Adventure International

Dubrovnik: Walled City

Yesterday I play the Game of Steps in Old Town Dubrovnik. Although Croatia’s far-southern seaside city is a big draw for fans of the epic hit Game of Thrones, I have another quest in mind—walking the city’s fortress wall on a sunny afternoon in October. Measuring 2 kilometers, the stone walls ring the entire city.

It takes me two hours to walk it leisurely. You have to buy an entrance ticket which costs 150 kuna (about $22 UD dollars). The fee benefits the Association of Friends of Dubrovnik Antiquities.It is better to walk in the afternoon or evening as thousands of passengers from multiple cruise ships disembark in the harbor in the morning. It creates a virtual traffic jam on the walk.

Dubrovnik’s first set of walls date back to the 9th century. The town fathers were afraid of attack by the Ottoman Empire. The original towers are four-sided. But due to security risks from canyon fire, the newer towers are rounded. Dubrovnik rivaled Venice with its harbor front. It could court the West and East. With the threat of attack by the Turks, the city walls were fortified in the 15th century. In some places the walls measure up to 6 km on the land side.

There are three different entrances to start the city walk—the Pile Gate, the Ploce Gate and at the Maritime Museum. Be prepared that the walk can be quite strenuous as there are steep staircases to ascend. Words fail to describe the scene adequately. I gaze down at the crystalline waters of the Adriatic Sea. Croatian rowboats, sailboats and fishing vessels ply the waters. I see below a beige city. Every roof is covered in terracotta tiles.

Dubrovnik was crippled by what the locals call “The Big Shake.” The earthquake ripped the city apart in 1667. The town was then remodeled in the Venetian style. It was required that all buildings must be the same height. City laws also required the kitchen to be located on the third floor (attic) to limit the damage from fires.

Sadly, the untarnished terracotta roof tiles reveal evidence of how the city was terrorized less than three decades ago during bombing by the rebel forces. Residents were startled to hear the sound of bombs exploding nearby. They rushed for safety. A sign on one house reminds us to “Never forget.”

Old versus new Dubrovnik is now documented—faded speckled brown and grey clay roof tiles vividly contrast the unscathed bright orange tiles in sections of the city. It is also important to remember that this is a living city—not just a museum—that is home to 40,000 residents. I found the evidence in black, grey, green and yellow shirts flapping on a laundry line. Occasionally, I will even spy a couple sitting on their terrace drinking a coffee. But it must be difficult to live in a fishing bowl where everybody can observe your every move.

On my walking tour of Dubrovnik, I learn many Croats prefer to rent out their one-bedroom apartments to tourists who are eager to temporarily step back into the past and experience life during the Renaissance. My tour guide said a unit rents for 130 euros a night. This is a huge sum as the typical salary is 500 euros a month.

As I discovered in my little seaside village, Croatian cats dearly love to live by the water (and eat fresh fish). I can spot the felines as I look down from my walk—sitting on a patio table in a garden or sauntering down an alley. But I take particular glee in discovering what I term “Cat Corner.” This is an intersection of two lanes on my walk where multiple cats hang out. Looking down I spy a man stroking a calico cat who nestles contentedly in his lap. He appears to be a “cat whisperer”. On the adjacent blue bench, a large mottled grey cat nestles on a rag rug. A black and white cat sleeps nearby.

Naturally, I decide to go down and investigate. The Croat cats are extremely friendly and allow me to pet them. One rubs up against my ankles. Scooping her up, this little brown and white cat permits me to pose with her in a photo.

With a deadline of 5:30 pm to meet the guide for a walking tour, I rush to finish my walk. But there is one surprise left. Stopping to take one final photo, I glance through an alleyway and see the cathedral. Standing outside are a bride and groom posing for their photographer. I snap the shot before it vanishes …  like my time in Old Dubrovnik.

Postscript: Although I didn’t get to climb the walled city of Ston on the Peljesac Penisula, it may rival Dubrovnik with its scope. The town is famous for its production of salt which was a prime commodity for trading in medieval times.

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