Thursday 15th September 2022
“A city is besieged by an invading army that outnumbers them seven times over. The invaders are highly trained and well armed. The citizens are not. It suffers almost 300 deaths and 16,000 refugees flee.”
No, this isn’t a story line from ‘Game of Thrones’; it is recent history. It happened to Dubrovnik only 30 years ago.
The siege of Dubrovnik lasted for seven months in the winter of 91/92. It began with the invasion of the Yugoslavian army and ended with the liberation of the city by the Croatian army, who pushed the Yugoslavians back into what is now Serbia. 2,000 shells and bombs were fired into the old city by the invaders, burning many of the buildings to the ground and causing widespread damage to most of the others.
It is hard to spot any evidence of the bombardment and the associated deprivations the citizens had to endure. After the civil war, or Homeland War as it is known in Croatia, ended, The EU and UN provided the funds, expertise, and workforce to rebuild the historic walled town, and the Dubrovnians have made it a vibrant and bustling city again. One clue though, is visible from the city walls. As you look across the rooftops you notice the attractive, multicoloured, terracotta roof tiles and then you realise that all the bright red roofs are the ones that cover the rebuilt and repaired buildings. There are the occasional poignant reminders, such as a local artist who has placed posters on the walls outside his gallery or the vehicles displayed in a local park as a tribute to the volunteers who gave their lives in the defence of their city.
The Homeland War, was just the latest difficulty Dubrovnik has had to overcome. Over the last 1,400 it has been part of one republic or another. It’s heyday was probably in the 15th and 16th centuries when it was the capital of the Republic of Ragusa and flourished so brightly both economically and culturally that it became known as the ‘Pearl of the Adriatic’, only for the city to be all but razed to the ground by an earthquake in 1667.
A couple of paragraphs ago I referred to ‘bustling city’. On reflection bustling is not a strong enough adjective, even on a Thursday in the middle of September it is teeming with tourists! The magnificence of its massive walls, the sheer beauty and quaintness of its buildings and narrow streets has made Dubrovnik a tourist honeypot, that attracts visitors from around the world. This is helped, of course, by its deep water port for cruise ships and the starring role it has played in ‘Game of Thrones’!
We took an eight o’clock taxi from our campsite, on the outskirts of the city, to the old town. (Dogs are not allowed on buses in Dalmatia – which seems sort of odd, doesn’t it?). The walls are best walked early in the day, when it is cooler and less busy – in places they are very narrow. Even at our early hour, the walls were enjoying a steady stream of tourists. Our two kilometre circumnavigation, including plenty of stops for photos and refreshment, took two hours. By the time we climbed down into the town, it looked as if the walls were hosting a world record conga attempt.
The rest of the day was pretty evenly split between choosing which atmospheric looking café was going to be best for elevenses, seeing all the sights, choosing the tastiest restaurant for lunch and fighting off American tourists who wanted to ‘pet our puppies’. It felt as if 50% of the tourists in Dubrovnik are from the US of A and are thoroughly missing their own dogs and we were providing an essential service, using Bryn and Enzo as therapy dogs. It has been the case, more generally, that travelling with dogs has brought us into more conversations with other folk that would normally be the case. Enzo in particular is a star attraction. Our survey shows that at least 75% of Croatian waiters have a Golden Retriever of their own!
We found the oldest, still working pharmacy in Europe, the Rector’s Palace, Marin Drizic’s statue (his lap has been rubbed clean by the number of women who sit on his lap – I’m not sure why his nose is shiny?), Orlando’s Column (a 15th century knight – his statue’s forearm was used for centuries by local cloth traders as the standard measurement of length, the ell.), and somewhere called ‘King’s Landing’. If, dear reader, you know what King’s Landing is in Game of Thrones, please let me know?
After eight hours and almost 100 photographs (some in B&W, Dom) in the walled city, we got the taxi back to base and rewarded our thoroughly petted dogs with a walk through the woods to a beach bar we had seen that was built amongst the trees. We rounded off another memorable day on this trip with a pint of locally made IPA and cocktails, watching the lights on the cruise ships, the other side of the bay, twinkle as night softly fell.
Thirty-six hours earlier, a short drive along a coast road that seemed to cling by its fingernails to the steep mountainsides, pausing only to catch its breath at some lovely little ports, took us from Prapratno to Dubrovnik. As we drove across the suspension bridge, alongside two enormous passenger liners, into the city, it hit me. We had made it! We called off our attempt four years ago, because we ran out of time, COVID-19 scuppered our plans in 2020, but now here we are – the furthest south and east we travel on this trip – in Dubrovnik! It has exceeded my expectations.