Dubrovnik: The Pearl of the Adriatic

This was what we had been waiting for since the last 13 days in Croatia. This was one of the primary reasons behind the choice of Croatia for our second international vacation. A city that evokes its medieval past like no other. A city, whose every street, every building, every nook and every cranny is steeped in history. A city so beautiful that it was accorded that epithet ‘The pearl of the Adriatic.’ The famous, magical, walled city of Dubrovnik.

ONE FINAL STOP

Dubrovnik was our last stop in Croatia and we were glad about that because the best should always be kept for the end. The ferry from Hvar Town got us to Dubrovnik port in approximately 3.5 hours and from there we took a cab to our apartment. Due to budget constraints and our requirements, we had chosen an apartment slightly away (15 min walk) from the historic centre of Dubrovnik. When we reached it we found that Apartment Bonaca was one of the best stays of our trip. It was large, clean, well-furnished and the best part, had a nice view of the sea.

Apartment Bonaca

We were towards the end of our trip and we still had to buy some gifts and souvenirs for our family so we went shopping in the afternoon.

THE CABLE CAR   

Behind the walled city of Dubrovnik stands a 400-m high hill known as Mt. Srd on the top of which Napoleon built a fortress in 1810. The fortress now houses a museum but it is not the reason why millions of tourists strive to get to the top of this hill every year. That reason is the utterly magnificent views of the hilly interior, the historical town, the glittering sea and the nearby islands from the hill.

Mt. Srd seen form the city walls

In the mid 20th century, the city officials must have realized the tourism potential of Mt. Srd so in 1969 they built a cable car to the top. It was destroyed in the Croatian War of Independence in 1991 but rebuilt in 2010 and today, taking the cable car to the top of the hill is one of the most popular activities in Dubrovnik.

After finishing our shopping we reached the lower station of the cable car by 5 p.m. and joined the queue which was far longer than we had expected. During the long wait, we checked the price of an Uber cab to the top and realized that it would have been much cheaper (for 4 people) and a lot quicker had we taken a cab to the top. Although we wouldn’t go so far as to call the cable car a tourist trap, there are certainly better alternatives to the top of the hill. Anyways, now that we had purchased our tickets, there was nothing to be done except to wait for our turn. Finally, our turn came and we got packed into the car with around 25 other people. The experience of watching the town become smaller and smaller as our car ascended was fantastic.  

The views from the terraces of the upper station were postcard-perfect but finding good spots to photograph those views among the crowd was a big challenge. We stayed up on the hill for just over an hour watching the glorious sunset followed by the wonderful sight of the city lighting up as the darkness set in.

The hilly interior
Walled city of Dubrovnik and Lokrum Island
A glorious sunset
The city lights up
View of the walled city from the cable car
The walls of Dubrovnik

After coming down we just walked around the town for some time and then made our way back to the apartment.

WALKING THE WALLS  

By the 12th century, Dubrovnik was surrounded by a fortification system but this system was revamped in the 14th and 15th centuries by addition of fortresses, towers and bastions, and further strengthened till the 17th century. Three forts – Minceta, Bokar and St. John – were constructed at three corners of the walls while two other forts lying just outside the walls – Revelin on the eastern side and Lovrijenac on the western side – completed the daunting defensive system. The entry to the medieval walled city was only through two gates both of which were accessed through stone bridges built over the moat that surrounded the walls. Pile Gate, on the western side of the city, was the impressive main entrance that consisted of an outer gate, a courtyard and an inner gate. Ploce Gate, the eastern entrance to the city, also consisted of inner and outer portals. Dubrovnik’s fortifications were so effective that the city was never breached until it submitted to Napoleon in 1806.

Dubrovnik’s fortifications. Forts clockwise from bottom left – Revelin, St. John, Bokar, Minceta. Fort Lovrijenac is on the right on the top of a rock.
Courtyard leading to the inner portal of Pile Gate
Bridge leading to the inner portal of Ploce Gate
Bridge connecting Revelin Fort to the inner portal of Ploce Gate

In all honesty, if Dubrovnik did not have its walls then it would have been just another medieval city on the Mediterranean coast; a beautiful city undoubtedly but not very distinct from many others like it. It is those monumental, perfectly-preserved walls that give the city its unique character. The biggest reason why thousands of tourists set foot in Dubrovnik every day is to make a circuit of those 2 km long walls that encircle the city. In fact, the activity of walking the walls has become so famous that it has almost acquired the status of a pilgrimage.

We had chosen the morning of our second day in Dubrovnik to make this pilgrimage so as to escape the heavy crowds and the heat of the afternoon. Tourists have the option to begin the tour of the walls from three diff points. We chose the point located right next to the Pile Gate. We did not have to waste any time buying the tickets for the walls because we had already purchased a Dubrovnik Card which allowed access to walls as well as many other cultural sights and museums. Thus, we were able to start our tour of the walls by 9:30.

Most posts that we had read had suggested 1.5 – 2 hours for walking the walls. Well, it took us 3 hours, and those 3 hours were truly a feast for the eyes. The views of the endless sapphire sea, lush green Lokrum Island, rocky coastline, rugged hills, imposing forts and the red-tiled rooftops of the stone buildings were enchanting. The stroll along the walls, which constantly ascended or descended as per the lay of the land, gave us a different perspective of the city. It allowed us to get closer to the lofty towers and enabled us to get a peek inside some of the city’s buildings.  

Fort Lovrijenac and Fort Bokar
South wall built on a rocky cliff
Lokrum Island
Dubrovnik’s old harbour and St. John Fort
Fort Revelin
Walls leading to Fort Minceta and its iconic tower
Red-tiled rooftops of the city
Fort Minceta
The walls gave a different perspective of buildings. A view of the cloister of Franciscan Monastery from the top.
The walls got us closer to buildings and towers. This is the bell tower of Dominican Monastery.

During our walk around the walls, we also visited the Maritime Museum and Dulčić, Masle, Pulitika Galleryboth of whichwere included in the Dubrovnik Card and could be accessed from the walls. From the 15th – 17th century, the Dubrovnik Republic was a very strong maritime state with a thriving trade industry. The Maritime Museum, located in Fort St. John, showcased this maritime history of the republic with the help of ship models, nautical instruments, maritime maps, flags etc. The models of the ships illustrating how shipbuilding evolved over the centuries were particularly interesting. The Dulčić, Masle, Pulitika Gallery displayed the work of three local painters – Ivo Dulcic, Antun Masle and Duro Pulitika. Even though the paintings were nice, we would have skipped the gallery if it was not included in the Dubrovnik Card.   

FORT LOVRIJENAC

After finishing our tour of the walls, we exited the walled city and made our way to Dubrovnik’s West Harbour, locally known as the Pile Harbour. From the harbour, a long flight of stairs got us to the Fort Lovrijenac. The fort was built on a 37-meter high cliff to act as a deterrent against any attack from the west either by land or by sea. An interesting architectural feature of the fort was that its walls were several meters thick on all sides except the side facing the city where they were just 60 cm thick. This was done so that if the commander of the fort ever tried to stand against the city, cannon fire from the city walls would destroy the fort’s thin wall and allow the fort to be captured.

The interior of the fort was pretty average but our main purpose of visiting the fort was to see the fantastic views of the walled city of Dubrovnik.

Fort Lovrijenac and Pile Harbour (bottom right) seen from the city walls
View from Pile Harbour
View of the walled city while climbing towards Fort Lovrijenac
Inside Fort Lovrijenac
Fort Lovrijenac

From the fort, we retraced our steps to the city and spent the rest of the day exploring its artistic treasures.

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