Our first day together while engaged to be married. We spent the day indulging in the pleasure of our together, exploring the beautiful city that we had made our own. We wandered up and down the main street, a broad pedestrian avenue, the only street in the city that wasn’t a narrow alley. It had originally been a channel which divided two small villages, which was filled in with dirt and converted to a major road when the villages merged to become Ragusa. The main road later served to link up the port entrance to the main (and for a long time, only) exit to the surrounding region (Pile Gate), so many important buildings were built around it, such as a Franciscan Monastery, Onofrio Fountain (built in 1438) and Sponza Palace.
Sponza Palace was originally built as a Custom’s House (a very important public building for a city so riveted to the maritime trade), but has now been converted to a memorial to the defenders of Dubrovnik. As a part of Croatian Yugoslavia, the facists had lead a holocaust of Serbs, Jews and Roma until Tito overthrew them and instated the communist state. The communist Yugoslavia lasted until Croatia left in 1991, due to Slobodan Milosevic’s ideas of “Greater Serbia”, resulting in an anti-Serb feeling in the new Croatian state. This lead to massive discrimination of ethnic Serbs (who wanted autonomy rather than be a minority among Croats), and the infighting gave Serbia and Montenegro an excuse to attack Croatia, where they focussed their aggression on the Dalmation spit, laying siege to Dubrovnik in October of 1991. The siege lasted for a year, and many of the southern towns were occupied by the Serbs, but Dubrovnik did not fall due to the defences on the surrounding hills (including some built by Napoleon). The city was badly damaged though, and 100 military and 200 civilians died in the siege. The Sponza Palace has a small memorial now with photos of all those who died, and photos of Dubrovnik during the siege.
We also visited St Blaise’s Church, built in 1715 to replace the earlier church destroyed by the devastating 1667 earthquake (so severe that it killed 4000 people, out of the population of 6000). St Blaise became the patron saint after he allegedly came to the Rector in a dream to warn of Venetian attack. Inside the church we looked through the treasury, while macabrely enough consisted of mostly gold and jewel encrusted reliquaries for his skull, arms and legs. We also took a walk around the city walls. The walls are enormous, encircling the entire old city, 2km in length and 25 metres high. They were built between the 12th and 14th centuries, with an additional lower outer wall built once canons became common in war, to provide the extra protection of curved walls. From on top of the city walls you can see how perfect the city is, every building historic, the city packed full and clinging to the edges of the cliffs. The defences include two round towers and fourteen square towers. We started at the north-east and walked around widdershins. Each corner we turned gave us a new view, over the city and over the Adriatic. Looking down the tall steep walls you can hardly see where they turn into stone cliffs before plunging into the sea. We walked around to Fort St John, the defences protecting the port. The massive fortress included a heavy steel chain that was drawn across the port every night, to prevent enemies sailing inside. Opposite Fort St John is the old quarantine house, which was built after plague killed 2000 in the city, to isolate foreign sailors before letting them into the city. Oddly enough, inside Fort St John is now an aquarium, where all the labels for the various fish (plus octopus and one sea turtle) include fishing advice. Keeping the theme, next door to the aquarium was a seafood restaurant.
In the evening we walked around the city with a local guide to point out the defensive features. She told us about the two stand-alone forts protecting the city. Fort Lovrjecnac protected Pile Gate, and was built when Ragusa found out that Venice intended to build a fort there. Ragusa quickly erected the fortress, so when Venice turned up with ships filled with building materials they just turned home. The fortress protects the Bay of Colours (so called because the Guild of Dyers used to be based there), and is 12m thick of the seaward side, but only 60cm thick of the Ragusa side, so that if it was ever taken Ragusa would be able to retake it easily. Fort Revely is the other stand-alone fort, and protects the port. It was converted into the treasury after the earthquake destroyed the city. The path to Fort Revely winds past the Dominican Monastery (which was built as an earlier defense). Of interest, the gaps between the base of the banisters on the path into the Monastery were later sealed with mortar, so as to protect the modesty of ladies going to mass from men so uncouth as to gaze upon their ankles. After our inspection of the cities defenses we had dinner in the old arsenal, which was once a dry dock for building and repairing ships.