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    Heaven on earth: Dubrovnik

    Famous Irish author George Bernard Shaw, after his visit to Dubrovnik in 1929, said “If you would like to see heaven on earth, you should come to Dubrovnik.” That’s one reason why I’m adding Dubrovnik to my trip to the Dalmatian coast as another stop, which has been mentioned and appraised in many travel writings. The second stop of my trip which I started in Zagreb is Dubrovnik. After that I’m visiting Kotor, Budva and Sarajevo overland.

    When the plane we took from Zagreb began to descend, the fabulous nature took hold of me. After leaving the airport, I set out to the city center by cab.

    Dubrovnik has a couple of regions, but the  tourist center is the Old Town called “Stari Grad”. Surrounded by city walls and full of structures made of red tiles, this is the place where you can breathe the medieval air. Don’t expect to see, like in other European cities, an old town crammed with historical buildings and monuments. Coming with false expectations may result in  disappointment.

    You can enter Stari Grad, which is surrounded by city walls, only through four gates named Pile, Ploce, Peskarija and Ponta; the main gate is the “Pile” gate. At the entrance, we are welcomed by two soldiers wearing medieval clothes. The Pile Gate has become a point where tourists stop to take pictures with the costumed soldiers.

    While we slowly proceeded, a fountain drew our attention; Onofrio fountain. Built in the mid-15th century, this fountain was made to carry clean water from Dubrovnik River to the city center. Word has it, during the period when the plague spread across Europe, people entering Dubrovnik were asked to take a bath in this fountain. Onofrio has 16 edges and on each side there is a relief with a water outlet.

    After Onofrio Fountain, we saw Franciscan Monastery. Construction of the monastery began in 1317, and was finished after long years of work. The monastery was damaged in the earthquake of 1667, and restored in 17th century. It also hosts one of the biggest libraries in Croatia, including a very rare collection composed of more than 20.000 books and 1200 priceless manuscripts. The other significant part of the monastery is the pharmacy on the bottom floor. It was built the same time as the monastery, with the aim of treating the ailments of the Franciscan members and was also available for public use.It was also a financial resource to the monastery with its service to sick priests and monks. The pharmacy which was turned into a museum in 1938 has the title of “world’s third oldest drugstore still in practice”.

    After leaving the monastery, we set out along the 300m long Stradun Street (Placa Street) covering the length of the old town. The street stretching from Onofrio Fountain to the Clock Tower is considered the center of the old city, and on it there are many stores, banks, cafés and restaurants. Especially after dark, these restaurants get crowded for dinner and the live music reaches out to Stradun Street from the cafés in the alleys. Stradun Street is also called “Placa”. The street takes its name from the word “stradun” used by Venetians meaning “big street”, and also from the Latin word “Platea” meaning “street” (Now “Placa” is used). The largest street of the old town, Stradun functioned as a place of trade between Greek and Roman people, and it reached its current appearance after meticulous work following the earthquake in 1667, which caused dramatic damage.

    Striding along this beautiful and busy street we arrive at the clock tower, and Orlando Column which is located on the square right before the tower. This column, on which an ancient cavalier is inscribed, was erected for the cavalier named “Orlando”. Rumor has it that Orlando and his army saved the city by resisting the Saracen siege which lasted 15 months. Though it is an urban legend, it was monumentalized because it emphasized the independence and freedom of the city.

    Our next stop is the Bell Tower. The original bell tower was erected in the middle of Stradun Street in 1444. The reason I said “original” is that after the  earthquake in 1667 the bell tower had started to slant like Pisa Tower. It was decided that the tower had become a hazard, so to prevent a possible collaspse the tower was re-built in 1929, faithful to the original one. When it was first built, the two figures tolling were made of wood, but in time they were replaced with bronze figures. These two bronze figures, which are called “Maro” and “Baro” by the local people, have become green due to the salty weather of Adriatic. That’s why they have been nicknamed “Zelenci”, meaning “green guy”! The chime used in the tower was replaced in 1509, and it is still in use today. Word has it that the same family has fixed the clock in the tower for 100 years, and has been a tradition passed down from generation to generation. 

    After traveling the length and breadth of the city as far as the sea, we sat at the port and took a rest because our next mission was touring the town atop the city walls!

    The Port of Dubrovnik presents magnificent Adriatic scenery. Spending time at the restaurants and cafés around the port and enjoying the view is a revitalizing experience.

    The city walls of the old town are approximately of 1.5m wide and 1940m long, and they surround the town without any interruption. To mount the walls we used the exit close to the main entrance and bought our ticket from one of the kiosks before arriving atthe old town so as to avoid any long queues. We began our long but enjoyable walk by climbing the walls. An important warning: I recommend that you do this walk in the morning or afternoon hours because there is almost nothing on the walls to protect you from the scorching Dubrovnik sun, also don’t forget to take some water and a hat to protect you from the sun.

    We can separate the view from the city walls into two; land and sea. The mountains and houses  in land are fascinating, but I guarantee that the scenery of the sea is just as bewitching. The red rooftops of the buildings along with the groups of people wandering below combine to offer  distinctive Adriatic scenery… Touring and seeing the city from above presents a unique experience that is hard to come across anywhere else.

    After this wonderful sightseeing atop of the city walls, you can add new memories to your trip by visiting Blaise Cathedral and Sponza Palace located in the old town.

    It is a bit difficult to swim along the old town’s coast due to the rocky coast, but you can enjoy swimming nearby from various shores of the Adriatic Sea. Plus you can take boat tours to the surrounding islands and go to Montenegro for natural wonders.

    You can buy souvenirs from Dubrovnik but apart from that there is no great diversity in terms of shopping. However, don’t skip any meals and eat as you like! Don’t be afraid of putting on weight. You will definitely lose control of yourself when you see all the delicious seafood dishes on offer! My favorites were the mussel risotto, the seafood pizza and of course a big pot of Brussels mussels!

    Dubrovnik is a typical example of the Mediterranean climate and its peak season is between June and September; I don’t recommend you go there in winter and autumn months as it is situated by the sea.

    You will see many options for accommodation suitable for all budgets, ranging from five star hotels to local people renting rooms of their houses.

    With its Mediterranean scent, Andrea Bocelli’s album “Cieli Di Toscana” accompanied me as I wrote this, and  immediately sent me back to Dubrovnik’s historical fabric.

    Hoping to meet in another piece…

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