The largest island in the Elaphite archipelago, with its quiet bays, beaches, cypress trees, groves of orange and lemon trees, is a cornucopia of ancient structures, churches and summer residences of the former landowners. As you make you way across the island of Šipan you’ll spot ruins of once great homes peaking out though the forested slopes. Šipan has a long history which is intertwined with the former Republic of Dubrovnik. In times gone by noble families of the republic would construct summer villas on the island. Šipan was their island getaway. These grand and imposing buildings, which have largely been left to slowly crumble, are signs of the once magnificent past of the island. And along with the villas came the churches, the numerous churches of Šipan.
Šipan, which is situated 11 miles from Dubrovnik, was inhabited as early as the times of the Roman Empire. It is an island steeped in history. It fell under the Republic of Dubrovnik in 1426. Although the island is the largest of the Elaphite Islands it is still relatively small, measuring only 6.3 square miles and with a population of around 500. And yet on such a small island there are an unbelievable number of sacred objects. A grand total of 34 churches, that’s a church for every fourteen citizens, are located on the island although only 19 are still in function today.
Take your time to explore these amazing churches; it will be a voyage through the generations. One of the oldest churches on the island is St. Peter on Velji Vrh which was first mentioned in 1275. Velji Vrh, which translates literally as high peak, is the highest point of the island at 243 metres above sea level. However you don’t have to be so adventurous to discover interesting churches on Šipan. In Suđurađ, one of the two main settlements, there are 11 active churches. One of the most fascinating is the church St. Holy Spirit from 1577. The church is tucked away from behind the main village; it is hidden for a reason. It is the only church – fortress in the Dubrovnik region, in fact in the whole of southern Dalmatia. It was designed to defend the residences of Suđurađ from attacks from pirates that would regularly invade from Tunisia, Algeria and Turkey.