Cobblestone streets, an immense walled city overlooking the Adriatic, castles on seaside cliffs, Dubrovnik is a living replica of the medieval imagination. Almost immediately upon arriving you are acutely aware of the preserved state of the city. Exploring the narrow streets and alleyways that crisscross the town felt like an adventure. This city of stone sits right on the water and long narrow stairways lead you up the hillside and provide amazing views of the town and sea below.
Dubrovnik has a population of about 50,000 and is one of the top tourist destinations in the Mediterranean. It earned a UNESCO World Heritage designation for its castles and the excellent condition of its medieval buildings. Historians suggest that the city was settled as early as the 7th century. A storied history full of conflict and conquest, Dubrovnik has been controlled by the Romans, Greeks, Napoleon, Ottoman Empire, Habsburg Dynasty, and Croatia at one time or another. It was also for a brief time a Nazi puppet state in World War II under the direct control of Italy.
We arrived in August and tourist season was in full swing. You could scarcely walk a few feet before bumping into someone and the city square was packed with visitors from all over the world. School was set to start again in a few weeks and many visitors were getting their last vacation in before the new school year. Most instances I would have found it really bothersome to share such a small amount of space with so many people, but the city was a feast for the eyes and it was worth braving the crowds.
We spent our few days in the city wandering the streets and walking the immense city walls. Dubrovnik has a vast wall that runs almost two kilometers around the old city. The walls are between thirteen and twenty feet thick on the land facing expanse and thinner on the side facing the sea. The walls feature a system of turrets and towers designed to protect the vulnerable city from attack. Given its position on the Adriatic Sea, it is an easy journey for many regional rivals and is a big reason behind its repeated conquests. The walls of the city have been a filming location for the fictional city of Kings Landing in Game of Thrones. In fact, one night when Mandy and I had to do a load of laundry at the local laundromat, we noticed the walls were covered completely with small post it notes of previous visitors. We eyed a post it note from the crew of game of Thrones thanking the laundromat for their support and use of the facility during the filming of the show.
On our second day in the city we walked the entire wall loop which provided unrivaled views of the city and ocean. You can walk along the top of the walls safely as the high parapet walls were intended for the soldiers and archers of the time to repel an enemy attack. We finished our second day with a short visit to a temporary Dali Exhibit featured in the old city.
On our final day we enjoyed an excellent lunch alongside the marina which provided splendid views of the ocean and the many boats entering and exiting the city. As we were wrapping up our meal we noticed quite a bit of commotion in the marina. A few boats almost overflowing with people were making their way into the marina beating drums, blasting foghorns, and releasing large swaths of orange smoke along the water. It could have looked like a raiding party if it was a few hundred years ago. Our curiosity got the best of us and we discovered the commotion to be a series of Water Polo matches between the local club teams of the area. After asking around a bit we were informed that water polo is the Croatian national sport and that the national team had recently won the world championship. For a country as small as Croatia, that is an impressive feat. Given how coastal the entire country is, it does makes a lot of sense. I am a huge water polo fan and played a little bit when I was younger, so we decided to watch the matches. They setup the game in the ocean inside the marina with ropes and it was the first time I had ever seen water polo played in ocean water. We watched two full matches - an older men’s match, and a semi-pro match. The level of play at the semi-pro match was the best water polo I have ever seen played live. There was quite a crowd that developed, roaring at every foul and shot on goal. My eardrums took quite a bit of a beating as we sat next to a particularly raucous fan who unceasingly banged the trash can right next to us. It was a close and exciting match but ultimately the team who roared in with its orange smoke came out on top. By the time the match had ended the sun was setting and we were off to Split the next day.
Dubrovnik is a city for the imagination, and a city that lived up to its reputation. Its history is one of conflict and struggle with outside invaders. While the wall is impressive and imposing, it did not seem to succeed in keeping foreigners out. Whether they came as invaders from the Adriatic in ancient times, or as a group of tourists today, it is just too good of a city to pass up. // Jeff