On the coastal south in Croatia, lies Dubrovnik, “the jewel of the Adriatic”. Standing proud and tall, surrounded by massive stone walls, overlooking the azure Adriatic, it provides safe haven to its inhabitants. When the famous playwright Bernard Shaw saw it, he was so awestruck by its beauty he gave it the nickname “the jewel of the Adriatic” and it stuck to the present day.
The Old Town, now a UNESCO World Heritage site is surrounded by a massive medieval wall which runs uninterrupted for 1940 meters,( 6365 feet), encircling the city that is filled with churches, monasteries, mosques, museums, shops and restaurants.
On the Wall of Dubrovnik.
This beautifully preserved iconic stone wall is 4 to 6 meters (13-20 feet) thick, and 25 meters (83 feet) high, with some variations, dating back to 10th century. It is fortified with round towers, quadrilateral forts, bastions and casemates. Its four points are forts: the north is the Minceta Tower, to the east is the Revelin Fortress, to the south where the gate is located is the Bokar fortress, and to the west, detached from the wall and standing guard is the mighty Lovrijenac fortress.
As we entered through the Pile Gate, complete with the draw bridge, to the pedestrian only OLD TOWN, we were immediately transported back a few centuries. We stepped onto the famous Stradun Street, the city’s promenade, where we were greeted by the statue of the city patron, St Blaise, on top of the breathtaking church of St Blaise. Today a band was playing there. We stopped and listened: the music, this amazing Stradun Street which is constructed with limestone, and along its path many churches and basilicas including Sponza Palace and the gothic Rector’s Palace. It’s is the main artery of the old town and it connects to the only other entrance/exit, the sea gate. We were transported back in time. This street was here during Marco Polo’s time.
Dubrovnik came into its own in the 9th century, when it was part of the Byzantine Empire. Two towns, Epidaurum and Ragusium, in the 11th century merged and joined into one and called it Dubrovnik, because of its old strong oak trees. The oak was used for ship building, and the locals were master shipbuilders. Because of its geographical location, its fortified walls, its sheltered harbor and its strong shipbuilding technique it quickly became a world trade centre and its fleet of ships were world class that reaches as far as England and India.
As Dubrovnik grew in strength, it quickly became a major trade centre that did business and trade with Genoa, Pisa and Venice, along the Adriatic Coast, and reached as far as the Black sea and Turkey. Venice grew jealous of Dubrovnik and wanted it for itself.
Venice Republic invaded it from 1205 to 1358. That means that in Marco Polo’s time Dubrovnik was under Venetian rule and as an avid traders and merchants whose business took them all along the Adriatic coast, Turkey and Crimea, Marco’s father Niccolo and his uncle Maffeo would have surly visited and done trade in this major trade centre.
After the Venetian rule, Dubrovnik republic became a diplomatic powerhouse. It prized freedom above all and the sentence engraved on the fortress of Lovrijenac reads: “Liberty cannot be sold for all the gold in the world”. The Republic grew as the centre of art and culture.
When Napoleon forces stood outside its gates in 1806, the republic was forced to abolish. After that it became part of Austro-Hungarian Empire until after World War 1 when it became part of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes until united President Tito united it with communist Yugoslavia.
Today Dubrovnik is in the independent country of Croatia.
Dubrovnik is also known to the Game of Thrones fans as King’s Landing, where many scenes were filmed. We decided to check out a few.
As we navigated its narrow streets we arrived at Gundulic Square where we stopped in front of the famous baroque staircase. We had to have some fun and walked up and down a few times. The stairs are famous because it is where Cersei, the queen in the HBO TV series The Game of Thrones is forced to do “the walk of shame”, naked, as the villagers yell, shame.
Gundulic Square is where the open air market is that features local crafts and is home to the amazing Church of St Ignatius is. As we entered the church we were in awe of the Baroque frescoes, depicting the life of St. Ignatius de Loyola. It was painted by a Sicilian painter Gaetano Garcia, and they were amazing. The church also holds the oldest bell in Dubrovnik dating back to 1355.
As we sat in a gorgeous little restaurant overlooking the harbor and enjoying their daily catch, my sister and I marveled at this ancient city…so much history here.
We came as tourists, but we found another connection to Marco Polo and our own history here. We left as family.