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…