Dubrovnik-The Unstrung Pearl of the Adriatic

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.