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 place on the island with an abundance of fresh water, as a result of which there is more luxuriant vegetation here than elsewhere. The agricultural plain lying to the west of Jelsa is the UNESCO protected world heritage site.
The old town of Jelsa (Civitas Vetus Ielsae) was mentioned in the Statute of Hvar in 1331. Although the exact location and extent of the ancient Jelsa are not well understood, remnants of the old protective wall can still be seen on the west side of the Gradina peninsula. Material remains from the Roman period prove the existence of a settlement in the area of Jelsa. Several villas are preserved in the area of Kutac, round St. Rock and in the cove called Carkvica of St. Luke.