Pearls of Herzegovina

Blagaj Tekija Sufi Monastery River Buna Pocitelj

Monday the weather was warm and beautiful so I took a long day tour of Herzegovina – 8 am until 9 pm. There were three of us – me, a German tourist from Frankfurt, and Adnan, our Meet Bosnia Guide.

Ducks River Bruna Pocitel

It’s hard to say which places were favorites because everything was exceptional. The main points included:

  • Konjic
  • Jablanica
  • Mostar
  • Blagaj
  • Počitelj 
  • Kravice Falls
  • Wine Cellar Begić

Dome Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque

Guides from Meet Bosnia are very good. They’re gracious and provide clear and thorough information. Without taking sides or injecting personal beliefs, our guide filled a few gaps in my understanding of Balkan history and politics – a complicated subject!

Konjic Stone Bridge

Konjic – Stone Bridge, Tito’s Bunker

Our first stop was Konjic’s beautiful Ottoman Stone Bridge on the emerald-green Neretva River. Built in 1682, the bridge was destroyed during World War II, eventually reconstructed, and reopened in 2009. It’s known as a “point where Herzegovina joins Bosnia” and is on the list of National Monuments.

Konjic

Konjic and the Neretva River Canyon are surrounded by spectacular Balkan mountains rich in cobalt, minerals, agriculture, and forests. Although we didn’t visit Tito’s Bunker, our guide provided information about it. Josip Broz Tito, president of The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, built a bunker near Konjic that could “withstand a nuclear attack of 20 – 25 kilotons” – not sure exactly what that means.

Tito’s Nuclear Bunker – Hit Booker Mostar

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Tito’s Bunker was “the biggest secret of former Yugoslavia”. Between 1953 and 1979 it was built under Zlatar Mountain and cost $4.6 billion U.S. dollars!!”

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Hajji Alija Mosque Počitelj

It had eight alternative exits, one hundred rooms, and Tito’s luxurious private residence and office. In case of a nuclear attack it “was to be used by 350 people from Yugoslavia’s political and state leadership”. They could live in the bunker for six months without contact from the outside world.

Sunny View Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque Minaret

I’m pretty sure Tito alone is a whole chapter of Balkan history. Although he looks mean and evil in photos, many of his countrymen consider him “one of the most benevolent dictators in modern history”. He led the Yugoslav partisan forces to liberation from Nazi occupation without help from the Soviet Red Army.

View from Tower Kula Fort Počitelj

After the war, Tito was the unifying figure in his country and led Yugoslavia from 1943 until his death in 1980. He maintained a “highly favorable reputation abroad in both Eastern and Western Cold War blocs”.

Church of St. John the Baptist Konjic

Minaret Steps Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque

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“Josip Broz Tito, president of The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, received 98 foreign decorations, including the Légion d’Honneur and Order of Bath.”

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Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque Mostar

Jablanica

“Tucked into the peaks of the Cvrsnica and Prenj Mountains” along the Neretva River, Jablanica has a mild climate between Mediterranean and Continental. It’s a small town known for the destruction of a railway bridge during the Battle of Neretva.

Jablanica Battle Spot Near Neretva Bridge

During WW II, Jablanica was the site of the battle “where Yugoslav Partisans won an unlikely battle against the Axis forces”. Today, the remains of the destroyed bridge are a “symbol of wartime difficulties and sacrifice”.

Battlefield Jablanica

Jablanica Railway Bridge Neretva River Destroyed by Yugoslav Partisans WW II – Wikivoyage

Mostar

This was my second trip to Mostar. The first visit from Dubrovnik wasn’t ideal for many reasons including heavy rain. This time the city at the foot of Velez Mountain was a delightful feast for my eyes! I wrote about Mostar in an earlier blog post but this time really saw the beautiful historic city!

Kravice Waterfalls – earthpron.org

The Old Bridge is Mostar’s most famous attraction. Built by a Turkish builder in 1566  it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We also enjoyed beautiful Kriva Ćuprija, the oldest arch bridge in Mostar.

Mostar’s Old Bazaar Kujundžiluk

Best of all I climbed the minaret of Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque, the second largest mosque in Mostar. I’ve always wanted to climb a minaret! The inside was interesting but after climbing the narrow tower, the spectacular panoramas on top were indescribable! Sadly the sun wasn’t at a good angle for photos.

Kriva Ćuprija Arch Bridge Mostar

Kujundžiluk, Mostar’s Old Bazaar looks better in sunshine. Vendors, crafts, cafés, and tourists lined the buzzing cobbled streets.

Mostar Bridge

Blagaj

Blagaj, a “haven of peace and natural harmony”, was a special part of the tour. It’s the location of Tekija – the Sufi Dervish Monastery. Built around 1520, the monastery is an important monument of the early Ottoman period in Bosnia-Herzegovina. On special occasions Dervishes perform rituals there, including Sufi Dhikr (praise to God).

Blagaj Tekija Dervish Monastery

The Blagaj Tekija is on River Buna, cooled by the water and surrounded by spectacular mountain views. It’s easy to understand why visitors enjoy the fresh water, warm sun, and blue skies. It’s truly a peaceful place. You can tour the inside of the monastery.

View Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque

We had a leisurely lunch at Restaurant Vrelo on the river bank across from the monastery. Since it’s off-season it wasn’t crowded.

Restoran Vrelo Blagaj

Steps Počitelj Tower

Počitelj

After lunch we headed to Počitelj, a stepped Ottoman-Era Fortress village. It’s a magic place. We climbed the stone steps past medieval houses and pomegranate bushes to Počitelj Fortress. At the top, we scrambled up the narrow tower to unbelievable views across the village and River Neretva!

Neretva River – commons wikimedia.org

The view is “dominated by Hajji Alija’s Mosque, the mekteb (primary school), imaret (kitchen), medresa (high school), hamam (public baths), han (public inn), and sahat-kula (clock-tower)”. The most “dominant residential structure in the village is Gavrakanpetanović House, which has hosted thousands of artists and cultural actors from all over the world at the International Art Colony”. Sadly, many of the artists moved away.

Pocitelj Citadel

Kravice Falls, Trebižat River

Next stop was Kravice Falls on the Trebižat River. Hidden in the Balkans southwest of Mostar, Kravice Falls forms a “natural amphitheater”. For its “amazing beauty and untouched nature, it’s protected by Bosnia-Herzegovina as a natural rarity”. In the summer the waterfalls are a popular swimming hole and picnic area. They’re at their best in early spring.

Wine Cellar Begić

Our last stop was not part of the itinerary but the day had gone so well our guide asked if we’d like to stop by a small family winery – Wine Cellar Begić in Ljubuški Herzegovina on the way back to Sarajevo. We agreed and arrived shortly before sunset.

Winery Spread

It’s a lovely isolated vineyard started by a man who made wine for his family and friends and slowly got involved in the commercial market. Some of their wines are made from plavac mali grapes indigenous to the area. As the winery grows, they plan to expand and add a larger wine cellar and small restaurant. The Plavac Mali is fantastic!

Wine Cellar Begić in Ljubuški Herzegovina – wine-cellar-begic.com

We went on a tour of the grounds and wine cellar and listened to interesting wine making notes. At that point my brain was already saturated with details of the long day, so I don’t remember much. It was a pleasant experience watching the sunset, enjoying a full moon rising, and sampling local figs, cheese, and other products made and grown on the winery. A true Bosnian experience, it was time well spent with gracious hosts. We stayed longer than planned and didn’t begin our drive back to Sarajevo until late.

Winery Presentation

Kotor Montenegro to Sarajevo

Sarajevo Vista – samed

Tomorrow I leave Kotor for Sarajevo – the capital and largest city in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It’s exciting to visit Sarajevo even in the winter when it’s cold with snow flurries in the forecast.

Sarajevo – FIBA

Emperor’s Mosque Sarajevo – otarikkic Pizabay

Although I appreciate the medieval cities, exceptional nature, and beautiful coastal areas in Croatia and Montenegro, I also enjoy the energy of cities. Sarajevo is the “political, social, and cultural center of Bosnia and a prominent cultural center in the Balkans”. It’s also known for religious and cultural diversity.

Sarajevo Rooftops and Catholic and Orthodox Cathedrals – Charles Bowman

Roman Bridge Sarajevo – Elvira Bojadzic Islamic Arts Magazine

There’s a cable car and like San Francisco, Sarajevo has an electric tram network running through the city. I’m staying in Old Town near the city center and looking forward to exploring!

Sarajevo Trebević Cable Car – Monocle

Sarajevo Bridges Miljacka River – Sarajevo Travel

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“Sarajevo is one of few European cities with a “mosque, Catholic church, Orthodox church, and synagogue all in the same neighborhood”.

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Sarajevo Tram – commons.wilkimedia.org

In 1914, Bosnian Serb teenage activist Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria sparking World War I and “ending Austro-Hungarian rule in Bosnia“.  Years later during the Bosnia and Yugoslav Wars, Sarajevo suffered the “longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare”. The city is still undergoing post-war reconstruction.

Princip Gavrilo – Wikipedia

Sacred Heart Cathedral Sarajevo – Sygic Travel

Latin Bridge Sarajevo – FlixBus

Festina Lente Looping Bridge Sarajevo – Dezeen

More later…

Bosnia and Herzegovina – Počitelj, Medjugorje, Mostar

Stari Most Mostar Bosnia – Travel Is Beautiful

The day tour to Bosnia was interesting, and since my time in Dubrovnik is over soon, I decided to go rain or shine. Unfortunately, the weather was terrible putting a damper on photos and exploring. Our guide shared history and entertained us with folktales and side stories about his life in Bosnia and Croatia.

Pocitelj Bosnia – cherylhoward.com

I’m still confused about Balkan history and rivalry between Croatia, Bosnia, and Serbia. I think others find it confusing too. The expression “forgive but never forget” is used often in Croatia. Like Germany, the longer I stay in Croatia, the clearer it becomes there’s more to learn about the country…

Franjo Tudjman Bridge Dubrovnik – Croatia Week

There were two others in the group, a couple who had sailed to Dubrovnik. Their sailboat was undergoing maintenance. Sadly, they were the worst tour companions imaginable. Details are inappropriate for a blog but included mean and nasty fights followed by making up – insane, disturbing behavior. The uncomfortable scenes could have been from Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf :o( and they didn’t seem concerned that two other people were captive to their bickering – what a pair! Luckily, we split several times for exploring.

Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque Mostar – karim74.wordpress.com

Mostar Old City – Vera Kailova

Twelve Croatia, Bosnia Border Crossings

On the way from Dubrovnik to Mostar and back we crossed a total of 12 borders. Thankfully the crossings were quick and painless and didn’t require stamping 12 separate passport pages!

Počitelj Old Town Wall – Hit Booker

The borders are a “legacy of the wars that tore Yugoslavia apart two decades ago”. You pass a six-mile stretch of Bosnia-Herzegovina near the resort town of Neum. Then the road circles back to Croatia through the Neretva Valley before you enter Bosnia again. In the past, the road was all in one country without borders.

Franciscan Monastery Mostar

Neum Agreement Croatia and Bosnia

Croatia and Bosnia signed the “Neum Agreement” in 1998 guaranteeing free passage from Croatia’s northern Port of Ploče through Bosnia-Herzegovina. Neum is close to Dubrovnik International Airport. Non-EU/EFTA citizens passing through Neum who plan to stay in Bosnia a while need Croatian exit and Bosnian entry stamps in their passports. Not obtaining them is “illegal and causes issues when exiting”.

Počitelj Bosnia and Herzegovina – commons.wikimedia.org

Dubrovnik’s Daksa Island and Arboretum Trsteno

We departed via Dubrovnik Bridge heading north along the coast passing Daksa Island. The island was the “site of a brutal massacre in 1944 by Yugoslav partisans“. The Yugoslavs arrested hundreds of Dubrovnik citizens from the Independent State of Croatia (Nezavisna Drzava Hrvatska – NDH). They accused some of being Nazi sympathizers and executed them without a trial. Today Daksa Island is abandoned. Locals claim the “ghosts of those executed” haunt the island. With minimal research, it seems the NDH era is its own chapter in Croatian history.

Metković – Stjepan Jozepovic

We passed Arboretum Trsteno in the small Croatian village of the same name. The beautiful gardens have an interesting story. Dubrovnik’s Gozze family started them in the 15th century by “asking the city’s sailing community to bring back seeds and plants from their travels around the globe”. The gardens include an aqueduct and 18th century fountain with a statue of Neptune and two nymphs. The arboretum is home to some of the oldest trees in Croatia.

Neptune Fountain Trsteno Gardens – The Dubrovnik Times

Croatian Villages – Zaton, Slano, Zavala, and Ston

Wild boars inhabit the low, bushy terrain around the Croatian villages of Zaton, Slano, Zavala, and Ston. Boar hunting is popular and locals consider the meat a delicacy. Slano and Ston are famous for their salt pans and valuable salt sea factories along the Duboka River. The Duboka is a tributary of Bosnia’s Vrbanja River running near Međugorje Mountain and Bojići Village.

Eurasian Wild Boar – IUCN Red List

Yugoslavia

Bosnia – Neum and Počitelj

As we turned northeast and headed inland through Bosnia, Neum was our first stop. We sat inside enjoying coffee and escaping another torrential downpour. On the way to Počitelj, we passed more villages along the blue-greenish Neretva River.

Adriatic Terrain Neretva Valley

Hutovo Blato Nature Park is in the Neretva Valley near Capljina. Capljina has interesting archaeology and “untouched wilderness”. It’s a “unique Mediterranean swamp and wintering place for birds in Europe”.

Hutovo Blato Nature Park Bosnia – Parks Dinarides

Our Lady of Peace Medjugorje

Neum

Neum is the only seaside resort in Bosnia but the population is primarily Croatian. Motor traffic between the northern Croatian town of Ploče and southern Dubrovnik passes through the “Neum Corridor”. At the border, there are two lines – “one for travelers into Bosnia and another for those in transit to other parts of Croatia. At this border sometimes they check passports, sometimes not. Ours weren’t checked.

Medujugorje Pilgrimage – Anna Nuzzo

Počitelj

Built on a hillside near the banks of the Neretva River, Počitelj (stone town) has the longest operating international art colony in southeast Europe. The remains of Počitelj’s medieval wall surround 15th century Turkish houses, mosques, and a tower and citadel. Architecture reflects a strong Ottoman influence.

Mostar Bridge

Počitelj “fell into neglect in 1878” when Bosnia-Herzegovina was taken over by Austro-Hungarian rule. In 1992 during the Bosnian War Počitelj was bombed and most of its population displaced. In 1996, World Monuments Watch added Počitelj to a list of the world’s 100 most endangered cultural heritage sites. In 2000, the government started reconstruction encouraging Počitelj refugees to return home.

Tito’s Palace Neretva River – cherylhoward.com

Croatian Metković and Bosnian Medjugorje

Continuing through Metković and Opuzen on the way to Medjugorje, we stopped to visit the celebrated Catholic church. It’s a major spiritual site and one of the “most famous pilgrimage destinations in the Catholic world”. Since the Our Lady of Peace Apparition occurred in 1981 it’s visited by pilgrims and tourists from all over the world. I sat for a while inside the church with two other people who were praying.

Abandoned Building Mostar

Relentless rain showed no sign of letting up and made exploring uncomfortable. It’s off-season, so except for a few tourist shops selling religious statues, most businesses were closed.

Mostar Street Art – TakeUsAywhere

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“In Medjugorje six trustworthy witnesses testified under oath that since the 24th of June 1981, the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Gospa has appeared to them every day up to the present.”

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Mostar Vista

Mostar Bosnia and Herzegovina

We continued to Mostar, the focal point of the tour, and spent three hours walking around the city. A local guide led us through Old Town in the rain. Afterwards I found a restaurant – Hindin Han – on the riverside with views of the Neretva River and enjoyed a Bosnian lunch with interesting locals.The restaurant building is a refurbished historical home, with wooden balconies and white-wash walls.

Stari Most Mostar – cherylhoward.com

Mostar looks depressed and parts of the city are full of trash and rubble. During summer tourists bring needed income. Off season it almost seemed deserted.

Blagaj Tekke Blagaj Buna River – turizam.mostar

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Mostar holds a Street Art Festival in spring, when artists from all over the world come to create new murals and works of art.

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Mostar Old-Town – intheknowdventures.jpg

Through the centuries Mostar became the meeting point of various cultures and religions. The old city is divided by east and west. The east is mostly Muslim and the west Catholic. I detected some tension in the air even between our tour leader and the local Mostar guide who was clearly Muslim.

Abandoned Building Mostar

Minarets in mosques on the east side sang out the Islamic Call to Prayer – something I hadn’t heard since a trip to Istanbul in 2017. Church bells tolled in Catholic monasteries and cathedrals on the west side. Our Muslim guide told us that many Catholics converted to Islam after the Bosnian War.

Stari Most Mostar

Stari Most and Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque

Mostar’s symbol is its beautiful Stari Most, a 16th century Ottoman-style bridge that connects east and west. The bridge has rich history and it’s been bombed and damaged many times. Stari Most stood for 427 years until it was destroyed completely in 1993 during the Bosnian War and then rebuilt in 2004.

Mostar Street Art – TakeUsAywhere

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Bosnia and Herzegovina has three Presidents – Serbian, Croatian, and Bosnian.

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House Mostar

Locals dive off the Old Bridge plunging 20 metres (65 ft.) into the river. The “practice of Bridge diving started in 1664” and became a tradition for the young men of Mostar. In 1968, the city held a formal diving competition, which continues today.

Restoran Hindin Han Mostar – Moj Restoran

Old Bridge is breathtaking and the color of the Neretva River is such a vivid bluish-green it’s almost surreal. Slowly the city is becoming a popular destination with its varied architecture, art, forests, mountains, holy sites, waterfalls, bridges, and street art. I would love to do some hiking and explore the area further during better weather.

Mostar Street Art – cherylhoward.com

Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque is another Mostar icon. You can climb the stairs following a narrow tower to the minaret where panoramic views are amazing!

Sniper Tower Mostar – Picgra

Like Istanbul, Mostar has small cafés serving Turkish tea and coffee. I had a piece of baklava – the best I’ve ever tasted!

Pocitelj Bosnia – cherylhoward.com

Abandoned Buildings and Street Art

Mostar is known for its interesting street art and abandoned buildings, many riddled with bullet holes from the Bosnian War. “Today, young artists use the buildings as canvases to protest oppression and express themselves creatively.” It reminded me of artists in Maputo Mozambique who make creative art using civil war remnants.

Neum Seaside Resort Herzegovina-Neretva Canton

Sniper Tower

Some of the abandoned buildings include a sniper tower, Neretva Hotel, and an old airport hangar. At one time the sniper tower was a bank. It’s positioned along the city’s front border. During the Bosnian War it became a “base for snipers who hid in the tower to take aim at targets”.

Interior Koski Mehmed Paša Mosque Mostar – cherylhoward.com

Today, the tower is decorated with street art and homeless people sleep there at night. You can jump over the back wall (near the Nelson Mandela quote) to explore the street art and enjoy a great view of Mostar from the top.

Počitelj Old Town Wall, Citadel, and Tower – Hit Booker

Neretva Hotel

Hotel Neretva was a grand hotel nicknamed “Tito’s Palace” after Yugoslav communist revolutionary Josip Broz Tito. It’s now a ruin. “After years of deadlock,” restoration continues at a cost of 9 million Euros.

Stormy Day Neretva River Mostar

Mostar Secret Aircraft Hangar – The Minimalist Ninja

Abandoned Airport Hangar

I didn’t see Mostar’s former top-secret underground airport hangar. It’s disguised in the mountains near the airport. Tito stationed fighter planes there to hide them from the Soviets. You can tour the hangar on your own or book a “Death of Yugoslavia Tour“. It wouldn’t have been much fun in the heavy rain.

Zrinjevac Park Mostar – Hit Booker

Bruce Lee Statue

A “weird, offbeat” sculpting of Bruce Lee is in Zrinjevac Park. Croatian sculptor Ivan Fijolic created the statue in 2005. At the time it was in Spanish Square and the artist intended it to be a “fun, lighthearted symbol of peace”. Some locals took a dislike to the statue and vandalized it. Replaced in 2013, it’s still there.

Međugorje St. James Church – commons.wikipedia.org

We didn’t visit Kravice Waterfalls outside Mostar – probably best on a hot summer day. People swim in the lake and under the waterfalls.

Rakija

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“Rakija – the local moonshine – destroys bacteria, relieves stomach and muscle pain, annihilates viruses, and disinfects wounds instantly.”

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Mostar War Ruin – Mostar Travel

Blagaj Tekke – The Dervish Monastery

Blagaj Tekke is another interesting place near Mostar. It’s “one of Bosnia’s most holy and ancient sites.” Built around 1520 it’s known as the Dervish Monastery and was built for Sufi gatherings. It “rests beside the fast-flowing blue-green Buna River, which spills out of a darkened cliff-cave”. Miraculously, the Monastery wasn’t damaged during the Bosnian War.

Mostar Street Art

Rakija – Local Moonshine

Our guide told us about Rakija, a homemade brandy that’s said to be “the secret weapon against all that’s enemy to man”. On the way back to Dubrovnik we stopped at a roadside café where they make and sell Rakija. Conversation was fun and lively. :)

Destruction of Stari Most Bosnian War – subir.pw

Three Presidents of Bosnia-Herzegovina

Bosnia has three presidents! Not sure why?

  1. Milorad Dodik Serbia
  2. Šefik Džaferović Bosnia-Herzegovina
  3. Željko Komšić Croatia

400 Year Old Plane Tree (Sycamore) Trsteno Arboretum – Panadea

All in all it turned out to be an amazing, educational day in Bosnia!

Dubrovnik’s Fortresses

Fortress of St. John – Dubrovnik Guide

Dubrovnik’s Old City has endless treasures and yesterday I took a guided tour of the five major fortresses around its walls. I’ve been waiting for the right time to take the two-hour “wall walk” and wanted to learn more about the medieval city first.

With various changes throughout their history, Dubrovnik’s forts are some of the greatest fortification systems of the Middle Ages. Old City became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.

Gradska Kavana Arsenal Restaurant Near Fortress of St. John – Nautika Restaurants

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“Dubrovnik’s spectacular fortresses were never breached by a hostile army.”

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There are four defensive stone fortresses around the wall – north tower, east side harbor, southeast side, and at the western entrance. The fifth fort – Lovrijenac – is outside the wall.

  1. Minčeta
  2. Revelin
  3. St. John
  4. Bokar
  5. Lovrijenac

Minčeta Fortress – Dubrovnik Jetliner Games

Minčeta Fortress

Minčeta was built in 1319 along the north wall facing land. It’s the highest point in the city wall and is a large round tower topped with a Gothic crown. The Menčetić family owned the land where the tower was built. Croatian builder and architect Ničifor Ranjina designed Minčeta.

In 1461, Italian architect Michelozzo di Bartolomeo Michelozzi enhanced the round tower making it “adapt to new techniques of warfare”. The walls of the new tower were 6 meters (20 feet) thick with a series of protected gun ports.

Minčeta Fortress – The Dubrovnik Times

Croatian builder Juraj of Dalmatia designed the bottom portion of the fortress and created the fort’s recognizable Gothic crown. When active, Minčeta had 9 guns including a cannon designed by Ivan Rabljanin, Croatian Renaissance master of bronze bells and cannons. Rabljanin also designed the bell in Dubrovnik’s Bell Tower.

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“Minčeta Fortress stands high above the rest of Dubrovnik as a symbol of the unconquerable City. It tells the story of Dubrovnik’s love for its precious, sweet liberty.”

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Revelin Fortress – dubrovnikdigest.com

Revelin Fortress

Revelin is a massive irregular quadrilateral fortress outside Pile Gate in the eastern part of the City. The fortress was built for protection in 1463 after the Ottoman Empire conquered Constantinople and began occupying nearby Bosnia.

Revelin was built as a “detached fortress to provide more protection for the eastern land approach to the City Gate”. The name comes from the word ravelin, a “term in fortification architecture referring to forts built opposite the weakest points in a city’s defense system to reinforce a defensive position”.

Revelin Fortress – dubrovnik-travel.net

Revelin protected the City from Venetian attackers. Dubrovnik hired Antonio Ferramolino, an expert Spanish fortress builder, to strengthen this eastern point in the fortification complex. In 1549, after 11 years of construction, an enhanced Revelin became Dubrovnik’s strongest fortress for safeguarding the eastern land approach. “Perfectly constructed,” Revelin wasn’t harmed during the 1667 earthquake.

Culture Club Revelin – dubroivniktoday.net

The top of Revelin features a huge stone-paved terrace sometimes used as a stage for Dubrovnik’s Summer Festival events. The inside of the fortress has a popular nightclub – Culture Club Revelin. Different night life “happenings” take place there, including rock concerts and techno displays.

Fortress of St. John – ExPoAus Planner

Fortress of St. John

The Fortress of St. John was a key defense complex on the south-eastern side of the old city. It controlled and protected the port entrance.

Aquarium and Maritime Museum Fortress of St. John – Go Dubrovnik

Initial construction began in 1346, when Dubrovnik connected an existing defensive wall and its gates – Dock Gates – with an old quadrilateral fort called Fort Gundulić, named for Croatian poet Ivan Gundulić. In 1500, the city decided to upgrade the old fort and build one with a semicircular form and a pentagonal bastion in front.

Statue of Croatian Poet Ivan Gundulić at Green Market – tzdubrovnik.hr

Master Croatian builder and architect Paskoje Miličević designed the improved fortress merging existing forts into a single building named The Fortress of St John at the Dock. Construction completed in 1557. Today the large interior of St. John fortress houses Dubrovnik’s Maritime Museum and Aquarium.

Bokar Fortress – MyTravelAffairs

Bokar Fortress

Bokar Fortress is at the top of a steep cliff on the south-western corner of Dubrovnik’s city walls. Bokar and Minčeta were the key points in the defense of the city’s western land approach.

Bokar Fortress – theimmagine.eu

Built in the 1500s as a “two-story casemate fortress”, Bokar’s purpose was defending the town’s main western entrance – Pile Gate and its bridge and moat. One part of the fort is on a detached rock. Arched supports were built to bridge the gap. The sea still passes beneath the fort as it did when it was first built.

Florentine architect Michelozzo di Bartolomeo designed Bokar fortress. Construction began in 1461 but wasn’t completed for a long time. Upgrades occurred in 1555 and 1570. Bokar is a popular Game of Thrones filming location.

Lovrijenac Fortress – Flickr

Lovrijenac Fortress

Lovrijenac Fortress is built on a 37 meter (121 ft.) high sheer rock overlooking the Adriatic Sea! It’s the most dramatic fortresses in Dubrovnik. Lovrijenac was important for defending both land and sea attacks. The fortress has a triangular plan that follows the contour of the rock where it was built. It faces the western suburbs and opens toward Bokar Tower and the western wall, protecting Kolorina Bay. Today Kolorina Bay is a clam location for launching kayak tours. It was the location for filming the “bloody Battle of Blackwater scene in season two of Game of Thrones.

Kolorina Port

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During its service Lovrijenac Fortress was a 25 man garrison with 10 cannons and a fort Commander appointed by the government.

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Bell Tower Old Town Dubrovnik – Wikimedia Commons

Chronologists date the fort to 1018 or 1038 but first records are from 1301 when the city council voted on Commander of the Fort. According to legend, in the 11th century Venice planned to conquer Dubrovnik by building a fortress on the rock. When Dubrovnik learned of the plan, its citizens rushed to build their own fortress, thwarting the Venetians before they arrived with ships carrying troops and supplies.

The fortress received upgrades during the 15th and 16th centuries and after the 1667 earthquake when builder I. K. Zanchi repaired parapets and buildings throughout the city. The fortress has a quadrilateral court with mighty arches and three terraces looking south towards the Adriatic Sea.

Lovrijenac Fortress – Flickr

Lovrijenac had 10 large cannons designed and cast in 1537 by Renaissance bronze master Ivan Rabljanin. Rabljanin also designed the cannons at Minčeta Fortress. One cannon, known as “Lizard” (Gušter in Croatianwas “marvelously carved and decorated”. Lizard never fired a single shot and is now sadly lost at the bottom of the Adriatic Sea below Lovrijenac .

Ivan Gundulić Croatian Poet

Austrian troops disarmed Lovrijenac in the 19th century. While hoisting and transporting the cannon, a rope broke and it fell into the Adriatic and was never recovered.

Michelozzo di Bartolomeo Florentine Architect and Sculptor – intranet.pogmacva.com –

Lovrijenac was a “dominant fortress'”. Its capture would threaten Dubrovnik’s defensive position, so a “fail-safe mechanism was designed into the fortress”. The walls exposed to the sea and possible enemy fire are almost 12 meters thick (40 feet). However, the large wall facing the City doesn’t exceed 60 centimeters (2 feet).

This was because the Republic was not only cautious about attacks from foreign enemies but also a potential rebellion of the Commander in charge of the fort. Nobility replaced the Commander each month. In case of trouble, the thin wall facing the city could never hold against the firepower of mighty Bokar Fortress facing Lovrijenac.

Cannon Lovrijenac Fortress

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An ancient inscription at the entrance to Lovrijenac Fortress reads – NON BENE PRO TOTO LIBERTAS VENDITUR AURO – Freedom is Not Sold for All the Gold in the World.

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Lovrijenac was the stage for a memorable production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and it’s a popular Game of Thrones filming location. I explored this fortress during a Game of Thrones Walking Tour. It’s magnificent!

Bathed in light at night, this massive fortress is visible for miles. My apartment looks down on Old City and massive Lovrijenac is the most prominent building from that vantage point. It’s known as the “Gibraltar of Dubrovnik”.

Dubrovnik Reflections

Stradun Old Town in Winter – Culture Trip

It’s an understatement that Dubrovnik is a vast change from Berlin! With the 90/180 visa rule, I had to exit EU Schengen countries and there weren’t many options. Croatia was the right choice.

Dubrovački Zimski Festival 2019 – tzdubrovnik.hr

Dubrovnik in Winter

Some say visiting Dubrovnik in winter is crazy, but I love the time here, even though it can get windy and cold. Locals clearly prefer warm Mediterranean weather and grumble when it gets below 50. Winter temperatures are steady in the 40s – 50s with chilly nights in the 30s. Most days are crisp and clear emphasizing a backdrop of sea and mountains! I met a tourist from Chicago who said Dubrovnik’s winter weather seemed almost like spring. It’s ideal for hiking and winter festivals are fun. 

Festival of St. Blaise Dubrovnik – Total Croatia News

Long-Term Travel

Long-term travel is a much different experience than short-term group or family trips. The goal is staying a while and being low-key, forgetting yourself, getting comfortable mingling, and learning to understand a country’s culture, people, and day-to-day life. I no longer try to explain the value of this to those who don’t understand and are even critical. However, as a solo traveler you must be self-reliant and cautious. I’ve made and survived many mistakes. Imperfection and the unknown are part of the adventure.

Stradun Old Town During Winter Festival

Getting Around

Getting around Dubrovnik requires effort but you grow accustomed to climbing and descending a series of steep stone steps. I started a morning yoga routine that seems to keep me limber. I enjoy daily walks, short hikes, and climbing the stairs on the way to and from my apartment – especially at dusk and sunset when the sky and sea are vivid and dramatic. With a car, good luck finding parking near Old Town.

Winter View of Old Town and Lokrum Island from Mt. Srd

Internet is fast and unlike Berlin, you don’t get slammed with excessive advertisements. Almost everything closes on Sunday which reminds me of South Africa years ago.

Dubrovnik’s Islands in Winter – Total Croatia News

People, Cats, Food

I’ve met some lovely locals and learned about Dubrovnik’s history. Most people speak English fairly well. During business hours they move quickly, but after hours it’s a different scene.

Winter Sunset Dubrovnik

People in Dubrovnik are down-to-earth and don’t make life complicated. Some men are flirtatious :o)… It’s fun to be noticed, but even at my age, flirting back isn’t always a good idea for solo women travelers.

Old Town Cat

Winter Adriatic Sea

I don’t know but think locals are slightly overwhelmed by the ever-increasing hordes of tourists. Of course they’re a great source of income, but the summer invasion makes a huge impact. I imagine they must grow weary of the onslaught when Old Town is literally teeming with bodies.

Dubrovački Zimski Festival 2019 – tzdubrovnik.hr

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Winter is the time when locals “take back Dubrovnik”!

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Mt. Srd January 2019

I’ve noticed many stray cats – nothing like Istanbul. Most of them look healthy and like to be petted, but some are skittish and clearly feral. They’re clever and streetwise knowing when to run, which people to trust, and who in the crowd is likely to feed them at outdoor restaurants.

Statue of St Blaise Old Town Stari Grad Dubrovnik

Only a handful of restaurants are open during the winter – some better than others. Usually you can’t go wrong with seafood. So far, my favorite treat is olives! Green or black they’re absolutely divine – BIG smile. Croatian honey, dates, and oranges are also delicious. Markets around my apartment are small locally owned places with fantastic fresh produce and cheeses.

Mini Market Prima Dubrovnik

Winter Dusk before Sunset Dubrovnik

Politics, History, Money

Understanding politics in any country is a challenge, and I’m learning about Croatia through on-line newspapers and conversations with locals. What little I know about the complicated history of conflict between Dubrovnik and its Serbian neighbors is interesting, as is the Bosnian War from 20 years ago, and the Venetian, Napoleonic, and Ottoman invasions.

Church of St. Blaise and Orlando’s Column Old Town Dubrovnik

Croatia hasn’t adopted the Euro yet, but talks are in process for entering the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM). Some services quote rates in both Croatian Kuna and Euro – it’s confusing and there’s a big difference between the two! Taxi drivers give a price that sounds reasonable in Kuna and then when it’s time to pay, they say the price quoted was in Euro – usually an outrageous amount… My experiences with taxis in foreign countries haven’t been positive.

Portion of Steps Leading to Old Town

More Steps

Winter Limitations

It’s disappointing that during winter there are no swimming, kayaking, or boat excursions to Dubrovnik’s fabulous islands – that is unless you’re a polar bear swimmer. I’ve seen several brave souls venture out in the cold Adriatic Sea for brief early morning swims. It’s a daily ritual like with San Francisco’s Dolphin Club members who swim near Alcatraz in the cold Bay.

St. Blaise Holding Croatia in His Hand

In winter many Dubrovnik businesses close and locals take a break for a few months. It’s more difficult finding services like tours of Montenegro and Bosnia, but I’m considering the options. Of course you can rent a car and drive yourself. My last visit to Croatia was over five years ago in the summer, when I passed through Dubrovnik on the way to Split and Zagreb.

Festival of St. Blaise Dubrovnik

Festival of St. Blaise

The Festival of St. Blaise of Sebaste, Dubrovnik’s patron saint, is on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List. It began as far back as 971 AD. This year, Dubrovnik celebrates St. Blaise from January 24 through February 3.  On Candlemas Day they release white doves (called The Blessing of the Throats) in front of the Church of St. Blaise and then raise St Blaise’s flag at Orlando’s Column. The ritual is dramatic and colorful. Activities include “concerts, exhibitions, and theater performances dedicated to the patron saint”.

Feast Day of Saint Blaise Dubrovnik – Dubrovnik Coast

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“Statues representing St. Blaise holding Dubrovnik in his hand are the most common sight alongside Dubrovnik’s City Walls.”

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Old Town Dubrovnik in Winter – Total Croatia News

Croatia & Surrounding Countries – infohost.nmt.edu

Next Stop?

I’m working my way south and considered Malta as the next stop, but it’s part of the Schengen visa block, so it won’t work. Cyprus, Bulgaria, and Albania are of interest with Cyprus being the warmest climate. Since my last stop will be Cape Town, traveling via Cyprus is a good route but I’m doing research… Hopping over to Montenegro and spending a few weeks is an option. I’m enjoying the quiet, peaceful environment and of course Croatia’s people and incredible natural beauty!

More later…

Beautiful Dalmatian Coast Croatia

 

Evening View from Studio Apartment

Dubrovnik and the Mediterranean climate here are so beautiful, I’m at a loss for words…. Still in orientation mode learning my way around and getting used to the steep hills and stone steps. Hopefully within a few days I’ll be moving faster. Today was slow and it’s noticeable that after the New Year celebration many tourists have departed.

At Medieval City Walls

Studio Apartment – Top Windows

My small apartment is cozy and private. Best of all it’s a great vantage point for sunrises and sunsets! The biggest problem is maintaining a healthy diet and finding restaurants and markets where I can eat or buy food to prepare. Markets were closed today. Almost all the restaurants serve delicious food, but many are super expensive. A happy medium is necessary and on an extended trip finding the right food takes time.

Old City

Old City Building

Tomorrow I’ll make plans for walking tours and more exploring. Montenegro and Bosnia are near. Day trips are easy and on the agenda.

Neighborhood House

Dubrovnik has a cable car – the only one on the Adriatic coast. The cable car runs between Old City and the peak of Mount Srdj. It doesn’t run as often in the winter, but I saw it running today, so it’s definitely on the list!

Sunset

 

My photography doesn’t do the vistas justice, but a few photos of Old City and the surrounding neighborhood are attached. More later…

Local Mediterranean Vegetation