18th June 2017
Three Tiers of Dubrovnik in Croatia
The enchanting town of Dubrovnik in Croatia attracts tourists like bees to a honeypot. As I watched them swarming through the Pile Gate into the old town I decided to start my own tour by walking the city walls. First I had to get inside the old town and made my way through the Pile Gate crossing the stone bridge that replaced the original wooden drawbridge. This drawbridge was raised at night to keep unwelcome guests out of the medieval walled city. Pile Gate is one of four gates that penetrated the old city walls. It is said the citizens of Dubrovnik had contemplated building a fifth gate but when two of their Italian rivals in trade agreed it would be a good idea plans were abandoned. However, a fifth gate, the Buža Gate was built in 1908 when Dubrovnik was part of the Austro-Hapsburg Empire allegedly to give Austrian officers easy access to the tennis courts in the trench behind the walls. The Pile Gate has an outer and an inner gate. The latter was also known as the Gate of Saint Luke, named after the church nearby. Just inside this inner gate is a flight of steps leading up to the top of the city walls (entrance fee payable). This is one of three access points on to the walls.
The path around the city walls of the old town of Dubrovnik is a complete circuit of its forts, bastions and towers. No other city in the world has retained its city walls in such a perfect state and for this reason the town became a UNESCO World Heritage Site as early as 1970. The first fortifications were constructed during the early Middle Ages when Dubrovnik was the centre of a city-based republic, Ragusa. These defences became a work in progress for hundreds of years. In particular during the period when the town was permanently in danger of foreign invasions. Skilful workmen and diplomatic negotiations have kept the walls intact.
Walking the walls was a great way to see the city below me and to orientate myself. I did a complete circuit which brought me back to Pile Gate. On the last stretch of the wall I had a good view of the detached Lovrijenac Fortress This fortress perches on a high, sheer-sided rock overlooking the sea and dates back to the eleventh century. Its purpose was to defend the western part of the city against attacks from both the land and the sea. It has been claimed that rumours that the Venetians were planning to occupy this rock and use it as a base to launch an attack on the city inspired the citizens of Dubrovnik to build this fort. The fortress has been upgraded several times and earthquake damage during the seventeenth century has been repaired. Nowadays its three terraces make a splendid venue for stage productions during the Dubrovnik Summer Festival.
Circuit of the walls completed I descend to begin my tour of the old town and started in the Old Pharmacy Museum at the top of Stradun Street. The pharmacy was established by the Franciscan monks in a complex that includes a church and a monastery. Unusually this pharmacy was a public pharmacy and still operates as such today. The museum occupies the old monastery and includes exhibits from the original pharmacy and the beautiful cloisters of the monastery.
Stradun Street, also known as Placa, is the main street through the old town. This wide street was once a river separating two settlements. During the eleventh century the channel was filled in and the two settlements became one. Stradun Street was remodelled following an earthquake of 1667. Two rows of similar Baroque style stone houses were built replacing the random development of the last few centuries. At the top of Stradun is Big Onofrio’s Fountain. This fountain was built to store water from the aqueduct that brought water into the city in the mid-fifteenth century. A second, much smaller fountain, Small Onofrio’s Fountain stands under the Bell Tower next to the large, porticoed Building of the City Guard at the other end of Stradun. Onofrio della Cava, an architect from Naples, built both the aqueduct and the fountains.
Dubrovnik’s imposing cathedral, dedicated to Saint Blaise occupies the same square, Luza Square. Orlando on his column stands proudly in front of the cathedral. Despite the fairy tale that Orland was a knight who saved Dubrovnik from a Saracen siege during the ninth century he actually had a more mundane origin. Orlando or Roland as he was commonly known throughout Europe was a symbol that the city was under the protection of the Hungarian-Croatian king . This column had a variety of purposes. The forearm of Orlando was used as a standard measure, the lakat, reinforced by a line representing this measure exactly at the base of the column. Public proclamations were made from this column and it was also the site of public punishments.
A narrow alley leading out of Luza Square emerges in the Old Port of Dubrovnik. Originally the water lapped against the walls of the city but now, thanks to the construction of a promenade and archways by the Austrians visitors the can stroll around the port and admire the Fortress of Saint John. This fortress is now the home of the Maritime Museum and the Aquarium. I would have loved to linger in one of the restaurants that lined the pavements of the ports but there was so much more to see and I resisted the temptation.
As I left the local market behind the cathedral – fruit and vegetables in the morning and souvenirs in the afternoon – I noticed an interesting flight of stairs at the end of a street. I had to investigate. A Baroque staircase took me from Gundulic Square up to Plane Square home to the Jesuit Church of Saint Ignatious and a Jesuit college next door to it. The church and college were built in the mid-seventeenth century. Although the college is now closed the church is still open. I slipped inside and was overwhelmed by its beauty. The Baroque frescoes depicting scenes from the lift of Saint Ignatius de Loyola painted by Gaetano Garcia, an eighteenth century Spanish artist, are amazing. I spent some time in there, in the cool, empty interior appreciated them.
Outside again, in the bright sun, it was time to explore the third tier of the city. I left the old town through Buža Gate. Srd Hill loomed above me. A cable car has transported people up there since 1969. The original one was very slow and could only carry fifteen passengers. Now a larger, modern version flies up and down throughout the day. The views from the top are amazing and on a clear day visitors can see beyond the city and along the coastline. From Lokrum, an island just outside the old harbour to the Elafiti Islands beyond the new harbour on the other side of the city. The whole area above the city used to be known as Dubrava. It means woods in the local dialect as the slopes were once clothed in oak and pine trees. This is the origin of the name, Dubrovnik. Next to the cable car station is the impressive Fort Imperial. In 1806 when the French occupied Dubrovnik Napoleon decided the area was the ideal place to build a defensive fort. It took six years to complete. When the French occupation ended the Austrians reinforced the building and it was used by both Yugoslavian regimes. During the Homeland War (1991 – 1995) it once again became prominent in the defence of Dubrovnik and was the venue of a decisive battle that changed the course of the war. Now the Fort is home to an exhibition, Dubrovnik in the Homeland War. Re-development of the whole area is currently being considered during which the fort may be reconstructed and its exhibition become permanent.
I visited Dubrovnik on a tour organised by Solos Holidays. We flew from Gatwick to Split with Norwegian Air.
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