When people think of Croatia (formerly Yugoslavia), Dubrovnik is probably what comes to mind first. Dating back to the 7th century, the entire city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is one of the most prominent tourist destinations in the Mediterranean region. That fact was quite evident the day we visited. Busloads of tourists (including us) inundated the place, and I soon realized why one of La Perla’s crew loved the island of Korcula more than his own home of Dubrovnik. Andrea lives within the walls of the city, and he complained about the traffic, lack of parking, and packs of tourists. (Property within the walls has also gotten extremely expensive; a tiny one-bedroom apartment sells for $1.3 million dollars! People who inherit property within the walls rent them out on Airbnb and buy in a newer area instead.)
One of reasons Dubrovnik has seen such an increase in tourism is because of the HBO television series, Game of Thrones, which is filmed in Dubronik. I have never seen the show, so I haven’t a clue!
Dubrovnik had a record year for tourism in 2016, with more than one million visitors. It has gotten so bad that city officials are setting limits on the amount of people allowed within the walls on any given day. UNESCO has advised that no more than 8,000 people should be within the walls of the Old Town at any one time to prevent damage to some of the city’s oldest buildings; so, security surveillance video cameras have been installed at the walled city’s five entrances to keep tabs on the foot traffic.
Beginning this year, Dubrovnik is limiting the number of cruise ships to two per day, carrying a maximum number of 5,000 each. In addition, city officials are working with the Cruise Lines International Association to optimize scheduling and make foot traffic move more efficiently through its historic central district.
The big feature of Dubrovnik that attracts tourists is its walls that run almost 1.2 miles around the city. The walls are 80 feet high and up to 20 feet thick. The oldest building within the walls dates back to 1290, and the 700-year-old pharmacy is the third oldest pharmacy in the world.
Outside of the walls, a fortress was built in the 1400’s to protect he main city gate. The fortress wall facing the water is 40 feet thick, and only two feet thick on the city side.
The system of turrets and towers of the Old Town wall were also intended to protect the city; however, it suffered a devastating attack by the Serbs and Montenegrins on October 1, 1991. The attack lasted for seven months, killing 114 civilians and damaging 56% of its buildings. The damage to the walls alone was estimated at $10 million dollars.
Following the end of the war, damage caused by the shelling of the Old Town was repaired in the original style, adhering to UNESCO guidelines.
It was interesting to walk the entire wall of the city and look down on the rooftops where we were able to spot undamaged pre-war roofs in between newer, post-war roofs. It was sad to see some of the shelled buildings that remain untouched since the attack.
The walk was exhilarating, though, especially along the seaside wall. The views were breathtaking, and we were so fortunate to be able to enjoy it on such a beautiful day! We watched the kayakers paddling on the Adriatic Sea below us, and marveled at how clear and bright blue the water appeared.
Although we had begun the day with a guided tour of Old Town, we were provided passes to walk the walls and visit the museums on our own. It was great to be able to enjoy it at our own pace and cover more ground. We were among the few in our group that walked the entire wall, a memory I won’t soon forget.
Our final evening in Croatia was also quite memorable. We were taken by bus to Orasac Village (population 100; 85% of them related) for a home-hosted dinner. The 24 of us were divided into four smaller groups to dine in four different homes. We were welcomed by Tereza Gorace and her cousin, Ana, who translated for us and answered many of our questions.
Beginning our evening, we were welcomed on the patio with local brandy and fresh figs from their tree. At Christmas time, the figs are dried with a bay leaf and flour for a traditional treat.
Before settling in for dinner, we were shown their smokehouse where they make sausage, prosciutto, and bacon—all from animals they raise on their farm. Tereza explained that it takes seven days to smoke sausage, and then it is stored in the cellar. Prosciutto is smoked for two months straight.
Tereza and Ana raise, grow, and make almost everything they eat, as do all of their relatives who live in their little village. They pickle their own vegetables, make their own cheese and wine, and bring their own olives to another village to get pressed for olive oil.
During dinner, Ana was very patient answering the many questions we all had about their life during the war and after. When their village was attacked on October 3, 1991, Ana was just three months old. Serbs occupied the village, stole belongings, killed animals, and destroyed what they didn’t take. The villagers were forced to leave with only their clothes and documents.
Ana’s mom fled with her to Germany to stay with relatives. Only women and children were allowed to leave, because the men were required to stay behind and fight in the Croatian army. Dubrovnik didn’t have an army, so one had to be quickly formed.
Dubrovnik suffered substantial damage due to its location bordering Montenegro. Although the Serbs only occupied areas outside of the Old Town walls, they did bomb it. In all, they occupied about one third of the country before being defeated.
Following the war, men returned to clean up their homes and clear land mines before their wives and children returned.
To this day, there is still (understandably!) resentment towards the Serbs and Montenegrins for the abuse and brutality they unleashed on Croatia. (In contrast, Croatia has an excellent relationship with Slovenia to the north. Both countries are in the European Union, and Croatia will adopt the Euro as their currency in 2020.)
We learned so much about what Tereza and her village endured in 1991 and the struggle the entire country had post-war. Hearing her story made it so real and so personal. We were thankful to have had that experience, something Vantage Travel calls a “Cultural Connection.” This is what travel is all about.
Coming up next: Montenegro