TRAVEL: Lots to Cro about; Dubrovnik in Croatia Is a Must, Says ANDREW WATSON. Just Don't Mention the War
TODAY, the sound of music and laughter fills the old walled city of Dubrovnik. It certainly beats the sound of exploding shells and gunfire that shattered the peace of this jewel in the crown of the Adriatic 10 years ago.
And Dubrovnik is at war again - a war to win back the tourists who, in the '70s and '80s, found this a hugely popular holiday destination. That war is slowly and surely being won - tourists are returning in numbers, and once again the jewel is shining brightly.
Flying into Dubrovnik airport near the village of Cilipi (22km east of the old town) is an experience. You fly low over cliffs that fall vertically to the sea and do a sharp left turn before landing in a valley with steep hills facing you.
The unit of currency is the Kuna, with around 11 Kuna to pounds 1, so it's nice and easy to work out the exchange rate. And the summer temperatures can reach around 90F, so, with a light breeze from the Adriatic, the climate is an ideal escape from our dreich weather.
Roads in the area are cut high into the mountainsides, offering spectacular views of the Adriatic round every bend. The most spectacular is the view over the red roofs of Dubrovnik.
You enter the old town through one of two gates in the ancient walls - Polce gate is close to the old harbour, while Pile gate stands at the opposite end of the town (this is where most of the buses and taxis drop visitors).
Once inside the walls, you step into a different world - laced with history on every corner and in every square. A world free of cars, litter and fast food joints. It's a world I already love - even though I've only just arrived.
The old town dates back to the seventh century, when the Roman city of Epidaurum (the present close by town of Cavtat) was over- run by barbarians. In the 13th century, as an important trading centre, Dubrovnik came under Venetian rule. The great earthquake of 1667 destroyed many buildings and killed 5000 .
Later, Dubrovnik enjoyed a relationship with the Ottoman Empire. But who can forget the living history of recent years? In 1991- 92, Dubrovnik was caught up in a war that ripped through the former Yugoslavia. A massive 2000 shells rained down over the old town, striking nearly 70 per cent of the buildings.
The fortress-like walls suffered more than 100 direct hits and many historic landmarks suffered severe damage.
Once the dust had settled, repair work was estimated at more than pounds 7million. To restore the old town to its former glory, an expert commission was established, drawing the skills of craftsmen and technicians from around the world. The people of Dubrovnik were determined to rebuild their town. Cutting through the old town from Pile gate towards the old harbour is Placa, the white marble main street that was once a canal dividing the town. At the end of Placa is Luza Square and St Blaise's Church. The bright white stone used in many of the buildings was also used in the White House in Washington.
Also well worth a look is the Rector's Palace which was the residence of the ruler of Dubrovnik. The cathedral, which was rebuilt after the great earthquake, stands close to the Rector's Palace. The third oldest pharmacy in Europe, which dates back to 1391, is housed in the old Franciscan Monastery and museum. A walk around the massive walls gives a close-up picture of the steep narrow alleyways and all the historic landmarks. …