Dubrovnik isn’t a very big city – that was one of my first impressions in this beautiful Croatian city. There were five cruise ships when we arrived Dubrovnik so it was expected to see the city especially the Old Town more crowded than normal. Our cruise ship dropped anchor right in front of the stone walls and reddish roofs dominated Old Town – the view was amazing!
I looked around the deep blue waters of the Adriatic, to where our ship was anchored. Fronting us was the Old Ttown itself, though many would recognize it better as the iconic capital of the Seven Kingdoms: King’s Landing, from the hit TV series Game of Thrones!
I thought it really lucky that we started off here, as we no longer have to take a cab just to see this really interesting town. I know that Dubrovnik is an interesting city as a whole, but most of its charm is concentrated within the ancient walls of the Old Town. Never mind the city-center — the Old Town is all I wanted to see!
More than a TV set
HBO’s location scouts couldn’t have chosen a better place. Dubrovnik is among the most perfectly preserved medieval cities in the world. Its political power isn’t completely fictional, either, as for centuries it has vied for the title of the most important trading port this side of the world. Its thick stone walls and strategic position rivaled that of Venice, allowing docking merchants protection from bandits while also repelling invaders.
In reality, many of the buildings here are no longer the originals of the medieval times. The UNESCO World Heritage site was actually the result of a laborious reconstruction project, seeking to fix the damages of a 1667 earthquake and a civil war that erupted in the 1990s. Those in charge really sought to preserve not just the looks but also the entire character of the Old Town. In fact, they controlled all aspects of building works, right down to what shades of green should be allowed on the building shutters!
Pretty soon, we were making our way through the Pile Gate, the western entrance that served as our portal into this magical place. Thoughts of Westeros vanished as the town’s own beauty took over.
If you’re going into a medieval city looking for impressive Baroque or Gothic structures at every turn, you will be disappointed. Dubrovnik rests on its utilitarian, no nonsense character that reflects on the straight lines of its buildings. The thick city walls are likewise unadorned, but you will easily learn to respect their majesty. They will stop an attack effectively, and I don’t doubt they will be effective even in the modern day!
In fact, the walls and fortresses are some of the most-visited attractions here. At some places, these fortifications go up to 3 meters thick, with a height of 25 meters. The walls facing the rest of the city are even more formidable, going up to 6 meters thick!
Along one of these walls lies the Sveti Ivan Tower, which is the largest among its peers. It overlooks the harbor and the Porporela, which is the harbor’s breakwater. Indeed, one of the best reasons to go up the walls and towers is so you can appreciate the bird’s eye view of the beautiful town!
Of course, you can’t really say you’ve been to a medieval city unless you’ve seen its palaces and squares. There’s the Palača Sponza, which dates back to the 1500s and was initially designed to be the customs house. Today it houses the Old Town’s archives and a museum. There’s also the Knezev Dor, which is now the Town Museum and concert hall. In the olden days (the 13th century, to be exact), it housed state offices and the headquarters of the Rector.
Two of the most famous squares here are the Gundulić Square (Gundulićeva Poljana) and the Stradun. The first one, marked by the monument of the poet Ivan Gundulić, is famous for its afternoon shops and summer gatherings. The second, which is also the town’s main street, is full of restaurants and cafés! Here’s also where you will see the shade of green on the shutters that I mentioned earlier! Make sure to take home a souvenir or two when you pass these squares.
Easily the grandest structures within the Old Town are the churches. The Church of Saint Blaise looked like it came straight out of a storybook, with its Baroque architecture. Aside from being a house of worship, it’s also popular among the locals as a place for people watching. There’s also the Dubrovnik Cathedral, which is a grand structure with a lot of old paintings. The Old Town is also host to many monasteries of different orders.
Taking a walk
One of the more amazing aspects of the Old Town is that it’s totally closed to traffic. Even cycling is prohibited! It’s not just for preserving the area — there are steep steps all around the streets, so wheels just wouldn’t cut it.
For this reason, make sure you’re wearing comfortable shoes when taking a walk around. It’s not a big town, but you might find yourself ogling at sights and staying on your feet for far longer than you’ve bargained for! While I certainly enjoyed the freedom of moving around and finding the top spots on my own, there’s also an official walking tour visitors may join.
As I rejoined the ship after jaunting around this beautiful part of Dubrovnik, I can’t help but be amazed at its splendor that shines through the ages. It seems as though time has stopped here, and the place is still what it has always been in the past centuries. It’s an amazing feeling, and it’s definitely something that you should also experience.