By Austin Clinkenbeard
Draw water from her wells, guide your hands along her smooth stones, peer into the depths of Dubrovnik
Dubrovnik has faced the Adriatic with dark eyes perched upon her lofty mountaintops for centuries uncountable. She has seen the strength of great empires rise and fall while she herself remains ageless and beautiful. She draws a certain strength from her walls that has changed over time as she has. Once her protector, intended to keep out rival merchant fleets and pirates, they now welcome in the tourist who sails in on cruise ships from the same sea.
This sea hides an oceans of tears shed in both despair and joy as this land has seen growth and hope emerge from an older generation of fear and distrust. Dubrovnik may have an ancient facade but she faces upwards towards the light, smiling with tears of happiness streaming down her mountainsides to replenish her wells.
Bobbing in the frigid waters of the Adriatic our kayak-straddling guide asked us if we had any questions about the conflict that happened here in the 90’s. A rare moment of candor. Looking around I noticed confusion of the faces of some of the half a dozen other kayakers with us. No one spoke up. Dipping our toes into the more touristy side of Dubrovnik I quickly realized it may not be common knowledge to her visitors what she has been through in decades and centuries past.
Strutting her battlements today one can peer into a labyrinth of alleyways and intricate stone buildings, with white laundry strung along lines, green shutters open to the sun, and cocktails to be consumed by the gem-blue sea. Draw water from her wells, guide your hands along her smooth stones, peer into the depths of Dubrovnik.
Straddled between two worlds her eyes shift from one side to the other as time passes beneath her eternal gaze. She once called herself Ragusa, the Republic that was rivals to the venerable Venetians and autumnal Ottoman Turks. At times a province of great empires, at times as master of her own fate, the heartbeat of history flows through her open veins and pumps blood-red wine into the streets of the immaculate marble city.
Osman’s Great Empire gasped its last dying breaths nearby, shattering a millennia of indirect rule by first Roman, then Byzantine and finally Ottoman Empires. The collapsed unification of meeting places between East and West led to dark conflicts of race, ethnicity and religion. This highly interwoven tapestry of markets, ethnicities and religions unraveled as ancient threads were slashed by modern scissors of devious Darwinian design.
Artillery shells fell as tears from her eyes, dripping down Dubrovnik’s nose splattering into the corners and recess of her mouth as she stood stunned, aghast, agape, The jawbones and yellow molars that are the ancient walls withstood the punches, and although her teeth and brick-red tiles were rattled, bloodied and broken her beauty, structure and facade remained defiantly proud as always in the face of battle. The collapsing empire of old left a legacy of conflict that sparked World War One and has lit the black flame of ethnic war as recently as the 1990’s. Even then her walls withstood the flames falling from the mountains above.
Although the site of recent conflict and civil wars within many of our lifetimes, ancient Ragusa peers definitely from her perch on the Adriatic. Donning the name Dubrovnik as modernity drew near, she now emerges from her ancient walls, and as a trickling fountain slowly brings new life to a cracking cobblestone well, so does new hope grow in the ancient passages of the ivory yellow bricks of old Ragusa. Let her walls be a place of refuge and an ode to peace, let us strive to not fall into dark times of conflicts past where she must call on her walls to keep others out instead of warmly welcoming them in.
We visited Dubrovnik in Spring 2019 as part of our Honeymoon