George Bernard Shaw,
the co-founder of the London School of Economics (LSE) once said, “If you want to see heaven on Earth, come to Dubrovnik”
How can we define Dubrovnik? It’s quite difficult. City on the Adriatic Sea, in the region of Dalmatia, Dubrovnik has a population of only 42,615. I knew that it is one of the most prominent tourist destinations in the Mediterranean, but I didn’t think that I would be so amazed. In this article, I want to merely draw a sketch of Dubrovnik. I don’t pretend that this article is going to be exhaustive. My aim is to reflect the inspiring diversity of the city, inviting the reader on an informed voyage of discovery on the tide of the insatiable curiosity that the city’s myriad faces never fail to inspire.
Dubrovnik joined the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites in 1979, with its prosperity based on maritime trade. As Republic of Ragusa, the city achieved a high level of development during the 15th and 16th century. The city managed to survive many centuries, despite having its territory constantly threatened, particularly from the mighty Ottoman Empire and Venice. As early as the 19th century, it was discovered by celebrities as a place to be seen - royalty, presidents and diplomats have all favored the city. The late Pope John Paul II was a fan of Dubrovnik and was even made an honorary citizen. Not surprisingly, Dubrovnik is among the 10 best preserved medieval walled cities in the world, even if it has suffered because of the 1991 war with Yugoslavia. Dubrovnik was besieged by the Serb and Montenegrin soldiers gathered by the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) for seven months, and suffered significant damage from shelling. But, the city has overcome these troubling times and has put them in the past.
I arrived in Dubrovnik from Split during a warm afternoon. We took the taxi towards the Old Town, the price is 100 kuna, the same price for all the taxies. The Old city is crowded, very crowded, maybe too crowded. It was like Prague’s Charles Bridge or the city of Venezia. But it is outstanding. And yet, there was something that bothered me. What was it? It’s a small city and I found the Old Town charming, everyone in the world should have the opportunity to visit this stunning architecture and sculptural detail of the boats, churches, monasteries, museums and fountains! But, Dubrovnik is also the reflection of a city whose own inhabitants escaped from it. In the Old Town, you can only find tourists. I can’t complain, since I’m a tourist myself, but, the contrast bothers me a little. It has become a museum-city, and it is not an actual city full of life and warmth anymore. I wanted to point that out, because if you want to visit a very authentic and pleasant city, I advise you to go and visit Lisbon, Ljubljana or Amsterdam.
Having said that, Dubrovnik was a mighty experience during the weekend I spent there. The Old Town is so lovely and I advise you to avoid the wide avenue, filled with tourists. Either you come here very early in the morning, or instead, get lost and venture into the small alleys and play hide-and-seek, it’s so much fun! It’s not a big place, you won’t be lost for long, I assure you. Like the guide of Dubrovnik said, it’s interesting to visit the Franciscan monastery and the famous pharmacy which has been in function since 1317. Also, take a look at inspirational artwork of Dubrovnik's Art School from the 15th and 16th centuries, as well as Tizian's painting in the Dominican monastery. Or, you might want to visit the Cathedral and see many wonderful relics, dating from the 11th to the 19th century, made of gold and silver by Dubrovnik's artists and goldsmiths. Eventually, take a peek at the Rector's Palace and experience the historical milieu of Dubrovnik's Republic government that glorified freedom.
Also, in the Old Town, you should walk along the top of the city walls for a stunning view of the city. There is an entry charge, 12 Euros for an adult. But I think it’s worthwhile, especially early in the morning or during the sunset. The walls are open daily, year round, at varying times. I also recommend entering the Ploč Glate, you will get at the hilly part and you will have the best view of the Old Town. If you want to take a break and eat, you can go just outside of the Place Glate and find a baker and taste some of the Croatian sweet pastries. Another place with an amazing view is the top of Mount Srd, overlooking the Old Town. You can ride a Gondola to the very top for a panorama of the Old Town and the surrounding islands, as far as the eye can see.
Like Bender explains in his blog, during the Siege of Dubrovnik in 1991, the Mount Srd was the base from where the JNA shelled the city. So, you will find a memorial for the Croatian War of Independence on the hill. It was sobering to sit in the shadow of history, quite literally, and to contemplate what humans are capable of; both amazing and horrific. Eventually, other great places to visit are the nearby islands. There are so many islands, and they are all beautiful. The guide of Dubrovnik explains that there is an island of love, only a 10-minute boat ride from the Old City; where the rich history, legends and tales, combined with the magic of the sea and nature will renew old loves and bring new ones.
I couldn’t speak about Dubrovnik without mentioning Game of Thrones and Kings Landing, one of the world’s most popular TV series. So, if you like the series, do as I did - enjoy a walking tour. But, be careful and book this in advance, to avoid some disappointment. Here you can find more information about the thematic walking tour.
afternoon, if the warmth is too much for you, do like we did, go to the beach
and swim. At this hour, I didn't see a better option. Be careful, there is no a
big place to swim, and the small beach belongs to a club. So, if there are too
many people, just go near the club, on the smooth rocks and jump into the
sea. It’s incredibly refreshing. Like in the
picture, you can have a look at the Old Town right from the beach. Lovely.
The next picture shows the Old Town from my apartment. I hoped that my dinner would never end and that my breakfast would start as early as possible. How can you get tired of such an amazing view? To go to our apartment, we had to go through paths and stairs, which was very charming. Our house was made with roofs typical of the city of Toulouse, in France. (Dubrovnik has recovered some roofs from the city of Toulouse in order to renew some parts of the city).
So, to sum up, Dubrovnik is astonishing, but the split between the Old Town, filled of tourists and the local population from the surrounding areas bothered me a little. The price they paid for success! If you just feel like relaxing, Dubrovnik is one of the most beautiful and romantic cities in the world. I’m so proud that the city belongs to our European continent. Yes, we have a town full of charm in the European Union.
10 things to do in Dubrovnik:
1) Visit the Old Town
2) Walk along The Dubrovnik Old City Walls
3) Enjoy a Game of Thrones Tour
4) Swim near the Old Town and admire it from the beach
5) Go to a nearby Island – Lokrum
6) Enjoy the restaurants, bars and coffee-shops
7) Get lost on the back streets in the Old Town
8) Go to Mount Srd
9) Learn about the history of Dubrovnik
10) Buy a souvenir!