Modern Dubrovnik is a substantial city and port. But a lot of the action in Dancing with Spies takes place in the Old Town which is the World Heritage Site and the main place of interest for tourists.
The main entrance to the old part of the city is from the north through the Pile Gate. Emerging from this little fortress which forms part of the city walls into the old town, Onofrio’s Fountain (ancient source of water for the city) is to the right. However the visitor finds their gaze drawn down the length of one of the most remarkable pedestrian streets in the world. The Placa (see photo) is a broad concourse, paved in white marble, which leads right across the city almost to the old harbour. Down either side are grand three-storey buildings with small shop-fronts let into the ground floor. This is the gathering area in the evenings for the local population who stroll up and down, involved in serious discussions or friendly greetings.
To the left of the Placa narrow little streets of steps climb the steep hillside towards the city walls. To the right the streets are a little less narrow and not so steep. At the bottom end of the street it opens out into a square with the church of St Blaise (Dubrovnik’s patron saint) on one side, the Sponza Palace (now a museum) on the other, and the City Hall which contains the theatre in front. Through small gateways the harbour appears, crowded with little boats and the occasional larger tourist excursion vessel.
St John’s fortress dominates the harbour on the sea side and steps can be taken from here onto the city walls. Dubrovnik is one of the few old cities completely surrounded by walls round which the visitors can walk, enjoying the views to the west across the sea to the islands, east inland to the mountains and, as they slowly work their way round the circle of the city, private views down into gardens where children are playing or wives are hanging out washing or old men are sitting, dozing in the sun with their drinks on a small table in front of them. From time to time there are views through windows into the interior of houses, just as Caroline saw her first violence in Dancing with Spies.
The Old Town contains many places worth exploring. The market place is not far from the cathedral. There are cloisters and squares planted with trees where the tired tourist can sit and drink in the shade. Not far away is the forested island of Lokrum which is easily reached by water taxi if a refreshing swim is required. Day tours by water to places up the coast and to other islands can be organised and I will tell you about a very special island called Mljet in a future blog.
Next week I will tell you how this sunny paradise was temporarily destroyed in the Yugoslav Civil War.