The water taxi took about thirty minutes to make the short journey from Mlini to Dubrovnik and even though large cruisers anchored up outside the harbour spoiled the approach the old town fortifications looked spectacular as we sailed into the harbour and once off the boat we transported into an alternative world of narrow medieval streets, magnificent buildings constructed of white Dalmatian stone and a riot of red tiled roofs.
We knew that we had all day to explore the city but we were impatient so purchased our tickets and climbed to the top of the walls for the two-kilometre walk around the magnificent tenth century guard’s walkway.
It was extremely hot and It took a couple of hours to complete the walk around the city stopping frequently to admire the breathtaking views of the cathedrals and churches, the battlement and towers and the busy streets bustling with activity at the base of the walls and through the city to the other side. Apparently there are 5,423 steps in Dubrovnik but I am quite unable to confirm that but in the intense heat it felt like a whole lot more than that.
The route took us first alongside the Adriatic and then at the Fort of St John into the old city port past fishing boats, yachts, pleasure craft and water taxis all floating gently on the placid sea within the protective walls of the harbour’s medieval defences. Then we were on the land side where there were there were the best views of the tiled roofs and on to the highest point at the Minceta Tower where there was a steep climb rewarded with an expansive panorama of the city and the vivid blue sea behind it.
The medieval city of Dubrovnik was founded in late antiquity and grew first under Byzantine and then later under Venetian rule before becoming an independent republic in 1358. It developed into a maritime and trading power that rivaled the Venetian Republic and reached its zenith in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. It even managed to keep its political independence under Ottoman rule, which began in 1526 but it was sacked in 1806 during the Napoleonic wars, and lost its status as a city-state two years later. It came under French rule and was ceded to Austria in 1815. A century later, it became part of Yugoslavia.
When we had completed the circumnavigation of the walls we returned to street level and walked first along the polished white paving stones of the main street occasionally taking detours into intriguing little side streets and alleys. We admired the reconstructed Rector’s House and the Cathedral, wandered through a street market and then to some of the quieter little streets underneath the walls for a different perspective.
The old city dates from the thirteenth century, when the imposing fortifications began to be built and the elegance and charm of the historic centre is a perfect blend of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture. Not surprisingly the place had an Italianate feel with pizzerias and waiters pestering for business in that unique Italian sort of way but we didn’t mind this and just politely said no thank you in an English sort of way and walked on.
By the time we had walked underneath the walls of St John’s Tower and into the old harbour I was beginning to understand why in 1929 George Bernard Shaw described Dubrovnik as ‘Paradise on Earth’ and thankfully the post war reconstruction has restored the old town to its former splendour.
At the beginning of the bombardment, the city was placed on the List of World Heritage in Danger and quickly after it was over UNESCO launched an action plan to save Dubrovnik and the reconstruction work began. To rebuild the roofs the original sixteenth century rafters had to be strengthened and almost half a million tiles had to be replaced.
The original tiles had been made in the village of Kupari, about fifteen kilometres from the city, and dated from the time of the Dubrovnik republic but the workshops had closed at the beginning of the nineteenth century, and specialists faced the task of finding a kind of tile which could as far as possible be made using the original materials and methods of construction. Eventually French and Croatian specialists managed to recreate the original technique and the famous roofline was perfectly restored.
The cost of the restoration was estimated at $20 for the old city within the walls and $30 million for the urban area as a whole. Much of the funding came from the new Croatian government and the Dubrovnik Reconstruction Office but also with aid from private Croatian sources and from UNESCO itself. Croatian and international teams of architects, sculptors, restorers and other experts managed to complete the bulk of the work within seven years and in December 1998 Dubrovnik was taken off of the danger list.
It was midday and hot so we returned to a waterside bar that we had used the previous year and thought about lunch. Last year we seriously over ordered here and ended up sending food back so this year we were mindful of that and ordered accordingly – just one plate of small fish and a salad. We were in a perfect spot next to the girls trying to sell thirty minute tours on glass bottomed boats and watching the guided tour parties trying to make decisions about who was going on and who wasn’t. Eventually we tired of watching the people parading back and forth, left the harbour and went back into the city.
It was now almost unbearably hot and Kim had acquired a headache but we had seen mostly everything we wanted to see in Dubrovnik so we walked to the bus stop, I bought the wrong tickets in a shop, and then waited in the shade for the Mlini bus for the fifteen minute ride back along an elevated road with great views over the city, the harbour and the sea.