The One with Dubrovnik, Croatia

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Picking back up where I left off with our Croatian Vacation recap, after Mostar we drove a couple hours to Dubrovnik, Croatia. As I seem to be saying a lot this trip, the drive was LOVELY. Picture perfect. Gorgeous. Amazing. Stellar. Unbelievable.
It started to get dark as we were pulling in to our apartment but I was able to snap a few photos of the coastal towns and the outskirts of Dubrovnik.
We stayed in Ivica's Dubrovnik apartment that I found on airbnb. 
Only $96 for one night for 3 bedrooms, free internet, super close to Old Town, kitchen, bathroom with bathtub, and much more. When we asked if we could do laundry they even went and bought us some detergent! A++! I love airbnb :)
In the morning as the guys were loading up the car I ran around and took some pictures of the neighborhood. I love how people hang their clothes out to dry. We couldn't do this in Germany, it rains too much!
Pretty flowers.
The neighbor's yard. / Hanging our clothes out to dry. / The balcony of our apartment. / Sunbathing cats.
Time for a Dubrovnik history lesson: Dubrovnik is a living fairy tale that shouldn't be missed. It was a major maritime power with the third-biggest navy in the Mediterranean. Still jutting confidently into the sea and ringed by thick medieval walls, Dubrovnik deserves its nickname: the Pearl of the Adriatic. Within the ramparts the traffic-free Old Town is a fun jumble of quiet, cobbled back lanes; low-impact museums; narrow, steep alleys; and kid-friendly squares. After all these centuries the buildings still hint at old-time wealth and the central promenade (Stradun) remains the place to see and be seen! Rick Steves says if he had to pick just one place to visit in Croatia, this would be it. Mine would be a tie between here, Plitvice Lakes, and Korčula. Ha :) 
Busy merchants, the salt trade, and shipbuilding made Dubrovnik rich. But the city's most valued commodity was always its freedom - even today you'll see the proud motto Libertas displayed all over town. Liberty has always been close to the heart of Dubrovnik citizens. It was a proudly independent republic for centuries, even as most of Croatia became Venetian and then Hungarian. Dubrovnik so strongly believed in libertas that it was the first foreign state to officially recognize an upstart, experimental republic called the United States of America - ever heard of it? :) 
In the Middle Ages the city-state of Dubrovnik (then called Ragusa) bought its independence from whichever power was strongest - Byzantium, Venice, Hungary, the Ottomans - sometimes paying off more than one at a time. Dubrovnik flourished in the 15th and 16th centuries, but an earthquake destroyed nearly everything in 1667. Most of today's buildings in the Old Town are post-quake Baroque, although a few palaces, monasteries, and convents displaying a rich Gothic-Renaissance mix survive from Dubrovnik's earlier Golden Age. Dubrovnik remained a big tourist draw through the Tito years, bringing in much-needed currency from Western visitors. Consequently, the city never acquired the hard socialist patina of other Yugoslav cities. As Croatia violently separated from Yugoslavia in 1991, Dubrovnik became the only coastal city to be pulled into the fighting. Though the war killed tourism in the 1990s, today the crowds are bigger than ever - even exceeding pre-war levels. There's an overwhelming midday crash of multinational tourists who converge on the Old Town when their cruise ships dock. These days the city's economy is based almost entirely on tourism and most locals have moved to the suburbs so they can rent their Old Town apartments to travelers. The town is one of those places that you never want to leave. The real attraction here is the Old Town and its relaxing, breezy ambiance. 
We found a parking garage at the top of Dubrovnik and started walking to the walled city. We looked up and could see Mt Srđ (pronounced Surge) topped with a fortress.
Chris' dad always says, "If you look up and can see palm trees and blue skies, life ain't so bad." True that! | More clothes drying.
We walked right past the Minčeta Tower. 
There was a looooooooooong staircase to get down the hill to the entrance into Old Town. Chris and Jay lugged it all the way down, strong boys.
A part of the wall that surrounds the city.
 I have been to many-a-city with partial bits and pieces of walls, but never a town with a completed wall around the entire city. This makes Dubrovnik super unique to me and thus I give this city a 10 out of 10. There's more to this city of course, but this is the most awesome part.

Our walk began in front of the west entrance to the Old Town, the Pile (PEE-leh) Gate. We walked to the edge and could see the Bokar Fortress on the left and the Fort of St. Lawrence across the cove on the right. 
The bustling Pile neighborhood is the nerve center of Dubrovnik's tourist industry - it's where the real world meets the fantasy of Dubrovnik. 
There were little street vendors and of course Fox wanted to buy everything :)
We crossed over the moat, paused to take some pictures, then continued to the...
Pile Gate. Right up above the entrance is an image of St. Blaise cradling Dubrovnik in his arm. We saw a lot of these here - details about why later.
Inside the outer wall of the Pile Gate.
The map on the right shows where each and every bomb dropped on the Old Town during the siege. Once inside town there was virtually no signs of the war - demonstrating the townspeople's impressive resilience in rebuilding so well and so quickly.
Real cannon balls and pieces of buildings. | St. Savior and Franciscan Monastery Museum.
In the Middle Ages, Dubrovnik's monasteries flourished. We didn't go inside, I don't know why... Next time!
We stepped inside the Church of St. Savior. Appreciative locals built this votive church to thank God after Dubrovnik made it through a 1520 earthquake. When the massive 1667 earthquake destroyed the city, this church was one of the only buildings left intact if you can believe it. And during the recent war the church survived another close call when a shell exploded on the ground right in front of it.
The tower of the Franciscan Monastery Museum. | View through one of the narrow alleys looking up to Mt. Srđ. 
Onofrio's Big Fountain.
  In the Middle Ages, Dubrovnik had a complicated aqueduct system that brought water from the mountains seven miles away. The water ended up here at the town's biggest fountain before continuing through the city. This plentiful supply of water, large reserves of salt, and a massive granary, made little, independent Dubrovnik very siege-resistant.
Dubrovnik's main promenade - officially called the Placa but better known as the Stradun - is alive with locals and tourists alike. This is the heartbeat of the city: an Old World shopping mall by day and sprawling party after dark. Honestly it reminded me of Disneyland!
When Dubrovnik was just getting its start in the seventh century this street was a canal! Romans fleeing from the invading Slavs lived on the island of Ragusa and the Slavs settled on the shore. In the 11th century the canal separating Ragusa from the mainland was filled in, the towns merged, and a unique Slavic-Roman culture and language blossomed. While originally much more higgledy-piggledy, this street was rebuilt in the current, more straightforward style after the big earthquake in 1667.
As we were walking down the Stradun I saw these colorful parrots and of course wanted to snap a picture.
Next thing I knew the guy was putting ALL FOUR of them ON ME!! I've had birds (RIP Jadis and all my finches) but this was something else! Ha! Jay took a bunch of pictures of me getting "birded":
Then Haylie got "birded!" And yes, we gave the guy some money as, errr, thanks? :)
We stopped for some "ice creen"!
Me and Jane, eating our sweets.
Looking back down the Stradun.
At the other end of the Stradun is the lively Luža Square.
The centerpiece of Luža Square is Orlando's Column. 
Columns like this were typical of towns in northern Germany. Dubrovnik erected the column in 1417 soon after it had shifted allegiances from the oppressive Venetians to the Hungarians. By putting a northern European symbol in the middle of its most prominent square, Dubrovnik decisively distanced itself from Venice. Whenever a decision was made by the Republic the town crier came to Orlando's Column and announced the news. The step he stood on indicated the importance of his message - the higher up, the more important the news. It was also used as the pillory where people were publicly punished. And the thin line on the top step in front of Orlando is exactly as long as the statue's forearm - this mark was Dubrovnik's standard measurement.
In front of Orlando is the Sponza Palace.
This building, from 1522, is the finest surviving example of Dubrovnik's Golden Age in the 15th and 16th centuries. It's a combination of Renaissance (ground-floor arches) and Venetian Gothic (upstairs windows). Houses up and down the main promenade used to look like this, but after the earthquake they were replaced with uniform buildings. This used to be the customs office but now it's an archive of the city's history with temporary art exhibits and a war memorial. 
To the right of the Sponza Palace is the town's bell tower. 
The original dated from 1444 but it was rebuilt when it started to lean in the 1920s. The big clock may be an octopus, but only one of its hands tells time. Below that the golden circle shows the phase of the moon. At the bottom the old-fashioned digital readout tells the hour (in Roman numerals) and the minutes (in five-minute increments). At the top of each hour (and again three minutes later) the time is clanged out on the bell up top by two bronze bell-ringers: Maro and Baro. The clock still has to be wound up every two days.
Next to the bell tower is the City Hall and Rector's Palace. In the Middle Ages the Republic of Dubrovnik was ruled by a rector (similar to a Venetian doge) who was elected by the nobility. To prevent any one person from becoming too powerful the rector's term was limited to one month. Most rectors were in their 50s - near the end of an average lifespan and when they were less likely to shake things up. During his term a rector lived upstairs in this palace. 
We stepped inside the courtyard which is a venue for the Summer Festival, hosting music groups ranging from the local symphony to the Vienna Boys' Choir. 

Apple break! | Chris and the kids playing on Onofrio's Little Fountain - the little brother of the one at the other end of the Stradun.
When Fox climbs, Jane tries to climb too. | Statue of Marin Držić (considered the finest Croatian Renaissance playwright and prose writer) who apparently has a lucky nose cuz it's been rubbed raw.
Behind the statue of Orlando is St. Blaise's Church dedicated to the patron saint of Dubrovnik.
There are statues and paintings of St. Blaise all over town, always holding a model of the city in his left hand. According to legend, a millenium ago St. Blaise came to a local priest in a dream and warned him that the up-and-coming Venetians would soon attack the city. The priest alerted the authorities who prepared for war. The prediction came true. St. Blaise has been a Dubrovnik symbol - and locals have resented Venice - ever since.
Looking straight up as we entered St. Blaise.
Inside St. Blaise. | Stained glass.
Behind St. Blaise and down a little bit is the Cathedral.
Dubrovnik's original 12th-century cathedral was funded largely by the English King Richard the Lionhearted. On his way back from the Third Crusade Richard was shipwrecked nearby. He promised God that if he survived he'd built a church on the spot where he landed - which happened to be on Lokrum Island, just offshore. At Dubrovnik's request, Richard agreed to build his token of thanks inside the city instead. It was the finest Romanesque church on the Adriatic... before it was destroyed in that blasted 1667 earthquake. This version is 18th-century Roman Baroque.
Inside is a painting from Titian, a treasure with three locks on it (the stuff inside was so valuable three different VIPS: the rector, the bishop, and a local aristocrat, had to agree before it could be opened), and several of St. Blaise's body parts...
Looking down the street to Luža Square from the steps of the Cathedral.
While Jaylie looked for a bathroom, we exited out the East part of the walls to the Old Port, stopping to listen to some singers.
View of Dubrovnik (outside of the walls) from the port.
Lots and lots of boats, red-roofed houses, and people!
Jane sitting on a cannon. | Fox had so much fun finding fish in the water. They were easy to find because the water is clean and clear!
Then we ascended to the town walls - Dubrovnik's best attraction! It's a scenic mile-and-a-quarter walk around the city with a sea of red roofs on one side and the actual sea on the other. There have been walls here almost as long as there's been a Dubrovnik. As with virtually all fortifications on the Croatian Coast, these walls were beefed up in the 15th century when the Ottoman navy became a threat.
We took Rick Steves' advice and entered by the Ploče Gate and Dominican Monastery. This entrance is least crowded and goes up the steepest part first.
It was hot, but there was a breeze, it wasn't too crowded, and all-in-all, the walk around the wall was one of the most memorable activities of my life :) Rick Steves warns: The walls can get deliriously hot - all that white stone and seawater reflect blazing sunshine something fierce and there's little to no shade. It's essential to bring sunscreen, a hat, and water. Take your time: there are several steep stretches and you'll be climbing up and down the whole way around. Around the perimeter are several substantial forts with rounded walls so that cannon-balls would glance off harmlessly.
Snapshots from our walk around the wall. So so so so so so cool.
If Chris' eyes were open this could totally be our Christmas card this year :)
We reached the Minčeta Tower that we saw as we were walking in and climbed to the top...
... for this spectacular view!
What I loved most about the walk was seeing how people lived, rooftop gardens and terraces, sections of town that haven't been rebuilt yet from the 1667 earthquake, basketball courts, people hanging their laundry out to dry in the sun, etc. I got a peek into the humble lives of Dubrovnik's.
We paused to enjoy the full frontal view of the Stradun.
Looking back towards Mt. Srđ and the section of the wall we'd already walked. You can only go counterclockwise and if you exit you can't get back in unless you buy a ticket. We were all in for the full loop!
At the very front of the wall overlooking the sea there are houses (imagine living there with a panoramic view of the sea!) and a cat was taking a sun bath in one of the windows. 
Looking out to the bay we saw lots of boats and kayakers.
We took our time strolling along the front most part of the wall, feeling the cool breeze and taking lots of pictures.
Across the little cove we could see the Fort of St. Lawrence which worked in concert with these stout walls to make Dubrovnik impenetrable. 
Evans family in Dubrovnik, Croatia on Monday May 5th, 2014.
We peeked over the side of the wall to see people lounging out on the rocks. Nice place for a suntan!
That concluded our wall walk! We were starving so we found a little pizza place behind St. Blaise's Church for a late lunch.
My pizza was phenomenal!
That was the end of our adventures in the Old Town! While I wanted to take the cable car up to Mt. Srđ I got out-voted and instead we drove on super scary, thin, tiny, not-made-for-cars roads up to the top. We got to see Dubrovnik from a bird's-eye view and it was spectacular.  
After adding Dubrovnik to his holdings, Napoleon built a fortress atop the hill behind the Old Town to watch over his new subjects in 1810. During the city's 20th-century tourism heyday a cable car was built to effortlessly whisk visitors to the top so they could enjoy the fine views from the fortress and the giant cross nearby. When war broke out in the 1990s Mount Srđ became a crucial link in the defense of Dubrovnik - the only high land that locals were able to hold off. The fortress was shelled and damaged and the cross and cable car were destroyed. Minefields and unexploded ordnance left the hilltop a dangerous no-man's land. But more recently, the mountain's fortunes have reversed. The landmines have been removed and in 2010 the cable car was rebuilt to once again connect Dubrovnik's Old Town to its mountaintop. Here you can see the wall surrounding the entire city. Unbelievable!
The cross was always an important symbol in this very Catholic town. After it was destroyed a temporary wooden one was erected to encourage the townspeople who were waiting out the siege below.
Looking east into Bosnia-Herzegovina.
A different angle from up top - looking out to the Dalmatian islands - the Elaphite archipelago, Mljet, Korčula, and beyond. After a quick stop up here we headed back down and...
...onto our next adventure in KOTOR, MONTENEGRO!


  1. Yep, Dubrovnik deserves to be as popular as it is. That place is pretty awesome.

  2. Looks like an amazing trip!!! Betcha the palm trees and blue skies reminded you of being back in Cali! :)

  3. Beautiful pictures! Love all those red roof buildings!

  4. Okay, I never thought I would want to go to Croatia before but all these posts are changing my mind! This place is absolutely stunning! And that water!! I just want to go kayaking now! :)

  5. The cathedrals are always so amazing,and I love the amazing architecture of the buildings!!


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