“Those who seek paradise on earth should come to Dubrovnik,” pronounced George Bernard Shaw, normally quite curmudgeonly when it came to praise. With the warm afternoon sun at my back, his words drift through my mind as I admire the eastward view from the walls of the Lovrijenac fortress.
Dubrovnik stands with the waves of the Adriatic crashing against the rocks that form the town’s western defences. The walls extends in a pale line around the patchwork of orange rooves that cover the houses of the old town, making the whole place look like a huge jewel in a silver setting. Fortified towers stand at the corners: Minceta, Revelin, and Bokar. Starting with Mount Srð that looms above the town, the hills of the Dalmatian coastline are clearly visible for many miles towards the Montenegrin border. In the New Town the last signs of the shelling that shattered the area during the Civil War have been covered up. After going through hell for a few months in late 1991 and early 1992, “paradise” has been restored to its former glory.
Far less known than its recent history is the fact that from the fourteenth century until 1808, Dubrovnik was a free state that rivalled Venice. Ahead of its times in many respects, Dubrovnik developed institutions and regulations much earlier than most other European cities. A refuge for the elderly was opened in 1347, slave trading was abolished in 1418, and the town’s first orphanage was established in 1432. The piece de resistance of its town planning was a water system, 20 kilometres long, constructed in 1436 and supplying fresh running water from the local mountains; visitors were required to wash their feet at the D’Onofrio fountain, to guard against the plague. Today’s visitors can (with unwashed feet) anticipate an altogether remarkable time in this ancient city.