The town of Jelsa is situated in a bay on the middle of the north coast of the island of Hvar. To the south of the town are dense pine woods on the sloping hills of the island’s ridge. Jelsa is the only area on the island with an abundance of fresh water, as a result of which there is more prolific vegetation here than elsewhere on the island.

The old town of Jelsa (Civitas Vetus Ielsae) was mentioned in The Statute of Hvar in 1331, although the exact location and extent of ancient Jelsa is not well understood. Remnants of the old protective wall can still be seen on the west side of the Gradina peninsula, whilst material remains from the Roman period prove the existence of a settlement in the area of Jelsa town.
The present town of Jelsa was founded as a port for the village of Pitve in the 14th century. The 1424 Statute of Hvar mentions it as being “3 km from the sea, under the hill of Gozd, in the quest for sea and fishing, and having good fresh water.”

During the 19th century, it was one of the most significant maritime, shipbuilding and trade centres of the Adriatic, a starting point for a fleet of ocean-going sailing vessels carrying the best wines of Hvar, olive oil and salted fish. The wine industry however was nearly destroyed by the grape disease in the latter half of the 19th century.

Modern Jelsa is a bustling seaside town, with many small businesses, and has the local municipality administration. It is an important tourist centre for the island, and has a gorgeous little square with a selection of cafe bars and ice cream parlours . There is also regular daily catamaran services to Split, via Bol on the island of Brac . Tourism “officially” began in 1868, although it has been practiced as far back as ancient Roman times. The oldest hotel in Jelsa dates from 1911.

Jelsa on hvar island