Like every other place, Dubrovnik needs to be felt, not just seen…
Like all travellers compulsively well-informed about the destination they are headed to, my list of essential experiences was ready before we booked our tickets to Croatia. Apart from Plitvice National Parks, the high point would be walking the walls of Dubrovnik…touted as a ‘once-in-a-lifetime experience’.
I had pinned dozens of pictures, seen a few video clips. Got a general impression. Imagined it in my head. Thought I knew what was in store. But in fact, I was miles away from reality. Classic case of expectations not matching reality…in reverse! Pearl of the Adriatic? Oh, yes, undoubtedly, a giant pearl embedded on the blessed shores where those azure blue waters glisten like sapphires in the Mediterranean sun. And the wall walk? It certainly takes a huge chunk of credit for that name.
Save the climax for after you have soaked up the inimitable atmosphere of the medieval town with its glossy stone streets, fascinating monuments and dazzling harbour. To walk the wall, you need to take the first flight of nearly 100 steps from Pile Gate. From up there, stop for stunning first views of the entire Stradun below, the broad limestone-paved promenade, heartbeat of the traffic-free Old Town, a shopping street by day and party place after dark. Then on, the spectacle never eases.
In about two hours, you will trace the contours of the entire fortified Old Town, navigating roughly 6,360 feet and 1080 steps in all. No plain old walk through a regular fortified wall…this. At every few hundred meters, dramatic transitions unfold, till you stop trying to predict the scenes you will encounter next. Sometimes, the wall rises to even 80 feet high, sometimes it drops into a low balustrade. Sometimes it shrinks into a narrow corridor enough for one person to pass, sometimes it expands wide enough go fit even a bus!
Endless electric blue till the horizon. Put away those sunglasses now. Drop that jaw. And just stare. Don’t care about how long you stare. Drink in the sight and trap it in your mind forever. Stop at the wide patio with a canyon and turret and peep out from the little lookouts into the sea below. Is that a pirate ship in the distance, smoke bellowing from its ancient engines, sails blowing its massive wooden structure into the direction of the angry winds? Fantasy is fun…indulge!
The Church of St.Blaise and the statues of the patron saint peek from every corner…there are hundreds of statues in Dubrovnik. Count as many as possible, take as many pictures as you can. And then pick the winner. Here’s my favorite, a solemn silhouette against the silver sea.
You will walk past little balconies, windows, rooms, backyards and roofs of the living quarters of locals. In the private sanctuary of their red roofs, they are strangely immune to the magnetic beauty of their immediate neighbourhood. The vision that millions travel from across the world to see, is just a blink away for them…just another boring day at home. And here you are…hoping to etch every memory indelibly in your heart. Children play in the backyards, neighbors chat from across balconies, pots clank in the kitchens, a kettle whistles away. Charms of the everyday exotic.
A guide walked past with her group, her soft carefully modulated voice explaining first in English, then Spanish and German. Finish your photo session leisurely and wait for the crowd to pass. Take all the time in the world. You have to move forward, in one direction…unless you buy the tickets a second time. In the distance, a church bell tolls. Find it!
You are puzzled by a clothes line that extends from a window of a house to nearly 100 feet away, where it was nailed to the opposite wall. How does one hang the clothes all along the clothes line? Soon, the mystery is unearthed…it’s just an ingenious pulley system…clothes can be pulled back so conveniently.
Lean over the wall, see the little people below. The genius of the architect who visualized this construction and the grandeur, the scale of construction! The entire area is crammed with medieval houses, adorned with red Roman rooftops and complemented perfectly by the brilliant blue of the Adriatic sea on three sides. It is heart-wrenching…how this grand fortified structure has endured ravages of intruders, survived a massive earthquake, and risen from the destruction of bombardment during the civil war of 1991, when people hid in underground safe-houses without power and water supply for months. Everything has been rebuilt with so much love.
The brick roofs are close now…reach out and touch them…they are squeaky clean…no dirt or dust on them…yet decades are etched in every crack. New houses clone the ancient ones, the same red roofed tiles, the same shapes and sizes, but look closely and you can spot the older constructions. Heritage lives on, even as many residents move to more modern neighbourhoods outside the walls…leaving a population of merely 1000 residents within.
The old harbour bears testimony to Dubrovnik’s prestigious past…the wealth and prominence from maritime trade, and heights of commercial and naval glory, as the only city-state on the eastern side of the Adriatic to rival Venice. Beyond, Lokrum Island beckons… the lush green treasure is a mere fifteen minutes away by ferry, and a hot favourite with tourists seeking an idyllic afternoon soaking up the sun in quiet coves, and long walks among rich pines and other subtropical vegetation.
Move on to higher heights, you can clearly see the maze of narrow lanes criss-crossing the Stradun…some of the lanes are less like lanes and more like hundreds of uphill steps…windows looking out into the lanes…old fashioned clotheslines… centuries old limestone floors with the stubborn grime adding a strange touch of glamour. The last stretch of the walk is undoubtedly the most impressive…see the whole city, each house, each monument on the Stradun and beyond, the dazzling blue sea surrounding the Stari Grad.
And before reaching full circle, stop at the the tallest point, the Minceta tower in the North….its Gothic crown shape, a symbol of unconquerable power, today a living reminder of its undying magnetic attraction. If you are still hungry for more…take the cable car to Mount Srd, looming at 450 meters above sea level for a breathtaking panorama…home to a dense oak forest called Dubrava, which gave the town its name.
It’s one thing to compile a list of essentials and another to derive a soul-stirring experience out of it. Dubrovnik’s wall walk lifted me to another level, in more ways than one…because I looked with ‘my’ eyes! Did you?