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History on Vis

VIS can trace its history thousands of years: the remains of Bronze Age hill forts and Neolithic pottery fragments found on the island's North coast indicate human habitation dating as far back as the first millennium BCE.

In the 4th Century BCE the Greek tyrant of Syracuse, Dionysius the Elder, founded the colony of Issa on the northern shore of modern-day Vis town. Issa became an independent polis and the most important Hellenistic city in the Adriatic, with its own coins, navy, pottery production and viticulture. Issaens founded subsequent colonies of their own on the mainland at Stobreć to the East of Split) and Trogir.

Issas independence ended in 47 BCE when, having sided with Pompey during the Roman Civil War, it was absorbed into the Empire and lost its former privileges. The remains of ancient Issa, its walls, burial sites, streets, as well as the Roman baths and theatre are still visible today.

More recently the island was known as Lissa and was until 1797 under the rule of the Republic of Venice, and administered by the neighbouring island of Lesina (now Hvar). The local architecture of this period has a distinct Venetian character, and some local dialect words can also be traced back to Venice.

After the short-lived Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy, and a brief occupation by Britain's Royal Navy, the island was ruled by the Austro-Hungarian empire from 1815. After the end of the First World War, Vis briefly returned to Italian rule (1918-21) before becoming part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia as part of the 1920 Treaty of Rapallo.

During the 19th Century the seas to the north of the island saw two major battles. First, on 13 March 1811, a small Royal Navy squadron under the command of Nelson's protege, Captain William Hoste, defeated a larger French squadron in the Battle of Lissa. Fifty-one years later, on 20 July 1866, the smaller Austrian fleet, under Admiral Tegetthoff, attached the Italian fleet, under the command of Admiral Persano. The larger Italian force was defeated and its flagship ironclad frigate, Re d'Italia, was sunk in the second Battle of Lissa.

Vis played an important role in the Second World War. It was occupied by Italy between 1941 and 1943, and was liberated by Tito's Partisans. A small airfield built in the centre of the island was used for emergency landings of Allied bombers, and as the forward operating base for Hurricanes and Spitfires of the Royal Air Force.

After the war, the Yugoslav People's Army used the island as one of its main naval bases until abandoning it in 1989. On Croatian independence in 1991 most facilities were not reclaimed by the navy, and so many of the abandoned buildings are now used for civilian purposes, such as winemaking and military tours.

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