Like so many other ports on the Adriatic, there seems to be two common themes; (1) the origins are either unknown or under dispute, and (2) the cities and towns have been occupied or conquered by multiple invaders, each leaving their mark on the construction and culture of the land. Dubrovnik (Ragusa), Croatia is no exception.
One theory is that the Greeks lay claim to both theories of how the town was founded. The first lists the town as a Greek refuge site in the 7th century, while the second, which seems to be supported by the scientific community, indicates that Greek sailors used the port when sailing from Greek port to port. Sighting that Greek sailboats typically sailed only 50-75 miles in a day during the 8th century, and Dubrovnik fell right in between two major Greek ports at that time. Adding even more credence to theory is that Dubrovnik has an ample supply of fresh water which often determined how far a ship could sail.
Over time the Ottomans overtook the city, an alliance with the town of Ancona, Italy then closer aligned to the city with the Republic of Venice since Ancona was on the opposite side of the Adriatic. In 1272 the Port of Ragusa developed their own statutes, essentially modeling those of the Roman codification and local customs. The first pharmacy was opening on 1301 and remains open to this day. For centuries Ragusa held a tenuous balance in shipping between bitter enemies, The Republic of Venice and the Ottoman Empire. In 1667, after a disastrous earthquake leveled the city and killed more than 5,000 residents, the shipping industry collapsed and portions of the city were sold off to the Ottoman Empire. Today those two strips of land are in possession of Herzegovina, allowing that otherwise landlocked country to have access to the Adriatic Sea. In 1806 Napoleon wanted to march through Ragusa Enroute to quell a Montenegrin disturbance. Napoleon however was met with stiff resistance from the Montenegrin forces causing over 3,000 shells to land on the city. The French then ruled the city for a brief time 1806-1808, before the city surrendered to Captain Sir William Hoste in 1814. Soon British and Austrian forces were occupying the fortress. With the fall of Austria-Hungary in 1918 the city was incorporated into the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. At that time the city's name was changed from Ragusa to Dubrovnik. During World War II the town was occupied by German and Communist Yugoslavian troops. Through bloody conflicts in which many prominent citizens were executed by German troops, Dubrovnik eventually fell under the rule of Croatia. In 1929, George Bernard Shaw visited the city and said, "If you want to see heaven on earth, come to Dubrovnik".
Modern history saw bloody conflicts with Montenegro with the famous war criminal Slobodan Milosevic attempting to take back the city claiming the city was always a part of Montenegro. The siege on the city lasted for seven months before the Croatian army was able to lift the siege and free the citizens. In 2005 repairs to the old city were nearly complete however vestiges of pock-marked walls remain as a constant reminder of the conflict with the neighboring country just a few miles south, Montenegro.
By 6AM when the alarm went off we were well inside the passage to the port town of Dubrovnik, Croatia. After all that we had heard the pictures and video we had seen this was one port of call that we just had to see. The weather cooperated fully with only a few high thin cirrus above and temperatures in the upper 70's to low 80's.
Now where the cruise ships dock the Old Town was two miles away. We opted to take a Celebrity shuttle bus to Old Town and then find our way around. Being on the first bus into the city had its advantages but once we got inside the Old Town gates, it was already packed and only getting worse by the minute. We knew we wanted to get up on a gate as soon as possible and so we walked until we saw this massive set of steps. That had to be the entrance. Once at the top of about 90 odd-shaped steps, we found that I was wrong. We paralleled the wall for several hundred more feet only to find a local who could tell us we had to go back down to the bottom, buy tickets then go back up a different set of steps. Down a different set if steps we went, got lost, got found, and finally got tickets. It was just our luck that by the time we bought the tickets to walk the wall, the worst set of steps up just opened!
This time it was 82 steps up and then a left to begin the walk along the walls. About 500 feet into the walk we ran into our friends and so we just trekked slowly with them. These are the same two couples we are spending three days with in Rome at the conclusion of this trip.
The first third of the wall provided many great vistas of the city but it was beginning to get very hot and all of us were somewhat fatigued by the time we reached the first exit point. Three of the men and one of the women continued on while the remainder went to the surface for a different view of the Old Town. Those of us who continued on saw what was ahead of us and it was going to be a challenge as the highest peaks on the wall remained.
Once we reached almost to the top we found a tiny bar and bought four $3.50 Croatian beers. That didn't help the balance of the climb at all but it gave us an incentive to get down to join the remainder of our friends.
Having reached the summit, the four of us followed the crowd and exited onto the same 82 steps leading us back down to terra-firma. The walls in most spots are wide enough to pass one at a time. The steps on the other had require so friendly touching as you proceed down while others are going up.
At the base of the steps was a gelato shop and the sign was all we needed to headed in for our rewards for conquering the 1.8 mile of wall surrounding Old Town.
While many say there is a photos around every corner, we found in Old Town Dubrovnik, there was a photo opportunity with every step. Between the two of us we shot 175 photos in a little over two hours.
Once outside the main gate to the wall we followed our friends to a cab stand for a "panoramic" view of the Old Town. As long as there was minimal walking we were all up for that! Susan negotiated a deal with two cabbies and off we went for an incredible drive up the side of a hill for an even more spectacular view of everything. On the way up our driver was telling us that the Serbian army used the hill we were climbing to lob bomb shells onto the town below. At one point, over 2,000 Serbian militia were being held off by only 200 Croatian army personnel. There was some damage to the Old Town but post-war, citizens gathered together to restore the Old Town to its original condition. Still some pock marks can be seen on some of the homes and churches in the area.
At the top of the hill we looked across one hill to the Bosnian Border. The Bosnians are very friendly with the Croats. Shortly after the war, a friend of ours, who is a judge in Minnesota volunteered to come over to teach the American Judicial System to the Croats. He raved about this area but I never fully understood until now. Thanks Phil!
The two cab drivers were wonderful and suggested they take us to "the other coast" for 30 more euro. Seemed like a deal to us, so off we went. The drive was nice but a little long. We ended up in a town called Cavtat, basically pronounced "cevat". Cavtat is a beautiful and very clean seaside resort town but since we only had about 25 minutes we couldn't spend as much time as desired to fully explore the area. Maybe on our return visit.
The cabs dropped us off right at the ships entrance on the dock! We had to walk a mere 25 feet to get through the first phase of ship's security.
Both Split and Dubrovnik have left such an incredibly positive impression on us. That speaks well for all of Croatia. While there are problem areas for Croatia, these two cities show the positive side of the country by providing beautiful scenery, friendly people, and opportunities to explore ancient history. Thank you Croatia! We'll miss you....
Read Superior-Shores's full Celebrity Silhouette cruise review