"Those who seek paradise on earth should come to Dubrovnik"
George Bernard Shaw 1929
It's hard to believe now, but less than 20 years ago, Dubrovnik was a ghost town as the remains of the Yugoslav Peoples Army shelled the city during the seven month Siege Of Dubrovnik. According to the Red Cross, 114 people were killed and 56% of the buildings sustained some level of damage as 650 artillery hits were recorded. In May 1992, the Croatian Army lifted the siege and the rebuilding began, adhering to UNESCO guidelines. As of 2005, most damage had been painstakingly repaired to it's former glory and, only on close inspection, can new mortar be seen and the slightly brighter red of new roof tiles evident. A chart close to the city gate shows the extent of the damage.
There is no disputing the breathtaking beauty of Dubrovnik. As you enter the walls through the Pile Gate, you are immediately awed by the sheen from the limestone paved floors worn to look like marble through generations of visitors. As you enter The Stradun, Onofrio's Large Fountain looms in front of you, originally constructed in 1438 by Italian architect Onofrio Della Cava and part of the city's water mains which brought water from the Dubrvacka river some 12km away. The fountain is a main meeting point for visitors and usually surrounded by thirsty travellers serenaded by the city's one note busker on his home made instrument of torture!
The Old Town is very compact and very easy to walk from one gate to another or one wall to the opposite. The Stradun or the main street through the centre of the city is an ideal place to sit in an outdoor cafe people watching or enjoy a light al fresco meal
Tip: move away from the Stradun if your budget is tight!. Random, unannaounced mini carnivals appear on the Stradun, during our stay, a group of pirates took to the street and a gaggle of photographers surrounded a leggy model in a wedding dress on the steps of a church.
There are, however, many different, colourful back streets to discover filled with cafes, restaurants and local shops which will keep you going for a number of days. Each street brings it's own delights with lacemakers on street corners and artists shops dotted between the inevitable gift and souvenir shops.
A takeaway pizza slice shop, followed by a coffee shop followed by a cake shop means you can enjoy a complete meal while on the move (by far the most economical method)
You must, of course, climb the city walls and take the 2km walk.. I would highly recommend early morning or later in the afternoon as the heat can be stifling although refreshment stops are regular. There are so many things you can only see from on high, like the basketball court hidden within a school yard or a private swimming area at the foot of the walls, school choirs can be heard rehearsing through open windows and small courtyard gardens are dotted around. There is also still evidence of unrepaired war damage and neglect. Make sure you have your camera to hand as the walls will give you some of the greatest views you will ever see.
One of Dubrovnik's famed attractions used to be its cable car - built in 1969 - which rose up to the top of Mount Srd above the city, giving visitors a chance to take in some (even more) spectacular views of the Old Town and the shoreline. Sadly, the cable car was completely destroyed during the war in the early 1990s and was never repaired...until 2010. The service has now been fully restored with entirely new equipment and is sure to be a must-do for visitors once again. A journey to the top of Mount Srd takes only 3 minutes, and once there you can take in the views whilst enjoy a snack, or something more, at the cafe or restaurant at the top.
Also at the top of Mount Srd, and also newly opened, is the Museum of the Croatian War of Independence which, though its various exhibits, shows how Dubrovnik defended itself during the 1991-95 war.
We stayed outside the City, in the little seaside resort of Cavtat. There were many advantages, not least the cost of everything was so much cheaper and made our break affordable. One of the unexpected bonuses to staying here was taking the water taxi from the city to the resort, a bargain at roughly £12 each and a great way to see the city and its walls. the alternative is the bus which comes in via the high mountain road, Tip: be careful where you get off the bus, you need to look out for where you can see the city from above and walk down, if not, you will be taken to the new, harbour side of the city which is a good day out in itself but miles away from the old city.
- The City walls . The City walls were originally constructed in the 10th century, considerably fortified in 1453 and, following damage and repair after the shelling in the 90's, are complete to walk all the way round. The old town has fortresses at it's four corners, which are the Minceta Tower, Revelin Fortress, St John's Fortress and Bokar Bastion.
- Stradun/Placa. The Stradun, also called Placa, runs through the centre of the old town from Pile Gate to Ploce Gate. Originally a marshy channel seperating two settlements, the limestone pavers were laid in 1468 and run for 300 metres. Both ends of the Stradun are marked with 15th century fountains, The Large Onofrio's at the Western end and The Small Onofrio's in the East.
- Sponza Palace. Constructed in 1522, a survivor of the 1667 earthquake, the palace has had a variety of uses over the centuries, includingwhere the Republic of Ragusa minted it's currency. Currently it houses the city archives upstairs whilst the ground floor is used for exhibitions during the summer festivals. It also houses a permanent exhibition named "Memorial Room of the Dubrovnik Defenders", a memorial to those citizens who lost their lives during the war between 1991 and 1995.
- Church of St Blaise. A Baroque church, built between 1705and 1717, which features a silver statue of the Dubrovnik patron saint on the altar holding a model of the city, brought out each year during The Festival of St Blaize. The stained glass windows of the church are relatively recent, having been added in the 1970's.
- Franciscan Monastery. Includes a calming cloister from 1360, the main part of the Monastery was destroyed in the earthquake of 1667 and rebuilt. The Monastery contains what is though to be the oldest apothecary/pharmacy in Europe dating from 1316-17 .
All photographs by Tony & Michelle Bonson 2011