Episode 226 – Daunting Dubrovnik

March 19, 2022. 55°F/13°C

#myvikingstory

The Croatian flag, featuring Dubrovnik’s colours, red and blue, flies from the top of the city walls.

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.

These days the drawbridge is never closed, but the mechanism to do so still exists.
The huge water cistern connected to aqueducts still provides drinking water. At one point, the top was adorned with multiple statues – only a single dog remains.

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.

Look carefully at the roof colours.

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.

This is a lived-in world heritage site. note the laundry lines – much more practical than trying to get a dryer into these homes!

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.

Fort Lovrijenac, the real-life fortress where filming of Game of Thrones epic Battle of Blackwater took place.
Top: Saint Blaise Church. The patron saint and protector of the city is featured in many places, always holding the old walled city in his arms. Bottom L to R: detail of St. Blaise on the church; Saint Blaise in a niche on a building wall, and on the outer wall of the city overlooking the Adriatic.

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.

The Dominican cloister with its orange and rose trees and fountain was a rare oasis of green in the walled city.
Some of the monastery’s art collection. Patrons often asked to be included in artworks that they funded. In the bottom left you can see a tiny “patron” added to a painting. In the bottom right painting, the patron is the full-sized figure at the right!

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.

Just a few of the stairs,. Top left shows the first flight of 85 that began our walk.

Being at the level,of the bell tower meant being able to see the automated brass bell ringers that toll every hour!

Minčeta Tower is the highest point of the wall, offering an unforgettable view of the city.

Just another 50 or so steps up into the tower.

It was worth 1000 stairs just for the bragging rights.

Accomplished stairs climbers. now we just had to get back down!

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.

3 comments

  1. Bragging rights, for sure, my friend. I bow to you. LOL! You will surely need leave me at the bottom the next time we travel together. Ha-ha!

    Your trip is sounding even more spectacular day by day…
    XO

    Liked by 1 person

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