The weather forecast claimed rain and thunder while the news spoke of forest fires around Split, Dubrovnik, Herzeg Novi and Kotor. An article two days earlier told of a forest fire near Dubrovnik which had detonated 34 landmines left over from the war. Sometimes, it is worthwhile to look at the positive side of things, I suppose.
When we arrived in Croatia, there was neither clouds nor smoke from fires. It has been an absolutely gorgeous day with a clear blue sky and a fresh breeze keeping the temperature bearable. With a disaster of a Danish summer the thought of experiencing degrees higher than 22°C is exhilarating.
Dubrovnik is as it was in 2005 an absolutely stunning city which truly deserved the nickname Pearl of the Adriatic.
However, the number of tourists has risen exponentially. This is partly because people – as predicted – are realising that the Adriatic coast has so much to offer, and partly because the city since 2012 has held another name: King’s Landing.
HBO decided for good reasons to shoot many of the scenes of their hit series Game of Thrones in Dubrovnik. As such, the city has suddenly become an icon representing not only a massive fantasy success but also a new era in television where TV-series have become bigger than the movies.
But the movies are far from a dead fish, and Disney has been shooting parts of Star Wars Episode IIX in Dubrovnik. I imagine that after the movie comes out in December, the GoT fans will have stark competition from Star Wars geeks.
According to our guide from Dubrovnik Walking Tours yesterday, Disney paid the government and city of Dubrovnik 6 million euros for shooting a day on Stradun, Dubrovnik’s main street. In addition, all shop owners received 3000€ to stay closed for the day, while for every window on Stradun the owner got 150€ to keep the shutters closed. To be on the safe side Disney booked every available room on Stradun so no ignorant tourist would open the shutters and complicate filming.
Dubrovnik GoT fever
Dubrovnik has been hit with GoT fever and every resident seems to have been an extra on the show, while Dubrovnik souvenirs feature Aria Stark, John Snow and Daenerys Targaryen. Last year HBO donated an iron throne to Dubrovnik, which now sts at the Visitor Centre on the island of Lokrum. Visits to the island have increased by 300% in the last year.
I like Game of Thrones though I have yet to see beyond the start of season 4. Therefore, we went on a walking tour with information both Dubrovnik and the TV-series. Our guide was very friendly and down to earth, who took us to some of the places used for filming scenes in the series and told us a few good stories about the cultural meeting between HBO and Croatians.
At Pile Gate he told us how Tyrion Lannister’s trial was filmed in the entrance courtyard with 3000 local extras. The director had requested the extras to yell and shout to make the scene feel authentic. But, as the guide told us, you shouldn’t tell a Croat such a thing. before long the 3000 extras were yelling on the top of their lungs obsceneties directed at the government, the economy, each other and competing football teams. An all out lively scene which I now look forward to watching – preferably with subtitles of what the extras are yelling.
I liked our guide and appreciated how he made fun with Croatia and its relationship to GoT. According to him, no Croats see the show since they are too lazy and have sun 300 days a year. I overheard other guides who spent hours analysing the scenes and discussing their favourite characters or telling stories from their time on set.
And that is my main concern. everything seems to be about Game of Thrones and this and that scene from the series. Dubrovnik has become King’s Landing. It seems forgotten that Dubrovnik in itself is an amazing city due to its history and position in the Adriatic. People are more interested in fictional characters and scenes than with the real events of Dubrovnik’s past, such as the Yugoslavian Wars. I suppose real war isn’t as sexy as that of a fantasy novel. I love fantasy, but the creativity of writers will never be able to compete with the real world and the history of mankind.
Most of the old town was built in the 13th century after a fire had destroyed much of the city in 1258. The rebuilding happened during the Venetian rule and the old town has only fractionally changed since then. Also the famous Rector’s Palace is from this period.
For long parts of its existence Dubrovnik was known as Republic of Ragusa, a city state with large independence and relations to the surrounding powers.
This lasted until Napoleon conquered the city in 1806 and since then the city has been under Austro-Hungarian Rule and then later a part of the former Yugoslavia.
When in 1991, Croatia declared independence from Yugoslavia alongside Slovenia, Serbia and Montenegro wanted to separate the city from the independent Republic of Croatia, arguing that it was not historically a part of Croatia. Thus, Dubrovnik saw some of the worst acts of war in Croatia’s war for independence also known as their Homeland War. For nearly ten months the city took heavy artillery and mortar fire. UNESCO estimated in 1994 that 55.9% of buildings in the old town were damaged many of them severe.
Because of the Siege of Dubrovnik the old town which had already been recognised as a World Heritage Site in 1979 was placed on the ‘In danger’ list and a plea for assistance in rebuilding the city was sent out. Thus, throughout the nineties the city rose from the ashes, as it was rebuilt as it once was and it is partly thanks to UNESCO and the international community that Dubrovnik has returned as the Pearl of the Adriatic.
I might be sentimental and all, but with the loss of cultural heritage that we’ve been experiencing in Syria and Iraq these past years, I can’t help hoping that we will one day have a chance to see these treasures again.
Our days in Dubrovnik
We stayed in a studio apartment in the old town just next to Minčeta Tower, which in Game of Thrones terms is the exterior of House of Undying in the town of Qarth. It was a pretty perfect place which offered us free access to the old town.
It was however also the highest point of the old town and demanded a strenuous walk up several stairs which were taller than average and thus much harder to climb.
Our first order of business after a bit of food at Mamma’s Pot and getting to the apartment was the tour which started at 12.30 PM and gave us an idea of the layout. Our guide took us to the West Harbour, which is beautifully nestled in between the northwestern city wall with Bokar Fortress and Fort Lovrijenac which stands outside the old town. Framed by nature and improved and fortified by man this is an absolutely stunning spot, which we promised ourselves to return to.
Afterwards he took us around the old town showing us some of the best that Dubrovnik has to offer both historically and culturally as well as in relations to GoT.
After our tour we headed for Barba where we got each our fishy green burger. particularly the octopus burger was really great. From Barba we left behind the old town for a tour up Srđ mountain with Dubrovnik Cable Car to the Napoleonic fortress Fort Imperial.
The queue was endless and the sun was beating on us hard., while some group of Germans managed to cheat their way in front of all the rest of us, after which I had to listen to the guy talking loudly all the way up the mountain – they had off course secured the best seats as well.
Yes, I was a bitter old woman, but I really hate people cheating in line.
On the top, we got a pretty view of Dubrovnik and the coast south, but I can’t say it was worth the 140kn per person. Ahh, but as always my boyfriend strayed off the beaten path and past the crumbling fortress we found a magnificent view of the mountains, the sea, islands in the far and Dubrovnik itself.
What was also extremely fascinating was the clear evidence of the front line which ran across the mountain in the winter of 1991 and into the spring of 1992 during the Yugoslav War. At the Siege of Dubrovnik the Yugoslav People’s Army overran the fortress and you can see the trenches, fox holes and gun positions which the Croatians used for keeping the enemy at bay. It might not be dragons who sieged the city, but I find it even more scary that people would engage in such warfare.
We stayed for a while enjoying the magnificent view before getting back in line for the way down. If we had had the time and lots of water, we would have walked down.
Returning to the old town, we made our way to Pile Gate on to Fort Lovrijenac and the West Harbour. Our plan was to visit the fortress for another grand vista of the old town. This, however, also seems the favourite place for guided GoT tours to stop and analyse the show and reminisce over the character development and whatnot. But Fort Lovrijenac is worth a visit despite the many stairs and GoT tour groups.
The rest of the day we walked around the old town which is set as a fishbone network of streets with Stradun running down the middle. Our guide had told us that because of the danger of earthquakes in the region there are no balconies in Dubrovnik, but I counted two on our walk.
The old town is full of narrow streets with lots of stairs and restaurants. There are no large commercial signs for restaurants or shops. Rather all of them show off their names on similar lanterns hanging in front of the places.
There are so many tourists here, but somehow unlike in other places I’ve been the city can handle it. Despite the hoards, it is still a beautiful place to stay. We ended up at Lucin Kantun which offered different tapas such as black risotto from cuttlefish ink, stuffed squid and tuna carpacchio.
After a short walk down Stradun, we made it home to our littleapartment, where we crashed. We’d been up at 4.30 in the morning and after a long day in Dubrovnik we were deadbeat tired.
The City Walls
Today we got up at 7 o’clock with the hope of hiding the city walls as it opened at 8.00 and then to get on a bus at 11.00. I always stress when we have a tight schedule, but this morning it all clapped. We quickly found a supermarket where we bought breakfast and a bakery for coffee. We even ended up with time to spare at Pile Gate and enjoyed our breakfast at the steps of the Onfrio fountain as the city woke up.
The wall was everything I remembered and more. It continues to be one of my favourite places to visit with the view of the blue Adriatic and the cliffs on the one side and the red terracotta roofs on the other. We walked all the way around and up Minčeta Tower where we had a perfect view of the city, the harbour and the sea. I did not make it all the way around last time, so this was a wonderful surprise.
On to Montenegro
After reaching Pile Gate again we collected our luggage and headed for the bus station to catch the 11 o’clock bus to Kotor. The bus, unlike us, was late – probably caught in the line at the Bosnian border. It was close to 12.00 when we finally hid the road. We were supposed to arrive in Kotor at 13.00 but at 14.30 we’ve only reached the border.
The queue for the border was heinous and I am glad that after an hour in fifteen minutes in line we were able to drive in the opposite lane past all the private vehicles. Our driver had walked all the way to the border and got the security control to hold back the cars going into Croatia.
I think everyone in the bus felt the VIP treatment as we drove past several kilometres of cars with frustrated people standing at the side of the road waiting for the line to move another 20 metres.
As we leave behind Croatia I have only great memories of the beautiful city of Dubrovnik and stories of both real and fictional history. My favourite story from the production of Game of Thrones was how HBO, for the shooting of the scene of Jamie Lannister returning to King’s Landing, had the city government shut closed the doors at Pile Gate for the first time since the days of Napolean 200 years past.
Jamie Lannister is played by Nicolaj Coster Waldau and I can’t help laugh a little that all it took was a great Dane for these doors to be shut closed once more.