Put this on your bucket list: Dubrovnik Old Town
Nearly 240 years ago, as the United States of America teetered on the brink of sovereignty, an ardent liberty-loving city-state known as the Republic of Ragusa became one of the very first to formally recognize America’s independence from Great Britain.
More familiarly known today as Dubrovnik Old Town, this tiny, late-medieval walled oasis set like a jewel on the Adriatic Sea on the Dalmatian Coast, was a center of trade, arts and culture that once rivaled Venice. In fact, this Mediterranean fairy tale town is called “the pearl of the Adriatic.”
The walls encircle most of the city as it juts into the sea and meanders back toward the Pile Gate on terra firma like an irregularly shaped polygon. They stretch about 6,365 feet in length and reach about 80 feet high in some places. There are more than a dozen towers, several forts, six bastions or bulwarks and two corner forts. You’ll spot several turrets, multiple moats – even a couple drawbridges.
To say that Dubrovnik’s Old Town’s protected perch would forestall surprise attacks and invasions is a given; however, one enemy did breach the walls, but it was by means of not honoring his word – or the republic’s freedom philosophy – when he was allowed behind the gates. That was double-crossing Napoléon Bonaparte, who subjugated the people in 1806 .
Now part of Croatia, Dubrovnik Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is as exquisite today as it was in the seventh century when the walls first began going up. It is a living history museum whose paved streets duck and curve into a maze of narrow alleyways where visitors are as likely to happen upon a sweet little cafe as encounter a stone staircase leading up, up and up. At the top of this steep climb? A chance to walk along the battlements to drink in some of the most breathtaking views of land and sea you’ll catch anywhere.
Within the walls are monuments, museums, churches and convents, the architecture showing off medieval, Renaissance and Baroque design. You can stroll the city, dipping into historic structures including Dubrovnik Cathedral, rebuilt after an earthquake in 1667; the Cultural History Museum, housed in the Rector’s Palace and filled with period furniture and costumes plus a sophisticated gift shop; the Baroque-style St. Blaise Church (St. Blaise is the patron saint of Dubrovnik); the wonderfully ornate St. Ignatius Church; the Bell Tower; and the Customs Palace.
On the streets of Dubrovnik Old Town, you may run into a street artist painted gold and standing still as a statue, a man offering a photo op with a parrot or even the bustling Green Market in full swing. You’ll find lots of shops crowded together, offering Croatian wines, designer clothing and fine jewelry, candles, masks, paintings by local artists, souvenirs and – this being Dubrovnik – ties.
Dubrovnik Old Town is a place where flowers and greenery lend color and a sense of wildness to the symmetry of this stone fortress; where clothing is strung outside windows and across balconies to dry in the breeze blowing in from the sea; where a terracotta roof-scape colors the skyline; and where the barring of autos keeps the 21st century noise of honking horns, skidding wheels and slamming doors, thankfully, outside the walls of Dubrovnik Old Town.
“Dubrovnik, the centre of the southernmost region of Dalmatia and its most famous representative, is also the star on the front pages of many prestigious world magazines, as well as being at the very top of the scale of the most beautiful cities of the world. Year on year it is proving itself as a source of inspiration for artists, a venue favoured by members of royal families and the jet setters of the world. It belongs to them, but no more than it belongs to all those who came but once. It is quite simple really, one encounter is enough for those fine threads between you and this glorious city to be spun to last” – Croatian National Tourist Board
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