The best way to get your bearings in Dubrovnik’s Old Town is by making a tour of the still largely intact city walls (Gradske zidine), 25m high and stretching for some 2km, completely surrounding the city’s historic heart. The full circuit takes about an hour, longer in high summer when crowds may slow down your progress. The path along the walls is narrow in places and you’re not allowed up there if you’re wearing a backpack.
The walls are encrusted with towers and bastions, and it’s impossible not to be struck by their remarkable size and state of preservation. Although some parts date back to the tenth century, most of the original construction was undertaken in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. A major campaign of renovation and expansion then took place in the mid-fifteenth century when fear of Ottoman expansion was at its height. Once you’re on top, the views over the town are of a patchwork sea of terracotta tiles, punctuated by sculpted domes and towers and laid out in an almost uniform grid plan – the Ragusan authorities introduced strict planning regulations to take account of the city’s growth as early as the 1270s, and the rebuilding programme which followed the earthquake of 1667 rationalized things still further.
Circuiting the walls
Moving anticlockwise around the walls from the Pile Gate you first pass the Bokar Fortress, a jutting bastion that once guarded sea-borne access to the city’s moat. The southern, sea-facing walls provide fantastic views of Dubrovnik’s tiled roofs and narrow, tunnel-like streets. Marking the southeastern end of the fortifications is St John’s Fortress, a W-shaped curve of thick stone facing out to sea. Together with its northern neighbour St Luke’s bastion (Sveti Luka) it controlled access to the Old Port area, whose bobbing boats can be seen below. The gently ascending northern wall leads to the fat, concentric turrets of the Minčeta Fortress. It was begun in 1455 by the Florentine architect Michelozzo Michelozzi, although it was his successor Juraj Dalmatinac (see box, p.265) who was responsible for the eye-catching crown of battlements that make Minčeta such a landmark. From here it’s a gentle descent to your starting point.