and allow the freedom of press and the establishment of the national guard. In Vis, this decision was met with great enthusiasm, and immediately afterwards the voluntary national guard was established in Vis with the purpose of maintaining peace and order.
Following in the English footsteps, they transformed the island into a single large fortress, defended from all sides and fortified in all the locations in which enemy troops might disembark.

The Battle of Vis, 1866
In 1866, Italy declared war on Austria as an ally of Prussia in the Prussian-Austrian War, hoping to seize Venice and become the master of the Adriatic. The Italians were not planning to conquer Dalmatia right away, but they wanted to take control of the Adriatic Sea. The first step in that mission was to conquer Vis, the "Gibraltar of the Adriatic", as admiral Albini once called it. After a three-day Italian bombardment of the island, Austrian fleet arrived to Vis Channel, led by admiral Tegetthoff. After a four-hour battle, the commander of the Italian fleet, count Persano, withdrew from the waters of Vis. The victorious Austrian fleet headed towards the port of Vis. Once the last ship had sailed in, there were a total of 27 war ships in the port. Never before had a Croatian port witnessed such a sight.
Vis became renowned not only in Austria, but throughout the world. The pride and the glory made up for the dissatisfaction of numerous inhabitants of Vis that stemmed from the fact that the island had always been treated as a fortress, and that it suffered more war hardships than any other island. Even the emperor Franz Joseph I visited Vis in 1875.
Due to an ensuing administrative re-organisation of the monarchy, Vis became a part of the imperial province of Dalmatia, which became a part of Austria after the Austro-Hungarian division of the monarchy.

Treaty of Versailles
After the dissolution Austro-Hungarian Empire, Vis was occupied by Italy (1918–1921), after which it became a part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. Although the island was promised to Italy in the Treaty of London, the Italian army had to withdraw from Vis. The story goes that Italy was given the island of Lastovo in exchange for Vis at the very last moment at the Paris Peace Conference, which had a great symbolic significance in the light of the country's defeat in 1866. It is believed that Ante Trumbić played a major role in this as the representative of the island of Vis.


Italian occupation
When the Second World War broke out, the island of Vis was again occupied by Italy in 1941. Italy immediately started to implement the Italianization policy, especially in the town of Vis, where it had some supporters. They were especially intolerant of the members of the Croatian Peasant Party (HSS), forcing many renowned islanders into exile to the Independent State of Croatia (NDH). As Partisan actions gained momentum, methods of governance became ever more cruel, including executions of hostages by shooting in Vis and Komiža and setting houses on fire in the island's villages.

Partisans take over the island; British airport
After the capitulation of Italy in September 1943, Partisans assumed power of the island. Vis is the only part of the former Yugoslavia which had never been occupied by the German army. At that time it housed an Allied Forces military airport (today the area is covered in vineyards).

Tito on the island
Tito took shelter on Vis in June 1944, after the German landing at Drvar. Until the seizure of Belgrade in October 1944, the island functioned as the centre of Partisan government and the Allied Forces military missions. During that period, Vis was the seat of the highest civil, military and political authorities of the new Yugoslavia.
It was precisely here, in June 1944, on the territory controlled by Tito, that dr. Ivan Šubašić signed the Agreement on behalf of the Yugoslav royal government-in-exile, recognizing "the national and democratic achievements that the people of Yugoslavia fought for over the course of their three-year struggle, that laid the foundations for a democratic federal system". It is from here that Tito was to depart to a meeting with Churchill and Stalin in the late summer of 1944, to strengthen the country's international position. Also, it was on September 12, 1944, on the riva in Vis that Tito spoke openly for the first time about the annexation of those parts of Slovenia and Croatia that had been ceded to Italy after the Treaty of Rapallo, and uttered the famous words – "Tuđe nećemo, svoje ne damo" – which can be roughly translated as, "Do not take what is ours; we have no interest in what is yours"! It was around that time that the troops of the National Liberation Army stationed in Vis were deployed one after another for the final liberation of the island and the coast, entering Trieste, Rijeka and Pula in the early days of May 1945. The issue of demarcation of the border between Italy and the former Yugoslavia, i.e. its current successors Slovenia and Croatia, was essentially settled with the 1947 peace treaty, according to which "Italy cedes to Yugoslavia the island of Palagruža and the other islands with the right to full sovereignty", and finalised with the Treaty of Osimo in 1975.

El Shatt Refugee Camp
All inhabitants of Vis who were unfit to fight were evacuated by the British to the El Shatt refugee camp in the Sinai Desert, where many of them died due to poor living conditions. The return from Egypt took place in 1946.


In the socialist Yugoslavia, Vis was off-limits to all foreigners due to its strategic position (the ban was not lifted until 1989) and the entire island was turned into a large military complex. An area of only 90 km² housed more than 30 military facilities, including an underground military hospital and a tunnel which served as a warship shelter. Half a century of isolation resulted in economic underdevelopment and affected the development of tourism, leading to a massive emigration of the population.


The Silent occupation
Yugoslav army only left the island on May 30, 1992 – almost six months after the international recognition of Croatia.