One of the attractions of Dubrovnik (and doubtless one that I’ll return to) is the opportunity to ascend the muscular defensive walls that encircle the city and walk the perimeter of the medieval settlement.
Once you complete the climb you’re presented with a new perspective of the old town, one where you can pick out all of the major structures, because however tall they may be, the walls are taller.
One of the first thing’s you’ll notice are the tiled rooftops. Row upon row of terracotta, occasionally interspersed with a dot or two of ochre, though lacking the character of a Siena due to one simple fact. All of this terracotta is new and devoid of any weathering or invasive lichens and mosses that might give it an interesting patina. The rarer yellow patches are more authentic.
There’s no need to wonder why there has been so much rooftop renovation, for as you enter the city there are large sheet metal maps that chart the destination of every piece of ordnance that fell on the city during the war for independence that began in 1991.
The maps are quite shocking, but the rooftops have even greater impact in explaining the scale of the bombardment suffered here. But why?
The Old Town was home to no significant military installations and the port is too small to have played any part in Croatia’s defence against the Yugoslav National Army or JNA (a strongly pro-Serbian force). This was no militarily strategic attack; it was psychological warfare. Dubrovnik is a medieval gem that brings a great deal of tourist income to the region, but it also plays a key role in the historic identity of the area, the home of the Ragusa maritime republic. These historic buildings were irreplaceable and so their destruction was a way of erasing the historic identity of the Croats – a severe blow to their morale.
Or it would have been had the Serbs been successful in their aims. Instead both the Croatian people and these celebrated stones proved more resilient than expected and the savagery of the Serbs proved to be their undoing. The attack on Dubrovnik raised the profile of the war, and was added to a list of war crimes attributed to the Serbs. The PR disaster accelerated the international recognition of Croatia as an independent state.
During the World War II many Serbians had died in Croatian concentration camps, so the international response to the attacks seemed hypocritical to the Serbian leadership. Before they withdrew, the JNA looted the city.
Seven Baroque palaces were completely lost as a result of the siege. Croatia and the world are fortunate that so much more survived, though I suspect the conflicts are only in temporary abeyance. Neither side accepts the present boundaries so the opportunity for further confrontation remains.
The uppermost stained glass in St Blaise’s church is modern, the original another casualty no doubt. I couldn’t help but feel that incorporating a white dove of peace was just a little optimistic.