“Those who seek paradise on earth should come to Dubrovnik and find it.” George Bernard Shaw
When I think of taking a Mediterranean cruise, there are a lot of images that pop into my mind, and I have to admit, until relatively recently Croatia was not one of them. But as we sailed into the port, it was clear to me that Dubrovnik, a beautifully preserved medieval walled city, is every bit as enchanting as some of the more famous tourist destinations along the Adriatic Sea.
Our arrival was greeted by the very photogenic Franjo Tudman Bridge, which is named after the first President of Croatia. Construction on the bridge was halted during the Croatian War of Independence, and the bridge was finally finished and officially opened on May 21, 2002. Against the backdrop of the crystal blue waters, Dubrovnik was already winning me over.
The Old Town was just a short distance from the pier, and I could’ve easily taken a bus or taxi. But having eaten well thus far on my cruise (as I always do on Oceania Cruises!), I figured I could use a walk, and this one was not strenuous by any means. And of course the views were lovely.
As early as the 19th century, Dubrovnik has been a popular tourist destination, and 13 of the 23 top luxury hotels in Croatia are located in Dubrovnik. As I walked toward the Old Town, I passed the beautiful Hotel Grand Imperial. Along the way, evidence of the history of this town and its celebration of art and culture started to appear in the statues and fountains, as in this Pan and Nymph statue in a quaint little park outside of the Old town.
It is easy to see why Dubrovnik was named by CNNGo as one of the 10 best medieval walled cities in the world. The preservation of this ancient city is nothing short of miraculous given all it has endured over the centuries. In 1667, there was a severe earthquake that leveled much of the city, and although severely damaged, most of its Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque churches, monasteries, palaces and fountains were preserved.
Before making my way to the Old Town, I took in the wonderful views of the Adriatic Sea and the harbor from a lovely café overlooking it all.
Eager to explore further, I continued on to Pile Gate, the main entrance to the Old Town, which was built in 1537 to protect the city from invaders. Every evening they would raise the wooden draw bridge, lock the gate and, in an elaborate ceremony, turn over the key to the Prince.
Guarding the entrance of Pile Gate is this statue of Saint Blaise, the patron saint of Dubrovnik. Saint Blaise is said to have appeared in a vision in 971 to warn inhabitants of an imminent attack by the Venetians.
As I passed through the gate, I was transported to a different time. After the Siege of Dubrovnik a mere twenty years ago, Dubrovnik immediately began rebuilding and took meticulous care to retain as much of its original charm as possible. It is truly remarkable how much care has been taken to preserve this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Stradun, the main street through the Old Town, is where the action is. A little less than a quarter of a mile, this limestone-paved pedestrian street has been the main thoroughfare of this city since the 13th century. As I wandered in and out of the little shops and enjoyed the architecture and views, I couldn’t help but wonder what was happening on this street 600 years ago.
At the end of the Stradun on the east side is the famous bell tower attached to a Franciscan monastery, an enduring symbol of Dubrovnik’s resilience through the centuries. Having survived earthquakes and wars since 1444, the town began to fear the bell tower’s collapse and rebuilt it to its original specifications in 1929. The bell is the only remaining original part of the tower. If you look closely at the bell tower in a few of the photos, you may see a silhouette of a man. There are two bronze figures with hammers poised to hit the bell. Because bronze turns green with time, they are affectionately called the “Dubrovnik Greens.”
As I continued to wander, I came upon a lovely harbor, and just beyond that I found an opening in the city walls that led to a café perched on a cliff. I decided to stop for some refreshment and free entertainment from the cliff divers that were making excellent use of this beautiful day!
I particularly enjoyed seeing the Old Town from the top of its walls, built mostly in the 14th and 15th centuries. Originally constructed to protect the vulnerable city, more than a mile of walls encircle the Old Town, and the views are spectacular.
Dubrovnik is famous for its coral-colored clay rooftops, and from the walls I was able to see further evidence of the shelling of Dubrovnik during the war. While there is little visible damage, you can easily distinguish the newly replaced tiles from the old, and the patchwork of colors serves as an unintended monument to this difficult period of Dubrovnik’s recent history.
I had a wonderful day soaking in the history and the culture of this extraordinary city, so well preserved in the face of great adversity. It is easy to see why Dubrovnik has been coined the “Pearl of the Adriatic.”
A special thank you goes out to Vanessa Cordo of Oceania Cruises. Several of these photos are ones she shared with me after her visit to Dubrovnik.