October 1991 may seem like a long time ago, but reminders of the siege of Dubrovnik are still evident—in the unnatural orange of new terra-cotta roof tiles, in bullet holes pocking the surface of old stone facades. It took years for tourism to rebound, even after the city’s infrastructure and buildings were restored.
The so-called “pearl of the Adriatic” faced a peril worse than anything since its devastating 1667 earthquake. For 10 months, Serb forces surrounded Dubrovnik, cutting off supplies and services while shelling its UNESCO-protected monuments.
Since medieval times this key Adriatic seaport has been tussled over by Venice , Hungary, Turkey, and other powers. Rebuilt in the baroque style after the 1667 quake, its Old Town is now a pedestrianized zone of churches, palaces, squares, and monuments, nestled inside a nearly intact set of medieval walls. You can walk the entire circuit of the walls in about an hour. The Western Gate (Pile) and the Eastern Gate (Ploce) are connected by the wide quarter-mile-long boulevard Stradun, its glossy limestone pavement worn by years of foot-steps; its tiny side streets are full of atmospheric cafes and shops.
Inside both the Pile Gate and the Ploce Gate are ornamented stone Onofrio fountains, built in the 15th century so that entering visitors could wash away plague germs. Centuries later, during the 1991 siege, their ancient hydrosystems provided precious drinking water for cut-off city residents. Facing the fountain inside the Pile Gate is the Renaissance-Gothic facade of St. Saviour Church, one of the few churches to survive the 1667 earthquake. Beside it is a 14th-century Franciscan monastery, whose lovely library, cloisters, and bell tower were damaged in 1991 shelling.
Inside the Ploce Gate, the other Onofrio fountain sits in busy Luza Square, whose centerpiece is the 15th-century Orlando column, a rallying point in 1990 for Dubrovnik’s freedom fighters. Also on Luza Square is the church of St. Blaise, the city’s patron saint. Though it was built post-earthquake, in the early 18th century, inside is a silver-plated state of St. Blaise holding a 15th-century model of Dubrovnik as it looked before 1667. Also on the square, the 15th-century Sponza Palace arts complex has a special Memorial Room commemorating Croatian patri-ots who died during the 1991 to 1992 siege. Near the southern city walls, the largest church in town is the Jesuit Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola, whose long flight of baroque stairs—reminiscent of Rome ’s Spanish Steps—were badly damaged in the siege but have since been restored.