The ‘Pearl of the Adriatic’, situated on the Dalmatian coast, became an important Mediterranean sea power from the XIII century onwards. It really is a stunning city with an amazing Old Town, that became a UNESCO’s World Heritage Site in 1979. Although it was severely damaged in an earthquake in 1667, Dubrovnik managed to preserve its beautiful Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque churches, monasteries, palaces and fountains. Damaged again in the 90’s during armed conflict, it is now the focus of a major restoration programme, co-ordinated by UNESCO.
Dubrovnik’s motto, Liberta (“liberty”), which is plastered down on buses and the city’s tourist literature, speaks volumes about the city’s self-image and the idealized way in which it is perceived by others. For several centuries, the city-state of Dubrovnik – known as Ragusa in those times – managed to retain a modicum of independence, while the rest of this coast fell under the sway of foreign powers. The Venetian Lion of St. Mark is conspicuously absent, while statues of St. Blaise (Sveti Blaž), the symbol of Dubrovnik’s independence, fill every conceivable crack and niche in the city. At its XVI century climax, the Republic of Ragusa had the third largest merchant fleet in the world. Word “argosy”, inspired by its galleons, means simply “ship of Ragusa”.
Dubrovnik was founded in the first half of the VII century by a group of refugees from Epidaurum, who established their settlement at the island and named it Laus. The Latin name Ragusa (Rausa), in use until the XV century, was derived from the word “rock” (lat. lausa – rock). Opposite that location, at the foot of Srdj mountain, the Slavs developed their own settlement and named it Dubrovnik. It is derived from the Croatian word “dubrava”, which means oak. When the channel, separating these two settlements, was flooded the XII century, they were united. From the time of its establishment, the town was under the protection of the Byzantine Empire.
After the Fourth Crusade, the city fell under the sovereignty of Venice (1205.-1358.), and by the Treaty of Zadar in 1358, it became part of the Hungarian-Croatian Kingdom. At those times, it was a Republican free state, that peaked in the XV and XVI centuries. An economic crisis in Mediterranean shipping and, more particularly, a catastrophic earthquake in April of 1667, that leveled most of the public buildings, destroyed the well-being of the Republic. This powerful earthquake became a turning point in city’s development.
Dubrovnik is a remarkably well-preserved example of a late Medieval walled city, with a regular street layout. Among the outstanding Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque monuments, within the magnificent fortifications and the monumental gates of the city are: the Town Hall (now the Rector’s Palace), dating from the XI century; the Franciscan Monastery (completed in the XIV century, but now mostly Baroque by appearance) with its imposing church; the extensive Dominican Monastery; the Cathedral (rebuilt after the 1667. earthquake); the Customs House (Sponza), the eclectic work, revealing the fact it was made by several hands in a course of many years; and a number of other Baroque churches, such as St. Blaise (city’s patron and saint).
The original World Heritage site consisted solely of the defenses and the intramural city. Later, it was extended to the Pile Medieval industrial suburb, a planned unit development of the XV century, and St. Lawrence Fortress, located on a cliff. Fortress was probably built in the XI century, but owes its present appearance to the XV and XVI century. Later were included the lazarets, built in the early XVII century to house potential plague carriers from abroad, the late XV century Kase moles, built to protect the port against Southeastern gales, as well as the Revelin Fortress, dating from 1449, which was built to command the town moat on its Northern side.
The island of Lokrum is situated on the Southeast of Dubrovnik, some 500 m from the coast. In 1023, it became a Benedictine abbey, the first of several in the Republic of Dubrovnik. It has been continually enlarged in following centuries, passed to the Congregation of St. Justina of Padua in the late XV century, when a new monastery was built in Gothic-Renaissance style in the South of the Benedictine establishment ruins. During their occupation of the island in the early XIX century, the French began construction of the Fort Royal Fortress, that was completed by the Austrians in the 1830s. In 1859, Archduke Maximilian of Austria (later Emperor of Mexico) bought the island with the intention of building a classical style villa on the Benedictine abbey ruins, but only a small part of that work was completed.
The suggested extension of the old city to the West includes part of the Pile suburb, with the Brsalje plateau. It marks the point, where a major road entered the Roman town that preceded Medieval Dubrovnik. Archaeological excavations have revealed the presence of a Palaeo-Christian basilica, as well as Medieval cemeteries. The St. Lawrence Fortress, located on a cliff, is mentioned for the first time in a document from 1301, but because of its defensive importance, it must have been built much earlier (as early as the XI century, according to some scholars). The fortress owes its present appearance to the XV and XVI century.
The Pile suburb was a planned unit development in the XV century, in a vicinity of a defined industrial zone, dating back to the XIII century. It was devoted to tanning and leather-working, the casting of cannon, soap manufacture, etc. – activities which, for the reasons of hygiene and security, were placed outside the walls, but within the protection of the fortress. In the early XV century, an important dyeing industry was developed in this area, and other industries followed, such as glass-making, bell-casting and weaving. These industrial operations led to the construction of workers’ houses. The settlement gained its own Church of St. George, dating back from the XIV century, but rebuilt it to its present form in 1590. The Pile suburb has retained its original character, although late XIX century building of a new road, linking Pile with Gruz, resulted in some changes.
The road was passing outside the ramparts of the Medieval town. The area, known as Iza Grada (Behind the city), lies outside the Northern part of the ramparts, and has remained an open space for defensive reasons, throughout the town’s history. The road, connecting Pile and Gruz marks its Northern boundary. On the Eastern side of the old city is Ploce, which has served as the trade centre with the hinterland for centuries. The area suggested for the extension of the World Heritage Site is situated on the South of the main road and includes the lazarets and the Revelin Fortress.
The Kase moles were built around 1485. according to the plans of Paskoje Milicevic, the most famous Ragusan engineer of the Renaissance period. Their goal was to protect the port against Southeastern gales and, at the same time, improve the facilities for controlling vessels, that are approaching the town. The building of the lazarets began in 1627. and they were completed in 1648. Their position by the Eastern entrance to the city was practical: this is where traders and travelers approached Dubrovnik from potentially plague-ridden parts of central Europe or the Orient. They have preserved their original appearance to a remarkable degree.
Placa Stradun – (Old town). The Stradun (Placa) is the central street of the Dubrovnik and it is the place, where old city comes to life. During the day, you can explore the shades of the perpendicular streets and alleys on its sides and, during the night, you can take a walk down the Stradun with an ice cream in your hand. The uniform Baroque architecture of the houses at Placa, with shops on the street level and their “knee-height” entrances, acquired their present day appearance during the restoration of the City. It was conducted after the disastrous earthquake in 1667, when a large number of luxurious Gothic and Renaissance palaces had been destroyed. The architectural design of Placa reveals effective solutions and the sense for business of the Dubrovnik Republic in those difficult times. Today, Placa is still the shopping centre and venue of major events.
City walls with forts – The Dubrovnik city walls are the major attraction for visitors and one of the best preserved fortification complexes in Europe. The 1940 meter long walls encompass five forts and sixteen towers and bastions. It’s the world’s second most attractive museum in the open air, for its walls are open for visitors all the year round. The three entrances to the walls are next to St. Luke’s Church in the East, next to St. Saviour Church at the Pile entrance to the Old City and next to the Maritime Museum, located at St. John’s Fortress. Taking a walk along the Dubrovnik city walls, you will see some of the striking forts, used for the defense of the Dubrovnik Republic. Of five existing forts, the Minceta Tower, the Bokar Fort and the St. John’s Fortress were built within the city walls complex, whereas the two freestanding ones are the St. Lawrence’s Fortress in the West, and Revelin Fortress in the East.
Located at the highest point of the city, Minceta Tower protected the Northern side of Dubrovnik. This tower is the symbol of citys defense and the flag of our homeland sway on it all the time. In summer, you can also see the Libertas flag waving on the Minceta Tower. In the Southwest, Bokar Fort, also called “Zvjezdan”, stands at the corner of the city walls facing St. Lawrence Fortress. It was constructed in the XV century for protection of the small Western city harbor, the moat and the Pile bridge. Today, it houses a collection of stone fragments from the Dubrovnik area. St. John’s Fortress is the first quadrangular pier tower built in 1346. for protection the city harbor on the Southeastern side. A long time ago, the city chains were pulled by a winch from the fort. An aquarium is situated in the forts ground floor, whereas the first and the second floor house the Maritime Museum.
At the foot of St. John’s Fortress is a huge pier with a lighthouse – the well-known Porporela, the meeting place of lovers, a promenade and bathing place of the old city residents. From Porporela, you can see Revelin Fortress situated outside the city walls, by the Eastern entrance to the city. The stone and wooden draw-bridge connects the imposing fortress with the land side, and another stone bridge connects it with the city. Surrounded with a moat on three sides and the sea on the fourth, the fortress was a part of the city that was quite difficult to conquer. Although constructed in an earlier period, Revelin Fortress acquired its present day dimensions and size in the XVI century. The interior of the fortress and its terraces are concert venues of the Dubrovnik Symphony Orchestra and the Dubrovnik Summer Festival.
Church of Saint Blaise – The present day church of St. Blaise was constructed by Venetian architect Marino Gropelli in the 1715. by the commission of the city authorities. The church was built on the place of an old Romanesque church from 1368, but it was significantly damaged during the big earthquake in 1667. and finally destroyed in the fire in 1706. The new Church of St. Blaise was built in Baroque style, according to the prototype of St. Mauritius Church in Venice. A large staircase leads to the ornamented main portal and a large dome decorates the church roof. The church interior is furnished in great detail, and the marble altars are particularly impressive. The centerpiece of the main altar is a gold-plated silver gothic statue of St. Blaise from the XV century, holding in his hand a model of the City as it looked before the earthquake. The statue is a work of an unknown artist from Dubrovnik gild school and it is the most valuable work of art in the long history of Dubrovnik. Historically, the statue is very important as the model of Dubrovnik in St. Blaise hands distinctly depicts how the buildings looked like before the big earthquake. It is interesting to notice that the statue and some other valuables were undamaged in the big earthquake as well as later, in a fire, that destroyed the old church. It was interpreted as a sign and a miracle.
Lapad Beach. (Lapad Peninsula) ) A car free, sandy beach area on the Lapad Peninsula, approximately 3.5 km from the town, is a place where you can relax in the shade of the numerous trees. At the end of a long pedestrian street full of cafe bars and restaurants, you will see many popular pebble beaches, known as Lapad beaches. These beaches are really beautiful and handy. Lapad is definitely one of the most beautiful parts of Dubrovnik and you should really see it. If you take the headland path to the right side of Lapad beach, as you look at the Adriatic, you can walk along a charming little coast path with small concrete ‘beaches’ with ladder entrance to the sea. These were built during the Tito era and are ideal for one to two sunbathers. Further along, there is an excellent local fish restaurant – ideal for ending of the day. The walk back is not particularly well lit, but it’s perfectly safe.
Banje Beach – This beach, located on the Eastern side of the city’s Old Town district, is particularly popular. The pebble beach is surrounded by some of Dubrovnik’s best hotels. It is equipped with all the amenities that upscale travelers expectations, including deck chairs, umbrellas and changing rooms equipped with showers. The beach favored by celebrities is a great intown spot to enjoy water sports like jet skiing and paragliding, beach volleyball, mini football or water polo. You can also enjoy lying on a deck chair and having a drink. There is a part with an entrance fee, but also a public part, which is always livelier and with more relaxed atmosphere. It’s a great way to beat the heat in the middle of the town. It provides amazing view to the city walls, the Old Town Dubrovnik and the Lokrum island.
Lokrum Island – The Lokrum island lies on the Southeast of Dubrovnik, some 500 m from the coast. In 1023, it became a Benedictine abbey, the first of several in the Republic of Dubrovnik. It was continually enlarged in succeeding centuries, passing to the Congregation of St. Justina of Padua in the late XV century, when a new monastery was built in Gothic-Renaissance style on the Southern side of the Benedictine establishment ruins. During their occupation of the island in the early XIX century, the French began the construction of the Fort Royal Fortress. It was completed by the Austrians in the 1830s. In 1859. Archduke Maximilian of Austria (later Emperor of Mexico) bought the island with the intention of building a classical style villa on the Benedictine abbey ruins, but only a small part of this work was completed.
Elaphiti Islands – In the course of history, the Elaphiti Islands relied on the Dubrovnik city and the Dubrovnik Republic, in whose possession they had been allegedly from the XI century. According to some historic records, the rector of the Islands Kolocep, Lopud and Sipan was appointed in 1272. The islands were inhabited from ancient times, a fact borne out by the remains of Illyrian buildings and Greek and Roman toponyms. The commitment to the sea and seamanship improved life conditions on the Elaphiti Islands, which flourished during the golden age of Dubrovnik in the XV and XVI century. Of thirteen Elaphiti Islands, only three are inhabited: Kolocep, Lopud and Sipan. During your stay in Dubrovnik, we recommend that you visit them on the old steam-boat Postira.
You can visit all three islands in one day and enjoy exploring the little old Croatian churches on the Kolocep island, bathe on the sandy beach of Sunj on the Lopud island, visit the Skocibuha-Stjepovic family summer residence in Sudurad and walk through the fertile Sipan fields, covered with olive groves and vineyards, pass by the Rectors Palace, all way up to the St. Stephen’s Church in the Luka Sipanska. The islands boast their own gastronomic delicacies. The fishermen bring the freshly caught fish from the crystal blue sea, and the taste of ecologically grown vegetables is enhanced by homemade olive oil. Visit the Art Pavilion “Your Black Horizon” on the Lopud island, which has put an island on a world’s tourist art map. An obligatory destination for modern art and summer vacation lovers, this project was realized with a help of the International Thyssen-Bornemisza Contemporary Art (T-B A21) Foundation, presided by the distinguished modern art collector Francesca von Habsburg. The Art Pavilion “Your Black Horizon”, which is the joint work of the Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson and the London architect David Adjaye, unites art and architecture. It is special mostly for its adaptability to the certain location and its environment.
The Maraton Ladja – is an annual race, that takes place on a 22.5 km long portion of the Neretva river from the Metkovic to the Ploce (both to the North of Dubrovnik). A “ladja” is a traditional type of boat, that has been used for centuries on the narrow Neretva river; many of the boats used in the race are old boats, that have been refurbished. Crews usually come from local towns and villages and can number up to 18 people in total, including a cox and a drummer. For centuries, people from the vicinity of Neretva were using their boats called “trupa” or “trupica” as the main means of communication, until someone in the 1990’s said “Let’s celebrate our trupa and our way of life with a great rowing race”.
Dubrovnik Summer Festival – It takes place from mid-July to mid-August. Each year, the Festival includes theater, opera, music and dance events at various open air venues around the city. In the 2015, 66th Festival will take place. The Mediterranean Fair of Healthy Food, Medicinal Herbs and Green Entrepreneurship is to be held in Dubrovnik from the March 26 to 29, 2015. The Music Program Festival was initially conceptualized as a presentation of the best composers, soloists and orchestras from the country. But, by the end of the fifties, it had already grown and became a review of top solo artists and ensembles from all around the world. The high standard of performance in Dubrovnik was complemented by functional use of the attractive and acoustic buildings, particularly the Rectors Palace Atrium. In the early seventies, special attention was paid to the music and concert program conception, with larger number of representatives of new music styles, in addition to those, who attempted to breathe new life into the old, especially Croatian, music.
The Festival of St. Blaise – The celebrations of St. Blaise have remained the most festive and the most sublime day in the long history of Dubrovnik, a true summary of the Croatian local past, a spiritual and religious unification of the city and the countryside into one inseparable whole, a historic symbol of religious, civil and popular spirit, an expression of gratitude to the saint-martyr, the protector of everyone. Over the thousand years, the celebrations have changed – they became more unique, mixing the change with the stability of the customary, yet constantly proving how St. Blaise is woven into every pore of life and how to honor him means to express freedom – LIBERTAS. January 30th is the first day of the three-day prayers in the St. Blaise Church.
Earliest documents illustrate that the Celebrations of St. Blaise on Candle Mass on the February 2nd – the holiday of light, in Dubrovnik called ‘Kandelora’ – originate from the XV century. The tradition lives on. The banners of all the parishes gather up in an early afternoon to the music of all bells, and the banner with the figure of St. Blaise is hoisted on Orlando’s Column. After the “Laus” (wishing well prayer) is said, girls in traditional costumes offer the fruits of the land, symbolizing the twelve months in yet another year of abundance. The bars of the Saint’s hymn resounding, the scent of the laurel and the candles, the flight of the white pigeons of peace and the rapture of the congregation exalt the solemnity of the Celebration’s opening.
Christmas celebrations – In the month of gift giving, there will be Christmas Fair. Traditional crafts will be presented, as well as handicrafts, Christmas decorations, candles, toys, glassware, embroidery, ceramics, porcelain and all the displayed objects, which the artists’ hands manufactured for Christmas. The caterers will offer Christmas cookies, sweet delicacies, mulled wine, brustulani mjenduli (candied almonds) and traditional Dubrovnik sweet delicacies, including kontonjata (quince cheese), mantala (must cheese), prikle (doughnuts), hrostule (deep fried biscuits) and other delicacies prepared for this holiday. To the accompaniment of Christmas songs, the fair will be opened from St. Nicolas’ Day to Epiphany.
There is no train to Dubrovnik. The closest rail station is Split, a 4 hr bus ride from Dubrovnik.
Dubrovnik’s main bus station is in Kantafig (Autobusni Kolodvor). It is located just beyond the ferry terminal, along the Port Gruz embankment (about 4 km to the Northwest of the Old Town). Local bus No7 operates between this station and Babin kuk, and bus No1 drives to Old Town. It’s fast and user-friendly, with pay toilets, baggage storage and a helpful bus information window. Direct buses run to/from Zagreb (HRK205-234, 11 h, 7 per day), Korcula (HRK100, 3 h, 1 daily), Mostar (HRK100 or €16, 3 h, 2 per day. 10:30 A.M. & 15:00 P.M.), Orebic (HRK100, 2.5 h, 1 daily), Rijeka (HRK400, 12 h, 3 per day), Sarajevo (HRK160, 5 h, 1 daily), Split (HRK100-150, 4.5 h, 14 per day), Zadar (HRK200, 8 h, 7 per day). In the peak season, there is also a daily bus, leaving at 11:00 A.M. and heading to the Montenegro cities Herceg Novi, Bar, Kotor, and Budva, and another one at 15:00 P.M. heading to Prijedor and Banja Luka (10h) in Bosnia. A one-way trip to Budva costs HRK128 or €15. The round-trip tickets are much cheaper and advisable, but choose the bus company carefully.
When coming by bus from Split or cities further to the North, police officers may enter the bus and ask you for a valid identity document during crossing of the Neum corridor, which belongs to Bosnia and Herzegovina. While the bus companies lists trip duration as 4 h long, be prepared for a ride of 5,5-6 h, including Bosnian border checks. When traveling to Montenegro or to the airport, sit on the right hand side (not behind driver) for best views, and vice-versa during return. If you are traveling to Bosnia, sit on the left hand side (behind the driver) for best views. A departure listing (https://www.libertasdubrovnik.com/voznired.pdf ) for the international bus station is available at the website of the city bus operator. On all intercity buses, you must pay a separate fee of €2 or HRK 10 for the luggage.
The trip from Split along the coastal road (Jadranska magistrala or D8) is a beautiful scenic journey through small, quaint villages and other tourist destinations. During summer months, the trip will probably take you several hours longer, than anticipated. What looks like a short trip on a map can become a 6 h ride. A much faster way of getting from Split to Dubrovnik by car is to take the A1 highway to Vrgorac and then continue via Stasevica, Opuzen and Neum to the Dubrovnik.
Many cruise ships come to this port of call, typically docking at the Port of Dubrovnik (Port Gruz), across from the main bus station, 2,5 km to the Northwest side of the walled Old Town. The easiest and cheapest way to get from the main bus station to the Old Town is by using the local buses No 1, 1A and 1B, which circulate almost constantly. Alternatively, cruise lines usually offer their own shuttle services from your ship to Pile Gate (or somewhere close by) in the Old Town, often for a fee. Some cruise ships anchor offshore on the Eastern side of the Old Town and tender the passengers directly into the Old Port. In 2012, over one million passengers visited Dubrovnik by cruise ships. Feedback has suggested that sheer volume of daily visitors swamping the city from ships is deterring more lucrative overnight and residential visitors from going there. There was a talk that in the end of 2014, authorities could possibly limit the number of ships, permitted to dock in Dubrovnik each day or week as the city struggles to cope. So, in the future, cruises with Dubrovnik on the itinerary may become rarer and more wanted.
You can ride up and down the coast from Rijeka by Jadrolinija ferries. There are stops at Split, Stari Grad, Korcula and Sobra on the way. Journey time lasts for 20 h, so consider getting a cabin. The restaurant serves some decent food at surprisingly reasonable prices, but bear in mind that the +23% tax is not included in the menu. While the journey is scenic, there is no entertainment on the board. Bring a good book or just sit on the deck and watch the Adriatic Sea go by. That is more than enough entertainment for an afternoon. If you travel from Bari in Italy, the dull engine vibration or the swaying of the boat caused by strong winds will keep you awake. Cabins are strongly recommended. Although you can sit comfortably enough inside with the cheaper deck pass, interior temperature hovers at 60⁰F or below and nights are chilly even in the middle of summer. Sadly, this ferry seems to be overpriced: two adult single tickets plus a noisy, small interior 2-berth cabin costs €168.