Invaders, travelers, monarchs and writers have waxed lyrical about the beauty of this marbled city, hidden behind medieval stone walls whose warmth in the sun perhaps belies the strength they offer to all those who live within them. Dubrovnik is an exceptionally wellpreserved example of an ancient walled city, with an organised street layout. Among the outstanding medieval, Renaissance and Baroque monuments within the magnificent fortifications and the monumental gates to the city are the Town Hall, now the Rector's Palace, dating from the 11th century; the Franciscan Monastery, finished in the 14th century, (but now mainly Baroque) with its imposing church and of course the cathedral, rebuilt in 1667.
Also notable is the eclectic appearance of the old customs house, Sponza, revealing that its current facade is the work of several different architects and influences over the years. There are many other Baroque churches, such as that of St Blaise (patron saint of the city) and the centre of the celebrations for the Festival of St Blaise, an important date in the calendar, as the Saint is revered in Dubrovnik.
Sadly, many of these buildings were badly damaged during the shelling of Dubrovnik in 1991; to preserve the heritage and history for future generations, prompt action was required. UNESCO immediately placed the city on its list of ‘World Heritage Sites in Danger’ and appealed for international solidarity and assistance. After the ceasefire a financial contribution was provided, along with the provision of international experts to complete and oversee the projected restoration of the Old City of Dubrovnik.
However, the restoration of Dubrovnik is thanks not only to the dedicated work of the UNESCO committee, restorers, workers and artisans, intent on bringing lustre back to ‘The Pearl of the Adriatic’ but the legacy of an earlier, natural, disaster in 1979. Restorers in 1992 were subsequently able to use the detailed plans drawn up, finding that a vast network of contractors had already been organised. The Institute for the Restoration of Dubrovnik was vital in this process, experienced already, with the levels of mass restoration required.
Experts from UNESCO and all over Croatia were then called in to help rebuild this proud city with as little compromise as possible. Traditional methods were adhered to wherever available, in most cases these were found safer than modern building techniques. Restorers noted that, for example, that under extreme heat, wooden beams, instead of burning, helped to preserve buildings. Metal beams in buildings melted under such high temperatures and contributed to whole structures collapsing. So the return to traditional artisan crafts encouraged a resurgence in age old techniques, updated with modern technology.
The Institute for the Restoration of Dubrovnik was, and continues to be, a major force in the restoration, despite the damage being fixed. The institute now concentrates on strengthening the foundations of Dubrovnik's precious churches, palaces and roads, meaning that preservation is now the key to the Institute’s daily activity.
In this continuing series we will highlight various areas of this extensive restoration, from church ceilings and artisan techniques to beautiful murals and of course, the story of the famous rooftops; singing once again as you glimpse them from above; they may be a slightly different hue now (the factories who made the original tiles have closed down), but their warm colour still delights the eye of the beholder.