An old walled town on the edge of the Adriatic Sea. Beautiful, historical, cultural Dubrovnik. It’s a place I’ve wanted to go to for a quite a while. One of the main attractions of this city for me, was the opportunity to walk along its ramparts, which are among the largest in Europe. It still has its own currency: the Croatian Kuna, so I expected it to be a little cheaper than countries in the Eurozone. I was also looking forward to some sunshine and warm temperatures, which was badly needed after the cool summer in Edinburgh.
It is believed that Dubrovnik was founded in the 7th century. The first settlement of people expanded with the arrival of the inhabitants of ancient Epidaurus (today’s Cavtat), who were driven out by invading Avars, Slavs and Croatian tribes arriving from the North. Dubrovnik became a republic, named Ragusa in 1358 and thrived commercially and culturally in the 15th century. It was an independent aristocratic republic, with its own authorities (the Rector and the Councillors) and was the most significant maritime and mercantile centre of the Adriatic, along with Venice and Ancona. It also had a well organised trade route with the Balkans.
This was an era of financial security and development for the city. Some of the most valued Croatian artists and scientists lived in Dubrovnik during this time, such as Marin Držić, the finest Croatian Renaissance playwright and prose writer, Ivan Gundulić, the most prominent Croatian Baroque poet from the Republic of Ragusa and Ruđer Bošković, a Ragusan physicist, astronomer, mathematician, poet and philosopher.
It is thought that the Adriatic sits on top of a narrow extension of the African tectonic plate, which is surrounded on three sides by the Eurasian plate. In 1667 Dubrovnik was hit by a catastrophic earthquake which almost destroyed the city. Most of the Gothic and Renaissance buildings crumbled and had a huge impact on the Old Town with more than 3,000 people being killed. The city was fighting for its survival and political independence at the time and with this earthquake, it was brought to its knees. It was then conquered by Napoleon’s French Empire and the Republic came to an end in 1808.
In 1979 the old city of Dubrovnik, which includes a substantial portion of the old walls, joined the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. With the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s Croatia declared independence, followed by heavy Serbian aggression. Dubrovnik was among the first cities to be attacked and suffered brutal destruction and significant losses. The valiant resistance of the Croatian army resulted in the eventual withdrawal of the Serb army. International organisations led by UNESCO helped organise a successful reconstruction of the city enabling Dubrovnik to return to its former splendour.
HIGHLIGHTS – DUBROVNIK SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA & YOSUKE IRIE
I was very lucky to catch an open-air performance by the Dubrovnik Symphony Orchestra outside the Church of St. Blaise. I came across them by accident. I was walking around the streets of the Old Town in the early evening, trying to find a restaurant for dinner and heard the sound of live classical music in the air. I just had to investigate. As I turned the corner onto Stradun, the main shopping street, right in front of me was a 30-piece orchestra. I don’t know what time they started at but they were in full swing by the time I came upon them. They played a mixture of well known classical music and modern songs, which a lot of people recognised. I could hear “oohs”and “mmms” from the big crowd that had gathered. There was also a young couple dancing at the back of the crowd. Their music was light and uplifting and they played one of my all time favourite songs: Moonriver. I stood there enthralled by it all, loving every minute of it. It was such a great opportunity to hear them play live, outside and for free. This performance was a precursor to their Autumn Music Variety Programme 2017, which was on from 29th September to 13th October.
As part of this programme many local and international musicians were invited to play in Dubrovnik. One of them was a Japanese flautist called Yosuke Irie who played the shakuhachi, a traditional Japanese flute made from bamboo. This concert was organised in cooperation with the Japanese Embassy. It was a free concert and was held in the Atrium of The Rector’s Palace, which houses The Cultural History Museum. The Atrium is an outdoor court in the Palace, with no roof and this really helped amplify the sound and enhance the music. Different coloured lights accentuated various little alcoves and with all the seats full it made for a very atmospheric performance. Yosuke’s music was a combination of modern and traditional pieces, along with some of his own compositions. It was very different. I had never heard a Japanese flute being played before. The hole that he blew across to make notes, was at the top of the flute, so it was like he was blowing across the top of a bottle. “Head movements are very important when playing the instrument” he told us. I really enjoyed these two musical performances and they were both so different.
TAVULIN BISTRO & THE BUZA BAR
Of all the restaurants that I ate at in Dubrovnik Tavulin Bistro was the best. I liked it so much I went back there three times. Situated behind St. Blaise’s Church and opposite The Rectors’s Palace on Cvijete Zuzorić in the Old Town, it’s the perfect place to enjoy a leisurely lunch or a delicious dinner. The menu offers traditional Croatian dishes with a modern twist, made with local ingredients. Their outdoor terrace provides great views of the city architecture but for those who want to eat indoors, their small restaurant with wooden beams, Dalmatian stone, sea shells and ship models makes a very cosy dining experience. The service was excellent and the staff were friendly. Two of the dishes that I would recommend are the Creamy Barley main course with Adriatic Shrimp, a warm, wholesome meal that set me up for the rest of the evening and the St. Blaise’s Soil. This dessert was like heaven on earth, a real melt in your mouth treat. It was a fluffy chocolate mousse with tiny bits of crumbled muffin with a couple of slices of strawberries on top. Everything I ate there was really tasty and at a reasonable price. It’s been recognised by the prestigious Michelin Guide, so I’m not surprised.
“Cold Drinks With A Magnificent View”. Now that sounded appealing. Someone recommended the Buza Bar to me before
I went to Dubrovnik. It’s not an easy place to find but you can see it from the top of the ramparts when you do a tour of the City Walls. I came by this bar by accident too. It’s not far from the Jesuit Church of St. Ignatius on the south side of Gundulić Square and the stunning Baroque staircase that leads up to it. I climbed up these steps and around the corner from this church was this sign advertising cold drinks. There were a few more steps to climb and at the top was a very inviting looking open gate, which led me through part of the city walls, down some more steps onto a terrace with two levels, situated on the edge of a cliff. My God the view was fabulous. The bar was facing the Adriatic Sea, overlooking the island of Lokrum. It was dusk – my favourite time of the day. The sun had just dipped below the horizon and the sky had turned a beautiful shade of pink. The terrace was full and I’m not surprised as it’s one of the best places to see the sunset.
Every evening at dusk the city skies filled with starlings. You could hear them before you could see them because of the high-pitched chirping sounds they made. Bunches of them would swoop down between the tops of the buildings and over the ramparts. There were lots of starlings flying overhead at the Buza Bar adding to the stunning view. Their black silhouettes against the pink sky was a beautiful thing to see. I liked it there after dark too. The first night I went to Buza there was a beautiful moonlit view of the sea. A few clouds crossed over the moon but when the sky was clear, there was a strip of moonlight shimmering across the water, stretching from the horizon to the edge of the cliff in front of the bar. I sat at a table which had a clear view of the sea and just soaked up the atmosphere. It was fairly quiet at the time, with maybe 6 couples there. In the background Sting was singing “The Fields of Barley” and “I’m an Englishman in New York” two songs that I really like. I loved the moonlit view, the quietness, being near the sea and the enjoyable music in the background. In the old Dubrovnik dialect, buza means hole. You do literally have to go through a hole in the wall of the city to get to this unique bar. They serve bottles of beer, wine and soft drinks and although the variety of drinks is limited, it’s the view that people really come here for.
More to come in Part Two: Boat Trip to the beautiful Elaphite Islands and Some interesting information about Dubrovnik.