In the 4th century BC, Syracuse Greeks πόλις Ἴσσα founded one of the oldest cities on the eastern Adriatic coast in the naturally sheltered bay of the island of Vis. In 47 BC, after centuries of independence, Issa became part of the Roman Empire. The remains of this fortified town are still visible on the southern slopes of Gradina.
Issa baths, one of the most important facilities of the Roman city, are located near the port. In addition to the usual function of maintaining hygiene, they also had a social role. Although built and rebuilt over the centuries, preserved decorations (mosaics and frescoes) can be dated to the end of the 1st or the beginning of the 2nd century.
Roman baths in Vis were the subject of research during the 19th century, when they were described by Šime Ljubić. Until World War II, the remains of the walls were two meters high. At the time, the Roman baths were used as a vehicle repair shop, and they were significantly destroyed during the withdrawal of Allied forces.
Since 1957, protective work on the architecture of the baths and mosaics followed archaeological research. The first extensive conservation and restoration was carried out after research in 1961 and 1963, conducted by Branimir Gabričević (Archaeological Museum in Split). During the project, the mosaics in the frigidarium were lifted, which enabled further archaeological research. After the work was completed, the mosaic was returned to the concrete base in segments.
Today, the eastern part of the complex, decorated with floor mosaics, which stand out in size and degree of preservation, has been fully excavated. Almost all rooms of the Roman baths are decorated with mosaics (about 270 m2).
Mosaics in the entrance rooms, frigidarium and tepidarium, have been well-preserved. Simple geometric shapes are an example of early Roman mosaics on the eastern Adriatic coast. The link with older Hellenistic models is the depiction of two pairs of dolphins, which are also the only (preserved) figural representations.
Section for Wall Paintings, Mosaics and Stucco of the Split Department for Conservation (Croatian Conservation Institute) began systematic conservation of Vis mosaics in 1999.
So far, the mosaics have been researched and documented, and cleaning and consolidation has been carried out, as well as reintegration and reconstruction of mosaics and floor plaster. In places where it was necessary to restore the base, mosaics were lifted in segments and returned to their original place after the work was completed.
Presented in the open, the site is exposed to rain, wind, insolation, sudden changes in temperature and the presence of salt. Such an environment is good for the development of vegetation, microorganisms, algae and moss, and these factors have caused significant degradation and various damage to the mosaics.
In order to permanently protect the site, conditions are being monitored and a presentation project will be prepared in accordance with the collected results. At the same time, it will be necessary to complete the archaeological research of the western part of the baths, carry out conservation, and establish a regular maintenance regime along with the construction of a protective structure.
Until the work is complete, and in order to prevent the deterioration of the mosaics and previously performed conservation, the site is temporarily buffer protected. The temporary protective layer will provide more favourable conservation conditions until the completion of the maintenance and protection strategy with a complete presentation solution of the site.