Old Town Dubrovnik
For centuries this walled city was the entrance to the Adriatic Sea, and today it’s a place where modern life meets history and tradition in every corner. The breathtaking old town is rich with medieval palazzos, museums, churches, and beautiful restaurants and offers a unique travel experience.
It’s a museum-city and a place where history comes to life as you are strolling through streets, exploring monuments, and observing local traditions. Sometimes, it can feel like you stepped into a time machine. Today, Dubrovnik is the most popular tourist destination in Croatia, known worldwide, and attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. It’s probably on the bucket list of every traveller.
2500 years of history
Historical records note that this area’s first settlement dates back to the Iron Age, 2500 years ago.
Gradually, settlements started to develop, especially in Ancient times with a Roman town of Epidaurus that fell with Croats’ arrival in the 7th century.
Many historians disagree on how Dubrovnik was founded, whether refugees from Epidaurus moved to a safer bay and called it originally Ragusa, or Ragusa was a functional settlement before this period.
However, Ragusa, today’s Dubrovnik, had strategic importance in terms of geographic position because of its bays naturally protected by the islands and mount Srđ from the back.
The biggest development of Dubrovnik happened during the time of crusader’s wars in the 12th and 13th centuries. A lot of traffic was going through the area, resulting in the expansion of trading posts alongside the Adriatic coast.
Dubrovnik worked towards liberation from the Venetian influence, which ultimately enabled the development into the most important trading town of the 15th century, together with Venice and Ancona. Thanks to good contracts, the territory was expanded, and it included an area from Klek in the north to the entrance of Boka-Kotor Bay in the south with islands Mljet, Lastovo, Elaphiti, and Lokrum.
As an after-effect, the Republic of Dubrovnik was formed, having its own Duke, council members, money, laws and a flag with the image of their patron saint, St. Blaise.
During the 16th century, many lucrative businesses developed in Dubrovnik as the Republic accepted sponsorship from the Ottoman Empire, giving Dubrovnik access to trading all over their territory with a customs fee of only 2%.
Small in size, with no army, the Republic of Dubrovnik was able to perfect defending mechanisms with strategically developed diplomacy and staying neutral in international disputes.
The only true and constant competitor and the enemy was the Venetian Republic.
The Golden Age came quickly, as, in the 16th century, Dubrovnik’s fleet grew to an impressive 200 ships. It covered the whole Mediterranean, Black Sea, ports in England and Germany, with the biggest ships reaching India and America. Dubrovnik’s ships and experienced sailors became highly requested in cargo transport.
The city lived in prosperity, with citizens feeling safe and free behind the massive walls. This freedom is visible in literature and creativity as this age gave many famous writers, poets, artists and scientists like Marin Držić, Ivan Gundulić and Ruđer Bošković.
The catastrophic earthquake hit the city in 1667, and this marked the change.
Half of Dubrovnik’s citizens perished, buildings were destroyed, and it was necessary to rebuild the whole town.
Dubrovnik never wholly recovered from this catastrophe, and now they were vulnerable and exposed to a possible takeover from Ottomans and Venetians.
However, using their knowledge and experience, the city recovered and rebuilt its walls and the fleet.
Different political changes throughout Europe in the next 150 years led to the fall of the Republic of Dubrovnik as it became part of the Dalmatian territory in 1815.
Recent history captured the infamous shelling during the Homeland War in the early 1990s. Dubrovnik was able to recover and rise once again to shine s a true Pearl of the Adriatic.
When in Dubrovnik
Exploring Dubrovnik with its medieval architecture, narrow, colourful streets, massive walls surrounded by crystal clear Adriatic Sea is a unique and picturesque experience.
Every visitor who passes Pile gate and enters the old town discovers a monumental city with characteristic red rooftops, stone buildings, and the main street Stradun that runs through the heart of the town, revealing squares, museums, shops, and restaurants.
Following Stradun reveals an impressive Rector’s Palace used as the seat of power for the elected rector during the time of the Republic.
This Gothic-Renaissance palace, today a museum, consists of the rector’s office with a private chamber, administrative offices, and a dungeon. It evokes an important part of Dubrovnik’s history, and it is home to the original keys of the gates, documents, and portraits.
It is also quite popular among Game of Thrones fans as it was used as a stage for King’s Landing.
The most popular and a must-see for every visitor that comes to Dubrovnik is a famous walk around the city walls. Almost 2km long, preserved in their original shape, indestructible during the big earthquake in 1667, city walls are the biggest attraction in Dubrovnik.
They surround the old town in an irregular shape with famous forts like Minčeta, Lovrijenac, and Revelin, crucial to keeping the city and people inside the walls safe.
Today, a full circuit around the walls grants unforgettable and breathtaking views, revealing many charming details of Dubrovnik and a perfect getaway from crowds taking over the city’s streets.
Speaking of views, the new addition to Dubrovnik’s list of attractions is a cable car that goes up to Mount Srđ, sitting just above the town.
Views of the Old City of Dubrovnik, the Adriatic Sea, and islands in front are, to many will be the highlight of the visit to this unique city.
Srđ is also home to a newly opened Museum of the Homeland War, uniting archives and showcasing the timeline of events from 1991-1995. It’s placed in the Fort Imperial, which was Command Center during the war.
Lokrum and Elafiti islands are a perfect getaway from the busy streets of Dubrovnik. They are ideal for chilling out, enjoying wonderful nature, taking a swim in the Adriatic, or exploring walking trails.
Over 40 years ago, UNESCO enlisted Dubrovnik as a protected world heritage site. Since then, many local traditions have joined the UNESCO non-material heritage list, especially the famous Festivity of Saint Blaise, Dubrovnik patron saint.
According to the legend, when Venetians set to attack Dubrovnik in 972, St. Blaise appeared to a local priest and warned him of an imminent attack.
The priest warned the Senate and thus saved the city. Since then, locals take 3rd February to celebrate their patron saint, with colourful festive activities lasting for several days. This period in the year is exceptional in the hearts of locals and their guests.
An inevitable part of everyone visiting Dubrovnik is tasting local cuisine. Starting from the local market, known as the city’s stomach, this is a place where everyone shops. From locals to Chefs, everyone is roaming the market in search of local, organic fresh food.
The gastronomic scene is changing rapidly with many international restaurants, but locals say when in Dubrovnik, eat seafood. World-famous oysters from Ston and fresh fish from the Adriatic, followed by a tasty red wine from the Pelješac Peninsula, would be on your must-try list.
For centuries families nourished their grapes, combining taste with dishes capturing familiar flavours of the south. A souvenir unique to Dubrovnik can thank the oldest trade within the walls – the goldsmiths’ trade. What started back in the 14th century became a symbol of Dubrovnik.
Earrings and decorative buttons are recognizable traditional filigreeuring jewellery showing the craftsmanship of medieval goldsmiths. A souvenir unique to Dubrovnik started as a business and the oldest trade behind the city walls.
Today, these earrings are very popular as carrying them is a homage to this unique piece’s long history. Dubrovnik saw a significant rise in popularity in the past few years, thanks to its impressive history and monuments. It is a cultural destination that will have a visitor return multiple times, discovering something new and unique during each visit.