The Croatian coast, surrounded by a veil of crystal clear sea, is an almost surreal beauti...
Dubrovnik is a rare example of natural beauty, spiritual greatness and immense human power. If you visit Dubrovnik you will feel the palm of the saint protector holding the town, the beauty offered to the world, willing to accept a well-meaning hand with a streak of life, love and eternity; welcoming as well as accepting gratitude – a living stage for over a thousand years.
Rich History of a UNESCO Heritage Town
An ideal blend of history and modernity, encircled by 1,940 metres of stone walls which, preserved in its original form, is a great tourist attraction accessible through three gates: St. Saviour chapel as you enter from Pile, St. Luke on the east, and the Maritime Museum.
The town has been listed as UNESCO heritage site since 1979, and its walls are truly impressive with their towers, bastions, fortresses, angular fortifications, and watchtowers; their magnificent power and energy built in by the turbulent history never fade. Out of five fortresses, three are part of the city walls: Minčeta, Bokar and St. John, and the two remaining are detached: St. Lawrence to the west and Revelin to the east.
Exploring the Historic Walls and Fortresses
The Minčeta fortress sits at the highest point of the town and symbolizes Dubrovnik’s defence: there is a Croatian flag throughout the year, and in the summer the historic Libertas flag. West of the town centre, on a 37 metres high cliff, the St. Lawrence Fortress is located, the symbol of perseverance and freedom. Above its entrance there is an inscription ‘Non bene pro toto libertas venditur auro’ (‘Freedom is not to be sold for all the treasures in the world’).
St. Lawrence Fortress is now an popular stage of the Dubrovnik Summer Festival, especially for the performances of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth etc. The Revelin is an imposing fortress surrounded by deep ditch on three sides, and by the sea on the fourth; its interior and terrace are now a stage and concert venue.
Through the centuries the walls have only given in to the hands of their many builders:
- Paskoj Miličević
- Juraj Dalmatinac
- Michelozzi of Florence
- Onofrio and Simeone della Cave
- Ivano of Siena
- Andrijić brothers of Korčula.
The same applied to the many anonymous hard-working craftsmen. Only St. Blaise enjoys a privileged position: the saint protector of Dubrovnik who is, in form of a stone statue, present in many places, where with his posture of mysterious intangibility, he bestows his blessings on good people.
The Architectural Harmony
Modesty in construction and the harmony of buildings can be seen in every part of the urban core of Dubrovnik. Example of this is the main square, the former centre of secular government and administration. On the other hand, there are spots that reveal the Gothic elegance, refined Renaissance and ornate Baroque:
- Sponza Palace
- St. Blaise Church
- Orlando’s Column in the heart of town
- the town bell tower
- the Small Onofrio’s Fountain.
There is also the Luža steeple, nestled between the splendid Sponza and the bell tower, an old steeple just above the inner Customs Gate. It rang for meetings of the Republic of Dubrovnik Council, but also warned of danger or fire. The famous inscription ‘Publiti privatorum publica curate’ (‘Forget about your private /issues/, deal with public’), carved above the entrance to the former town hall is still here as a reminder…
One of the most beautiful palaces in the town is the Gothic-Renaissance palace Sponza which kept its original appearance. In the times of the Republic it held the Customs office and storage, the State Mint, cash register and treasury. Now it is home to an important cultural institution: the Dubrovnik Republic State Archive – one of the most significant archives in the world.
The Rector’s Palace features an interesting atrium, the most famous outdoor stage for theatrical performances and concerts. Today it is a museum in which you can see the following:
- original furniture
- clothing of the Dubrovnik aristocracy
- rare chests
- the original setup of the Rector’s room.
Stradun: The pulse of a Vibrant Street Life
Stradun is more than just a street; it is a world of its own, referred to by the greatest Dubrovnik’s contemporary poet Luko Paljetak as the ‘Our father of everyday life, our living room, our Versailles hall, the place to go, the place to dance to the music or to your own tune’…
Stradun is 300 metres long and it got its present appearance after the big earthquake in 1667, when the army engineer Cerutti of Rome renovated it. The atmosphere of asymmetric symmetry, the dynamics typical of Baroque rules, has given results in a mature and sensible manner. ‘The big ugly street’, as the Venetians used to call it, today has all the other town streets meeting on it, all houses facing it, all the bell towers singing to it, and the water in the town fountains murmuring at both its ends.
The Dubrovnik authorities have in 1546 given a street to the Jews: this was the beginning of creation of the Dubrovnik Ghetto and the establishment of one of the oldest European synagogues still active. There, in 2003, the Jewish Municipality set up the first Jewish museum in Croatia including 13th century Torah scrolls from Spain, France and Italy:
- Torah bandages and mantles made of silk Brocade and damask with gold embroidery from 17th century
- parohets with very valuable embroidery
- silver rimonims from Venice
- Torah crowns in silver and copper…
At the east end of Stradun is the Big Onofri Fountain, named after the constructor of Dubrovnik water supply system in the 15th century, 12 km long, bringing water from inland to Dubrovnik. The Baroque church in honour of Dubrovnik’s patron St. Blaise was designed by the Venetian builder Marino Gropelli in 1715, and features a valuable 15th century Gothic statue of St. Blaise made of gilded silver placed on the altar.
The Old Town's Sacred Spaces
Between Pile Gates and the Franciscan Monastery sits the little votive chapel of St. Saviour which was built by Petar Andrijić of Korčula and remained intact in the devastating earthquake in 1667. Preserved in its original shape, today it hosts concerts and art exhibitions.
The old pharmacy by the Baroque church in the cloister of the Franciscan Monastery, established in 1317, is still offering products made to ancient recipes.
The Dubrovnik Cathedral, Church of the Assumption exists in its present form since the beginning of 18th century. The legend says its construction was partially financed by money which was as a votive gift made to the town by the English King Richard the Lionheart for surviving the shipwreck by the Lokrum Island in 1192.
Today it is home to a rich treasury, holding paintings as well as relicts, and Tizian’s polyptych ‘The Assumption’ dating back to 1552 is kept in the apse.
Church of St. Dominic is one of the largest Gothic buildings on the Croatian coast, simple with Gothic apse, and in the central arch above the main altar is the great ‘Crucifixion’ by Paolo Veneziano from 1343, a work of extraordinary artistic value. Works of 15th and 16th century Dubrovnik art school (Božidarević, Hamzi, Dobričević), along with the great Tizian, are presented in the Dominican Monastery.
Journey Through Dubrovnik’s Squares
A stroll down the city streets takes you to numerous squares. There is a Square of Marin Držić whose writing radiated the plasticity of real life situations, the most famous being:
- 'Novela od Stanca'
- 'Dundo Maroje'.
The Gundulić Square features the statue of the Dubrovnik poet and twice voted Rector of Konavle, and the most significant representative of Baroque creativity in Dubrovnik. He is most known for his following works:
- 'Suze sina razmetnoga'.
He was buried in the Franciscan church which to the south continues to the monumental Baroque stairs leading to the Ruđer Bošković Square, where the Jesuit Church of St. Ignatius and the Collegium Ragusinum, a famous Jesuit college.
The Luža Square is the most beloved by tourists and one of the main stages for various shows, especially the central cultural event – Dubrovnik Summer Festival.
Dubrovnik Summer Festival
Why is this festival different from the others and what, apart from its longevity, makes it so special? Above all it is the emphasized and recognized openness to the world based on the best traditions of historic Dubrovnik.
Performers and audience come from all continents; the scenic setting of the Festival: palaces, fortresses, churches, parks, streets, squares, even the sea in the summer nights become the artists’ interlocutors, thus turning into co-creators of artistic acts.
The Festivity of St. Blaise was and still is the most solemn and sublime day in the long existence of Dubrovnik. It is:
- a spiritual and religious unity of the city and villages in an inseparable whole
- a historic symbol of the spirits of church, state and people
- an expression of gratitude to the saint, martyr, patron, Advocate (‘Parac’), as he is referred to by the Dubrovnik folks.
For over a millennium the people of Dubrovnik pray to him and celebrate him, rejoicing his blessing every February, and doing their best to make the Festivity dignified and solemn – according to the tradition.
Experiencing the Culture
This town’s magic can be felt in every cup of cappuccino you can have on the stairs of Talir and Libertina, or enjoy live music in the Trubadur Jazz Café. The experience is not complete unless you visit the Dominican stairs where at midnight, with his crystal clear singing, Ibrica Jusić the lone troubadour entertains the passers-by, as he has been for the past fifty years. The end of August sees the Festival of Chamber Music ‘Julian Rachlin and Friends’ and the pervasion of art, space, Dubrovnik skies, performers and audience creates the most delightful ambiance.
Great Food, Great Wine and Great Art
The gastronomy of Dubrovnik area is just as interesting: thanks to the abundance of fresh local ingredients the delicacies of Dubrovnik are simple, without too much seasoning, made in an uncomplicated manner with plenty of olive oil. These dishes will satisfy the most demanding gourmets:
- cheese in oil,
- octopus salad,
- green pasta,
- fried pilchard,
- shells from the pristine sea
And all this complemented with Malvasia wine, once a privilege of the Dubrovnik aristocracy since it was not commercially available. The wine could be sold only by vineyard owners. Malvasia was one of the best negotiators of the Dubrovnik people with dignitaries of Bosnian inland during the time of the mighty Ottoman Empire. The moment the small Republic of Dubrovnik ceased to exist, was almost the end of Malvasia, the wine whose essence tasted of farmers’ labour and silky robes – the balance of love and tolerance.
The City of Poetry, Sport and Romance
The water polo club ‘Jug’ is well known, but so are the gentlemen (‘gospari’) who care more about winning the Wild League – the unofficial championship of town beaches teams and the team of Cavtat. ‘Porporela’, the last day of August: thousands of spectators, the finals, ‘field’ surrounded by barges, sirens, drums, music… in short: celebration. These water polo games date back to 1922, and were not very regularly held until the eighties when they started over and since then take place every year. They say that what ‘Hamlet’ is at the St. Lawrence, water polo is in the old town harbour.
It would be a sin not to mention the summer mansions:
- the Renaissance architecture of the Sorkočević Palace on Lapad and in Rijeka Dubrovačka
- Skočibuha on Šipan
- Kazbek in Gruž
- the renovated attraction – the cable car taking only three minutes to the heroic Imperial Fortress on the Srđ hill
- over a hundred weddings per year on the Karaka and Galijun, the historic Dalmatian sailboats.
This is the city of many notable people, including:
- Ruđer Bošković
- Bernard Kotruljević
- Marin Držić
- Junije Palmotić
- Šiško Menčetić
- Ivan Gundulić
- Ivo Vojnović
- Luko Paljetak.
If you wish to explore historic landmarks, visit the numerous museums and galleries and learn about the wisdom of our ancestors – combining this with day trips to the Elaphiti Islands to experience the unspoiled beaches, picturesque villages on Koločep, Lopud and Šipan.
It would be a bad idea to miss Lokrum, the ‘lovers’ island’ with its ancient legend of Richard the Lionheart. Staying up all night to see the sunrise caressing the sea while you are leaving for another day’s adventure is an unforgettable experience. Those who touch the Patron’s palm once, want to stay forever.