A jewel with a painful past
The town’s beauty is so breath-taking that the unwitting visitor would be hard pressed to guess how rich and how dramatic are its past. A former Mediterranean power, on a par with Venice in the 13th century, Dubrovnik was practically destroyed in 1667 by an earthquake. In the wake of this disaster, it was entirely rebuilt in the Baroque style.
Several centuries later, after the independence of Croatia, the Yugoslavian army besieged Dubrovnik. Between October 1991 and July 1992, bombs killed a hundred people and severely damaged the town’s historic legacy. Happily, international solidarity rapidly restored its former glory.
Pile Gate, the most impressive gate of the historic town, is the main entrance into the city. Once past the ramparts, the eye is attracted by the dome of Onofrio Fountain, named after its sculptor, which stands in the centre of a small square. Finished in 1438, this emblematic monument is fed by a spring some 12 kilometres away.
On the square, the Church of Our Saviour, the only one to escape destruction during the earthquake in 1667, is the single remaining Renaissance church of Dubrovnik. Look out for its next-door neighbour, the Franciscan Church and admire its superb Gothic-Renaissance doorway crowned by a Pieta.
Placa – magical and unforgettable
Next-door to both churches, the Franciscan monastery is fully worth a visit. The museum bears witness to the legacy of the country’s oldest pharmacy. Founded in 1317, it continues to operate today.
The city’s historic main thoroughfare, Placa, also called Stradun, runs from east to west between the city’s gates. Paved in limestone slabs and lined in beautiful limestone homes, it is a favourite promenade spot with inhabitants and tourists alike. Its incredible architectural unity and understated Baroque style are due to the uniformity of the materials, height and facades imposed by the local authorities after the earthquake.
A two-minute walk away from Placa, War Photo Limited, a photography museum devoted to war in Croatia, depicts the war through the eyes of famous photographers. A testimonial before any aesthetic or ideological considerations, the exhibition area seeks principally to raise the awareness and educate the general public. At the end of Placa, Loggia Square is the site of the former market. In its centre stands the Column of Roland, a knight, who, according to legend, rescued the city from an Arab invasion with his sword Durandal. He remains a local symbol of freedom.
A city of palaces and monasteries
Recognisable by its arcaded gallery, the 16th century Sponza Palace was formerly home to the city’s customs office and minting works. This exceptional edifice, which survived the earthquake in 1667, bears witness to Dalmatian architecture in the early 16th century, a period during which architects elegantly married Flamboyant Gothic with Renaissance styles. The building is now home to the city archives, but its courtyard is open to the public.
Devoted to the city’s patron saint, St Blaise’s Church presents a striking contrast with the sobriety of the Placa. This richly adorned Baroque edifice fronted by an impressive flight of steps is home to a Gothic statue of Saint Blaise covered in gilded silver.
Further on, Gradska Kavana (City Café) is located on the ground-floor of the city theatre. Something of a local institution, the city’s inhabitants congregate on its terrace and happily set the world to rights.
The Rector’s Palace, former seat of the local government, features a surprising mix of everything that has contributed to the city’s history. A defensive fortress in the Middle Ages, it was rebuilt in a refined Gothic style in the 16th century and partially rebuilt again in the Renaissance style after an explosion.
To the southeast of the city lies the Baroque Cathedral of the Assumption built in honour of the Virgin Mary by Richard the Lion Heart. The cathedral treasure, preserved in a small, highly ornate room adorned with a wealth of angels and gilt work, is the highlight of the visit. Visitors can admire reliquaries of Saint Blaise made out of gold, enamel and filigree, undoubtedly the finest pieces of this fabulous collection.
To the northeast the Dominican Monastery rather resembles a fortress such does it blend into the ramparts. Cut off from the busy streets, the cloisters which encase a garden of orange and palm trees, is one of the city’s most magical sites.
A walk along the ramparts – It would be unthinkable to leave Dubrovnik without a tour of its legendary ramparts. The entrance is near Pile Gate. From the high walls dominating the city, admire the round tiled rooftops, steep lanes, churches and countless flights of steps and passageways.
An outing to the islands – Take a daytrip out of Dubrovnik to explore the islands by boat. Walking, swimming and sunbathing in store.