The historic walled city of Dubrovnik is Dalmatia’s most prized jewel. Towering over the azure Adriatic Sea, it’s not hard to see why hundreds of thousands of holidaymakers flock to this handsome maritime town every year. Bolstered by the recent popularity of HBO series Game of Thrones which sometimes films here, Dubrovnik has been gifted a bucket-list destination status, and the city has cultivated a tourist industry to go with it – there is lots to see and do here.
Pile Gate serves as the main entry point into Dubrovnik, and it is where most every local tour of the city starts off. Considered the city’s transport hub, the gate was constructed on the western wall in 1537 in order to provide secure entry to the city’s defenders fighting against foreign invaders. Fans of the popular TV show Game of Thrones will probably recognize the gate, as it has been featured on the show a few times.
From the 15th century to this day, access to the gate is via a drawbridge that used to be raised every evening. Connecting the drawbridge is a stone bridge with two arches, which was designed in 1471 by Paskoje Milicevic. Today, there is a green area below the gate underneath the stone bridge where the moat used to be.
Pile Gate is actually comprised of an inner gate and an outer gate. In the interior arch is a statue of the city’s patron saint, St. Blaise, which was made by a 20th century Croatian sculptor named Ivan Mestrovich. The door within the gate was constructed in 1460, and just beyond it, visitors can see the commemorative plaque detailing the damage to the walls sustained during the Siege of Dubrovnik which took place from 1991 to 1992, during the Croatian War of Independence.
Standing at the threshold of the gate gives visitors a superb view of the Placa, which is the main street of Dubrovnik. There is no entrance fee charged for entry through Pile Gate, so there is no reason why you shouldn’t include it in your itinerary!
THE WALLS OF DUBROVNIK
The Walls of Dubrovnik are some of the most important features in a city which definitely has no shortage of historically significant attractions. The walls have been standing ever since the city was founded, which dates them back to pre-7th century. Built in order to protect the city and its residents from the marauding invaders that plagued the countryside in those days, the walls are especially impressive for the fact that they have never been breached in the course of numerous battles and sieges during the Middle Ages. Today, the Walls of Dubrovnik are considered by historians to be some of the best fortification systems from that era, and a sizeable portion is now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Running a length of 1,940 meters, the walls practically encircle the entire city. The intricate system of forts, towers, bastions, casemates, free-standing fortresses, and other structures provide endless hours of leisurely exploration and more serious study, making the place equally interesting to casual tourists and students of history.
Walking along the top of the walls gives you the opportunity to enjoy a stunning view of the city and the surrounding sea. Make your way north, and you will eventually find yourself at the foot of majestic Tower Minceta, which in itself is a noteworthy structure worth seeing up close. Other equally impressive attractions are the Revelin Fortress, the Fortress Saint-John, and Fort Bokar. Standing just outside the western entrance to the city, Fort Bokar is considered the oldest preserved fort of its kind in Europe.
All that walking around in the fresh air is bound to give you an appetite. Thankfully, the area has many bars, ice cream shops, cafés, and restaurants that serve up an assortment of local favorites as well as more familiar international cuisine. In any case, make sure to bring a large bottle of water along, and dress light during the summer in order to beat the heat and humidity.
One of the best ways to see Walls of Dubrovnik is on foot or bike.
Stradun is one of the most popular spots in Dubrovnik, both among local residents and the scores of tourists that fly in from around the world every year. Officially known as Placa, Stradunis the main street of Dubrovnik’s Old Town. With its limestone pavements and serene old world charm, the place seems to give visitors a sense of stepping back into the glorious past.
Any time of days is a good time to see the sights of Stradun, but the cooler temperatures of the early mornings and early evenings are more conducive to lengthy exploration. Sunset is an especially awe-inspiring sight, with the silhouetted peaks of the medieval period buildings serving as a breathtaking frame for the swifts swooping through the fiery sky overhead. Even more examples of fine architecture can be seen throughout the length of the street, with historic monuments and charming buildings emphasizing the most unique aspects of Dubrovnik.
Step into any of the many cafés here for a quick bite to eat and a cold, refreshing beverage. There are also many souvenir shops located along the street which offer affordably priced gift items and plenty of memorabilia by which you could remember your trip.
If you happen to be in town during late January to early February, make sure to mark off the Feast of St. Blaise procession on your calendar. The procession takes place in the evening of February 3, and is a great way to experience local culture first hand as town residents honor the patron saint of the city. Come summer, the concerts and other outdoor events make for a unique cultural experience that you won’t want to miss.
Orlando’s Column is recognized as Dubrovnik’s oldest preserved public sculpture. Carved out of stone, this impressive column is located under the City Bell Tower on Luza Square and is carved by Antun Dubrovcanin in 1418. It is based on the legend of Orland or Rolando, the legendary hero who supposedly helped repel a dangerous siege of Dubrovnik by Arab pirates sometime in the 8th century. The statue has historic, cultural, and political importance as it symbolizes Dubrovnik’s freedom.
You can see the statue of the medieval warrior that is Orlando’s Column – complete with his arms and shield – when you get near the City Bell Tower. During official ceremonies the flag of the Republic it flies on the flag post atop the column, sending out a profound and yet simple political message. View the small platform on top of the column; it was designed for the purpose of issuing official haralds and proclamations to the public gathered around it. Public punishments were also meted out near this lovely attraction. Learn about the history and the legend on which this column is based – how Orlando or Roland gathered his fleet to save Dubrovnik from a Saracen siege that lasted 15 months. The legend may not be entirely true, as is the problem with legends of this nature. See how the column serves multiple purposes. Watch Orlando’s Column play a major role during the opening of the Dubrovnik Summer Festival. Stop by this well-known location if you do not have much of an idea of the geography of the place and ask relaxed visitors and locals included for directions.
Another important and interesting fact: the forearm of Orlando from the statue is used locally as the standard measure of the Ragusan cubit or lakat.
Onofrio’s Fountain – it is actually a set of two fountains set in 2 locations in the same area – is one of the most sought-after and stunning landmarks in Dubrovnik. Both were built by the architect of Dubrovnik’s aquaduct, Onofrio Giordano della Cava. The bigger fountain is seen when you walk into the Stradun from the Pile Gate. The smaller fountain is at the other end of Stradun. The bigger fountain was built between 1438 and 1440 while the smaller one was completed between 1440 and 1442.
Admire the massive dome when you visit the bigger of Onofrio’s Fountains; it also has 16 taps around it on a 16-sided cupola made by Petar Martinov. The cupola is now quite damaged – after the earthquake of 1667 – but has a masked face carved out of stone, also called a ‘maskeron’ on each of its 16 sides. The damage caused by the earthquake resulted in the loss of a statue of a dragon that graced the top of the cupola. Walk across to the other end of Stradun to see the smaller of Onofrio’s Fountains. This one looks great and has elegant designs of playful dolphins on it, also designed by Petar Martinov. This smaller fountain was built to ensure water supply water to the market on Luza Square.
Walk around the bigger Onofrio’s Fountain as you admire its beauty and then sit down and relax with your kids on the steps and ledge around the water trough below the fountain.
Dedicated to Dubrovnik’s patron saint, St. Blaise Church was originally built in the Romanesque style in the 14th century. After incurring extensive damage during the Great Earthquake of 1667, the church was rebuilt in the Baroque style in the 18th century. The work took place over a period of eight years, from 1706 to 1714.
One of the highlights of the church is the single square nave which has a floor plan in the form of an inscribed Greek cross. Here you can look up and see the majestic grand dome overhead, and the apse with two sacristies on either side. The cupola at the center is also an impressive feature, both for its historical and religious significance.
Even more impressive sights can be seen when you climb the stairs up to the portal, which is decorated with statues of angels. The balustrade itself features three statues by Marino Gropelli, the center statue being a depiction of St. Blaise. On either side are two statues representing the virtues “faith” and “hope”. The top of the stairs also gives you a great bird’s-eye view of the façade with its four Corinthian columns and the semicircular gable and balustrade above it.
Back down at the ground floor, visitors can marvel at the main altar made of white and polychrome marble, and view the Gothic-styled statue of St. Blaise in gilt silver, with statues of kneeling angels on either side. Here you could also see the domed antependium up close, with its depiction of two angels opening up a curtain to reveal an intricately designed medallion.
Because of the extensive work that has been done on the interior of the church, there are many opportunities to take photographs as mementos of your visit. A popular church for local weddings, St. Blaise Church is one attraction you definitely don’t want to miss!
THE RECTOR’S PALACE
The Rector’s Palace at Dubrovnik is a Gothic-style structure built sometime during the 14th century. Over the years, renovation and restoration work performed on the building resulted in the incorporation of Renaissance and Baroque architectural styles. From the 14th to the 18thcenturies, the palace served as the office of the Rector of the Republic of Ragusa. The building has also served as the seat of the administration of the state and the Minor Council. Today, the Rector’s Palace is designated as a Cultural History Museum under the supervision of the History Department of the Museum of Dubrovnik.
Visitors to the palace have a wealth of architectural and historical sights to enjoy. The private chambers and the public halls of the building hint at the greatness of centuries past, and the ornate staircase in the atrium is almost as impressive today as it was so many centuries ago, despite its age.
Elsewhere in the palace, visitors are greeted with the statue of Miho Pracat, the man who famously donated a large portion of his wealth to the Republic. This is only one of the many impressive sculptures and figurines on display, many of which were designed by Milan’s renowned sculptor Pietro de Martino. Pietro was also responsible for designing the columns of the palace porch, which still remain standing to this day.
Although many sections of the palace have fallen to the ravages of time, signs of its former grandeur remain apparent in its many exhibits. Of particular interest is the exhibit that depicts the Judgment of Solomon, which is one of the highlights of a vast collection that includes several paintings by the old masters, coats of arms, coins minted during the Republic’s golden period, the original keys to the gates of the city, furniture, portraits, and priceless state documents.
History buffs will also enjoy exploring the other areas of the palace, including the armory, prison, watch house, and the powder magazine. Make sure to check out the jewelry collection, as well as the medieval artifacts that serve as awe-inspiring reminders of the city’s glorious past.