March 19, 2022. 55°F/13°C
We’ve toured quite a few walled cities on our cruise so far, but none as imposing as Dubrovnik’s old city.
First of all, it is huge. Second, the walls are much higher than the others we’ve seen. Approaching on foot the edifice is awe-inspiring; approaching from the sea it must have seemed impenetrable.
In fact, the massive walls were never breached. The Ottomans were kept out by paying them an annual tribute, avoiding war entirely. Dubrovnik remained a free and neutral state for 400 years until it made the strategic mistake of allowing Napoleon’s armies in to refresh themselves during the Napoleonic Wars. Napoleon was a pretty ungrateful guest, taking over the city, turning monasteries into military stables, using convents as jails, frankly just taking over – abolishing the free state and incorporating Dubrovnik into the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy.
We entered by crossing the wooden drawbridge, as do the city’s current inhabitants. As was the case in Mdina on Malta, the only vehicular traffic allowed here is delivery vans and services like firetrucks or ambulances.
The city was built between the 11th and 17th centuries, with large-scale meticulous reconstruction required after the earthquake of 1667. Further reconstruction was required after the war with Serbia in the 1990s; a map on one of the interior walls shows the hundreds of locations in the city where bomb, fire, and shrapnel damage occurred. From the second highest overlook on our walk we had a view of almost the whole city.
All the roofs that look orange in the photo above are new because they were destroyed during that war; only the roofs that look gold or brown (because they are covered with centuries of dirt and moss) remained intact. Our guide, who was 4 when the war began in 1991, showed us the cellars under one of the ancient towers that his family sheltered in when the city was being bombed. He and his family still live in the old city, which has a current population of around 1300 people, all willing to climb hundreds of stairs a day and maintain their homes within UNESCO World Heritage Site designation rules.
If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, as we are, Dubrovnik’s Old Town first appeared on screen as “King’s Landing” during the second season of Game of Thrones.
The morning tour included a look inside the Dominican Monastery. The city had several monasteries and convents, and 47 churches. Our guide exhorted us to remember that rich families often had a church of their own, and the city appearing to be pious kept Dubrovnik in the powerful Popes’ good graces should they ever need a strategic ally.
After taking the included overview walking tour in the morning, Ted and I opted for an escorted “walk the wall” excursion in the afternoon, beginning with the initial rather daunting looking set of stone stairs just inside Pile (pronounced pee-lei) Gate. The wall itself is 2 km long, encircling a somewhat bowl-shaped city within. There are 1080 steps spread throughout the wall, which includes the 3 entrances, so we assumed we’d be climbing and descending a lot fewer since we’d only go up once and down once. Wrong. I counted silently, to keep my mind off how high we were and how short some of the stone walls seemed, and came up with 1009. The entire city has more than 2500 stairs.
Minčeta Tower is the highest point of the wall, offering an unforgettable view of the city.
It was worth 1000 stairs just for the bragging rights.
What can I say? The sun shone, the sky was blue, the city was beautiful. Tomorrow we head into the countryside for a day on a Dalmatian farm – food, wine, and music beckon.