They are called mascarons.
Mascaron (tal. Mascherone) is a decorative feature in the form of a sculpted face or of a human or animal head. They are known as Gorogona in ancient architecture, but became popular during the Italian Renaissance in the 15th century, from where they started to proliferate to France in the early 16th century. The term mascaron (eng.) was first used in the 17th century.
Originally the purpose of mascarons was to scare away evil spirits and bad luck. In Dubrovnik, maskerons have been carved at the end of gutters to drain rainwater from the roofs, facades of the palaces or churches, where rainwater can accumulate, without causing damage to its structure. Unfortunately, many have disappeared in various constructions. If you wish to admire them you will need to look closer as there are so many beautiful little adornments that need to be stopped, and looked at.
The most legendary and known maskeron in Dubrovnik is the one that decorates the Franciscan Monastery. Impossible to miss it, as it is the very first sight you will see once you enter the Old City from the Pile Gate. According to the legend, the young man could not find love so he created the ritual that many tourists go by today – all you need to do is to jump on the maskeron with your face facing the wall, stay on it while taking off the shirt and turn around, when successfully, you will put the shirt back on. It’s a vow to "win" the maskeron for a happy love.
If you wish to try your luck under the warm Mediterranean sun, and win a maskeron for a happy love, or just support others with clapping and cheering, make sure to refresh yourself at Onofrio Fountain afterwards. The Great Onofrio Fountain, one of Dubrovnik’s most famous landmarks, is stone-carved with a unique maskeron design - unfortunately after the 1667 earthquake only sixteen carved masks remain with drinkable water still dripping from their mouth.
Mounted on the church of St. Blaise, you will easily catch sight of the celebrated maskeron that has become the emblem of many promotional brochures that travel around the world to present Dubrovnik. An ideal place to take a picture surrounded by the life-long memories with an allusion of a great past for your picture-perfect postcard from Dubrovnik!
Nevertheless, the most interesting maskerons in Dubrovnik are the secreted ones!
Concealed behind the counters on the Zelena Đivova Square, at the very bottom of the wall, this maskeron will dazzle you with its large moustache, eyes and ears – if you look closer you will notice that it’s a combination of a cat and a man. If this sounds interesting, head to the Sigurata Street where you will discover another one, hidden from an eye of the busy passers. There, at the very bottom, just below your ankles, you will notice similar maskeron with a long moustache, big ears and very strange eyes – another allegory mixture of the cat and a man.
At first sight, maskerons can appear to you frightening and extraordinary at the same time. Regardless of whether they had their function of draining water, or merely as a stone guardians, today, years later, they are a symbol of interesting, unreal past. Reveal all of them, veiled, but not forgotten Dubrovnik maskerons!