|Dubrovnik Harbour, from my window|
Travel Dates 27th-30th May 2011.
Click on any picture to see a larger version.
Better late than never; I have decided to catch up with last year's trip to Europe while I can still remember it, before writing about my recent rrip to China.
Unfortunately there are no train connections from Zagreb – or any part of the rest of Croatia – to the small and separate Dubrovnik enclave on the far southern Dalmatian coast of Croatia.
Dubrovnik is yet another “tourist central” town on the Grand Tour of Europe. As such, like Venice, one has to accept the crowds of tourists and the encounters with locals trying to extract as much cash as as possible out of them. But don't let that put you off becoming one of those tourists. There is a reason why so many are attracted to this ancient Adriatic citadel city. There are very few better-preserved or refurbished mediaeval towns with such easy access.
Dubrovnik has been through the wars, both historically and, sadly, recently.
With that background, I'll offer a very brief history of this fascinating city.
There are a couple of theories on how the town came into being; the most popular story is that the first settlers were refugees from the nearby Roman city of Epidaurus (not to be confused with the Greek town of the same name) in the 7th century. They founded a settlement on a rocky island named Laus which grew with time to become Ragusa; later to become Dubrovnik. However, there is now some evidence from archaeological digs that there may have been an earlier settlement created by Greek sailors as a staging port for overnight stops between Budva and Korcula. Either way, the town has been around for at least 13 centuries and possibly a great deal longer.
In various eras the city vied with Venice and Ancona to be the most successful port in the Adriatic; Ragusa was small in land area but powerful at sea and became a major trading city. The longest period of stability and prosperity was from the 14th to the 18th century. For most of that period they were effectively independent but under the protection of the Ottoman Empire; that came to an end when Napoleon's troops marched in in 1806.
Unfortunately a massive earthquake in 1667 destroyed almost all of the city. Only a few of the buildings we see today were left standing; among those are the Sponza Palace, which was originally a customs house and is now the State Archives, and the Rector's Palace. The Rector was the governor in the glorious period of the Republic of Ragusa. A massive effort was made to rebuild the city in the baroque style after the earthquake; most of the major buildings we see today date from that rebuilding era.
The republic of Ragusa was never quite as prosperous after that; the decline was exacerbated by loss of trade as new trade routes to the East bypassed the town. The entry by Napoleon's troops foreshadowed the end of the Republic of Ragusa in 1808.
Over the next two centuries it slumbered under foreign rulers, first Austria-Hungary, then as part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes between WWI and WWII and eventually as part of Yugoslavia until the collapse of Yugoslavia in the late 1980s.
What was to come seems incomprehensible to a non-European like myself. Tito demilitarised the old city during the 1970s; that was followed by UNESCO World Heritage listing in 1979. Sadly, this did not protect it from the Balkan wars of the '90s. The siege of Dubrovnik by Montenegran and Serbian gunners lasted over seven months during 1991-92 with artillery shelling damaging over half the buildings in the city, killing 114 civilians and wounding many more. The Croation Army lifted the siege in May 1992.
Great efforts were made to return the city to its original state. It was eventually removed from the endangered list by UNESCO in 1998 .
The town is for pedestrians only. I alighted from the airport bus at the Pile Entrance, or North gate.
I walked the full length of the town, along this grand marble street, to the maze of alleys beside the waterfront wall to House Renata.
It took a little time and some help from locals to eventually find the place, but it was worth it. The room was inexpensive and basic, the bathroom was shared but the bed was comfortable and the view was simply wonderful. In addition to all that, Renata did my laundry for a very modest fee. I thoroughly recommend her establishment.
Here it is, mine is the first of the two windows in the centre right of the picture, just above the city wall:
The pictures that follow were taken from my window.
Over the next three days I took it easy; wandering around the town soaking in the atmosphere in the small alleys, climbing up and down countless steps.
I ate in several of the multitude of restaurants spilling into every available side alley. Most of the food was excellent, although the menus appeared to be cloned for tourists. I tried to find the cafes with local dishes when I could.
There was a street market and cafe on my final morning.
The day before I departed for Mostar I took a bus from the Pile Entrance to the Autobusni Kolodvor (bus depot) to check on timetable and ticket arrangements. When I boarded the bus to return it did a U-turn as soon as it left and headed in the opposite direction, so I had an unguided tour of the inlet that cuts deep into the coast north of Dubrovnik. At the end of the line the driver had a snooze of 20 minutes so I took a walk around the area.
Memorials like these were at several points along the bus route.
The cable car to the top of the hill overlooking the town is worth it just for the view of the old town., but the vista of the Adriatic is also glorious.
If you look closely at this communications tower it appears to be constructed using an old rocket or ICBM as the base.