Old Walled Dubrovnik

Old Walled Dubrovnik

(click any photo to enlarge; see gallery, below)

Sea Wall Panorama

Sea Wall Panorama

WHERE HAVE I BEEN? you ask. Why haven’t I heard more about Dubrovnik? Do they call it by another name? (Yes, actually; it used to go by Ragusa—its Italian name). Maybe Croatians have just been keeping it to themselves? But the place has been catching on as a destination; CNNGo calls Dubrovnik one of the Ten Best Medieval Walled Cities in the World.

Floating City outside Dubrovnik

Floating City outside Dubrovnik

A few days in Dubrovnik show that Europeans and Asians know Dubrovnik’s charms, and they are here. Not a few cruise ships call at the new port in New Dubrovnik, and we even see one between the mainland and the Island of Lokrum, which shields the Old City’s harbor from nearby—parked in a space that seems too narrow for the megaship even to turn around.

Old Dubrovnik Map

Old Dubrovnik Map

But American tourists are in relatively short supply here, and it’s surely a result of the 1990s Balkan War, which Americans never have understood well. Dubrovnik was heavily shelled from the mountain above it—a position Napoleon’s army once held—by the Serbs and Montenegrins of the Yugoslav Army after the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1991. The city, which had been de-militarized since 1970 for the protection of its UNESCO World Heritage-designated treasures, suffered heavy damage. Our historic hotel was set afire, and most buildings, including those of the historic Old City, suffered damage. As the city held no military significance, the attack on it was meant solely to demoralize its inhabitants—and all Croatia into capitulation—an option they refused to entertain. It took over fifteen years of hard work and UNESCO support after hostilities ceased to repair the damage and welcome tourists back.

City Walls at Night

City Walls at Night

Dubrovnik resembles Venice in its historical position and development. Like Venice, it drew its wealth from world trade, and like Venice, it prospered as an independent republic among rival empires. Like Venice, its geographic position and fortifications had much to do with its wealth and independence. For Venice, the sea itself was its walls; at Dubrovnik, its stone walls—as thick as 23 feet—were teamed with the sea for the city’s defense.

Entrance, from Drained Moat

Entrance, from Drained Moat

The moat that once supplemented Dubrovnik’s landward walls was long since drained, and now holds a fountain, gardens, and a kayak-rental concession, while sporting a permanent entrance bridge where a drawbridge once spanned it. Dubrovnik never equaled the Venetian palaces and churches for sheer opulence, but it resisted Venetian domination and rivaled as a maritime power it from its perch on the Eastern Adriatic coast.

Dubrovnik Museum & Clock Tower

Dubrovnik Museum & Clock Tower

Two rival theories posit Dubrovnik’s origins as an ancient Greek colony and maritime way station on the one hand, or as a settlement of survivors from the Roman town of Epidaurum (nearby modern Cavtat), after its destruction by 7th Century Slav and Avar invaders. Ragusa, as it was then called, grew into a power on the Dalmatian coast and prospered through Mediterranean trade. When the forces of the Fourth Crusade invaded Dalmatia, Venice took Ragusa under its shadow in 1205 and transferred some of its aristocratic republican DNA to its junior partner. By 1358, Ragusa had grown strong enough to shake off Venetian control and ally itself with Hungary as a largely independent vassal, continuing its expansion into the 15th Century.

1667 Earthquake Rubble

1667 Earthquake Rubble

The devastating earthquake of 1667 shook all but two of the city’s buildings to the ground and, along with a drop in trade, triggered its decline. The city was reconstructed, in Baroque style, but never regained its dominance or its splendor.

Uphill towards French Fort

Uphill towards French Fort

Napoleon and his army entered Ragusa in 1806 on a ruse as “white knight” saviors from a Russian and Montenegrin siege, and then turned to blockade and force the surrender of the city, whose government the French then dissolved, while folding Ragusa into the Kingdom of Italy. This arrangement would be short-lived, as in 1814, Ragusa was, in turn, taken by the British and Austrians, to be incorporated into the Austro-Hungarian empire by the Congress of Vienna, where it remained until after World War I.

He's GOOD, too!

He’s GOOD, too!

After the fall of the Austro-Hungarian empire, Ragusa became part of a new Kingdom of Yugoslavia, and its name was officially changed to Dubrovnik—a name that had, in fact, been used since the Middle Ages. During the Second World War, Dubrovnik was swept into a Nazi-puppet Independent State of Croatia and occupied by the Germans’ Italian proxies, until 1943, when the Germans themselves invaded Dalmatia. Following the War, the city became part of the Socialist Republic of Croatia, within the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia—the creation of the WWII Partisan leader Josip Broz “Tito,” who amalgamated a state out of six republics, at least five major ethnicities, sheer personal appeal, will and wiliness.

Den Mother and Friend

Den Mother and Friend

Any attempted characterization here of the complexities of Yugoslavia, the Balkan peoples, and their common history of conflict and collaboration is likely to prove a disservice, rather than a benefit. On the other hand, a visit of a couple of weeks with a knowledgeable tour director, local city guides, candid conversation and some access to people’s homes and working environments, has brought at least one people’s experience in the region to life, and into the realm of sympathetic comprehensibility. We are grateful, and will bear these people in our prayers, if we are not too forgetful, for years to come.

Panorama, Old Harbor

Panorama, Old Harbor

Our tour director has hired a boat and driver for a foray into the harbor and along the near coast of nearby Lokrum Island. Our boat lurches along on the waves, and as I rise to my feet to snap some photos and balance myself (not hard for an NYC subway rider), I feel that I’ve pulled a lower back muscle, which will make sleeping difficult for a couple of nights and bother me for weeks.

Towards Lokrum Island

Towards Lokrum Island

One of our fellow travelers notes that there is said to be a Naturist (the designation currently preferred by nudists) beach on the other side of the island. We don’t venture there, of course, but a person from the region tells us that she used to go to such resorts with her family in her childhood, and that she and her friends would often laugh at the “newbie” tourists who visited there, who were instantly recognizable. They would always get quite sunburned on their faces and on their bottoms, she tells us, and would look “just like baboons.” She also remarked that the impulse that proliferated some degree of nudist culture was sparked by the notorious Wallis Simpson, the late Duchess of Windsor, who enticed Edward VI to abdicate the throne of the United Kingdom to become her third husband.

Stairway to St. Ignatius Church

Stairway to St. Ignatius Church

Everywhere we travel, we tend to see the same, gray, “budget model” Pigeon we’ve long known in New York City (where it is, by the way, illegal to feed the winged vermin). We see them here in Dubrovnik too, but there’s one difference: they fly differently. It’s evident that these pigeons have learned a different way of flying from the lively, ubiquitous, Mediterranean swallows that we find such a delight here. Rather than just flapping, sailing along, and swooping for a bread crumb, these local pigeons dart, bank suddenly, and change direction the way the swallows do. Now if only swallows could come to NYC and teach pigeons to eat insects, as they do! For their part, the coloring of the swallows in some locations (particularly in Greek Macedonia) makes them look a bit like small, flying perch or mackerel.

"Jewish Street" in Dubrovnik

“Jewish Street” in Dubrovnik

We come across a street sign (they are always embedded in the ground-floor walls of corner buildings in this part of the world—never on freestanding signposts) that declares a narrow passage to be ULICA ZUDIOSKA, “Jewish Street.”

Synagogue Museum

Synagogue Museum

A few doors from the corner is the old synagogue, the oldest Sephardic synagogue in use today, and the second-oldest in Europe. Joined to it is the city’s Jewish Museum. “No Jews live on Jew Street today,” says the manager who sells us tickets. “Many” Jews are said to have made their way to Dubrovnik from after their expulsion from Spain and Portugal in 1492. Many of them became merchants and craftsmen; one became one of the best-known cannon and bell founders of the time. Their lot rode on the degree of Dubrovnik’s independence: when Venice dominated, they were harassed and persecuted around Dubrovnik; when Dubrovnik’s position fell in the mid-1700s, Jews were confined to the ghetto they were allotted in 1546. Napoleon first gave them full equality in 1808; the Austrians again withdrew their rights, and Croatia finally recognized Jewish legal equality in the mid-19th Century.

Dubrovnik Synagogue

Dubrovnik Synagogue

Many of Dubrovnik’s 250 Jews were transferred to an Italian concentration camp during WWII, while others were transferred to “liberated” parts of Croatia when Tito’s partisans entered Dubrovnik in late 1944. After the War, many of Dubrovnik’s survivors settled in Israel. Only seventeen Jews were counted here in the 2001 census.

Orlando, Dubrovnik's Yardstick

Orlando, Dubrovnik’s Yardstick

Feeling underemployed? Here’s a niche profession that may just be available in your town: you could be your local Sir Orlando (Some may know him as Roland from old epic tales; Orlando seems it could well be a translation into Pig Latin). This Medieval knight and reputed nephew of Charlemagne (or his statue, actually) stands, with drawn sword, in front of St. Blaise’s church. His function (again, that of his statue, really) was to serve as the Dubrovnik yardstick. Under Orlando’s feet, one can see a faint, straight line scribed into the stone. Its length is the length of the statue’s forearm, 51.2 cm. and served as the standard Ragusan cubit for measuring dry goods in the city. From the flagstaff to which Orlando is attached, on certain holidays the city still flies the old Ragusan banner that proclaimed LIBERTAS (liberty) in the city and on its sailing ships.

Yup, it's an Artichoke!

Yup, it’s an Artichoke!

A TRENDY TRAVEL TOPIC these days is “Agro-Tourism.” It takes many forms, from working, farm vacations (Ugh! Sounds like Mom & Dad – mostly Dad – attempting to instill “work ethic” in the kids; good luck with that!), and visits to wineries, with wine-tastings and local cuisine. The award-winning tour company we use, Odysseys Unlimited, likes to provide very welcome opportunities to spend evenings with local families engaged in agriculture.

Pre-Dinner Grappa Tasting

Pre-Dinner Grappa Tasting

Near Dubrovnik, we visit a local vintner and olive grower, who takes us to his cool, stone olive press cellar for a tasting of his Croatian grappa-equivalent, which, like Italian grappa, is distilled from the skins, pulp, seeds, and stems left over from wine making, and is generally flavored with berries, fruit, or herbs. Our host’s sage flavor version was the best of a three excellent varieties he served. 

Olive Oil the Old Way

Olive Oil the Old Way

Old Olive Press

Old Olive Press

After this starter, our olive grower trotted out his sweet little white horse, the surprise “star of the show” our tour director had told us to expect, and demonstrated the use of a traditional, beast-powered olive crusher. After the olives are crushed into a suitable mash, the product is transferred into a kind of basket made from a rope that leaves no contaminating flavor in the oil, and placed in a traditional, manual press, which the olive grower successively ratchets to high pressure, against the mechanism’s anchors in the ceiling and walls, until extra virgin olive oil flows out of the mash and press. Hot water boils on a stove in the corner of the room, for use in successive, and less desirable, pressings of the mash. We finish with a discussion of old and new processes, market economics, amino acid content, and Q&A.

Delicious, Fresh Antipasto

Delicious, Fresh Antipasto

A tour of our host’s garden, porch, and environs leads to a home-cooked dinner served in an adjacent stone dining room. Fresh antipasti, including home-made prosciutto, cheese, basil, the proprietor’s wines, and other treats lead to the main course and a succulent dessert of creme caramel, like a huge flan. Tonight, life is good.

From Host's Back Porch

From Host’s Back Porch

GALLERY

(click on any photo to begin. View on a LARGE monitor, if possible)

 

Advertisements