When we researched our trip to Croatia, nearly every person we talked to mentioned we had to go to the undiscovered magical town of Dubrovnik. This was interesting since they were saying it was undiscovered yet almost everyone heard of it. Well maybe in the US it’s less well known, but when we were there in early September, it was packed with tourists from all over the world. As with many places we’ve visited, the best times to see Dubrovnik is before 10 am and after 5 pm, before and after the tourists have come and gone. During the peak of the day, the main square, Gundulic Square and the main boulevard the Stradun/Placa, are simply packed with tourists. But when we walked the same area between 7:30 and 8 am, it was nearly deserted, save for the few trucks that are allowed in each morning to drop off goods to the stores and restaurants.
The Balkan War of the 1990s
Sadly, Dubrovnik was not spared from the violence of the Balkan War. Many people have suggested that Dubrovnik was spared, and to some degree it was, as it was not destroyed, but the Yugoslav Peoples Army (Serb), along with Montenegro, laid siege to Dubrovnik and the Old Town in 1991, despite condemnation by the global community. The heaviest bombardment of the Old Town, focused on the Stradun, was on December 6, 1991 when over 650 bombs, missiles, and mortar shells were dropped on the town. More than 80 people were killed during the siege and many more military personnel on both sides. Although the direct evidence of the siege was not visible during our visit like it was in Mostar, we saw historical photos of what the shelling did to the town and it was pretty awful.
Dubrovnik Old Town
Dubrovnik has sooooo many beautiful walkways and passages that lead to tiny squares (lots of steps too) that it reminded us very much of Venice. So many romantic passageways that lead to little shops and cafes, and nearly everyone eats outside during summer. We found several such places throughout the city whether it was for a seafood dinner, authentic local lunch, or just a cafe to have a croissant and coffee for breakfast. The walls surrounding the town can also be explored for a nominal cost. It’s especially beautiful at sunset.
On the way into the Old Town, from the Pile Gate, you’re greeted by the Large Onofrio Fountain. The aqueduct system for the town of Dubrovnik was developed by Onofrio Giordano della Cava in 1463 under contract with the town. The aqueduct system started from a spring up on the hillside and delivered water throughout the town. Two fountains, creatively named the Large Onofrio Fountain and the Small Onofrio Fountain are testaments to the system (there are many other fountains throughout Old Town, including one for the Jesuit area and one for the historically Jewish area). The two Onofrio fountains are located at either end of the Stradun, with the large one at the Pile Gate and the smaller in Gundulic Square beneath the bell tower. The large fountain was even larger before the 1667 earthquake destroyed its second story. It’s a beautiful fountain that spouts water from decorated emblems that encircle the dome structure. Interestingly, the town still gets its water from the same spring as the adquect, although through more modern infrastructure.
Stradun and Gundulic Square
Gundulic Square is the main square in Old Town Dubrovnik and was named after the hometown poet Ivan Gundulic; appropriately there is a statue of him in the square. The square was created almost by accident after the 1667 earthquake that reduced the homes that used to occupy it to ruins. The homes were not rebuilt and the square came into being. The square also has the small Onofrio fountain that completes it.
The Stradun, or Ulica od Puca (street of the well) extends from the Pile Gate and the Large Onofrio’s Fountain, to Gundulic Square and on to Ploce Gate with fountains and bell towers at each end. Made of limestone from the region, the stone has been polished glass smooth by the pedestrians of centuries and now the tourists of recent decades. It’s lined with all manners of homes, boutique shops, restaurants, and cafes. It truly seems to be the heart of the Old Town. Many local items can be had including candied orange peel, nuts, figs, honey, and their famed lavender in all kinds of ways (soap, potpourri, honey, candles, etc.). In the early morning and late at night, the Stradun is a magical place.
If you are in Croatia, you must visit the magical city of Dubrovnik.