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The picturesque Dubrovnik is located in the very south of Croatia, confined between blue seawater and steep rocks. European royal families and other rich Europeans already discovered Dubrovnik to spend their holidays in the nineteenth century. This elicited Lord Byron the statement that Dubrovnik is the 'Pearl of the Adriatic'. The city is enclosed by a medieval defensive wall. Within that wall you'll find a true treasure of buildings, churches and museums.
The main gate of the old city is the Pile Gate dating back to the fifteenth century, the only remains of the Pile Fortress that once stood here. Pay attention to the little statue of the city's patron saint, Saint Blaise, in the niche. Near this gate begins the Stradùn, the main street that runs straight through Dubrovnik until the Ploce Gate. This used to be a canal, but it was drained in the twelfth century. At the beginning of the street there is a huge drinking fountain, the Onofrio's Fountain. Already in the fifteenth century water was brought into Dubrovnik from a source 20 kilometers away. Along the Stradùn you'll find many shops, cafés, restaurants and bars. Further east you get to the Loza, the square that forms the center of the former Dubrovnik. On the square are the Baroque Guard House, a clock tower from the fifteenth century and St Blaise's Church. The Baroque church was built in 1715 on the spot where there used to be a Romanesque church that was destroyed during an earthquake in 1667. The outside of St Blaise's Church is nicely decorated, but the interior is somewhat austere. The statue of St Blaise holding a replica of the city of Dubrovnik from before the earthquake is interesting. There is a second fountain by Onofrio on the Loza Square, a smaller version of the large Onofrio Fountain.
At the Franciscan Church and Monastery, one of Dubrovnik's main tourist attractions, it is often very busy. To avoid the crowds it is best to visit the place early during the day. The southern portal and the pharmacy are the only remains of the original fourteenth century monastery; the rest was built after the earthquake of 1667. The cloister is not only a beautiful construction, but also offers protection from the fierce summer sun. The monastery houses a museum, with for example a painting of Saint Blaise. The museum also explains how medicines were made during medieval times.
One of the few buildings in Dubrovnik that survived the earthquake is the Sponza Palace. The Palace, in a mixture of late-Gothic and Renaissance styles, used to be a customs office and tollbooth. A saying on the walls reminds of those days: "When I measure goods, God measures with me." Or: don't rip people off, as God will punish you. Nowadays there are exhibitions and there's a small museum dedicated to the victims of the Yugoslav Civil War.
The St John's Fortress houses the Maritime Museum. It gives a nice overview of Dubrovnik's maritime history using ship models, old nautical charts and logs. The fortress also holds a small Aquarium about life in the Adriatic Sea.
Dubrovnik used to be an independent republic, called Ragusa, managed by a Rector from the Rector's Palace. For those days, Dubrovnik was fairly democratic: The Rector was only allowed to rule for a limited amount of time and he was only allowed to leave his palace on formal occasions. In summer months there are often traditional dance and music performances at the Rector's Palace.
The Dubrovnik Cathedral dates back to the beginning of the eighteenth century, but on this location remains have been retrieved from older churches from the seventh to the twelfth century. According to the legend, the latter was funded by Richard Leeuwenhart who decided to build a church after he was saved from drowning during a violent storm near Dubrovnik.
Dubrovnik is an excellent starting point for exploring the surrounding beaches and the islands in the Adriatic. Close to the city on a peninsula lies the popular Copacabana Beach. The name was not chosen randomly: Near the beach are many restaurants, bars and discotheques.
From the port it takes less than fifteen minutes to reach the Island of Lokrum. Apart from a Benedictine monastery there are no buildings and the island is populated by peacocks. On the island you can go for a walk, but you can also rent bicycles.
A bit further away from Dubrovnik (an hour by boat) lies the elongated Mljet, one of the most beautiful islands in the vicinity. The largest part of Mljet is a national park. Here you can also rent bicycles (and scooters). The smaller Elaphiti Islands (Koloèep, Lopud and Èipan) are becoming increasingly popular.
The old city center is completely pedestrianized and so you cannot drive around here. Finding a parking space outside the city center is difficult. Especially during summer months, most parking spaces are continuously taken. When you arrive early you can usually still find a spot, but the later you arrive the further away from the center you have to park your rental car.
Dubrovnik Airport is located twenty kilometers southeast of the city. You can easily reach the airport by rental car. The main road east of the city (Jadranska cesta) turns into a highway along the coast, which leads directly to the airport. The route is clearly signposted.