George Bernard Shaw, a writer for whom lyricism was never the default mode, nevertheless advised those in search of earthly paradise to make for Dubrovnik, a city on which superlatives have always been heaped. Dubrovnik is both “Pearl of the Adriatic” and “Empress of Dalmatia”; “the fairest gem in the crown of imperial Venice” if not “the loveliest place God ever made”. The name Dubrovnik means “wooded place”, its site originally a rocky island on the Adriatic coast separated from the mainland by a narrow channel. Its refreshing sea breezes are famously aromatic. Originally a Greek city it was taken by the Romans before being absorbed by the surrounding south Slavs. Throughout the middle ages it prospered as a most civilised maritime republic, rival to Venice herself, trading in a great arc from London to the Levant. To arrive by sea on a cruise is thus to experience Dubrovnik’s charms at their most intoxicating.
Dubrovnik survived attacks from Arabs and Saracens, not to mention earthquakes like the fifteen-second tremor in 1667 that destroyed three-quarters of her buildings and two-thirds of her population. Rebuilt in the late seventeenth century, she has some celebrated examples of Baroque architecture, the Franciscan church and monastery with its graceful cloister, for example, the minute church of St Saviour (a votive offering to an earlier earthquake) and the great Cathedral of Our Lady. The old city is bright and airy, its pearly limestone streets polished by generations of footsteps. The energetic visitor may chose to walk the mediaeval city walls from the Pile Gate, on top of which are sculpted representations of St Blaise, Dubrovnik’s patron saint. A more leisurely option might be an exploration of the city’s animated vegetable market. Photographers will be spoiled for choice. Wherever you turn the city’s urbane atmosphere impresses, the destruction caused by the seven-month siege of the city in 1991 following Croatia’s declaration of independence has been meticulously repaired in a manner befitting a city granted UNESCO World Heritage Status in 1979. As it happens, the word argosy, which conjures up the idea of maritime adventure, derives from the Greek name for Dubrovnik: Ragusa. Cruise the Adriatic with Lindblad Expeditions and let the harmonious charms of Dubrovnik cast their spell.
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