The Walled “Pearl of the Adriatic” – a City for all Seasons

Dubrovnik, Croatia

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    The city of Dubrovnik is a living monument, a string of pearls with rich material and nonmaterial heritage. Dubrovnik is the economic, cultural and educational centre of southern Dalmatia and the seat of the Dubrovnik-Neretva County. The origin and history of the construction of the city walls of Dubrovnik are the origin and the history of development of Dubrovnik itself – this city with a capital ‘C’, as the inhabitants of Dubrovnik call it, for the walls have been its conditio sine qua non, uttered, eternalised and celebrated to this day in the famous inscription carved in the lintel at the gate of Fort Lawrence: Non bene pro toto libertas venditur auro – Freedom should not be sold for any gold. Freedom was its achieved ideal preserved over the centuries, the emphasized and prominent inscription ‘Libertas’ shown on the flag of the Dubrovnik Republic, the small medieval state whose centre was the town of Dubrovnik.
Dubrovnik, Procession on the Day of St. Blasius   
    According to the legend, the origin of Dubrovnik is tied to the ruin of the ancient town of Epidaurus, located in the area of today’s Cavtat, whose refugees settled on the cliff called Laus or Raus and so established Dubrovnik. However, the archaeological discovery of a coin from the 4th – 3th century B.C. in the historical core of Dubrovnik testifies to the existence of a settlement in the area as early as the Hellenistic period. Other numismatic and   
epigraphic finds from the Roman period confirm the continuity of life in the area of the medieval city. By the newest etymologic interpretations, the Latin name of Dubrovnik – Ragusium – also favours this theory, the name stemming from the Greek word ragousa, meaning a rugged island covered with cracks. “Dubrovnik”, its Slavic name, comes from “dubrava” = “forest”, as it covered the slopes of Mount Srđ.
Dubrovnik, Statue of St. Blasius on the parich church    
The original settlement was formed on the highest part of the peninsula in today’s area known as St Mary’s, which was connected to the land in its western part and sheltered in a deep cove, very appropriate for anchoring. The location – defined from the sea side by steep cliffs, up to 35 metres high, and from the north by a large and sufficiently steep natural slope – offered relative security to the settlement by exposing the enemy, conqueror, or looter approaching from the land or the sea alike to timely observation. This was a strategic position offering an excellent supervision of the ships sailing along the eastern Adriatic waterway, known since the ancient times. A protected cove with good anchorage and the slopes of the peninsula with their sources of drinking water allowed for the development of life and prosperity in the settlement. The legend has it that the original settlement was fortified on the side facing the land, initially by a palisade and later on by a dry stone wall. Dubrovnik’s current form was shaped in the 13th century. The walls were systematically modernised right up to 1660, when the last Bastion of St Stephen was finished in the southern segment of the walls. The 1,940 metre-long walls consist of the city walls proper, sixteen towers, three fortresses, six bastions, two corner fortifications, three bulwarks with rows of turrets, three moats, two flank fortresses, one breakwater, and two drawbridges. At some points up to 25 metres high, the main wall is 4 –6 m thick on the land side and 1,5– 3 m on the sea side. A host of known domestic and foreign builders and famous masters contributed to its construction, yet most of them are destined to remain unknown.
Dubrovnik, Minčeta tower   

UNESCO World Heritage

The historical centre of Dubrovnik, with its city ramparts, fortifications and the moat, was registered in 1966 as a cultural good in Croatia, and as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979, with its 18.8 hectares of land under protection. As such, the architectural heritage of Dubrovnik must be carefully incorporated into modern lifestyle using strict conservation principles. Conservation zones cannot be separated from the contact urban areas, for they must interact functionally and with visual balance. All planning processes must develop in straight compliance with urban and cultural/historical architectural heritage values. The historical urban centre represents the most attractive zone of city life, which must be continuously renewed. Se-veral devastated areas must be revitalised so as to stimulate the return of the younger population and the tourists. By raising the living standards, general social, educational, cultural and recreational facilities are ensured. A rational and functional organisation of life in the historical urban centre depends on the restoration of the existing buildings and the abandoned areas. A recent analysis of the existing sports facilities has indicated a lack in their variety and number, which could not meet the demands of either the residents or the tourists. The Peline Playground project started as a reconstruction of an abandoned children’s playground, which then led to the discovery of an important archaeological zone below the Minčeta Tower. The restoration of Peline Playground aimed to raise the quality of life and to return the younger age group to the historical urban centre. The Peline Playground project has successfully created a modern, accessible urban space that blends well with the surrounding architectural heritage, while preserving an extremely valuable archaeological park.

A Late Medieval / Early Modern Foundry 

It is located in the northwestern part of the Old City, in the area of the former ‘tanglie’ (pliers). The wall constructed between the Minčeta and the Gornji Ugao towers in 1457 integrated the tanglie into the city area, designating this space for the establishment of a foundry. It was protected from all sides from enemies on the outside and from spreading the risk of fire on the inside. Archaeological excavation uncovered the walls and parts of the former city bulwark. Once they had lost their defensive function, they were dismantled, and the terrain was banked with layers of sterile earth and levelled out for the establishment of the foundry. This was going on from the 15th century onwards, with interruptions, until the Great Earthquake of 1667, when the area was partially filled with rubble from the remains of the surrounding houses and continued to be used as a landfill site. The furnace zone was in use for a short period after this, while the other areas operated in an improvised manner until the foundry site was eventually backfilled. Molten metal was used for the casting of bells, cannons, cannon balls and other components of the Republic’s armoury. Production was not only for domestic purposes, but also for export to Spain, with whom Dubrovnik always maintained strong relations. There were also exports to Italy and Venice, good commercial relations surviving numerous small-scale conflicts related to overlapping interests and ambitions. The area of the tanglie was backfilled several times, resulting in a straightforward stratigraphic sequence. Excavations confirmed the suggested existence of concentrated late-medieval and postmedieval industrial activity within this part of the city. 

Dubrovnik,Main square and church of St. Blasius  

Placa or Stradun, the Main Street

The Stradun, or Placa as it is called colloquially by the inhabitants of Dubrovnik, is the main open urban area of Dubrovnik and the most attractive promenade and gathering place. It is the venue of all public feasts and processions, but also the main business street of the City. The widest street divides the City into its northern and southern halves. At the same time it is the shortest communication between the western and eastern City gates. The length of the Stradun is about 300 m (1000 ft). It was created as a consequence of trade and growing socio-economic ties between the Roman-Greek settlement on the islet if Lave (Laus) and the Croatian (Slavic) settlement on the mainland. The small Roman-Greek group intermixed with Croatian (Slavic) people so that in the 12th century Dubrovnik had already a predominantly Croatian (Slavic) ethnic 
  character; from the 14th century onwards, the Croatian element is predominant. At the end of the 11th century the shallow channel separating the settlements was filled with earth in order to join them and create a new space for commercial contacts. The Placa acquired its proper function at the close of the 12th century, when both settlements were enclosed by a single city wall and became a single urban entity. The Stradun was paved in 1468. Its limestone pavement is today polished by constant use and as smooth as ice, shining bright and mirroring light, as if its stony surface were made of glass. It is interesting to note that one half of the street is paved in fish-rib pattern facing one direction while the other half uses the same pattern, only facing the other direction. At the interchange of the two patterns there is a single, small, rectangular piece of limestone embedded in the pavement – the only different piece in the whole puzzle.

Dubrovnik, Fort Revelin  

Fort Revelin

It is located in the eastern part of the City, outside the Ploče City Gate, and was built to defend the eastern approach to the City and its harbour. The initial fort was built in 1463, in the period in which the Ottoman Empire was an unmistakable threat. The name comes from rivellino or revellino, a term in fortification architecture which refers to a fort built opposite the weakest points in the city defence system, or opposite a particular city gate, with the purpose of reinforcing its defensive position. As the danger of a Venetian attack suddenly emerged during the time of the First Holy League at the end of the 15th century, it became necessary to strengthen this vulnerable point in the town’s fortification complex. The Senate hired Antonio Ferramolino, an experienced builder of fortresses at the service of Genoese admiral, Andrea Doria who was a trusted friend of the Dubrovnik Republic. In 1538 the Senate approved Ferramolino’s drawings of a new, much stronger Revelin.


It took 11 years to build it, and during that time all other construction work in Dubrovnik had stopped in order to finish this fortress as soon as possible. Revelin was finally completed in 1549. The fortress has the shape of an irregular quadrilateral with its northern corner forming a sharp outward spike. The entrance to the fortress is at its southern side where the street leading between the two fortified gates crosses over a large platform. Both the fortress and the platform are isolated from all sides, the southern side steeply descending to the sea, while the City ditch surrounds the fortress in all remaining directions. In the thick northern wall of the Revelin fortress, at the ditch level, corridors are divided into small subsections with triple embrasures which are also provided with ventilation ducts that terminate at the upper floor of the fortress. The interior of the fort and its terraces are venues for archaeological exhibitions, banquets, weddings, and concerts by the Dubrovnik Symphony Orchestra, and for Dubrovnik Summer Festival performances.