The Beauty of Dubrovnik: A Blessing and a Curse
Often referred to as “Pearl of the Adriatic Sea”, Dubrovnik’s well-preserved buildings in its distinctive Old Town radiate historic flair and medieval charm. But since the unparalleled success of HBO show “Game of Thrones”, the surge of tourists flocking to the city has almost become too much to stomach.
Not too long ago, Cersei Lannister, one of the main characters in “Game of Thrones” portrayed by Lena Headey, stood on the top of a flight of stairs in King’s Landing to begin her walk of atonement through an unforgiving crowd - stark naked and with a shaved head, followed closely by her warden Septa Unella who repeatedly uttered the words “Shame! Shame! Shame!” to make sure the people knew that everyone eventually has to pay for their sins.
Of course, “Game of Thrones” fans know that many of the show’s scenes that took place in King’s Landing, including Cersei’s famous Walk of Shame, were filmed in Dubrovnik’s Old Town - and the Croatian city has since become a place of pilgrimage to “Game of Thrones” worshipers worldwide. Moreover, “Star Wars - The Last Jedi” and “Robin Hood” also made use of Dubrovnik’s medieval beauty in some prominent scenes, but most of the people who come here are loyal “Game of Thrones” followers.
The influx of foreign tourists was so dramatic that the city’s former mayor Andro Vlahusić launched a plan to limit the number of people entering the Old Town to 8,000 and keeping track by installing surveillance cameras to be able to count the people who walk through the gates. Current mayor Mato Franković is committed to cutting the number of daily visitors to the UNESCO World Heritage Site even further down, to merely 4,000, in order to protect the city’s Old Town and make the experience of exploring the site more pleasant.
Only twenty years ago, 5,000 people still lived in the Old Town. Today, the number has shrunk to a little over 1,000. Many have moved to the outskirts of the city and rent out their apartments to visitors on Airbnb. According to tour guide Ivan Vukovic, who still lives in Old Town today, it is not an easy feat to avoid the crowds, especially during peak season, but he also added that there are still some places that remain hidden to tourists and are mainly frequented by locals - granted, they have become less and less, but they still exist.
It’s not hard to imagine that the never-ending throng of tourists flooding through the city gates can be overwhelming for the locals. At the same time, the charm and appeal of Dubrovnik are so obvious that one can also easily understand why so many people are attracted to the city.
Dubrovnik has a long and colourful history, dating back to the 7th century when it was founded. It grew quickly and prospered throughout the centuries, as part of the Byzantine Empire and under Venetian rule, before it became Croat-Hungarian. The city was considered very progressive for its time - records show that Dubrovnik opened its first pharmacy in 1317 and established an orphanage in 1432.
Dubrovnik has also lived through tougher times: an earthquake in 1667 destroyed much of the city - the city walls, however, prevailed - and killed more than 5,000 inhabitants, while later on, in the early 1990s, following Croatia’s independence, Yugoslavia’s Yugoslav People’s Army attacked the city. The siege lasted for seven months. At the end of the war, the damage caused by the shelling of the Old Town was repaired according to UNESCO guidelines.
A walk on the city walls and strolling around the little streets of Old Town and its monasteries, palaces, churches and monuments is a rewarding experience that shouldn’t be missed. A visit to the market is the perfect opportunity to find souvenirs as well as local produce such as cheese, olives, honey and spices.
From the Old Port, take the ferry to Lokrum Island - not only for a photo opportunity on the original Iron Throne from Game of Thrones, which was moved there recently, but also to see the Benedictine Monastery, the Botanical Gardens and to get up close and personal with the many peacocks that roam around the island.
While the Old Town and its many historical buildings are undoubtedly Dubrovnik’s main attraction, there is plenty to do and see outside the city walls. Opened in 2010, a cable car transports visitors to the top of Mount Srđ, from where one has a stunning view of the city and its surroundings - especially during sunset.
Dubrovnik is also home to wonderful restaurants and bars that range from hearty local fare to fine dining. If you have enough time, spend a day at the beach and indulge in water sports or hit the waves on a boat trip. Whether or not you are a “Game of Thrones” fan, Dubrovnik will surely enchant you - if you can handle the crowds.
This article was first published in the January 2018 issue of NOW! Jakarta magazine.