n city rightfully called the 'Pearl of the Adriatic
' for its idyllic location on that coast
, its beautifully preserved walls, and its proud heritage as an independent maritime republic. Sadly, Dubrovnik became one among the familiar images of the Yugoslavia
n wars when it was besieged for over six months in 1991
, but the wartime damage has been restored, and with it, Dubrovnik's status as the country's major attraction.
Dubrovnik is believed to have been founded in 614
AD by settlers from the Roman settlement of Epidaurus
, now known as Cavtat
and a resort in its own right, taking refuge from Avar
and Slav nomads; the earliest church on the site of today's Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin
appears to have a similar date. Like the other cities along the Dalmatia
n coast, Dubrovnik became a dependency of Venice
during the medieval era; unlike them, it was freed from Venice in 1358
, and remained a city state
until the time of Napoleon
The Republic of Ragusa
, as Dubrovnik was known in Europe until the twentieth century, had obtained its wealth by trading in silver from the mines at Srebrenica
, and competed for Mediterranean commerce with her former Venetian masters throughout the Renaissance
: the large merchant ships known as argosies
took their name from the Republic. Like Venice, she declined as a trading power after sea routes to Asia
were opened and made the overland routes through the Ottoman Empire
Ragusa maintained her independence by a tribute
arrangement with the Ottomans and centuries of intricate diplomacy, undeterred by the occasional death in prison of her ambassadors to Constantinople
. She shared the political system of her rivals Venice and Genoa
, ruled by a Rector with the assistance of the patrician class.
Superficially Italianate, Ragusa was nonetheless a leading centre of the Croatian language, and was the home of Marin Držić
), a playwright who occupies a role in Croatian literature comparable to Shakespeare
's. His fellow Dubrovčanin Ivan Gundulić
), the author of the epic poem Osman
, is almost as revered.
Much of medieval Dubrovnik was destroyed by the earthquake of 1667
, and today's old town, thanks to energetically enforced municipal ordinances, still remains the product of the Baroque reconstruction, give or take a stray satellite dish
. A nobleman by the name of Marojica Kaboga
had been in prison when the earthquake struck for murdering his father-in-law in front of the Rector's Palace
; he emerged from the rubble, found that most of his fellow patricians had headed for the hills and so organised the city's defence, for which his portrait still hangs in the palace today. There's got to be a zombie movie
in there somewhere.
Dubrovnik was occupied by the French in 1808
, during the Napoleonic Wars
, and handed over to the Habsburg Monarchy
in the peace settlement of 1815
. When the Monarchy dissolved during World War I
, Dubrovnik's incorporation into Yugoslavia was never seriously contested, and the city became one of the Adriatic's leading resorts, declared a World Heritage Site
Dubrovnik and the War
Although the area was demilitarised according to UNESCO requirements, Dubrovnik still became a target of Belgrade
's army, the JNA
, during the war in Croatia; there's some speculation that the JNA's top brass had offered Montenegro
the prize of looting the region to cement their allegiance as junior partners. The JNA's operation, initiated on October 1, 1991
, swept north along the coast through Cavtat and the village of Konavle
before beginning to shell Dubrovnik on October 21
The siege received much attention in the Western media, which used the images of the historic harbour under fire to back up their portrayal of Belgrade's forces as barbaric, in a way reminiscent of the press reaction in 1914
to the Germans' sack of the Belgian university city of Leuven
. Pavle Strugar
, the Montenegrin commander of the siege, has since been indicted, alongside several subordinates, for war crimes
The Croatian government was hardly ignorant of Dubrovnik's propaganda value, and a convoy of yachts was organised to draw attention to its plight, spearheaded by the Slavija-I
which carried on board Stipe Mesić
, now Croatia's president, and the well-known singer Tereza Kesovija
, whose home in Konavle had been burned down, with 700 others, in the Montenegrin attack.
A Serb-Croat agreement was concluded on September 30, 1992
, in which the JNA withdrew from the Croatian coastline and Croatia evacuated the northern Bosnian town of Bosanski Brod
, possibly reflecting a secret deal between Slobodan Milošević
and the Croatian leader Franjo Tudjman
to co-operate in the partition of Bosnia
Reconstructing Dubrovnik was a priority for the government, knowing full well the role tourism would play in the Croatian economy; in today's old town, the abundance of fresh roof tile
s, and the memorial to the defenders of Dubrovnik in an anteroom of the Sponza Palace
, is the most apparent testament to the privations of the war.
What to See
Dubrovnik's charm is the maze of alleyways to either side of the old town's main street, Stradun
, which don't exactly lend themselves to planned walking tour
s. Better to head up a stairway and duck under an arch or two, head back downhill if you get thoroughly lost, and don't always count on finding the same chapel twice
Rather than plunge straight in, however, the best introduction to Dubrovnik is to walk along the walls, to which the steps are conveniently located just inside the Pile Gate
where the buses pull up. Climb to the top of the Minčeta Fortress
, which you'll come to recognise in miniature porcelain form in every souvenir shop
worth its name, skirt around the top of the harbour, and peer into one or two back garden
s if that's your cup of tea.
The lad on the kiosk in the Minčeta with his radio permanently tuned to the incongruous sound of Eminem
should have been kicked out by the time you get there.
Most of Dubrovnik's other trademark monuments are along Stradun or the adjoining square, Luža
, which is dominated by St. Blaise's Church
- St. Blaise
, or Sveti Vlaho
as the locals know him, is the city's patron saint and as ubiquitous in Dubrovnik as is the Lion of St. Mark
in former Venetian cities throughout the Mediterranean. The steps of Sv. Vlaho
are the location, on summer Sundays after the church service, for performances of the neighbouring island of Korčula
's traditional dance, the Moreška
Dubrovnik's ideal for small-scale cloister
-hopping, with the Franciscan
monasteries within a few minutes' walk of each other; the Dominicans have a particularly impressive treasury of Renaissance martyrdom
s, although you'd need to drop into the Cathedral of the Assumption, the other side of Luža, for the reliquaries
supposed to contain the sacred body parts of miscellaneous saints. A waxy-looking St. Sylvan
is interred in a transparent case under one of the main altars of Sv. Vlaho
Turn right off Luža, into Gundulićev trg
- Gundulić Square, dominated by his statue with reliefs of scenes from Osman
across its pedestal - and up the copy of the Spanish Steps
, and you'll come to St. Ignatius' Church
, a grand Baroque edifice and a hidden treasure in a quiet, dusty square. Turn left off Luža instead, and you'll find yourself in the tranquil old harbour, the perfect viewpoint for the Adriatic sunset
s or the clouds gathering above the wooded island of Lokrum
The city museum is housed in the Rector's Palace, and Marin Držić's house, on the south side of Stradun, fills in the cultural side of Dubrovnik's heritage. An English-language audio guide
is available in the house on request, although doesn't warn the visitor to mind their head on the Renaissance ceilings and the life-size mannequin
s of Držić characters dangling from them.
During the summer, the city hosts the Dubrovnik Summer Festival
of drama and classical music; the annual centrepiece is a performance of Hamlet
in Croatian at the Lovrijenac Fortress
, just outside the walls, which bears over its entrance the typically Ragusan slogan Non bene pro toto libertas venditur auro
- 'Liberty is not sold for any kind of gold.
Lovrijenac makes for a suitably craggy surrogate Elsinore
, and the title role's generally taken by one Goran Višnjić
, better known as Luka Kovac
, who somehow worked one of his Hamlet
speeches into the episode with the dominatrix
After All That, I Think I Need a Drink
Eating and drinking in Dubrovnik is a matter of location; the Café Cele
, slap bang next to St. Blaise's, is as good as any, although there are numerous bars tucked into the streets off Stradun and on a morning when the cruise liner
is in town it's every man for himself
. Between the two palaces, Gradska Kavana
, with its waistcoated waiters, is one for the Habsburg
nostalgists, and a handy refuge if the wind starts to whip the wrong way.
The street above Stradun, Prijeko
, alternates almost entirely between restaurants and pizzeria
s, but a quick wander turns up the same fare in more congenial surroundings: opposite the Cathedral, for instance, or in the cloister of what used to be the convent of St. Clare
Perhaps the most atmospheric one of all is a nameless café south of Stradun clinging on to the rock and looking on to nothing but Lovrijenac and the sea; but as with much else in Dubrovnik, it's to be happened upon, and not directed to.
Francis W. Carter, Dubrovnik: A Classic City-State, for Ragusa's golden age, or for a quick introduction to the region, Marcus Tanner's Croatia.
Laura Silber and Allan Little, The Death of Yugoslavia, on the war years.
Cletus the Foetus says: Also, it's worth mentioning that while Venice had the merchants, Ragusa had the sailors, and that it was Ragusans who brought coffee to Britain. Also, the Republic of Ragusa was the first foreign nation to recognize US independence.
Omnidirectional Halo says: It's worth noting that Montenegro has since officially apologized profusely to Croatia for the shelling and relations are now very good between the two countries.