Rising from the ashes
The Narrow streets of Dubrovnik

Mary King explores the rich history, culture and art of Croatia’s phoenix city, Dubrovnik.

"If there were several Dubrovniks in the world only one of them would be real Dubrovnik: this genuine, authentic, and only city made of stone and light. The Mediterranean links it with the continents, civilizations and peoples. Incomparable Dubrovnik," wrote one of Croatia' most loved poets. But Jure Kastelan, who was born in Central Dalmatia in 1919, would have cried in anguish had he known what was to befall his beloved city in 1991, just one year after his death in Zagreb and some 12 years after this stunningly beautiful city was shaken by a devastating earthquake. Ethnic divisions were already starting to rip the former Yugoslavia apart. With political changes sweeping through Eastern Europe in the late 1980s, many Croats felt the time had come to end more than four decades of communist rule and attain full autonomy.

Spoils of war
The Balkan war that went on to dominate world headlines throughout the 1990s, ensued and in early October 1991 Yugoslavia's federal army, along with Montenegrin militia, shelled Dubrovnik, a city believed to have been founded 1300 years ago by refugees from Epidaurum in Greece. Long considered a jewel of the Adriatic, the Old City of Dubrovnik, which had been designated a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1979, suffered horrendous damage during the 1991 attacks. Nobody ever believed that this city, which is turned towards the sun and sea, could be shaken so quickly after the 1979 Easter Day earthquake-and certainly not by the pounding artillery of those who had undoubtedly once enjoyed the cultural richness and spectacular beauty of this city. Although possessing modest means, Dubrovnik started its restoration even during the wartime destruction. Since the EC and United States recognized the full independence of Croatia in 1992 and the country was admitted to the United Nations, full-scale efforts have ensued to rebuild the country, where at least 80 percent of Yugoslavia's tourist resorts end up. Since the Dayton Agreements, which recognized Croatia's traditional borders and provided for the return of eastern Slavonia, were signed in Paris in 1985, the country has restored a modicum of stability. Today, in spite of the ravages of earthquakes and war, Dubrovnik is described by many-locals and tourists alike-as being even more breathtakingly beautiful than before. Down the ages, the city has risen like a phoenix, time and time again, from the ashes of wars and earthquakes. Napoleon's forces, the 100-year-long Austro-Hungarian occupation, the Fascist forces that came in 1941, as well as the 1991 shelling by Serbs and Montenegrins, have all shown that this city can probably never be truly vanquished. Dubrovnik arose from the ashes of the ancient city of Epidaurum, situated some 18km to the southeast. Epidaurum was already at least ten centuries old when it was destroyed by an earthquake in the middle of the 4th century. A large part of it sank into the sea while the rest was left unable to defend itself against the attacks of ancient tribes. The city was completely destroyed in 614 by warring Avars and united Slavonic tribes.

Walled in

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The old city walls afford great views over the harbour

The ancient city can only be entered by foot. Most visitors enter through Pile Gate, which consists of an inner and outer gate, the latter of which has protected the city since 1537. Between the Franciscan Monastery and Pile Gate lies the Church of St Salvation. Built by the edict of the Dubrovnik Senate in 1520, it was put up as a token of gratitude for the salvation of the city in the earthquake of the same year. The church remained undamaged even in the earthquake of 1667, and survives today in its original shape. Not far from here you find what was formerly St Claire's Nunnery. Built at the end of the 13th and the beginning of the 14th centuries the nunnery has one wing that was later turned into an orphanage-one of the first institutions of its kind in the world. Napoleon's forces closed the nunnery, turning it into an ammunition storehouse, and later into a stables. In the western part of the city, defended by the walls and impregnable Minceta Tower that has dominated the city for centuries, you come across the 14th-century Franciscan monastery that is famed for operating one of Europe's oldest pharmacies. Dating back to 1317, the pharmacy initially only catered to the monastery, but went on to supply the needs of the town. The monastery also boasts one of the most important old libraries in the world, housing the rich cultural and historical wealth of Dubrovnik.

Cathedral city
Interest in Dubrovnik Cathedral has recently been renewed. Since spring 1981 it has been the city's most outstanding archeological site. After the cathedral was damaged by the 1979 earthquake, the poet and art historian Josip Stosic, who was one of the team working on its restoration, made an unexpected discovery. Following a hunch, he sank a probe into the center of the 12th-century Romanesque cathedral underlying the present building, and found the apse of a completely unknown cathedral that was built five centuries before the Romanesque one. It was established that Dubrovnik has, in fact, had three cathedrals built one upon the other: the first was 7th-century Byzantine, the second 12th-century Romanesque and the third today's Baroque building that was completed in 1712. Besides buildings and sculptures, Dubrovnik is a city of art. As early as the 14th century a number of foreign painters were summoned to Dubrovnik by the government to cover the walls of the cathedral, the Great Council Hall's walls, as well as many churches. Art lovers will find a treasure trove of some of Europe's finest art on view in the churches, chapels, monasteries and museums that are scattered throughout the old city. But nothing more truly expresses the historical vision of Dubrovnik's freedom than the city walls, which were built between the 13th and 16th centuries. These stone structures are lauded by many Croatians as their most powerful ode to liberty. As you stroll along these 2km, 25m-high walls with 16 towers, you take in a sweeping view of the inky blue Adriatic sea. These are arguably the finest city walls in the world, and to walk along them is, without doubt, the highlight of any visit to this grand, ancient city.

Getting there
Airlines serving Croatia include Aeroflot, Austrian Airlines, British Airways, KLM, Lufthansa, Malaysia Airlines and Swiss Air.

Where to stay
Dubrovnik Hotels Group, tel +385-20-357-007, fax +385-20-356-911, email

Croatian National Tourism Office (Zagreb), tel +385-1-456-455, fax, +385-1-428-674; Dubrovnik Tourist Information Office, tel + 385- 20-413-301, fax: +385-20-413-745 Embassy of Croatia (Tokyo), tel (03)-5478-8481.


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395: Rising from the ashes
Mary King explores the rich history, culture and art of Croatia’s phoenix city, Dubrovnik.


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