Southern Dalmatia's largest, most sophisticated, and most visited island, Korčula was named Kerkyra Melaina by the ancient Greeks, or "Black Corfu." Between the 10th and 18th centuries it spent several periods under Venetian rule, much to the frustration of Dubrovnik, which considered the Italian city-state its archrival. Today it’s known for its traditional sword dances, excellent white wines, and its main, though
disputed, claim to fame as the birthplace of Marco Polo. Korčula is also the name of the capital near the island's eastern tip, which at first sight seems like a smaller version of Dubrovnik: the same high walls, the circular corner fortresses, and the church tower projecting from within an expanse of red roofs. The main difference lies in the town plan, as narrow side streets run off the main thoroughfare at odd angles to form a herring-bone pattern, preventing cold winter winds from whistling unimpeded through town. Eight centuries under Venetian rule bequeathed the town a treasure trove of Gothic and Renaissance churches, palaces, and piazzas, all built from fine local stone, on which the island's early wealth was based. The center is small and compact and can be explored in an hour.