The Spirit of Dubrovnik, Croatia

by Peter Cargill

Red rooftops of Dubrovnik, Croatia
Red rooftops of Dubrovnik, Croatia

We visited Yugoslavia in 1990. I don’t know if it was something we said, but an almighty war broke out just shortly after, and parts of what was a delightful country were razed to the ground.

No more so than in Dubrovnik. Located in the southernmost point of the Republic of Croatia, Dubrovnik has had a turbulent history culminating in the war for Croatian independence. Located on a sliver of land next to Bosnia and Serbia, it took a severe pounding during the siege of several months. Death and destruction were as severe as at any time in its long history.

But the phoenix could have been cloned here, for out of the ashes within the medieval wall came a spirit and commitment of its people to restore the town.  As a result, Dubrovnik is recognised by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage site.

Aboard a Mediterranean cruise years later, I found myself on a short bus trip that took us to the walled perimeter. On this glorious day, the marble buildings with their distinctive red rooftops contrasted with picture-postcard intensity with the blue of the Adriatic Sea.

Entrance is by the ancient Pile Gate which leads on to the Stradun, the main pedestrian thoroughfare with no traffic anywhere in sight. What bliss!

If you have an hour to spare, the must-do here is a walk round the ramparts.  A nominal fee takes you up the steps and within seconds you are taking in breathtaking views, not only of the surrounding countryside and sea, but over the top of Dubrovnik itself.

It’s a mile and a half all the way round with various viewing platforms en route, although the entire wall can be considered a vantage point. Here’s a tip if anyone is going there soon – don’t join the queues to get up the steps at the entrance. There are other access points around the city where very few people take advantage.

There is so much to see around the city. Seeing the Best of Dubrovnik includes a visit to The Franciscan Monastery (one of the most inspiring sites in Dubrovnik), with a 14th-century pharmacy inside the building containing displays of old apothecary jars, medical books and works of gold and embroidery. It’s considered the oldest working pharmacy in Europe.

Charming little lanes peel off from the main Stradun, uncovering all sorts of ancient delights — various churches, museums, cafes and shops. The 15th-century Rector’s Palace was once the seat of government during its independent republican era. And the main cathedral has an impressive treasury of opulent gold and silver artifacts.

Music resonates all round. Chamber orchestras (both young and old) and a bit of jazz compete in the square outside the palace for your attention.  Dubrovnik was certainly a highlight of this Europe cruise!