Dubrovnik, in Croatia, is sometimes referred to as the Pearl of the Adriatic. The most delightful way so come across this medieval city is by cruise ship across the Adriatic. The early morning vista of white walls and terracotta roofs in the morning sun is a sight that will not be forgotten by myself or my family.
If you do arrive by cruise ship and intend on walking to the walled city get a map before you start. It is farther than you think and is also quite hilly and it is easy to get lost.
This peaceful looking gem suffered terribly in the 1990s when an attack by the Yugoslav army laid siege to the city for over 6 months. The occupants were trapped within the medieval walls and bombarded by shelling from the hills overlooking the city. There was no electricity of communication in the city itself. It is difficult to imagine the extent of the damage that was done as there has been a great deal of repair work carried out on the 500 or so buildings that were damaged. 43 residents also lost their lives.
The city is a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its historical and architectural significance. This has led to an increase in tourism which can cause the area to become very crowded during the height of the summer months. There is limited accommodation within the city walls and not a great deal in the immediate area so it is wise to pre-book if planning a visit during July or August. This is when the weather is at its hottest and also when the city is playing host to its festival of art and theatre.
The city is approached over a bridge and the enormity of the walls becomes apparent. The citizens of Dubrovnik are exceedingly proud of this defensive structure and it has never been breached.
Visitors enter through Pile gate and it is a good idea to start the tour of the walls from this point. There is an admission fee paid at the kiosk and then visitors have free access to the walls. The suggested route is one-way to stop people having to pass each other. The steps up to the top of the wall are very steep and quite worn so would not be recommended to anyone who may be a little unstable on their feet. Some parts are also very narrow so extreme caution should be observed and a tight hold kept on younger visitors. Although the wall-walk is quite tiring in the heat of midsummer the views are absolutely stunning and should not be missed. The shining streets in the centre of the town can be seen thronging with people. Gaze in the opposite direction and there is a gorgeous view of the blue sea surrounded by green mountains with the shiny white walls of the town in the foreground. There is an area about half-way round where visitors may descend back into the town of may stay and take refreshments whilst admiring the birds-eye view. After completing a circuit of the walls and admiring the church towers and domes it is time to descend back down near the main gate.
The Big Fountain of Onofrio is just to the right of the gate and was part of the system for getting freshwater to the city since 1444. It is said to be lucky to drink from one of the spouts but this domed structure can be crowded. Immediately ahead of the visitor is the main street called the Stradum. The polished floor glints invitingly in the sunlight with colourful shops and street cafes lining the route. Glances to the left and right reveal hidden steps leading to residences and further streets. With careful observation it is possible to see where buildings have been repaired since the siege but the work has been lovingly done and very in-keeping with the structures.
The far end of the Stradum leads to Luza Square which is surrounded by historic buildings. There is also a smaller fountain called the Small Fountain of Onofrio which is situated by the church of St Blaise. It is possible to visit the church and the nearby Sponza Palace which is the home of the state archives. In this square is also situated Orlandos Column which is in memory of a mysterious figure who helped the people of Dubrovnik defeat their enemies in the 8th Century.
The city of Dubrovnik is incredibly compact and very easy to navigate on foot. There is a lot to see in a very small area but it is also a place that entices the visitor to sit and soak up the medieval atmosphere and the baroque design that has produced such a unique example of a European city.