Arguably Dubrovnik’s most famous feature, one of the experiences that most visitors to the city consider to be mandatory is a walk along the defensive walls. Similar in age and circumference to those of Berwick they differ in many significant ways. The builders in Berwick had access to plenty of earth and so the stone walls of the fortifications there are a mere metre or so thick, their strength coming from the great earth ramparts which buttress them, giving them the strength to withstand artillery attacks. Five arrowhead bastions were spaced at key points.
The land around Dubrovnik is of a stonier affair, so no great earthworks here, just stone and lots of it. Making use of the seaward cliffs the Croatians built upwards (82 feet at their peak) to add greater stature, but backing up that height was depth. In places the walls reach 6 metres in thickness, even at their narrowest where they face the sea, they are three times the thickness of those at Berwick.
Four forts are stationed around the walls, though technically the Revelin fortress is entirely separate, the term being a corruption of rivelino, a fortification built opposite weak points in a city; in this case one of the city gates. This one was built to counter a threat from a Venetian landing.
At the opposite side of the city is the Bokar fortress, a solid rounded block that dominates the main entrance at the Pile gate. This is a message in stone and that message is “you shall not pass”, whether by land or sea.
Housing both the city’s aquarium and the maritime museum is the St John fortress, a series of buildings that expanded into each other to form one structure that dominates the port entrance. The defensive side is rounded, with a sloping “skirt*” at ground level, but facing the the wall is completely straight producing an appearance of having been sliced in half.
Which leaves the Minceta Tower; the epitome of medieval castle defence. Big, tall, round and placed at the highest corner of the walls; you can’t miss it, which is perhaps the point. It must surely have been an intimidating sight for anyone contemplating a land offensive.
The walls survived a multitude of sieges over the centuries, including that of the Yugoslav army in 1991/2 where the ancient walls proved far more resilient than many of the buildings within despite the original builders having no idea of the fire power that a modern army may deploy. Nevertheless by the end of the 20th century over $7m had been spent on restoration and you can detect the new patches where clean smooth masonry has been installed.
Maintaining them will continue to be a costly business but this may not be a problem. The Croatians have steadily increased the price of access over the years (approx £15 per adult when I visited) and this doesn’t seem to have deterred visitors. Records were broken in 2016 when over 9,000 people walked the walls on a single day in July. Over the year the total fell just short of million putting those post was restoration costs well into perspective.
And what’s they attraction? Great views over the city and the island of Lokrum beyond, a chance to escape the baking heat bouncing off the walls in the city streets, or just a fantastic way to get your bearings? Perhaps it’s just something that has to be done, and if you can cope with some of the vertiginous aspects you should do it. For photographers they provide some interesting angles on the ground below too!
*In a strange coincidence I’ve discovered the word for such a slope twice on the same day; firstly by reading William Boyd’s Sweet Caress and using my kindle dictionary to query an unfamiliar word, and then encountering that word again only a few hours later watching Only Connect. It’s clearly destined to be part of my vocabulary now. Glacis.