Within the Adriatic fortress of Dubrovnik, cafés, churches and palaces reflect 1,000 years of turbulent history
"Sometime out here I feel as if I'm living five centuries ago," says fisherman Nino Surjan, 60, as he begins hauling in nets, studded with tuna, from the waters of the Adriatic. "Kids today learn about Croatia, but when I was growing up we studied the Republic of Dubrovnik—a magical place that survived more than a thousand years without an army or a king."
Writer David DeVoss traveled to the ancient city, a great walled redoubt—founded in the 7th century amid the chaos that followed the fall of the Roman Empire—rising from the rocky coast like an Adriatic Camelot. Today, the 4,000 residents within Dubrovnik's old city, a warren of limestone lanes, Renaissance palaces and Baroque churches, inhabit, as one resident puts it, a "functioning Renaissance city where people live in the houses and shop at the markets."
It is almost miraculous that the city's extraordinary riches, intact for a millennium, survived its recent history. In 1992, as civil war broke out in the former Yugoslavia, the Yugoslav Army shelled Dubrovnik relentlessly. The attacks went on despite the fact that banners, proclaiming Dubrovnik a UNESCO World Heritage Site, were raised throughout the city. Ninety-two people were killed; hundreds of historic buildings were damaged.
Today, extensive renovations have been completed and tourists are returning to stroll the battlements, linger in the outdoor cafés and sunbathe on the seaside quays radiating out from the city. As the famous Dubrovnik actor Mise Martinovic says: "On a silent night you can almost hear the ghosts. There is magic in this city."