Perched high on a lofty cliff, framed by a belt of ramparts and flanked by a turquoise sea, the famed Croatian city of Dubrovnik is fully worthy of its title “Pearl of the Adriatic”.
Often listed among the most famous destinations in Europe, Dubrovnik is not only a place of outstanding natural beauty, but it is also home to a plentiful of architectural wonders that point to its rich and varied past. Having attained the status of a major Mediterranean power in the 13th century, thus rivaling the mighty Venice, Dubrovnik went on to suffer a devastating earthquake in 1667. Fortunately, its beautiful Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque churches, monasteries, palaces and fountains are still around owing to the major restoration process that succeeded the great earthquake. Several centuries later, following Croatia’s secession from Yugoslavia, the Yugoslavian army besieged Dubrovnik and severely damaged the city’s architectural legacy. However, with the help of UNESCO, which inscribed Dubrovnik’s historical center onto its List of World Heritage Sites in 1979, Dubrovnik has been able to restore most of its original shine and luster.
Stradun or Placa
Serving as a gateway to the grid of narrow alleys lined with countless cafés, restaurants and souvenir shops, Stradun is known as Dubrovnik’s central and most vibrant street. During a hot summer’s day, one can bask in the shade of picturesque houses that grace its perpendicular streets and alleys, and during the night, one can take leisurely strolls up and down Stradun while enjoying a refreshing icecream. The uniform Baroque appearance of the houses that comprise the historical center, characterized by peculiar knee-height entrances, is owed to the great restoration of the city, undertaken in the aftermath of the disastrous earthquake in 1667. During the restoration, many of the city’s luxurious Gothic and Renaissance palaces were entirely rebuilt and thus imbued with new life. Considered to be a pinnacle of architectural ingenuity and a testament to the unwavering spirit of the Republic of Ragusa during adverse times, Stradun is still the city’s center of commerce and its preferred venue for major events.
The Walls of Dubrovnik
The garguantuan walls that enclose Dubrovnik, punctuated by impressive towers overlooking the turquoise Adriatic Sea, are undoubtedly the city’s most recognizable landmark. Considered to be one of the best preserved fortification complexes in Europe, this imposing structure stretches over a length of 1940 m and encompasses a rich array of forts, bastions, casemates, towers and freestanding fortresses. The fact that the city walls are open for visitors all year round makes Dubrovnik’s historical center the second most attractive open-air museum in the world. There are a total of three entrances to the city walls. The first one, named the Pile Gate, is situated next to the St. Savior Church. The second entrance is located in the east, close to St. Luke’s Church. Finally, the third entrance – the hardest to find – is located behind St. John’s Fortress, next to the Maritime Museum.
To fully appreciate the staggering scale of Dubrovnik’s city walls, one is invited to take a scenic stroll along the top of them and marvel at the glistening waters of the Adriatic to the south and the iconic terracotta red rooftops of Dubrovnik’s historical center to the north. Out of the five existing forts in Dubrovnik, three of them – the Minčeta Tower, the Bokar Fortress and St. John Fortress – are situated along the city walls, whereas the two freestanding ones include the St. Lawrence Fortress in the west, and Revelin Fortress in the east.
Church of St. Blaise
Gazing down from the walls of the St. Lawrence Fortress is the wonderfully ornate Church of St. Blaise. Dedicated to the city’s patron saint, this architectural jewel is notable for its marble altars and a 15th century gold-plated silver statue of St. Blaise, the work of an unknown Ragusan sculptor. It was erected in 1715 by the Venetian architect Marino Gropelli in 1715 at the request of the city authorities, according to which it was to be built on the remains of an old Romanesque church from 1368. However, this mediaeval edifice suffered a similar gloomy fate to its predecessor when it was badly damaged in the earthquake of 1667, and even more badly in the subsequent fire of 1706, when the church was set ablaze by accident. Only the foundations remained in place, with the exception of three statues: the old silver and gilded statue of St. Blaise, and two stone statues, of St. Blaise and St. Jerome, by Nikola Lazanić. Modeled after the St. Mauritius Church in Venice, this Baroque-style edifice is accessed via a large staircase leading to the main portal and the imposing statue of St. Blaise. After it was miraculously left unscathed by both an earthquake and a fire, the statue of St. Blaise came to be considered one of Dubrovnik’s most prized works of art. Aside from having an unquestionable artistic value, the statue of St. Blaise is also an artefact of great historical importance, seeing as the scale model held by the likeness of the patron saint depicts the architectural design of pre-earthquake Dubrovnik.