Dubrovnik; the pearl of the Adriatic and a unique Jewel of Croatia
A world famous destination, Dubrovnik is seen as the pearl of the Adriatic, a unique Jewel of Croatia. Located in the southern most region of Croatia, recent archaeological discoveries suggest settlements were established in the 6th century, although it is thought settlement may possibly have started even earlier. There are many theories as to why settlement was established in this area, however, a definitive reason is yet to be discovered.
From the 12th and 13th centuries, maritime trade began to become more prominent throughout the Mediterranean and Dubrovnik’s importance was amplified, as it became a place of mediation for land locked countries. Throughout these times, Dubrovnik operated as an independent state, officially becoming the Dubrovnik Republic in the 15th century. The state was wealthy and powerful with extensive defence systems, not only with the comprehensive city walls and fortification, but also with excellent diplomatic skills and services.
When the maritime trade rapidly reduced the Dubrovnik Republic suffered, gradually losing power until they eventually surrender to Napoleon in 1806. In 1815 at the Congress of Vienna the territory that previously belonged to Dubrovnik Republic became part of Dalmatia and Croatia, consequently falling under the Hapsburg monarchy.
At the completion of World War I Dubrovnik remained under rule of the monarch, however, by the end of World War II it was part of Yugoslavia. With the topple of the communist regime of Yugoslavia in 1990, Croatia declared independence. Majority of Croats were in support of this decision, however, the large numbers of Serbians living in Croatia supported Yugoslavia. War ensued, the Croats defending their land whilst the Serbs and Yugoslavian armies attempted a take-over. Ultimately, Serbia was unsuccessful and Croatia was able to continue as an independent country.
Unfortunately, Yugoslavia believed Dubrovnik didn’t ‘belong’ to Croatia; consequently, it was one of the areas heavily targeted by the armies. In October 1991, the Serbian Aggression started reeking devastation in the Dubrovnik area. Commonly referred to as the Homeland War, the early 1990’s were plagued by war and Croatia was left deeply wounded in many ways. Infrastructure was destroyed, the economy crumpled and there were thousands of refugees.
It is clear the city of Dubrovnik has withstood several testing times throughout history. The ‘Great Quake’ in 1667, for instance, destroyed majority of the city. The Homeland War also caused extensive damage and devastation to both the population and the city. At the time, international media was heavily criticised for focusing on the destruction of World Heritage Sites as opposed to the loss of human life. There were estimations that as many as 20,000 people were killed in the Homeland War, but focus was often places on the damaged city walls, Rector’s Palace and other protected architecture.
As our last stop in Croatia, Dubrovnik was a fitting place to complete our journey in this amazing country. We had an amazing time exploring the old city, learning more about the fascinating history and initiating the European portion of our journey. The laid back nature of Croatia has suited our style of travel and we have quickly become accustomed to the Croat way of life. Dubrovnik epitomises Croatian culture, from the stone buildings through to the coffee shops and we thoroughly enjoyed our time in the city.
We are pleased to report yet another Air BnB success! We had a lovely apartment that overlooked the old Dubrovnik fortress. With the incredible outlook came a fair hike to and from the centre; 325 stairs and several steep sloping paths greeted us each time we left our safe haven which certainly got the legs working! Most excitingly, our host found us enjoying the evening on the front porch and offered us both a glass of wine. It was clear he had just been to collect the wine straight from his friend, who was also the curator of the fine drop. He was returning up the hill with a 5L water bottle full of the potent liquid when he found us. Clearly a homemade wine, it was a little rough around the edges but enjoyable none the less.
We ventured out to eat (for once), heading to a restaurant that was suggested by the owners of the apartment. We both enjoyed the set menu, relishing in the chance to eat out. While our meals were enjoyable, we were left with a sour taste when a cover charge of more than 20% was added to our bill, which was not made clear to us prior to the meal. While disappointing, it was enjoyable eating out. I am now looking forward to the amazing food I have heard all about in Italy.
ACTIVITIES & ATTRACTIONS
Having researched Dubrovnik, I think we have been at a huge advantage visiting the town in winter. Majority of what I read emphasised the over crowded, painfully hot conditions many endure while visiting the many star attractions throughout Dubrovnik. While we had one day of fairly insistent rain, we enjoyed beautiful spring weather for our remaining time in Dubrovnik. While a chill remained in the air, we found the light sea breeze and sunny, cloudless skies maximised our enjoyment of the old town.
An afternoons exploring led us to the edge of the water not far from Fort Fortica. The rock formation is quite different to what we are used to and we took advantage of the opportunity to explore the jagged, white waterfront. Add an impeccable Dubrovnik sunset to the mix and it was almost paradise.
It is easy to get lost in time exploring Dubrovnik’s old town. Walking through the city it seems as though the history channel has been bought to life. Incredible architecture is present at every turn, I found Rector’s Palace, the Church of Saint Blaise and the Cathedral particularly impressive. It’s also hard to forget the turbulent times this city has endured with the heavily protective walls that clearly outline the Old City.
As I’ve alluded, it’s impossible to visit Dubrovnik without coming face to face with the impressive city walls. The medieval city walls make Dubrovnik easy to identify. The famous walls were built gradually, with different aspects added as the town feel threatened and by the 13th century the walls completely enclosed the city. Today, the old city of Dubrovnik remains surrounded by the 1,940m of imposing, solid fortification that has proved its worth, even in recent times. During the Serbian aggression, those fighting to protect the township were able to do so from these walls, which proved to be a great advantage.
As we toured the walls we were thoroughly impressed by the extensive stonework that has been immaculately preserved. We reached the tower of Minceta last, which is the largest of the 16 towers that are scattered throughout the walls. Triumphantly flying the Croatian flag, I was initially confused by the landward location, however I was merely considering defence from potential sea attacks. The mastermind behind the design of the city walls was clearly much more strategic, building the largest tower in a position that would be beneficial if the city was attacked from land.
Also known as Dubrovnik Gibraltor, the Fort Lovrijenac sits atop a high cliff face and was a vital component of the fortification network designed to protect Dubrovnik. A 25-man garrison and a commander were omnipresent at the fort, providing constant protection against potential threats. While it was heavily armed with many canons, the fort was also known for the Hamlet plays conducted in the main terraced area. It seems conflicting that such a staunch structure would also host plays for the people’s entertainment.
The Placa-Stradun is the main street in Dubrovnik, running east to west and linking the only two original entrances; one in the west and one in the east walls. A notably wide cobbled street, it is home to some of the most famous pieces of ancient architecture. The Onofrio Fountain lies close to the western entrance. The intellectuals of the Republic of Dubrovnik placed great importance on providing safe drinking water for the people, ordering the development of a fountain. In 1438 Onofrio della Cava was commissioned to design and build the fountain, which feeds water to the town straight from an aqueduct. Even today, the water is completely safe to drink. The fountain continues to boast the same 16 sides, each with a unique, stone carved mask face.
The Bell Tower which was built in 1444 lies at the opposite end, standing tall it easily catches your line of sight as you wander along the street. The bell and famous zelenci were later cast; the zelenci are twin Jacks who strike the bell on the hour and the sound can easily be heard throughout the town.
During our time in Dubrovnik it was clear there was a monumental production currently being set up. While we were quickly shut down when we asked what they were filming, it was clear a film crew was transforming the city for something. Our guesses are as good as anyone’s, however, there was also a large Mercedes Benz presence in the town, and perhaps they are preparing for a new car advertisement.
Originally St John’s Fortress, the interior now holds the relics that belong to the Dubrovnik Maritime Museum. Expertly developed within the City Walls, the Maritime Museum has an impressive display that demonstrates the progression and influence maritime trade had on Dubrovnik throughout history. I found the model ships particularly engaging, drawn in by the extensive details.
Forever suckers for punishment, we decided walking to the top of Mount Srd would be a great way to spend the morning. The decision was aided by the fact we would have to walk a significant distance downhill if we were to catch the cable car. Once we got to the top (after a fair amount of whinging from Jimmy) we decided it was all worth it. A beautiful spring day meant we were met with glistening waters and a bright and attentive Dubrovnik.
While the panoramic view is incredible, we also enjoyed a visit to Fort Imperial, built in 1810 at the peak of Mount Srd. It proved an asset to Dubrovnik in the Homeland War, proving unconquerable it was a true defensive stronghold. A large stone cross stands at the top of the hill as a memorial for the victims of the Homeland War. Today, the fort has been utilised as an exhibition detailing the events of the war.
PEOPLE & CULTURE
As with the rest of Croatia, we found the people in Dubrovnik charming, attentive and helpful. We have become easily accustomed to the culture here, which has similarities to home. It has been nice to be confused as locals, with people often initially talking to us in Croatian. The ability to blend in is extremely well received after sticking out like a sore thumb as we travelled through Southeast Asia.
We made a huge rookie mistake that we only realised when we reached Dubrovnik. Having done a fair amount of research, we thought we had things under control. We were wrong. From Dubrovnik, we wanted to catch the ferry to Bari, Italy. What our research hadn’t informed us was the ferry doesn’t run at this time of year! Four days before we were planning to hop on the ferry that wasn’t operating we realised our mistake, and after much debate we forked out for the flight from Dubrovnik to Naples.
After months of carrying a first aid kit whenever we leave the house, the first time I am struck by my clumsy nature is the time we don’t have it. We clambered down some rocks and for once I was behind the lens, attempting to capture a couple of photos of Jimmy. It will probably be the last time I am allowed to touch the camera too. I caught my toe, tripping and falling knee first into the jagged rocks. Luckily neither my knee or the camera broke, just a bruised ego and a few rough dents.
WHAT WE LEARNT
It was fascinating to learn all about the history of this incredible town during our stay. What I was most intrigued by was the Homeland War. The more we travel the less I feel I know. Croatia is yet another country we have visited that was involved in a war I knew nothing about. Perhaps we didn’t visit enough museums in Zagreb, as it wasn’t until our host in Zadar told us he had worked for the government and fought the Serbs that I realised there was a recent war here. I am constantly in awe of war veterans, however, most veterans I have met and engaged with have been well into there 70’s (at least). For us, this is the purpose of our travels. To learn more about the world, become interesting in thing that wouldn’t usually register on our radar and to gain a better appreciation for what we have at home.
We managed really well with our budget throughout Croatia. If we discount the absurd price we payed for the flights, we spent on average $110 AUD per day between us, which is less than we anticipated.
Now that we are flying straight to Naples, we will spend a few days exploring the area before heading to Rome (which I am really excited about). From Rome, we will head north to Florence and Cinque Terre before tracking across to Venice. Once we activate our Schengen Visas we will have to move a bit quicker than the leisurely pace we have become accustomed to. As it is, we have consciously skipped parts of Europe we want to visit but don’t have the time to visit the area properly. These are the places we will be back for!
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