Our first stop on our cruise down the Adriatic Coast was in Dubrovnik in Croatia. The old centre of Dubrovnik is a gem of a place as it is completely surrounded by its medieval walls, vital defence measures in a long history of a region that was almost continually at war. If the Venetians weren’t attempting to control Dubrovnik, the Ottoman empire was keen to take over this area of the Adriatic. During the Napoleonic years, the French took over the city, only to be replaced by the Austrian Empire after 1815. During the Middle Ages, if it wasn’t just foreign enemies attempting to control the future of Dubrovnik, it was the earthquake of 1667 that caused great devastation to this coastal trading city. If its centuries of conflict since Roman times seems unrelenting, Dubrovnik’s 20th century was particularly arduous due to the almost continuous wars to control this region that sits above Greece. This area of modern Croatia had to survive the devastating impact of World War 1 & 2 followed by the conflict that continued with the formation of modern Yugoslavia and its break up in 1991. Croatia declared its independence at that time but still had to suffer the bombing of Dubrovnik by Serbian forces.  Despite all this turmoil, Dubrovnik has been attracting tourist visitors, whenever there was an outbreak of peace, from the mid 19th century.

The images at the top of this article were taken as we approached the old walled town of Dubrovnik. The timeline of our visit was to anchor off-shore from the city’s picturesque small harbour and we were ferried ashore by the ship’s boats for a tour of the city and a bus ride up the mountain above the city for the grand view of Dubrovnik and its surrounding coastline. Below there is a map of the town and a general outline of our walking and bus tour.

We were gathered in groups to tour Dubrovnik and in order to reach our bus for our trip up the mountain, we had to walk down the main street of the town towards the main gate on the other side of town. We started our walk by passing through the harbour gate and immediately found ourselves in a very significant square of Dubrovnik. On the right was the 16th century Sponza Palace which today is the home of the Dubrovniks State archives (left image below). In front of us was a monument called Orlando’s Column erected in 1418. It features an armoured knight who helped defend Dubrovnik from invaders in the Middle Ages. It stands in front of the Church of St Blaise who is the patron saint of the town. This church was built in 1715 replacing a previous, badly damaged church on the site. We didn’t have the opportunity to enter this church but it is apparently one of Dubrovnik’s major sights (right, below).

Our tour map above shows that it is a fairly straight forward walk through the town (the Placa) until we got to a busy area just before we passed through the Pile Gate. On the right is a large complex of buildings, the Franciscan Friary and church, belonging to the Order of the Friars Minor. It was built here in 1317, less than a century after the death of St Francis. Next door is another church, St Saviour’s, which was built in 1528, erected as a sign of gratitude after the 1520 earthquake which had damaged so many other buildings in this walled town. Right in front of this church is one of Dubrovnik’s most famous landmarks, the Onofrio fountain, which receives water from 12 Km away and was constructed in 1438.  On its circular wall are carved masks from which the drinkable water flows. Not all these masks have survived the centuries as this fountain suffered in the 1667 earthquake that afflicted this coastline.

From this busy square, we were able to pass through the town’s main gate. It was built in the 15th century and originally had a wooden draw bridge which could be raised at night to ensure unwelcome visitors  couldn’t enter after dark. On the outside of the main gate is a statue of St Blaise embedded over the top of the gate. Outside the gate was the area where we were collected by the buses and taken up Mount Srd which rises 412 metres above the town. If we ever return to Dubrovnik in later years, we will catch the cable car up this mountain.

The image below is the photo I took from up on the mountain road overlooking Dubrovnik. It clearly shows the walls of the town and the surrounding waterways and the mountainous region that is the background to the city. The main topic that our bus guide discussed with us on the mountain overlooking the town was the 1991 Siege of Dubrovnik, the period when the post World War 2 state of Yugoslavia, was breaking apart. Croatia had declared its independence and the Yugoslav People’s Army was attacking the city as well as blockading Dubrovnik from the sea. The bombarding of this UNESCO World Heritage site was a diplomatic disaster for Serbia and Montenego and resulted in their diplomatic and economic isolation. Approximately 88 Croatian civilians died in the shelling of the city and significant damage was done to the houses below. There were still signs in the back streets of Dubrovnik as we walked around it later in the morning indicating the damage from the 1991 shelling .

After our bus ride up the mountain, we were delivered back to the main gate of Dubrovnik and we were given enough time to choose a walk around the Dubrovnik as long as we got back to the harbour in time to catch the boats back out to the ship. We decided we would try and make our way around some of the walls of the city. From the main gate, we were able to climb up on the walls and walk to the first corner of the walled city and get the glorious view from the corner tower (Fort Bokar) over to the 11th century Fort Lovrijenac (below left). It was built on large rocks jutting out from the coastline just over an inlet from the city walls and was apparently built in three months as a defence against the Venetians who were trying to take over Dubrovnik at that time.

Whilst we weren’t able to complete the full walk of the Dubrovnik’s walls in the time available, we were certainly able to have a good look at this picturesque town from its walls. We were also able to make our way back to the area near the harbour and have a quick visit to the Assumption Cathedral. Again this church was built over the site of at least three previous churches. There is a story that the famous English King Richard the Lionheart contributed finances to the building of this church in thanks for having survived a shipwreck not far from the city on his way back from the Third Crusade. Like the rest of Dubrovnik, this Cathedral didn’t successfully survive the 1667 earthquake and was rebuilt and finished by 1713. Churches don’t like earthquakes and again it was damaged in the 1979 earthquake that affected this area of the Adriatic.

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