Exploring Old Town Dubrovnik – Architecture and Ambiance

Walking the streets of Old Town Dubrovnik is beat ONLY by walking the city’s walls.  Yes, the entire city is walled still and you can pay to walk the couple of kilometers which affords great views of Old Town from every angle and of the sea and hills outside of Old Town (read more about it here!).  I enjoyed walking the walls the most out of my days there.  The present city walls, though finished for the most part in the second half of the 16th century, actually were started around the early 15th century.  One of the bridges on the western gate (the Pila Gate) dates from the 1470s!  By the way, there was a massive earthquake in 1667 that caused a lot of damage and these walls survived it quite well.

Cannon along the city walls of Dubrovnik, Croatia

Cannon along the city walls

Guard post in the city walls of Dubrovnik, Croatia

Guard post in the city walls

View through the city wall of Dubrovnik, Croatia

View through the city wall

From the city walls you can more easily find old tiled roofs that survived the attacks of 1991-2, and see how creative townsfolk are about using the space ABOVE their buildings since land is at a premium in this charming city.

Rooftop in Dubrovnik, Croatia doing double duty as a sports court

Rooftop doing double duty as a sports court

In Old Town

Along the way, depending on where you entered the walls (I did by the Pila Gate entrance), you will run into the Fortress of St. John which sort of stands guard on the eastern bay of the town.   This fortress houses a very interesting maritime history museum which I highly recommend.

Old Town looks small from the walls but you can get lost down there – and you should!  Old Town is rich in architecture gems and its shiny stones on the ground add to the ambiance of the place.  My approach to a town like this is to walk pretty much aimlessly down streets and alleys (Old Town is all pedestrian).  A great starting point is the Pila Gate where you enter the main pedestrian street called the Stradun.

The Stradun in Dubrovnik from the Pila Gate

The Stradun street from the Pila Gate

Narrow streets of Old Town Dubrovnik, Croatia

Narrow streets of Old Town

Lots of neat buildings and sights no matter where you turn.  I found the oldest pharmacy in Europe still open (it is said to be the 3rd oldest overall having opened in 1317; located within the Franciscan Monastery) and a neat little museum of local countryside life (the Rupe Ethnographic Museum) built on a former granary (you can still see the holes used to move grains from one level to another).

Old Town, of course, has a good share of palaces, churches and other important buildings and structures to see:

  • The Franciscan Monastery and Church – construction started in the 1300s but which was pretty much destroyed in the earthquake of 1667 .  The cloister is considered one of Dubrovnik’s most important architecture pieces.
Cluster in Franciscan Monastery in Dubrovnik, Croatia

Cloister in Franciscan Monastery

Restoration work at the Franciscan Monastery in Dubrovnik, Croatia

Restoration work at the Franciscan Monastery behind a screen

  • The Rector’s Palace – probably my favorite building, it also suffered greatly in 1667 and was repaired/re-built.  I love the arcade on the side of the building.  Inside, it has a museum with interesting artifacts, jail cells on display, and rooms depicting both the decor of the time and the carriages used by well-off folks to travel!
The Rector's Palace in Dubrovnik, Croatia

The Rector’s Palace

Detail of the Rector's Palace - courtyard - in Dubrovnik, Croatia

Detail of the Rector’s Palace – courtyard

Detail of the Rector's Palace - handrail - in Dubrovnik, Croatia

Detail of the Rector’s Palace – handrail

  • The Bell Tower – at the end of the Stradun, it is fairly recent since the old tower had to be brought down and re-built in the early 20th century.
  • Other churches  including the Cathedral, St. Ignatius, and St. Vlaho.
Bell Tower and Church of St Vlaho in Dubrovnik, Croatia

Bell Tower and Church of St Vlaho

Old church in Old Town Dubrovnik, Croatia

Old church near the Dominican Monastery

  • Finally, the old synagogue which is the oldest Sephardic synagogue still in use and second oldest in Europe.  It is tiny and tucked away with a narrow entrance in a side alley.  One could easily miss it but it is well-worth finding it and entering it.

And RIGHT Outside Old Town

One of the neatest things about Dubrovnik is the sea around it.  One can walk towards the Fortress of St. John and see fishermen coming in with the catch of the day.

Dubrovnik fisherman

Just around the fortress, one can walk down the sidewalk to bask in the sun and the serenity of the sea – unless the waves are a-crashing!

Waves crashing in Dubrovnik's sea walkway 2

Waves crashing in Dubrovnik's sea walkway

Dubrovnik is well worth a visit; and the slower the pace, the more enjoyable it becomes – I shall return!

Day Tripping in the Balkans (part 2) – Montenegro

In my prior blog entry I described how I decided on going to the Balkans and how I found day trips to take.  The first day trip was to visit Mostar, in Bosnia & Herzegovina.  The second day trip was centered on a visit to Kotor in Montenegro, one of the “youngest” countries in the world.

Montenegro may seem obscure but it has been a part of European history (for example, in Italy and Russia) for a while even while buried under this empire or another.

Kotor

Kotor, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is an old town nested in Kotor Bay which is kind of behind another bay that opens out to the ocean.  Driving all around the coastline takes a while but provides beautiful scenery and interesting small hamlets to see.  (I wrote more about Kotor in another post if you want to read a little more.)

Kotor Bay, Montenegro

Sights of Kotor Bay: Church built on a man-made island (that took 200yrs to create!)

We went straight to Kotor as we also had planned going all the way up to the mountains and Lovcen National Park and that would require a bit of time.  The town is quite charming and full of life.  Among things to see are parts of the fortifications (which run up the slope of the mountain) and various types of churches (Orthodox, Catholic).  The Church of St. Tryphon is well worth a visit – pay to go upstairs and look at the treasures it keeps!

Orthodox Church in Kotor, Montenegro

Church tower in Kotor, Montenegro

Church tower in Kotor

Lively café scene in Kotor, Montenegro

View of Kotor city walls and churches in Montenegro

Ride up Lovcen mountain

Going up the mountains will reward you with spectacular views over Kotor Bay and other coastline areas.  It is incredible how high you get in such little time.  The road up was built during the Austro-Hungarian empire days (it has been updated since then!) and it is quite impressive as you zigzag your way up pretty quickly.  Again, you do it for the spectacular views!  Hopefully, you won’t have a rainy day (had I done this tour a day earlier, I would have missed them!)  After like curve 32, you officially have entered Lovcen National Park (http://www.discover-montenegro.com/lovcen.htm) and gotten to Lovcen mountain where supposedly Montenegro gets its name from (black mountain – which is not how the locals call it, by the way – they call it Crna Gora).

It is funny to re-read the section of “On the Shores of the Mediterranean” by Eric Newby (first published in 1984) and hear how this road up used to be back then:  full of potholes and gaps in the protective walls that showed how vehicle occupants on this road made a “spectacular exit to eternity”!  The road is still one lane with lay-bys for cars to pass each other but the road is of excellent quality now vs. 1984 (thankfully!).

Mountain town

Our day trip stopped at a mountain hamlet, named Njegusi (famous for being the birthplace in the 19th century of a future Montenegrin ruler), which seemed pretty empty on that day.  Maybe the people were elsewhere working… We stopped at a small restaurant where we visited the smokeroom for the ham and then sampled some of it in a fairly basic ham and cheese sandwich (the cheese also being local) bought at the counter.  Of course, I also got a glass of vino which was actually quite adequate.  The ham was tougher than jamon serrano (Spanish ham) and I had a hard time chewing through it.  But it was interesting nevertheless.

Budva and the Montenegrin Riviera

From the hamlet we drove through the mountain countryside.  We were quite high up and yet all we saw for a while were mountains that looked pretty dark in color (trees hadn’t grown their green back yet) and some with a little snow.

At some point we did get to look in the distance at the lake that is part of Montenegro’s border with Albania and my heart wished we were a lot closer so I could enter Albania!  We made our way down to the town of Cetinje, former seat of the royal house that use to lord over Montenegro and hosted foreign embassies (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cetinje).  We drove through town not stopping on our way to coastal Budva.

Budva seems to be quickly becoming the capital of a Montenegrin riviera.  Well, maybe it already is.  Hotels and many other modern structures abound, including a hotel we were told was used a good bit by the movie Casino Royal (of James Bond fame).  I suspect a lot of Russian tourism hits this part as the countries do have some historical connections and wonder whose money is funding all the construction… But I digress, a favorite weakness of mine.

We got a couple of hours to explore Old Town Budva which is rather charming.  As usual, I got a coffee somewhere to get access to a hopefully clean restroom (which it was).  It was a nice afternoon and it was nice to be able to stretch them legs on a nice stop like this one.

Budva, Montenegro on the Adriatic

Around old town Budva

Impressions

Montenegro offered me almost two different worlds within a rather small land area!  Budva and the riviera sort of contrasted with earlier in the day when I was seeing something that felt more like a distant world from times long gone.  Budva old town was worth the stop but the riviera aspect of it (since I was not there to enjoy it, I suppose) diluted the charm I felt earlier in the day and in spending time in the old town.  Now, maybe in another visit, I will get to enjoy being seaside and then Budva could become a favorite?  I will have to come back perhaps to the Montenegrin riviera which I assume is broader than just Budva!

I have to say that Kotor Bay would be an area I would stick around another couple of days to take in more slowly.  I would also love to get lost (not literally) inland in those mountain areas that actually felt remote though, in distance, they were not.  They seemed pretty unspoilt as far as the eye could see (which in the very far distance was actually Serbia).

If you do get to go and choose a tour, make sure you get one that takes you up the mountain for the splendid views of Kotor Bay and to see the “hinterlands”.  Your impressions of Montenegro will be different if you don’t see these two things!  I leave you with that phenomenal view!

View from Luvcen mountain of Kotor Bay, Montenegro

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