It was George Bernard Shaw who called Dubrovnik “the pearl of the Adriatic” and said that “…those who seek paradise on Earth should come to Dubrovnik”. Dubrovnik truly is a stunning city with its amazing Old Town which became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979.
This town was once an independent State resisting powerful neighbours such as Venice or the Ottoman Empire, but welcoming trade caravans, refugees and visitors. This medieval town now opens its gates to thousands of tourists, including those from huge cruise ships or exclusive yachts. You may be lucky, as I was, to see Tom Cruise walking around eating an ice cream, Gérard Depardieu dining next to you or Roman Abramovitch having a drink at the neighbouring table. During the summer time Dubrovnik can be reached directly from Geneva in a 1h35 minutes’ flight.
Although severely damaged by an earthquake in 1667, Dubrovnik managed to preserve its beautiful medieval churches, monasteries, palaces and fountains. Damaged again in the 1990s by a barbaric armed conflict, it has been well restored by a UNESCO- coordinated restoration programme and has now recovered its past splendour.
Numerous legends tell of the ancient beginnings of Dubrovnik. Among them the most complete is the one that links its creation with a nearby larger Greek-Roman colony called Epidaurum (now Cavtat). The cliff called Laus (later Ragusa) began to be inhabited by refugees from Epidaurum in the 7th century after an invasion by enemy tribes. Around this time, Dubrovnik itself was founded by Croats near an oak forest. In fact, the word Dubrovnik originates from dub (meaning oak) and dubrava (meaning wood). With more intensive trade and the increase in the population, the borders between two inhabited locations in time became narrow. The joining of the former Laus and the old Croatian settlement (Dubrovnik) occurred during the 11th century at the location of today’s main street called Placa or Stradun. The fortified city had a well-developed commerce, a rich navy and was situated at an important crossroads.
Traditional boats sailed across the Mediterranean in promotion of trade. Supported by its wealth and skilled diplomacy the city/ State whose slogan was Libertas achieved a remarkable level of development during the 15th and 16th centuries. The Republic of Ragusa was officially dissolved in 1808 by Napoleon and, after his fall, Dubrovnik became part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1815.
What to visit?
The Old City is home to all of the major attractions as it is a well preserved medieval city. The first surprise is there are no cars once you enter one of the two main gates of the city walls. You inevitably come to the main street Stradun. It is a 292-meter long most popular meeting place for both Dubrovnik citizens and tourists. In a typically Mediterranean tradition, this is not just a street to go through; instead, you take your time, walk slowly and make several turns. Most, if not all local love stories started here where the lovers established the first eye contact. Along Stradun you can find many historic sights including the Franciscan Monastery, Orlando’s Column, St. Blasius Church and Sponza Palace.
St. Blasius Church (a protector saint of Dubrovnik) was originally 14th century Romanesque, but this was badly damaged in the 1667 earthquake and finally destroyed by a fire in 1706. It is considered a signifi- cant fact that in that fire only the gold-plated statue of St. Blasius remained intact. The church was rebuilt in its present baroque style between 1706 and 1714. One should sit on the stairs in front of the church and enjoy the beauty of the main square. Once you see the main street, go to the Old Port. Trade vessels from all over the world once sailed through Dubrovnik while today modern floating hotels visit Dubrovnik as part of their cruises of the Mediterranean and Adriatic. Only a 10-minute boat ride from the Old Port will bring you to Lokrum, a neighbouring island. It is a nice spot for walks as it has a monastery, a fort with excellent views of Dubrovnik, and botanical gardens dating back to renaissance times.
The adventure of Dubrovnik will not be complete if you do not visit the 1940-meter long city walls, among the most beautiful and best preserved middle-age fortifications in Europe with many round, rectangular and corner fortresses erected to preserve Dubrovnik throughout its stormy history. A tour of the city walls in some places up to 25 meters’ high is an opportunity to discover new views of the city which looks like a large open pearl shell. Due to their exceptional stone beauty, numerous locations in Dubrovnik are often used as open air stages for a number of cultural events among which the largest one being the Dubrovnik Summer Festival traditionally held during July and August.
Here the choice is big. One can take a boat and go to the neighbouring islands (Kolocep, Sipan, Lopud, Hvar, Mljet, or Korcula). A close-by town of Cavtat is a real jewel, and can be reached by boat from the Old Port, public bus or car. One can also visit neighboring States, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro, with no more than a 2-hour drive from Dubrovnik.