Walking along Dubrovnik’s beautiful Old City Walls a few Summers ago, it was almost incomprehensible to believe that barely twenty years earlier this stunning UNESCO heritage site was smack in the middle of a war zone.
In 1991, Croatia was pulled into the ‘Homeland War’ when Serbia refused to let Croatia break away from the former Yugoslavia unless it surrendered over a quarter of its territory back to Serbia. When Croatia refused, Serbia and ally Montenegro attacked treating Dubrovnik as a major target for their assault. Their aggressive shelling of Dubrovnik’s historic Old Town backfired, bringing international condemnation, sanctions and isolation to the two states and international recognition of Croatia’s desired independence and sole sovereignty.
During the siege, Croatian volunteers defended the city from Fort Imperial, an old Napoleonic fort overlooking Dubrovnik at the top of Mount Srd. Eventually, Serbia and Montenegro retreated and although Croatia won the siege, hundreds of lives were lost on both sides and the medieval city was left close to ruins.
Twenty years on, there are few visible signs of the war left within the Old Town, apart from a sea of new terracotta tiles covering the roofs of almost every building within the Old City Walls (hardly a single building escaped damage during the assault). Go up to the top of Mount Srd however, and the impact of that war can be seen everywhere. Fort Imperial remains scarred to this day from the mortar attacks of that siege, and has now become the home of the thought-provoking Homeland War Museum. Photos taken during and immediately after the war cover the walls inside the fort and a video recorder plays ITN footage of the siege as it was reported on back in the early 1990s. I remember watching that footage at the time back in London as a teenager, admittedly indifferent to the situation as it was a war I didn’t understand in a country I had no ties to, thousands of miles away. A couple of decades later in a completely different context and whilst standing in the city itself, it was incredibly moving to watch that footage back.
Visitors can reach the top of Mount Srd and the fort via the city’s regular cable car service. The ground station is a short walk from the Buža Gate (North city entrance).
The views from the top of Mount Srd and Fort Imperial are simply stunning.
Although I didn’t take any photos of the museum exhibition itself, there was plenty to photograph elsewhere in the fort showing evidence of the rather senseless and spiteful attack on the city barely a generation ago.
Now all three states are at peace with one another and although there appears to be some forgiveness, the siege has certainly not been forgotten.
Fort Imperial and the Homeland War Museum are opened daily from 8am until sunset. Entrance is around 30 Kn (2016).
The Dubrovnik cable car runs daily from 9am until after sunset depending on the time of year. If the weather is bad, the cable car will not run. A return trip costs 120 Kn (2016) per adult, more than half price for children. More information can be found on the official website here.
Homeland War tours take place daily within the Old Town giving an insight into life in the city during the siege and showing visitors where the Old Town was affected most by the shelling. Ask at the local tourist office for more information. Tours begin and end by Onofrio’s fountain.
Walking in the footsteps of Lannisters and other characters from Game of Thrones, along Dubrovnik’s Old City Walls
Finding true love in the heart of Dubrovnik’s Old Town with the help of a gargoyle
Zagreb‘s devout national pride and independence as seen on their city roofs