During a visit to the walled city of Dubrovnik in Croatia we saw two common elements of life in the Eastern Mediterranean: Towns founded by people who lived in fear of pirates and Saints who had no peace, even in death.
Dubrovnik is a medieval city in what was once Yugoslavia. One theory of the founding of the city was that it was built in on what was then an island in the 7th century in an effort to protect themselves from pirates and other marauders. Evidently the Pirates of the Mediterranean were no swash buckling Jack Sparrows ready to sweep swooning women off their feet like their Caribbean counterparts. They were just bad dudes who needed to be kept at bay.
The wall surrounding the city was built in the 13th Century and now extends for 1.2 miles. I highly recommend paying the reasonable fee to walk the entire length. It offers great views of the city and surrounding sea. Start early in the morning on warm days and bring a cold bottle of water.
Croatia broke away from Yugoslavia in a bloody war that began in 1991. Dubrovnik itself was under siege for seven months. You can see the extent of the damage based on the many tile roofs that are new, replaced after the shelling stopped. During a visit to the Franciscan Monastery we saw a hole that had been punched in the wall by a rocket fired by the Serbian army of Slobadan Milosevic. The city wall that served well against pirates and many other foes during the centuries, is no match for modern artillery.
In the monastery we also witnessed saints, or rather parts of them, lovingly preserved in metal shrouds and armor. As we saw in Venice, the city that purloined the entire body of St. Mark, if you want to rest in peace, I recommend you die in anonymity. At least St. Mark is relatively intact compared to the minor saints on display in Dubrovnik.
When I was stationed in Germany from 1988-91 many of my friends fled dreary German winters for sunny vacations in then Communist Yugoslavia on the Adriatic Sea. They talked about how beautiful the regions was, but also how the people seemed so sad. The Croats that we met in Dubrovnik didn’t seem to be as melancholy as citizens of the late days of Communism had been. In fact, the guy in a street stall selling specialty liqueurs ranging from pomegranate to cherry seemed downright cheery. I suspect his customers weren’t the only ones trying the samples he peddled.
For lunch we stopped at a restaurant located right on Loggia Square on the old port. We were scanning the extensive menu until the waiter told us that the only thing available was pizza. It reminded me of East Berlin where the shop windows were full of wares, but nothing was available. Or maybe the cook was just sick that day.
Travel Tips: Although the official currency of Croatia and Dubrovnik is the Kuna, most places price items in Euros as well. We used the Knopf Mapguide to Dubrovnik as our primary source. The city is easy to navigate and the high points can be covered in a day. The Rick Steves Europe: Eastern Europe DVD has a good segment on Dubrovnik. Check it out from your library or buy it through Amazon or PBS. No free podcasts thought. That would be a nice resource to see.
If you do visit Dubrovnik be sure to find the cheery man selling liqueurs in the market square and give him my regards. And make sure your restaurant has more than pizza before you sit down. Although the pizza was quite good.
Next Week: The Dogs of Greece