Travelmag Banner

Dubrovnik’s Saints and Sinners

Dubrovnik – the pearl of the Adriatic – has healed its wounds and attracts hordes of tourists again. Most of them enter through Pile Gate where St Blaise, the city’s patron saint, welcomes every one, from his niche above the entrance.


St Blaise is delighted to see old acquaintances from before the war in the early 1990ies. Both old and new get a bit delayed by a white poster to the left of Pile. It illustrates in detail how Dubrovnik was hit during the war. Fortunately, the only apparent traces of the havoc are thousands of new red tiles. Another sign reveals that Dubrovnik, until 1918 known as Ragusa, was appointed a World Heritage site by Unesco in 1979 and is undoubtedly the pride of Croatia.

Despite its reputation for being a pearl, Dubrovnik appears to contain multifarious jewels, kept in relative safety within the city walls, which measure 2 kilometres in circumference, reach a height of 25 metres in places and are up to 6 metres thick. People ascending the walls, via a steep narrow flight of steps at Pile Gate, brush past the Saviour’s Church on their way. Inside, the painter Vedran Remetin presents Dubrovnik in a web of geometric patterns. The climbers will soon experience Dubrovnik on quite another background; solid mountains that nearly push it into the Adriatic.

Others remain on the ground, on Stradun that is, also called Placa, the main street traversing the entire city from west to east with its 300 metres. Its limestone paving from 1468, shining white, looks like a carpet made of precious stones, spread on a floor that was once a sea channel, and flanked by rows of uniform stone houses with dark shutters, built in the Baroque style after the 1667 earthquake. Placa even served as a social division line; the noble classes preferred the south, whereas common people settled on the northern hillsides.

Along Placa

Rector’s and Sponza Palaces

Although damaged, the domed Onofrio’s Fountain at the beginning of Placa is a gem, once connected with an aqueduct and still spouting water from 16 masks. There is a living face present, too, belonging to a bearded slim young man sporting an old-fashioned troubadour costume. Apart from singing and playing the guitar, he offers his photographic services for 1 Euro. Others prefer the funny figures crowning the columns in the cloister of the Franciscan Monastery opposite.

A tourist office midway along Placa is assailed by curious people, who probably heard that it contains piles of pearls, in the form of little maps of the old town, dotted with numbers and a list of all the sights. The simple map lays out the contents of the entire old city and combines them in various tours. For each question they get, the two employees pick a map, write a cross on it to mark the desired destination, and off people go with a perfect companion.

Placa is a natural catwalk. Its width and whiteness makes it the perfect place for showing off and people watching, especially at the open-air cafes. In between, one automatically casts a glance up the rising side streets crowded with little eateries protected by canopies, balconies laden with greenery and washing, and behind it all the defensive walls and then the mountains. The narrower parallel street, Prijeko, is full of restaurant tables and intrusive waiters, whose food quality is most variable.

At the other end of Placa, the Bell Tower welcomes you to Luz Square, surrounded by historic buildings, like the Sponza Palace, St Blaise Church and the Rector’s Palace. A special masterpiece is yet another Onofrio’s Fountain, the small version. Cultural events seem to stand in line at Luz, particularly during the Summer Festival in July and August. But there are performances now in September as well. On Saturday morning, folk dancers from the island of Korcula pretend to attack each other with their swords, while dancing in knickerbockers.

On Saturday evening, a classical midnight concert attracts a crowd, standing or seated on the broad steps in front of the richly ornamented St Blaise Church. Inspired by the pleasant evening temperature, the musicians play on and on, and the audience never tires. The following evening, the entertainment is more spontaneous. A large group of students, occupying the church steps, sing a capella with all their hearts. Every time a listener drops a Kouna coin or a bill in their hat, the singing rises to a happy hurrah.

City Republic

A woman is weeping silently as she leaves the Remembrance Room, situated inside the Sponza Palace, after seeing the picture of a family member or a neighbour’s son among the hundreds of fallen soldiers, policemen and sailors pictured in the room, killed while defending Dubrovnik in the recent war. The palace itself is a survivor, surviving even the earthquake of 1667 and still impressive with its Renaissance and Venetian-Gothic arches. Its functions have been many: customs office, city mint and today city archives.

Dubrovnik, or rather Ragusa, enjoyed a 450-year stretch of independence as a city republic, beginning 1358. Its wealth was based on trade and a leading merchant fleet, supported by a clever diplomacy at consulates in more than 50 foreign ports. A city museum in the Rector’s Palace gives an idea of daily life in the republic, whose symbolic leader was the Rector, elected for only 1 month. His palace abounds in paintings by renowned masters, gilded furniture and luxurious chandeliers. The real power belonged to the noblemen of the Grand Council and the Senate. In 1808, the republic was dissolved by Napoleon.

Old Port

The sun makes the Old Port sparkle like a blue jewel, accessed through the exit at the Bell Tower. If turning left just before the harbour, you may ascend to the other city gate, Ploce Gate, and possibly have a chat with Katerina about local embroideries. The blond lady sits on the steps in a folk costume from Konavle, embroidering, chatting and earning a living. The port is the perfect spot for winding down, under the huge arches of a famous coffee house, Gradska Kavana, occupying the former Arsenal.

Up left, in the corner inside the city walls, Dominicans in white garments guard a treasure of architecture, manuscripts and religious paintings. St John’s Fortress opposite is also on the guard, protecting the port and the ships’ models exhibited in its maritime museum and the fish swimming in its aquarium. Small boats are ready to take you to the green islet of Lokrum, a trip that will let you see Dubrovnik in its finest perspective – as a pearl on the Adriatic coast.

   [Top of Page]  
 Latest Headlines