Tower and thick walls are no defence
Tower and thick walls are no defence

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._pw_6461

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._pw_5284

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. _pw_5285

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.




Hexham Ending

In gathering images from the Abbey I completely underplayed the significance of the medieval panels here on my first visit, so returned to put that right.

As I said in my last Hexham post, the Tudors and the Victorians weren’t aficionados, so some of the panels spent years covered in whitewash whilst others were removed and hidden away, so many of these artefacts were lost to the world, reappearing during building works or restoration to the church furniture.  Not all of the losses can be attributed to those periods however.  The visitor centre displays a series of 9 panels depicting “The Passion” which date back to the 16th century (ironically the century when Henry VIII was at work dismantling the Catholic church and looting its treasures).  Originally there were 10 but one was lost during my lifetime, which does tend to set the mind wondering about wealthy collectors of medieval art acquiring a unique piece.

I mentioned in that earlier post the Dance of Death,  and this really requires more than passing reference.

European progress and growing prosperity had stumbled in the 14th and 15th centuries as the result of a series of catastrophic events.  A great famine swept the continent resulting from three consecutive years of crop failures, prompting some to turn to cannibalism as a remedy whilst others killed their own children to reduce the numbers of mouths to feed.

This was also the period when the plague known as “The Black Death” spread from Central Asia across the whole of Europe, with recurrences that lasted for centuries.

To this gloomy picture can be added war, and for England and her traditional enemy France, the series of conflicts known as the Hundred Years War.  The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were certainly busy during the 14th Century, so much so that some estimate a halving of Europe’s population during this period, and as art reflects culture and our way of life, so this gave rise to a type of mural or painting known as Danse Macabre or Dance of Death.

Examples were recorded across the continent though few survive to the present day so Hexham’s is particularly valuable (it’s thought to be the best of the UK’s three examples).  The works are a sort of momento mori a reminder of our mortality as they show people from all walks of life falling victim to a visitation from Death.  The working class are missing from the example at Hexham where four panels show a cardinal, a king, a bishop and a pope as victims, but the screen where they are displayed has spaces for another four panels suggesting a larger work (or perhaps a different location) when it was originally produced.

The loss of the “lesser” victims undermines the message behind it that Death is the great leveller.  If there is someone sitting on an illicit collection of the missing pieces perhaps they should think on that!