Dub from road

The walled city of Dubrovnik from above


City walls

The red roofs of Dubrovnik

I looked down at the orange-red terracotta roofs of Dubrovnik from the city walls and remembered the statistic that two out of three were replacements as they had been hit by missiles in the attack on Dubrovnik in 1991 when around 2,000 shells were fired on the city. Almost three-quarters of the buildings were hit, as were the marble streets, stone walls and monuments, and world heritage buildings were gutted by fire.  Dubrovnik was bombarded from land, sea and air and was under siege without water or electricity supplies for a year, “one of the greatest hardships in its history”.


There are other affecting reminders of this dreadful conflict of twenty-five years ago, now referred to as ‘The Homeland War’.   In the Sponza Palace there is a memorial room set aside to display photographs of the Dubrovnik citizens who died in the war, many of whom took to the fort above the city to defend their town and ensure it was not taken. There are many young faces in this wasteland of course.   As a mother of two twenty-somethings they all seem to be, for a moment, your son, your daughter.

Driving down the country I had sometimes seen shelled buildings which had been left as they were when hit, gaping holes in the tiles and burned out interiors, and I wondered…

Like the rest of the world I watched this war in horror, unable to believe such atrocities were occurring so close to me in Europe in my lifetime, and that I was powerless to stop them.

Sometimes I caught myself looking at someone over twenty-five and feeling curious about their life, but was of course too polite to ask. However one acquaintance chose to tell me, unprompted, how her husband had managed to get her and their tiny children on the very last boat to Venice, to safety. She was about my age. I thought about what it would feel like, leaving behind your husband and home in those circumstances. She was placed in a camp but stayed only a couple of weeks before she decided to return to where she felt her place was, come what may. You look at an ordinary person and you don’t know their history, and the courage that lies behind the face they show you.   Her family all survived and we compared notes on our children’s progress, as mothers do.

I make no comment here on the causes of this conflict and the actions of each side, it is not the place, and in any case every country’s citizens suffer in war.

Croatia’s reconstruction since The Homeland War has been steady and in 2013 it qualified to join the EU, though it did not adopt the Euro, its currency being Kuna.   The bill for rebuilding Dubrovnik was estimated at $10 million and, incredibly, this historic town has been rebuilt with the help of international expertise.   It has returned to being a top tourist destination, so many cruise ships unleashing their passengers on the town each day that there is evidently thought of controlling the numbers. The Croatian tourist industry was at its most blatant and hungry here, which could not help but taint this visitor’s experience.  My trusty Lonely Planet Guide explained that restaurants and other service providers see the revolving flotillas of cruise ships and often assume you will never come back so customer satisfaction is not high on everyone’s agenda.

Walking around the city walls, which in most towns is free but here costs around 15 euros per person, is a challenging 744 steps up and down over about 2 kilometres but is a great way to see Dubrovnik from above.

Walkers 1

Wall walkers


Shadow wall walkers

Shadow wall walkers

Dubrovnik sits on the Adriatic coast and one side of the wall looks out over the sea to stunning views.

Walls overlooking the Adriatic

The walls overlooking the Adriatic

And what a beautiful city it is, completely white – ivory-coloured stone walls, smooth marble paving slabs, pale ancient buildings and churches, and winding alleyways radiating out and climbing steeply from the main street, Placa.  (Dubrovnik should really be called Bijela Grad – White City.) My fondest memory of this long street is sitting at one end, opposite St Blaise’s church near the old clock tower and Orlando column, watching flights of swallows putting on a fantastic daredevil display along its sunny length.

Dub white city

“White City” – St Blaise’s Church


The alleyways of Dubrovnik

The alleyways of Dubrovnik


Dub couple

Actors in a romantic city

If you tire of this busy, gleaming city there are calmer places to explore outside of its walls. One was the cool oasis of the Arboretum Trsteno which is the former estate of “a Dubrovnik Patrician family”.   Ivan Marinov Gucetic-Gozze built this summer residence on the cliffs outside of the city in 1494, and created a renaissance garden of orange and lemon trees, jasmine and lavender – the oldest of its kind remaining in Croatia – then later added more exotic trees which were brought into Dubrovnik’s port. The gardens slope down romantically through a villa, a ruin, an old mill house, and an evocative fountain once fed by a long stone aqueduct until one reaches the cliff edge and fairy-tale port below – which like other Dubrovnik sites has been used as a Game of Thrones location. The whole place had a serene, vintage atmosphere and in its day attracted poets and a famous philosopher who found their muses there.   I could almost picture them on the stone seats looking out to sea, pen in hand.

Arboretum fountain

Arboretum fountain


Port 2

The Arboretum’s port

Or you can drive out to the fields of Konavle, as I did, and walk along the river beside ancient flour and oil mills and countryside pathways with their backdrop of vineyards and mountains.

Konavle mill

A Konavle mill

On any drive outside of the city you travel along a high coast road with breath-taking views of the Adriatic and of Dubrovnik from afar.

Dub road sunset

Dubrovnik was my Croatian swansong. There I caught a night ferry to Bari in Southern Italy and sailed away on the gift of a flat, flat sea into the coal-black night.   The Jadrolinija line purchased this boat second-hand fifteen years ago and as I tucked up in my bunk I saw the Brittany Car Ferries sign on my cabin door and cosily felt, just a teeny bit, home from home.

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  1. ny 999 says:

    Someone will recognise you soon. Lovely post this one.  Really, really interesting read.

  2. Joan says:

    I just found it all so much – the colourful roofs, the walk, the fountain and having lived through
    a war and experiencing destruction, I found it remarkable that it was so well established again!
    I loved the photo of the couple dancing.
    Thanks for letting me share this journey.

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