Possibly the best way to enjoy Dubrovnik’s stunning Old Town is to not go anywhere near it at all! Fighting through the huge crowds of tourists that visit it daily makes the experience of exploring the fortressed and totally pedestrianised city almost unbearable. Instead, one could either watch hours of TV fantasy drama Game of Thrones as the Croatian city is the backdrop to the kingdom of King’s Landing, or take the cable car a short walk from the North City entrance (Buža) up to the top of Mount Srd where one can enjoy the breath-taking views of the city below in reasonable peace and quiet.
So popular is the medieval Old Town with cruise and day-tripping tourists, the local authority of Dubrovnik has recently been considering ways to control and limit the number of visitors passing through its City Walls. A tour guide told me that only a few weeks earlier to my visit (in September 2014), she had to wait nearly twenty minutes to get through Pile Gate – the bottle-necked main entrance into and out of the Old Town – due to the huge throng of Summer tourists trying to do the same.
The Onofrio fountain has been supplying fresh water to the Old Town since the fifteenth century. It was heavily damaged by a major earthquake that devastated the region in 1667, losing most of its ornate carvings and cupola. Some of the carved masks have survived, but sadly the repair to the cupola was more functional than flattering with a rather uncomplimentary redbrick replacement (see above) that gave it the resemblance of a large dismembered eyeball.
Whilst sitting on the steps of the Onofrio fountain (surprised I could even find a vacant spot to sit on), I looked across at the Franciscan Monastery opposite and noticed an odd looking stain on its front wall …
As I pondered over the cause of the stain, a young man in a blue T-shirt suddenly leapt onto the gargoyle spout and splayed himself across the stain before losing his balance and falling off.
The young man did this a number of times to the enjoyment of his friends and the bemusement of others (including myself) before appearing to give up in defeat, walking off with his chums in giggles. I came to the conclusion that this had been some sort of juvenile dare, but then a few moments later someone else tried to do the same thing …
…and then another
… and another.
Soon there was a long line of people waiting to take their turn on the gargoyle spout. I later found out that this balancing act was in fact an age old tradition based on the legend of one lonely man’s desperate search for a wife; as he prayed in the monastery for his heart’s desire, a heavenly voice told him that if he could balance on the monastery’s water spout outside, take his shirt off whilst standing on it and then turn around without falling off, he would be granted his wish. He tried, he succeeded and within days he was happily married… apparently.
As I stood by the entrance to the monastery to take more photos of the incurable romantics and of the Stradun from this view-point…
…I heard a tour guide explaining to his party that locals religiously believed if a lady stepped into the gutters of Stradun (like the one I was standing in at the time) then the lady in question would be damned to spinsterhood for the rest of her life.
In front of St Blaise’s church in the middle of Luža Square stands the Orlando Column.
Whilst flicking through my guidebook to learn more about the column’s significance, I was almost knocked off my feet by a party of Americans bounding their way over towards it. They quickly congregated in front of the column blocking my view and seemingly unaware of my existence there, but instead of the expected frenzy of flash lights and snapping camera shutters, a rather serious looking man addressed the group and gave each member a number. He then bellowed, “right, number one please!” and a lady in her mid-sixties gingerly stepped forward, sat herself down on the steps of the column and stretched her arm out flat over the top step which triggered her colleagues to whip out their cameras and take photographs of her doing this. After a few moments, the lady was ordered off the step by the authoritative leader and person “number two” was summonsed to take their turn, a rather gleeful younger lady who happily mirrored the exact same position of her predecessor with arm stretched out over the top step of the column whilst her friends photographed her at will. Before long, she too was ordered away and an older gentlemen took her place, resuming the now established pose. This went one until everyone in the party had had their turn, all of them having stretched their arm out over the top step of the column.
According to local legend, the knight Orlando saved the city in the ninth century from a fifteen-month long Arabian siege. In the fifteenth century the Orlando Column was carved in his honour and has stood in the middle of Luža Square ever since where the small platform at the top of the column was previously used for public proclamations and flag bannering. As most legends lend themselves well to exaggeration, the image of Orlando has unsurprisingly been subject to artistic license: it would seem Orlando was a giant amongst men, literally. His forearms were apparently over half a metre long – 51.2cm to be exact – and so impressive were his siege-defeating arms that the length became the city’s official ell. For centuries merchants came to the foot of the column to measure their textiles ‘accurately’ against the statue’s sword-bearing arm …
… but in later years a straight line of exactly 51.2cm was marked out at the foot of the column no doubt for the main purpose of allowing tourists to come and photograph each other comparing the length of their own arms to that of Orlando’s.
In an attempt to escape the Old Town crowds and rituals, I decided to venture upwards and take a walk around the top of the Old City Walls. Alas, even there I couldn’t quite get away from the silliness.
Walking in the footsteps of Lannisters and other characters from Game of Thrones, along the top of Dubrovnik’s Old City Walls
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