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Sunday, September 18, 2016

9/8: Dubrovnik: City Walls, Churches & Peacocks

Our bus from Split arrived last night in Dubrovnik, probably the most famous city on the Adriatic coast, about 9pm. We got a taxi to an apartment much smaller than we had just had in Split. But this one, located on an upper floor of a lovely old stone home, would be a fine home away from home for the next three nights.

Dubrovnik has prospered within its walls for centuries. It was settled in the 7th century by residents of nearby Cavtat who fled when Dubrovnik was a small island to escape invasion. In the 11th century, the channel separating the island from the mainland was filled in and the two towns became one. 

We had read enough to know that we needed to begin our tour of Dubrovnik early before the constant flow of tour groups from the bus companies and the many cruise liners in the port. We started our tour of Dubrovnik at its most dramatic entrance, Pile Gate, where the bus dropped us off. We crossed the old moat and a stone bridge and entered the old town. 
We made sure to look up so we could see the statue of the city’s patron saint, Sveti Vlaho or St. Blaise, done by famous Croatian sculptor, Ivan Mestrovic. We’ve seen so many of his works as we’ve worked our way down the Balkan states south from Slovenia.
Once inside the gate took a quick detour because we wanted to see a map that detailed the attack on Dubrovnik by rebel Serbs, volunteers from Montenegro and the Yugoslav Army in 1991-2. The map detailed the shelling that battered the old town during the fighting. The Siege of Dubrovnik made headlines around the work as the UNESCO World Heritage-listed city, which had no strategic value nor any real Serb claim to ownership, was attacked from the surrounding hills. In May 1992, Serb forces withdrew, partly as a result of international pressure and partly by then priorities had changed. The fact that Dubrovnik is a World Heritage Site certainly aided in the reconstruction process following the war.
The best way for us to get a sense of the layout of the old town was to walk around the City Walls so we bought tickets immediately so we could try and miss as many of the crowds as possible who were all intent on doing the same thing! Unlike our day trip to Krka Waterfalls National Park outside Split a few days ago, we had no choice but to go in one direction. The walk around the city was only 1.25 miles long but it was already getting mighty hot when we started about 9:30.

Our walk on the City Walls: The walls are a series of defensive stone walls that have surrouded and protected the maritime city since the 7th century.
A view of Minceta Fortress, the highest point on the walls, that we saw at the end of our wall walk.

There were fabulous views of the old town terracotta roof tops, gardens, domes and spires from Bokar Fortress. The fort was built in 1461 when the city walls were being reconstructed. The construction of old limestone forts around the city began in the Eary Middle Ages at the end of the 8th century.

Sea kayaking in the bay sure looked like fun although the water was pretty choppy.

A view of Minceta Fortress in the distance:
You can see the stream of people on the walls!

It was interesting following the kayakers as they too circled the walls but from far below us..
At some spots, the walls were only hip high which I found quite scary as there was as huge drop down to the Adriatic on one side and homes on the other. 
I felt badly as we passed a school that was in session and the window was open. How very distracting it must have been for those students and, in particular those with ADHD, to have a constant stream of tourists walking by every school day all day long.
I thought the same when we passed by homes so close to where we walked as it was if we were watching people in a fishbowl. They had no privacy whatsoever even in their own backyards.

We could see a Jesuit church in the town below.
We could see and hear the pounding surf against the rocks on the southern walls here.
Dubrovnik is backed by sweeping limestone cliffs and flanked on three sides by the sparking Adriatic Sea. I could only think the setting must be the definition of breathtaking. 

A good view of the walls:

Natalie: I'm guessing you must have walked the City Walls when you were here a few years ago too. I hope you had as beautiful a day as we did.

What a hard job working at the first aid station!
A few cafes dotted spots along the walls. There were also several small galleries and artisans selling handicrafts.
Konvale embroidery is the decorative basic element used on women's sleeves. Originally it was stitched with silk from the cocoons of the silk moth who were carefully grown in each home in Konvale and then dyed using natural colors. The strictly symetrical and geometrical patterns were done using red, black, dark green and a golden yellow border. UNESCO recognized this sort of embroidery as part of the cultural heritage of Croatia.
I am a sucker for this type of souvenir as I have recently developed a greater sense of appreciation for beautiful textiles. Plus, I like the fact that they're normally lightweight and don't take up much room in my bag.
While we walked the walls, we saw surprisingly little evidence of war damage. However, we did notice the difference shades of the roof tiles, i.e. the old and new tiles. The older tiles were sourced from a quarry that has long since closed down, so restorers had to import as close a match as they could from Slovenia and France.

Seeing the lovely tiled roofs as we walked the walls was a huge highlight.

Nice views of the harbor:

My favorie view of the rooftops:
Views from Minceta Tower: It became a symbol of the unconquerable city when it was built in 1463 at the height of the Turkish threat.

We descended from the walls at 11 ready to discover the town at ground level.
We peeked in at the Jesuit Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola:

The main artery through the old town is Stradun, a wide boulevard of marble that has been polished by the feet of millions of visitors.
As we strolled along the interesting Stradum, it was so odd seeing the blue Coca Cola sign on one of the many cafes!
We elected to stay on the Stradun rather than taking any of the side streets that would have involved climbing waaaaaay more steps!
The Small Fountain of Onofrio was located at the opposite end of Stradun next to the Clock Tower.
View of Luza Square with Sponza Palace on the left, the clock tower (duh!) in the middle and Orlando's Column on the right:
Sponza Palace: The palace, a mixture of Venetian Gothic and Renaissance, has had many roles over its long history. The courtyard is now used for temporary art exhibitions and musical performances.
The word Dogana on the palace's studded metal door indicated it was once the customs house. I looked for, but was unable to find, an inscription that served as a warning to shady traders: "We are forbidden to cheat and use false measures. When I weigh goods, God weighs me."
A better view of Orlando's Column in the foreground with Rector's Palace on the left and the Church of St. Blaise in the background. 

Orlando’s Column aka Roland's Column: The carved figure of a knight represnts Roland, who is said to have helped Dubrovnik vanquish Saracen pirates in the 9th century. Although that is unlikely, the statue is a symbol of freedom and very important to the city. It was once used for public proclamations when citizens of Ragusa (the former name of the city) came to hear news and decrees and criminals were exhibited at its feet.
The Church of St. Blaise is named after the patron saint of Dubrovnik. Above the altar is the silver figure of St. Blaise who is paraded through the streets of the city on February 3rd every year. He is portrayed holding a scale model of how the city looked before its destruction in the 1667 earthquake.

The stained glass window was done by Dubrovnik's most famous modern artist.
The stall at the foot of the church steps sold fig salami and other delicacies. I am way more of a salami fan than Steven but that variation held no appeal for me at all.
The Rector's Palace: The first palace on this site was erected in 1200 but it was destroyed and rebuilt several times over the centuries. It sure wasn't easy being a rector: his term was limited to a month; he was banned from leaving the confines of the palace for anything except official business; and his family was forbidden to move in with him!
The Palace's beautiful atrium is the venue for summer concerts by the Dubrovnik Symphony Orchestra.

Hey, we saw the roaming Croatian panhandler again on the Stradun! He was the same fellow we’d seen previously in Split!

Baroque Cathedral: Unfortunately for us, the apparently stunning altar was being remodeled so it was all covered in cloth.

The Stations of the Cross were very small considering the size and ornateness of everything else in the Cathedral. I wondered whether the ones we saw are the permanent ones or just temporary while the altar is being reconstructed.

Behind the Cathedral in Gundulic Square was a lively produce market that the pigeons obviously loved!

More steps to climb! The Baroque staircase, modeled on the Spanish Steps in Rome, led us from the square up to the Jesuit St. Ignatius Church. 
This stall just outside the church sold some beautiful embroidered items.
The Jesuit St. Ignatius Church: The church was built between 1667 and 1725 and was modeled after Gesu, the mother church of the Jesuits in Rome.

We arrived just before mass began in one of the most breathtaking churches ever. What a small world as we encountered at the church the same young woman whom we had met at Hostel Nina in Mostar and who also had gone on the crazy climb to the top of the nine story building.

We walked next to the Church of the Annunciation, a Serbian Orthodox church:

It had begun to drizzle but we considered ourselves lucky as the weather forecast for Dubrovnik had been three straight days of nothing but rain and we only had a mere sprinkle to deal with.
I entered the Dominican Church Monastery by myself as Steven wanted a breather from seeing churches. The Dominican order was established in Dubrovnik in the 13th century and the monastery was built a month later.

There was a peaceful cloister with late-Gothic arcades embellished by Renaissance motifs. 

In the center was a huge well that was last used to supply water for the besieged city in 1991-92.

I thought I could see the church next but there was a museum initially. 
Votive gifts and jewelry from 18th and 19th century Dubrovnik:
10th-11th century plaitwork altar tympanum:
A family altar piece from the 17th century!
I felt like was walking on hallowed ground as I think these were gravestones.

One last look at the cloister which I found so peaceful. I wished Steven had been there too so we could have just stayed for a while.
I then entered the church by the door to the left of the altar which was definitely a first! I was surprised I was  the only person in the church. The interior was delightfully simple with a sweeping wooden roof.

I loved that the style of this cross represented Dubrovnik’s proximity and relationship to the sea. 
While walking on the city walls, we had remarked how many Americans and other English-speaking people there were here in Dubrovnik. That was so different from every other place we’ve been to so far on this trip. The presence of all the cruise ships in the harbor no doubt accounted for the number of tourists as Croatia is a huge tourist destination for people especially from BritainWe had also noticed that there were far fewer smokers in Dubrovnik compared to other places. That made it so much more pleasant to walk around.

Since we were already right by the Old Port, we decided on the spur of the moment to get the 2pm ferry to Lokrum, a nearby island.

Janina: I thought of you and Pat cruising but figured your Nat Geo vessels were a lot smaller than this Seaborn Odyssey!
We got to the tiny Lokrum dock just 15 minutes after leaving Dubrovnik. 

These were the first of the peacocks that are supposed to be all over the island. When was the last time you can say YOU’VE seen peacocks begging for food?!

Lokrum is a nature preserve and thus no one is allowed to live on the island. We were told to make sure we didn't miss the last boar going back to Dubrovnik!

The 11th century former Benedictine monastery was turned in to a summer home by Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian who purchased the island in 1859. 

The Gardens of Maximilian:

If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, you’ll recognize this replica of the Iron Throne! Much of the HBO TV show is filmed in and around Dubrovnik which is portrayed in the show as the city of King's Landing. As a result, it was hard to miss seeing all the show’s memorabilia and tours, etc everywhere we looked as the show is obviously very popular for millions of fans around the world.

The English king, Richard the Lionheart, was aboard his Venetian ship on his way home from the Crusades in 1194. When he was shipwrecked nearby, he built a church here on Lokrum helped by the Benedictine nuns who had nursed him back to health. At least that was one of the many legends associated with Lokrum!

We just took a leisurely stroll around the island. Not only were there lots of peacocks, there were rabbits, too, positively everywhere it seemed. I had never seen such big ones before and also so many different colors too. All I could think of was “Who wants rabbit stew?!”

Maximilain's Botanic Gardens:
Photos from our walk all around Lokrum:

The biggest rabbit I've seen!

All that remains of the many sacral buildings on Lokrum is the Church of the Our Lady of the Annunciation which was built at the end of the 16th century and later renovated by Archduke Maximilian.

What can I tell you? I liked seeing the peacocks and rabbits!
Our first no pipe smoking sign ever.
The island's water reservoir:
Our ‘destination’ in a sense had been walking up to the Old Fort just to get some exercise and see more of the island. It was great reaching the summit and seeing Dubrovnik across the bay.
The Old Fort atop Lokrum:

We began walking next to the Lazaretto. In the 14th century, Europe was plagued by the so-called Black Death. Dubrovnik authorities, however, could not afford to shut down trade by isolating the port and the town from the rest of the world so they instituted a 40 day quarantine before anyone could visit the town. The Town Senate decided to build the quarantine on the northern side of Lokrum in 1534. This quarantine, aka Lazaretto, was never completed but its remains show the attempt to this day.

The donkeys were in the quarantine area. We had hardly seen a soul for the last hour or so and certainly none of the park rangers we had been told about. If we had, I would have been curious to know why there were donkeys there.

The only other ‘sight’ on Lokrum was the Cross of Triton so we made our way there next. It was erected in honor of the perished Austrian sailors on the ship ‘Triton’ who brought Maximilian of Habsburg, the future owner of Lokrum, to Dubrovnik in 1859.
It had been great walking all over the island but I told Steven I really wanted to just walk down to the rocks and sit and do nothing as we had been on the go the whole time not only the island but before that too. It seemed that most people that had been on the ferry with us had come to Lokrum just to swim and relax on the beach judging by their beach bags. We enjoyed dipping our feet in the water even though one persistent rabbit had followed us down to the beach, smelling, no doubt, the food in Steven’s backpack.
We walked back to the dock on this lovely stretch of lawn that was just covered with lovely orange crocuses or croci is you’re into Latin! It was hard not to trample them underfoot.

Ahh - the last peacock shot. Boo hiss!
The Cross of Triton from our boat ride back to Dubrovnik.
You can certainly get a good sense of how massive the City Walls are from this angle.
We walked back through town along Stradun so we could stop at War Photo Limited which had been highly rated on Trip Advisor. It is a permanent collection of images of the breakup of the former Yugoslavia by some of the most renowned 'conflict photograhers,' a term that was new to us. The gallery's goal is to 'expose the myth and intoxication of war, to let people see war as it is: raw, venal and frightening by focusing on how war inflicts injustices on innocents and comabatants alike.'
We wanted to discover through photos about the war’s impact on Dubrovnik. We learned that the city’s UNESCO-protected Old Town was stuck by 2000 mortars and artillery shells and navy gunfire which caused damage to thousands of rooftops. Of the 824 buildings in the city walls, 56% were damaged. The beginning of the offensive was October 1, 1991 and it lasted until July of 1992. The rehabilitation and reconstruction cost about $35 million. 

I hadn’t known before visiting this gallery that the word Balkans comes from two Turkish words: Bal which means honey and Kan which means blood. Steven and I probably didn't do the gallery justice because neither of us wanted to spend more than an hour or so there. The pictures were indeed excellently executed and brought home the horrors of war but they didn't have nearly the impact on us that Gallery 11/7/95 in Sarajevo still had.

Early evening photos of Stradun:

Before leaving Old Town, we spent a few minutes admiring the Large Fountain of Onofrio, part of a system that has brought fresh water to the city since 1444. During the siege it was seriously damaged but it has now been fully restored. It was originally intended merely for washing but some tourists consider it lucky to drink at the well. We were not among that group!
Another fun and varied day, walking the medieval City Walls, seeing just a 'few' churches, taking all too brief boat rides on the Adriatic and hiking among peacocks of Lokrum Island.

Posted from Prizren, Kosovo on September 18th, 2016.


  1. The Seabourn Odyssey holds 450 passengers and is really a luxury ship. Dubrovnik looks like a really nice place to visit. Lil Red

    1. I'm glad I was able to capture through my photos how beautiful a place Dubrovnik is, Lil Red.

  2. Where is the picture of Dubrovnik from the sea??? You had better have taken one

  3. Not to worry as I did indeed take one - it's in the next post about Cavtat an d the Elaphite Islands. Don't forget we actually had to get TO the sea to take a picture of Dubrovnik from it!

    Love you.


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