The last time I visited Dubrovnik was more than thirty years ago, when it was a part of Yugoslavia. Now it is in Croatia, but it is still the same quaint walled town. Tradition says that Dubrovnik, built as a maritime trading city and once known as Ragusa, was founded in the 7th century on a rocky island named Laus, but another theory says it was established by Greek sailors. Whichever is true, Dubrovnik has certainly had a chequered history. It has been under the protection of the Byzantine Empire, under Venetian sovereignty, and from the 14th to 17th centuries it was a free state, but an earthquake in 1667 destroyed many of its renaissance buildings. For a short time it was under French rule, then Austrian, and during WW2 it was a Nazi – puppet state in the Independent state of Croatia. In 1991 Croatia and Slovenia declared independence, and in October 1991 Dubrovnik was attacked by the JNA or Yugoslav People’s Army, leading to a seven month siege. 114 civilians were killed, many more were wounded, and the old walled town came under heavy artillery fire, with 56% of the buildings suffering some damage. The siege was lifted in May 1992, but sudden attacks from JNA continued for three more years. After the war ended, shell damage to the old town was repaired in the original style, and most was completed by 1999.
It was raining heavily when we arrived in Dubrovnik, the smooth marble pavements gleaming and slippery. Striped awnings dripped over the pavement cafes, and the smell of pizza and pasta wafted across the bustling side-walks.
Despite the rain, Dubrovnik was full of people milling about, wearing ponchos and waterproof jackets, and carrying dangerous umbrellas in tight spaces! Because of the driving rain we decided not to walk around the 2 km (1.24 miles) of white stone walls and towers that surround the city, and have protected its citizens for centuries. These defensive walls are 4 – 6 metres thick on the landward side, and 1.5 – 5 metres thick on the seaward side, and in the shape of an irregular parallelogram, with 4 fortresses and 4 gates, 2 by the harbour, and 2 with drawbridges to the mainland. The city was remarkably intact, as if the war for independence had never occurred. Despite the rain however, we were able to make our way through the maze of narrow passageways, under arches, over bridges, round towers, up and down narrow steps and wide stairways, and admire the architecture, the sculptured facades and gargoyles, and the intricate stone carvings. There are many old buildings, courtyards, towers, harbour, and fine sea views. This beautiful walled city, known as the ‘Pearl of the Adriatic’ was just as I remembered it.