Dubrovnik … museums, memorials and memories: how the city remembers the siege of its historic Old Town during the Yugoslav Homeland War 1991-96

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.

Dubrovnik's medieval Old Town, with its not so old roofing tiles

Dubrovnik’s medieval Old Town, with its not so old roofing tiles

Dubrovnik, Homeland War Museum, Mount Srd overlooking Old Town

Mount Srd overlooking Dubrovnik with Fort Imperial at the top of it, the front line in the Homeland War siege of the city in the early 1990s

Mount Srd overlooking Dubrovnik with Fort Imperial at the top of it, the front line in the Homeland War siege of the city in the early 1990s

Mount Srd and the fort seen from the Rector's Palace (right) along Pred Dvorom in the heart of the Old Town

Mount Srd and the fort seen from the Rector’s Palace (right) along Pred Dvorom in the heart of the Old Town

Fort Imperial seen from Fort Lovrijenac, both forts seeing their fair share of battles

Fort Imperial seen from Fort Lovrijenac, both forts seeing their fair share of battles

Dubrovnik, Homeland War Museum, Fort on Mount Srd seen from Old City walls

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).

Dubrovnik, Cable Car

Fort Imperial seen from the cable car

Fort Imperial seen from the cable car

The views from the top of Mount Srd and Fort Imperial are simply stunning.

Dubrovnik's Old Town seen from the top of Mount Srd

Dubrovnik’s Old Town seen from the top of Mount Srd

The Old Town and the island of Lokrum from the walls of Fort Imperial

The Old Town and the island of Lokrum from the walls of Fort Imperial

Looking west towards Port Gruž and Lapad

Looking west towards Port Gruž and Lapad

The entrance to Fort Imperial and the Homeland War Museum. The crumbling state of the building is partly due to centuries of weather corrosion...

The entrance to Fort Imperial and the Homeland War Museum. The crumbling state of the building is partly due to centuries of weather corrosion…

...and partly due to the ravages of the Homeland War. The impact of one mortar can still be seen at the end of the building, and a plaque commemorating those volunteers who died here defending the city in the early 1990s can be seen on the front wall (right)

…and partly due to the ravages of the Homeland War. The impact of one mortar can still be seen at the end of the building, and a plaque commemorating those volunteers who died here defending the city in the early 1990s can be seen on the front wall (right)

Dubrovnik, Homeland War Museum, mortar damaged wall and flag

Dubrovnik, Homeland War Museum, mortar damaged wall

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.

Leading up to the roof of the fort

Leading up to the roof of the fort

The remains of the entrance onto the roof of the fort

The remains of the entrance onto the roof of the fort

Dubrovnik, Homeland War Museum, antenna hut with flag

Dubrovnik, Homeland War Museum, mortar damaged detail

Dubrovnik, Homeland War Museum, mortar damaged wall on rooftop

Some images on display inside the Mount Srd cable car station depicting the damage caused to the surrounding area during the siege, including the stone cross close to the station and the severing of the cable car lines

Some images on display inside the Mount Srd cable car station depicting the damage caused to the surrounding area during the siege, including the stone cross close to the station and the severing of the cable car lines

The old memorial cross at the top of Mount Srd in September 2014, rebuilt

The old memorial cross at the top of Mount Srd in September 2014, rebuilt

...and sadly a not so old memorial opposite the fort, in memory of Robert Ivušić who was only 19 when he died here in 1991 defending Dubrovnik during the Homeland War

…and sadly a not so old memorial opposite the fort, in memory of Robert Ivušić who was only 19 when he died here in 1991 defending Dubrovnik during the Homeland War

The 'Saint Blaise' battleship, once crucial in defending the city, now a proud monument on dry land along Port Gruž

The ‘Saint Blaise’ battleship, once crucial in defending the city, now a proud monument on dry land along Port Gruž

Dubrovnik, St Blaise war ship sign

A war tank from the Homeland War, keeping the Saint Blaise company along Port Gruž

A war tank from the Homeland War, keeping the Saint Blaise company along Port Gruž

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.

Dubrovnik, Homeland War Museum, fort seen at night from Rector's Palace

TLT x

Useful information

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.


The first great viewpoint along the top of the Old City Walls via Pile Gate: the Placa (Stradun), the Old Town's main street ...

Walking in the footsteps of Lannisters and other characters from Game of Thrones, along Dubrovnik’s Old City Walls

 

 

 

 

 


One of the sixteen surviving original carved masks of the Onofrio fountain. The water from it is still drinkable

Finding true love in the heart of Dubrovnik’s Old Town with the help of a gargoyle


The emblematic roof of St Mark's Church, Zagreb (behind the green spire of a neighbouring church)

Zagreb‘s devout national pride and independence as seen on their city roofs


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