Korčula (; , Kòrkyra Melaèna, , Old-Slavic Krkar, Venetian and Italian Curzola) is an island in the Adriatic Sea, in the Dubrovnik-Neretva County of Croatia. The island has an area of ; long and on average wide — and lies just off the Dalmatian coast. Its 16,182 (2001) inhabitants make it the second most populous Adriatic island after Krk. The population are mainly ethnic Croats (96.77%).
The island was first settled by Mesolithic and Neolithic peoples. There is archaeological evidence at the sites of Vela Spila (Big Cave) and at Jakas Cave near the village of Zrnovo. The finds of Vela Spila are on display at the Center for Culture in Vela Luka . The fate of these peoples is not know but the sites do provide a window into their way of life.
The second wave of human settlement was by Illyrians. It is believed that the Illyrians arrived in Balkans approximately 1000 BC. They were semi-nomadic tribal people living from agriculture. There are numerous old stone buildings and fortresses (gradine) left behind by the Illyrians.
Melaina Korkyra ("Black Corcyra") was the ancient Cnidian Greek colony founded on Korčula. Greek colonists from Corcyra (Corfu) formed a small colony on the island in the 6th century B.C. The Greeks named it "Black Corfu" after their homeland and the dense pine-woods on the island. Greek artifacts, including carved marble tombstones can be found at the local Korčula town museum. A stone inscription found in Lumbarda (Lumbarda Psephisma) and which is the oldest written stone monument in Croatia (and, until recently, in former Yugoslavia), records that Greek settlers from Issa (Vis) founded another colony on the island in the 3rd century BC. The two communities lived peacefully until the Illyrian Wars (220 BC to 219 BC) with the Romans.
The island became part of the Roman province of Illyricum after the Illyrian Wars. Roman migration followed and Roman citizens arrived on the island. Roman villas appeared through the territory of Korčula and there is evidence of an organised agricultural exploitation of the land. There are archaeological remains of Roman Junianum on the island and old church foundations. In 10 AD Illyricum was split into two provinces, Pannonia and Dalmatia. Korčula became part of the ancient Roman province of Dalmatia. In the 6th century it came under Byzantine rule.
The Great Migrations of the 6th and 7th centuries brought Slavic and Avar invasions into this region. As the so-called barbarians began settling on the coast, the Romanised local coastal population had to take refuge on the islands. Along the Dalmatian coast the Croatian Slavic peoples poured out of the interior and seized control of the area where the Neretva River enters the Adriatic, as well as the island of Korčula (Corcyra),which protects the river mouth. The Christianisation of the Croats began in the 9th century, but the early Slavic rural inhabitants of the island may well have fully accepted Christianity only later; in the early Middle Ages the Croatian population of the island was grouped with the pagan Narentines.
It is apparent that piracy on the sea emerged as the Narentines or Neretvians quickly learned maritime skills in their new environment. At first Venetian merchants were willing to pay an annual tribute to keep their shipping safe from the infamous Neretvian pirates of the Dalmatian coast. After the 9th century, the island was briefly under nominal Byzantine suzerainty. In 998 the Principality of Pagania came under Venetian control. Doge Pietro II Orseolo launched a naval expedition along the coast and assumed the title Duke of Dalmatia. Afterwards Korčula came under the control of the Great Principality of Zahumlje.
In the 12th century Korčula was conquered by a Venetian nobleman, Pepone Zorzi, and incorporated briefly into the Venetian Republic. Around this time, the local Korčula rulers began to exercise diplomacy and legislate a town charter to secure the independence of the island, particularly with regard to internal affairs, given its powerful neighbors.
The brothers of Stephen Nemanja, Miroslav and Stracimir, launched an attack on the island on 10 August 1184, raiding its fertile western part. The island's inhabitants called for help from the Republic of Ragusa (Dubrovnik), which in turn captured all of Stracimir's galleys.
The Statute of Korčula was first drafted in 1214. This legal document is the second oldest example of legislation among Slavs, with only the Russkaya Pravda of 11th and 12th Century Russia predating it. It guaranteed the autonomy of the island, apart from her outside rulers: the Grand Principality of Raška, the semi-independent Great Principality of Zahumlje and the Republics of Ragusa and Venice. Captains were created for each of the island's five settlements for organized defence. Korčula had fewer than 2,500 inhabitants at that time.
In 1221, Pope Honorius III gifted the island to the Princes of Krka (the Šubićs). Then in 1222, the Serbian King Stephen the First-crowned of Nemanja gifted his monasteries and lands on the island, referring to it as Krkar, to his followers of the Benedictine Monastic Order on Mljet.
During the 13th century the hereditary Counts of Korčula were loosely governed in turn by the Hungarian crown and by the Republic of Genoa, and also enjoyed a brief period of independence; but, in 1255, Marsilio Zorzi conquered the island's city and razed or damaged some of its churches in the process, forcing the Counts to return to Venetian supreme rule. According to a local tradition, Marco Polo would have been born at Korčula in 1254 to an established family of merchants, although there is no proof of this claim. What is more definite is that the Republic of Genoa defeated Venice in the documented Battle of Korčula off the coast of Korčula in 1298 and a galley commander, Marco Polo, was taken prisoner by the victors to eventually spend his time in a Genoese prison writing of his travels. However, some Italian scholars believe that he may have been captured in a minor clash near Ayas (in sources from those times: Laiazzo).
After the writings of Pope Martin IV in 1284 and Pope Honorius IV in 1286 to the Archbishop of Ragusa, the Archbishop implaced a certain Petar as Bishop of Ston and Korčula – stacnensis ac Crozolensis. In 1291, Ivan Kručić was in Korčula's city as the Bishop of Korčula. Bishop Ivan contested his overlord, the Archbishop of Hvar, and wanted to unite Ston with his church domain. In 1300, Pope Boniface VIII finally founded the Korčula Bishopric under the Archbishopric of Ragusa. In 1333, as the Republic of Ragusa purchased Ston with Pelješac from the Serbian Empire, the suzerainty of Ston's Roman Catholic Church with the peninsula was given to the Bishopric of Korčula.
Korčula had for years supplied the timber for the wooden walls of Venice, and had been a favourite station of her fleets. From 1776 to 1797 Korčula succeeded Hvar as the main Venetian fortified arsenal in this region. According to the Treaty of Campoformio in 1797 in which the Venetian Republic was divided between the French Republic and the Habsburg Monarchy, Korčula passed on to the Habsburg Monarchy.
The French Empire invaded the island in 1806, joining it to the Illyrian Provinces. The Montenegrin Forces of Prince-Episcope Peter I Njegos conquered the island with Russian naval assistance in 1807 during his attempt to construct another Serbian Empire. However, the Great Powers decided to return the island to the Austrian Empire in 1815, and it accordingly became a part of the Austrian crown land of Dalmatia. From 1867, Korčula was in the Cisleithanian part of Austro-Hungary.
During the First World War, the island (among other territorial gains) was promised to the Kingdom of Italy in the 1915 Treaty of London in return for Italy joining the war on the side of Great Britain and France. However, after the war, Korčula became a part (with the rest of Dalmatia) of the State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs in 1918. It was ruled by Italy from 1918 to 1921, after which it was incorporated into the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, known from 1929 on as the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. In 1939, it became a part of the autonomous Croatian Banate.
After the Axis occupation of Yugoslavia from 1941, Italy annexed the island. After the Armistice between Italy and the Allied powers in 1943, it was briefly held by the Yugoslav Partisans who enjoyed considerable support in the region. Korčula was then occupied by Germany and finally liberated in 1944. With the liberation of Yugoslavia in 1945, the Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia was formed, and Korčula became a part of the People's Republic of Croatia, one of the six Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The state changed the name to Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1953, and so did the Republic into Socialist Republic of Croatia. After 1991, the island became a part of the independent Republic of Croatia, recognized in 1992.