In October 2016 I turned sixty. We went on holiday in and around Dubrovnik, a beautiful and popular destination on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. Before taking a taxi to the airport and heading back to Copenhagen to celebrate together with our kids in the evening, we went downtown for a special breakfast. We had found that good deals were available on the terrace of the old Arsenal building overlooking one of the city’s many squares, so we settled in for morning coffee, croissants and eggs.
Dubrovnik was an Adriatic city-state for many centuries, rivalling Venice to the north. Next to the Arsenal is the Rector’s Palace, which was the seat of the government. It seems that the Rector (or mayor) was kept from abuse of power by a strict rotation system: he (there was no she…) was only one month in the job! The motto obliti privatorium, publica curate (forget private affairs, take care of the public) is carved above the doors of the palace.
We had an enjoyable stay in the city, renting an apartment in a suburb called Lapad with a fine view of a bay, a beach and a wooded hillside. Although we had thought that we’d be going there out of season, it turned out that tourism is booming more or less all year round in Dubrovnik and the recent unrest in Turkey has been a boon for Croatian resorts. There were many thousands of visitors thronging the narrow streets of the old town. I was glad that we decided on an early start on the day we walked the city walls, thereby avoiding the crush. At one corner we haggled for handicrafts with a friendly woman with a stall on the wall!
The complex history of Dubrovnik and the Adriatic involves numerous waves of settlers, soldiers and sailors. The Greeks explored northwards in ancient times and the Romans built palaces. The Ottomans advanced through the Balkans in the 16th Century after the fall of Constantinople in 1453 marked the end of Byzantium. Under Ottoman control, the traders of Dubrovnik soon expanded their business throughout the empire and the Mediterranean, operating over 180 ships from the city. There’s a fine maritime museum close to the harbour in Dubrovnik, stuffed with exhibits demonstrating the seafaring skills of the people.
Modern Croats seem surprisingly keen to ensure that visitors are aware of the destructive impact of the more recent conflicts in ex-Yugoslavia, not least the evil deeds of the Serbian forces in the 1990s. This is done by displaying huge placards at the entrances to the old town which show the buildings damaged in bombardments: December 1991 was a particularly severe month. Although over twenty years have passed since the disintegration of the federation, the wounds appear not to have healed…