In times past, Dubrovnik was a city so loud that even the pigeons would take flight from its streets. The booming of heavy cannon fire from the city wall towards the open sea would rattle the houses and keep the city awake whenever a seafaring nation was about to attack the proud and prudent communal estate. Although, actually, they did not really have any enemies at all, not at any point in their history, Mario hastily assures us. The Croatian is leading us through a picturesque historic city surrounded by one great, walkable city wall – the very wall that was used for self-defense back in the days.
Actually, they did not quite like Venice then, in the golden age of the Mediterranean. But, if you chose to be with Mario, the enmity mainly resulted from rivalry. Just like the Republic of Ragusa – as Dubrovnik was called in the time of its autonomy – Venice tried to obtain superiority over the Mediterranean maritime trade.
Keeping that superiority was Dubrovnik’s main desire. Between the 15th and 17th century, the Republic had gained a sizeable fortune thanks to the maritime trade. Its ties reached out as far as Constantinople. Yet, the city state itself seldom took part in military events. And its trading partners did not dare to attack the limestone walls of the stronghold, more than some meters thick at parts. Thanks to its unique situation on a promontory with a natural, protecting harbor, Dubrovnik was practically invulnerable and warned about attackers in time. “Also, our buildings are quite simple. Nobody was allowed to show off. Because if they had done so, others would have probably been envious of their prosperity”, Mario explains. “Libertas”, freedom and liberty is the highest good of the city’s Dalmatian inhabitants until today.
The 1990s saw the Yugoslav war and an end to peace and liberty. Now, even the last pigeons fled from the streets of Dubrovnik as the war afflicted the city much more than any medieval naval battle. Hundreds of old town inhabitants had to seek refuge. They found shelter at the Libertas hotel just outside the city center, the only building in the area with a bombproof cellar. The hotel, destroyed by firebombs, was rebuilt in no time, as was everything else.
Dubrovnik is attuned to the future, people are longing for the adoption of the Euro and limestone and tiled roofs look as peaceful as ever. The pigeons have returned long ago. “But they are under control – we don’t want them to destroy our beautiful limestone buildings again”, Mario assures us. He deplores the Croatian tendency to rule out the experiences of the 90ies. All in all, the city has spent 2.7 billion dollars to eradicate the flaws the war had left. Only those who search meticulously will find traces of destruction – outside the city center, some sidewalks still show small traces of grenade splinters. A room in the customhouse reminds of the soldiers killed in action. But that is all that is done for remembrance.
Without an urgent need for memento, Dubrovnik is a city of jollity. It is young, dynamic and cheery. At daytime, tourists crowd the places in the inner city, but in the early afternoon, Dubrovnik’s youth comes out to party. They take over the city, its seaside bars, and street cafés just as the last rays of sunshine shine on the limestone walls and illuminate the whole city and pigeons gather beneath abandoned benches to fight for the food the tourists left for them.
Please share this post if you enjoyed reading it. Maybe your friends will like it, too.