Dubrovnik is truly a remarkable city, with historic sites and stories of swings in power and fortune that make it a must-stop at any Croatia cruise holiday. Its legacy in art, architecture, history, wars and pleasure are a magnet to archaeologists and tourists alike.
Its maze of narrow streets is a joy to wander through, and it is definitely recommended to take a walk around the walls, which go for more than 3 km in length. the city has a rich cultural scene today, especially in the summer when the Dubrovnik Summer Festival is held and the international Lazareti Art Workshop is active.
You get to see the city from some wonderful angles, but it is not for the vertigo-prone ones.
Some spots are tricky to look down from. However, you do get a great chance to see how it once was for the guards in the middle ages!
The city was long known for its culture, especially literature, poetry, theatre and music. The list is long of its artists over the centuries.
Dubrovnik has really been through a lot over the centuries, and as you step on the stones of its streets, you feel the history talking to you, with every corner you turn, with every new discovery. Be sure to include it in you itinerary, you will remember it for a long, long time!
Why Dubrovnik is a Must Visit Location on Your Croatia Cruise Vacation
Dubrovnik was widely known for its respect of liberty. It abolished slave trade in 15th century, and it was even recorded that the Jews from Portugal and Spain were emigrating to the Republic during its high times.
An interesting aspect of the people of this magnificent city is that they had great diplomatic and trade skills. They roamed the world as true conquerors did, but with an important difference – they never engaged in wars or violence.
Instead, they set up trade relations that benefited both the city and the “colonies”. Instead of cannons on their ships, they displayed a prominent white flag with “Libertas” (Freedom) written on it!
Sadly, this all came abruptly to an end in 1667 when an earthquake struck, almost totally destroying the city. Its might never recovered after that.
Many invasions followed.
First of all, after many and various enemies’ cannonballs, Napoleon (“We’ll just pass through and get on with our war business, I swear”). Then the Austrian-Hungarian power arrived… Then the Nazis… Then inclusion in ex-Yugoslavia… then the break-up of Yugoslavia and more bombing… and then finally peace since the 1990s to the present day.
Dubrovnik – A Historic Gem on the Adriatic Sea
The roots of Dubrovnik go back to the early 7th century when Greek and then Roman refugees settled on the territory which is now the old city, giving it the name Ragusa. Later, they were joined by the Slays who renamed the city Dubrovnik and adopted Libertas for its motto and St Blaise as their patron saint.
After Byzantine power declined, Dubrovnik grudgingly recognised the supremacy of the Venetian republic its eternal rival in trade on the Adriatic. At the first opportunity and with the help of the growing power of the Hungarian – Croatian kings on the mainland, Dubrovnik in 1358 freed itself from Venetian domination.
Thus Dubrovnik became a self governing city- state with all the power concentrated in the hands of its land-owning oligarchy who governed the city until 1808, the year when the city state was formally dissolved by Napoleon.
After many futile attempts by its citizens to regain their independence the short French rule in 1814 was replaced by Austrian rule, which continued until 1918 the year the city was incorporated in the newly formed Yugoslav State.
Interesting to note that Stradun, the main street, was built as the kind of a connection between the two settlements. The city itself has some of the most preserved fortification walls in the world. Its many old buildings sadly got destroyed in the earthquake of 1667, however some wonderful monuments remain, such as Sponza palace.
The banners that flew then on Dubrovnik’s fortresses, its coins and the state written documents, all carried the inscription NON BENE PROTOTO LIBERTASVENDITUR AUR (Liberty is not sold for all the gold ) illustrating amply the guiding force behind the minds of the people who for centuries managed the republic’s state affairs.
Above the entrance of the Grand Council in the Rectors Palace, the power seat of the state, there is an inscription: OBLITI PRIVATORUM PUBLICA CURATE- Forget private matters, attend to the public good. Very inspirational for a state ruled by a rigid oligarchy.
Afraid of dictatorship, the administration was organised in such a way that no individual was ever allowed to emerge dominant. The city was ruled by an elected Rector (Knez) who was a nominal head of state with the maximum mandate of one month and a virtual prisoner in the Rectors Palace.
There were three clearly defined classes: nobles, commoners and workers. Inter marriage between the classes was discouraged. The nobles, through an all- male grand council, held power, which they delegated to an elected senate for the day to day running of the city.
The city’s commercial genius and its pragmatic diplomacy skillfully balancing between the expansionist Muslim and Christian super-powers, enabled Dubrovnik to exploit its favourable position on the Adriatic and to become a successful and wealthy self contained city state; its merchants trading far and wide.
At the peak of its power in the 16th century about 200 ships sailed under the Dubrovnik flag making it the strongest and finest merchant fleet in the Mediterranean. Its galleons gave us the word Argosy which means ship of Ragusa, the ancient name of Dubrovnik.
The decline of the city-state began with a catastrophic earthquake, which Dubrovnik suffered on 6th April 1667; that day the city was razed to the ground and 5000 of its citizens were killed. The city never recovered from the economic strain of rebuilding and with the movement of trade routes to the west, Dubrovnik was gradually reduced, as many other Mediterranean cities states, to the status of a provincial city contemplating its glorious past.
First traces of this incredible city go back all the way to 7th century, when a small settlement was created on an island which would later become known as Ragusa. As the centuries passed another settlement, called Dubrovnik, was established on the slopes rising high above the sea.
Did You know that the city of Dubrovnik also has one of the oldest pharmacies in Europe, still open since 1317!
Ragusa was inhabited by the aristocracy who spoke Latin and Italian, a result of a strong influence of Venice which was the all-mighty maritime power in those days.
However, the Croatian people who were increasingly arriving to this area developed the settlement on the slopes to the point when Ragusa and Dubrovnik merged into the city that we know today.
Over the centuries the Maritime Republic of Dubrovnik became increasingly powerful, and it was between 14th and 18th century that it was at its height. It rivaled Venice in its heyday, the unquestionable ruler of the Adriatic and Mediterranean seas, and together with Ancona in Italy provided alternative trade routes to mainland Europe.
What to See in Dubrovnik
Dubrovnik was really built to human scale, allowing its citizens to find enough space for themselves in the community by adhering to the town motto of attending to the common good by forgetting the private good. That is why Dubrovnik appears as a paradigm of town as community that, unlike literary utopian dreams, realized to a great extent the ideal of a kind of urban democracy.
That is shown by its walls and elegant fountains, the Rector’s Palace, the Sponza Palace, Franciscan and Dominican monasteries, the pharmacy from the 14th century, and the bronze statues of “zelenci” (“green men”), which still strike the town clock, symbolizing the passage of time.
Enjoying this beautiful environment and the freedom they had as a result of their diplomatic skill, citizens of the independent and affluent Dubrovnik Republic built such villas during the peak of their prosperity from the 15th through the 17th century.
These houses blend harmoniously in the scenery defined by a gentle shore and the calm water, testifying to the considerate attitude of their builders to the natural environment. When you look at them today, though deserted and quiet, they produce the same effect as the sight of Dubrovnik itself-they speak of the habit of harmony acquired by centuries of existence in the Mediterranean.
That harmony is the result of an attitude of moderation, and characterizes Dubrovnik at every turn. According to Constantine Porphyrogenitus, Byzantine emperor and historian, this town on the rock was built by refugees from the colony of Epidaurum in the 7th century.
It survived numerous sieges and earthquakes, trusting itself to its patron saint St. Vlaho (St. Blaise). All the knowledge of the history and Renaissance culture, of the Baroque churches, of the legislation and the economy of this unique place cannot replace the pleasure of being in it and the pleasure of experiencing its harmony.
1. Fort Lovrijenac
Outside the city wallsthis powerful fortress rises on a steep cliff about 37 metres high. It can be approached from a small beah «u Pilama» climbing the stairs along a path shadowed by pine trees.
The fortress was constructed in the ancient times to protect the western sea access to the City, particularly from the Venetian fleet. The construction began in 1018 and lasted till the 16th century. From the seaside its walls are 4 to 12 metres thick. Above the entrance of this monumental fort there is a carved inscription: «NON BENE PRO TOTO LIBERTAS VENDITUR AURO» (Liberty is more worth than gold). Inside is a chapel of St. Lawrence and a large courtyard with a well-head that serves as a magnificent stage for theatrical performances.
Today, during the Summer Festival some of greatest masterpieces in world’s literature are being performed here and the fort Lovrijenac became world famous stage for Shakespeare’s «Hamlet» and a worth replacement of the Danish castle Helsingor. The fortress is opened for visitors.
2. Pile Gate
Before entering the City take a walk around Pile area where the first promenade outside the city walls was used in the 19th century. It is called Brsalje and goes towards the sea. A coffee shop and a nice fountain done by Croatian sculptor Ivan Rendić are placed there. You will be impressed with a view to the western part of the city walls and the picturesque fort Lovrijenac in front of you. In a small cosy harbour underneath the fortress is a charming suburban settlement. You enter the City by double city gates upon which dominates a stone sculpture of St. Blaise, the City patron saint. The outer gate is placed on a Renaissance semi-circular tower and you can reach it passing over a stone bridge and a wooden drawn-bridge that was drawn every evening in the past.
When passing the inner gate with a Gothic arch and a sculpture of St.Blaise upon it, a work of Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović, you overlook the main street of the City called Stradun.
The simplicity of the main street Placa, called Stradun reflects the harmony of the ancient City of Dubrovnik as its biggest value and beauty. Placa is 298 metres long and the Statute-law from 1272 set the final regulation plan of the City and its main street. Homogenous Baroque architecture of the houses on each side of Placa with shops placed in the ground floor and their interesting «knee-like» entrances got its present day form in the rebuilding of the City after the disastrous earthquake in 1667. Many luxurious Gothic and Renaissance pallaces were destroyed then. The architectural design of Placa is very effective and it also expresses a sense for business of Dubrovnik Republic in those unfavourable times. Its still the best-known shopping centre and a favourite place of all events in the City life.
4. The Large Onophrian Fountain
When entering the City you can start your sightseeing with a large fountain of polygonal shape with 16 stone-carved water openings called «maskeron» for pouring out fresh water. This fountain as well as a small one at the other end of Placa were designed by Onofrio della Cava, an Italian engineer from the Naples. Both fountains were bulit for public use as a memorial of succesfully constructing City’s waterworks in 1438. The spring water was brought to the City from 12 km far Rijeka dubrovačka and it is switched to the modern waterworks system today. The fountain’s cupola was damaged in the earthquake of 1667 and has never been reconstructed in its original decorative form. Today its stairs are a favourable meeting place of the youth. Tourists often rest here refreshing themselves with cold fresh water.
5. St. Claire Nunnery
At the southern side of the large Onophrian fountain is the complex of St. Claire’s nunnery, one of the best known among eight nunneries of those times in Dubrovnik where mostly girls from noble families were ordained. It was built during the 13th and 14th centuries with a lot of attention to ensure virtous life of nuns. During centuries it endured several alterations. In the 13th century it was a shelter for abandoned children and in 1432 the government of the Republic established one of the oldest orphanages there. The house with Latin inscription of accepting the illegitimate kids above its door and a window, can still be seen in the near Zlatarićeva street. Napoleonic forces closed down the nunnery and turned it into an ammunition storehouse and stables. The complex of the nunnery serves manifold purposes and has a nice restaurant.
Dubrovnik is best approached by way of Rijeka Dubrovacka, a long and narrow canyon named after the river running through it. In this picturesque environment, Dubrovnik nobility had luxurious and elegant summer villas. Dubrovnik’s surroundings are attractive too: the romantic Lokrum and the villages of Zupa Dubrovacka, Cavtat, which emerged from the ashes of Epidaurum, and Konavle, with its miniature towns and picturesque folk costumes and customs.
The influence of Dubrovnik is felt all the way down to Prevlaka and Cape Ostro, the southernmost point of mainland Croatia. The whole of that small area was a part of a universe to which “Grad” (the Town) was the metropolis, and which at the same time was a measure for the Town.
One should add that the history of Dubrovnik was also marked by culture, shipping, and trade. Its culture left a mark even on Palagruza, the lonely island in the middle of the Adriatic Sea and the southernmost point of Croatia.
Several tens of kilometres down the coast, at the mouth of the Neretva River, the landscape again changes dramatically. Everything is peaceful and flat; there is no spectacular meeting of mountain and sea, only the monotonous flow of the river in a tranquil delta covered with reed.
The silence of the scene is interrupted by occasional wing flutter of local birds, while shallow trupe gently glide on the water. The Trupe are local boats that have been made for centuries in the river valley, and still are an important part of life there.
There is a very popular island of Korcula some 85 km northwest from the city, and is well worth a visit if time permits.