Exploring Old Town Dubrovnik

Our first adventures in Dubrovnik were to simply explore the city. The beauty is just extraordinary and only enhanced by the uniqueness of it all. Dubrovnik is unlike any other city in Europe. Dubrovnik was the definition of purity. The light is outstanding. I highly suggest getting up as the sun rises to grab shots of the empty streets cloaked in the warmth of early morning light. Sunset is just as good, although much busier with locals and tourists.

Must See attractions in Dubrovnik

For such a small city, Dubrovnik offers quite a bit to see and do. We barely could cover it in our three days there. Unfortunately, we never did get to explore the hills above Dubrovnik, Island Lokrum, or the outside city of Dubrovnik. We did make it to the main attractions, which you can’t miss on a visit to Dubrovnik. These include:

Rector’s Palace

Right off Luza Square is the Rector’s Palace. It was the seat of the Ragusan government, where the Rector lived and worked. The first prince (Rector) ruled the Republic from here. After Napoleon’s army dissolved the Dubrovnik Republic the Rector’s position was reduced. In fact, a new Rector was selected each month.

The original palace was modeled after the Roman imperial palace, with some influences from Venetian palaces. In 1435 there was a gunpowder explosion that demolished the structure. It was rebuilt in a late-gothic style. There was another explosion in 1463, and an earthquake in 1667 that severely damaged the city. What you see now is the final redo that took place at the end of the 17 century.

The central portico features beautiful archways and a second-story mezzanine. The rooms are interesting, and not so extensive you feel obligated to spend tons of time wandering through. For me, the highlight was the portico with the open ceiling and archways.

Pile Gate

This is the north gate into the city. It features a stone bridge with two gothic arches. If you exit towards the outside you can get to Tower Loverjenac, something we did not do. On entering, the outer draw bridge is met by an internal bridge that leads into the city. If the light is right, some good shots are to be had from Pile Gate. My suggestion is to walk down the path to the left as you exit out of the town. at the end you’ll be at the bay I mentioned from the wall tour. There is a great view of the enormous Tower Loverjenac and Tower Bokar with the Adriatic in the background.

Big Onofrio’s Fountain

You’ll see this round structure near the pile gate. It’s close to the entrance to the wall tour. It’s a 16-sided water fountain and is considered a masterpiece of engineering for the early 1400s. This is not only for the design but for the design of the irrigation flow. The water that serves it is 20 kilometers away.

Church of St. Blaise & the Cathedral

While the Church of St. Blaise is worth seeing, mostly because of the religious artifacts in a small room behind the alter, I liked the Cathedral much more. At night the lighting is dramatic and great for night shots. The courtyard in front of it was not that busy when I was shooting, so I was able to take a long exposure without people walking through.

Franciscan Monastery

The Franciscan Monastery is a must-see for fans of great architecture as this courtyard and surrounding buildings are considered a masterwork of Dubrovnik architecture. The Roman-Gothic styling features an outside courtyard with the second oldest pharmacy in Europe, and it’s still a pharmacy today. Inside the library features 30,000 volumes of books and 1500 handwritten documents. The garden area is extraordinary.

Troubadour Jazz Cafe

One night after dinner, we were walking through the main square where outdoor cafes were busy with customers. We ended up at the Troubadour Jazz Cafe, where they played some great American-style jazz. It was quite a treat listening to our home music under the stars with a cold Karlovacko beer in hand in Dubrovnik.

Cafe Buza

This is the find in Dubrovnik, and not all that well known. On an alleyway in along the main western wall, you’ll find a non-descript small door. Enter it to find the coolest bar you might ever have a beer in. The cafe is built on the side of the rocky cliffs and into the Dubrovnik wall. At the water level is a small beach if you’re in the mood for a swim. We sat at sunset and took in the view and the dramatic scene of the wall rising above our heads. It was truly spectacular and is still a personal highlight of the trip for all of us who went.

There are plenty of other famous Dubrovnik icons that you’ll run into during your stay. Thinks like the bell tower, the Jesuit Church, Orlando’s Column, and Fortress Revelin you’ll find just roaming around. Palace Sponza is worth seeing as well.

The Dubrovnik Wall Tour

On our first full day, we immediately set off to see the main attractions Dubrovnik had to offer. The first, and most highly recommended, was the walk along the Dubrovnik Wall.

Pile Gate side entrance

We started the walk at the Pile Gate side entrance, inside the wall. I think it was 50 Kuna to enter. When doing this tour, make sure you have some water and all the camera gear you’ll need. There is no way to get back down except the entrance. So be prepared. The tour goes for over 2 kilometers and can take 3-4 hours.

Tower Loverjenac

Once we climbed the steep staircase to the top of the wall, we were blown away at the incredible views of Tower Loverjenac (an outside fortification), and the small bay the separates them. As we moved along to the Northernmost post, Tower Bokar (Lapidarij), the view of Tower Loverjenac and the bay came into view. Hulking man-made fortresses, separated by a peaceful bay of crystal blue-green sea.

Up again we moved to the main wall. On the city side, some ruins from the bombing were still noticeable, as were the newer red roof tiles on the homes that had been restored.

At the top of the wall, there were homes with windows facing the Adriatic and Island Lokrum. There was a gate there that was at the peak height of the wall. That gate with the various backgrounds made for an excellent photo opportunity.

Island Lokrum

Continuing on, we stopped at the high southern tower that offered a straight shot of Island Lokrum, a large, undisturbed island that is just a short boat ride from Dubrovnik. We did not have time to go, but friends went and loved it, so I have to recommend it as a great secluded beach getaway.

Facing south on the Dubrovnik wall we could see the incoming tour ships parked in the distance between Lokrum and the rising mountains of the mainland.

Vrata Od Ploca entrance

As we made our way around the south side of the wall towards the Vrata Od Ploca entrance (the south gate main entrance), I found excellent vantage points to shoot the top of the Church of St. Blaise.

When we reached the Easternmost point of the city, the view across the red roof tiles with the blue Adriatic in the background was breathtaking. This is considered the most famous vantage point to shoot Dubrovnik. It’s here the uniqueness of the city and its history is best shown.

Not only were the views of the Church of St. Blaise and other important architecture outstanding, but it also provided a taste of local life as well…fresh clothes hanging on rooftop patio clothes-lines, bottles of walnut liquor fermenting in the sun. This liquor was used as a local after-dinner drink, or for special celebrations. We were able to purchase some at a local market in the main square. It was interesting, and I do suggest it if you enjoy the taste of walnuts.

Minceta Tower

Finally, we made it to the highest point on the tour, the Minceta Tower. The short, but steep climb up was well worth it. The views of the city were the best here, and even the views of the outside city and surrounding hills were at their best here.

We spent about 3 to 4 hours touring the wall and taking in every aspect possible. Please be sure to set aside enough time to do this right. Unfortunately, the gates open after sunrise and close before sunset. So you are stuck with making the most of mid-day high sun. Even so, the clarity of the views will guarantee incredible images.

A brief history of Dubrovnik for vistors

Dubrovnik was once known as the Republic of Ragusa, built in the 7th century when residents of the Dalmatian coast sought refuge from an onslaught of invading barbarians. Over the next 4 centuries, Ragusa became immensely successful as a Mediterranean trading port.

For a time, 1205-1358, Ragusa was under the control of Venice. In the 15th century, it became the major rival to Venice in control of the Adriatic shipping lanes.

Ragusa was completely devastated by an earthquake in 1667. In fact, only the Sponza Palace and the Rector’s Palace survived. The residents reconstructed the city, forming what we have today. Dubrovnik has long attracted travelers. Lord Byron, Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, and even Agatha Christie were awed by the walled city and visited often.

In more recent history, Dubrovnik was absorbed into Yugoslavia after World War I. Previously it was a Monarchy, but when King Alexander was assassinated in France, his son Prince Paul got too close with the German Fascists.

In 1939, they immediately ousted him in a bloodless coup and invaded Croatia with help of the Fascist Italians.

Ultimately Communist rule took hold under Tito, and the Iron curtain dropped over Croatia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Serbia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Although the residents of Yugoslavia had access to more freedoms than any country in Eastern Europe, they were under the iron fist of Titoism.

Things started to fall apart rapidly after Tito’s death in 1980. By the end of the decade, Croatia proclaimed its independence and fell into a war with Serbia. Of all of the cities on the Dalmatian coast, Dubrovnik caught the bulk of this conflict, where Serbian shells rained over the city from the southern front of Montenegro. YouTube has incredibly disturbing footage of Dubrovnik being bombed.

After the war, Croatia was established under a parliamentary constitution, and the new government rebuilt its infrastructure. We saw some evidence of the war, but most of Dubrovnik has been repaired, and the deeper we traveled up the Dalmatian coast, evidence of war was non-existent.