Dubrovnik – 1.000 stairs in Kingslanding

Cruise-ships and Game of Thrones

tl;dr: The most impressive mediaeval fortification I have ever seen; totally overcrowded if you come later than 10am; lots of people with selfie-sticks fresh from the cruise-boat and a nice day trip to the island of Lokrum. And, well, Game of Thrones

A deep moat protects the outer walls of the mediaeval fortress of Dubrovnik

The fortress of Dubrovnik at night,featured heavily in the HBO hit series Game of Thrones, posing as the capital Longstanding.

Although I didn’t know anything about Dubrovnik and kept my research to a minimum, the name alone always resonated with me…maybe as a promise or a chiffre for untold stories. What I did know was; Dubrovnik is old, maybe not as old Naples or Athens or Babylon, but still old. We arrived by car from the airport a few km to the north; cruising along the beautiful coast, where dozens of small islands are dotting the ocean just out of reach. From the sea mountains rise to a height of maybe 3-400m, our apartment being maybe a quarter of the way up, with an amazing view on the town and the coastline. Even from up here the fortress was impressive. Huge walls, at some points over 30m high, with at least a dozen towers follow the terrain, still unbroken, making it the largest still intact mediaeval fortress at health two km length. Once again; I’m no expert but this thing is unbelievable, freakishly big and massive and everything inside these walls is at least a couple of 100 years old – I have never seen anything that comes close to it

Game of Thrones

Automatically you start making up stories of knightly  valour, sieges and shrewd merchant princes haggling with the customs official about their riches from faraway places. The stones are hewn from a light grey material that is almost most white giving the city a shine to it, that must have impressed folks back in the day even more than it did me. It’s absolutely no surprise the creators of the HBO blockbuster show Game of Thrones chose Dubrovnik to shoot here. Most of the scenes in Kingslanding are shot here and although they add piece here and there in post-production a lot of what you see on TV is actually there and has been for centuries.

The fortress of Dubrovnik seen from the sea. Massive walls and towers guaranteed that would-be conquerors thought twice before an attack.

The fortress of Dubrovnik seen from the sea. Massive walls and towers guaranteed that would-be conquerors thought twice before an attack.

After a friend reminded me of a certain scene from the fifth season I felt a little bit like a naked queen myself when I crawled through the alleys shooting a hyperlapse, taking a photo every single step of the way. OK no one was ringing any bells for me and they didn’t throw feces but I’m sure there were more than just a few people doubting my sanity.

Pier and watchtower at the city port in Dubrovnik

Pier and watchtower at the city port in Dubrovnik

Lokrum

Let’s be honest Dubrovnik is a must-see but a giant tourist trap, Of course prices weren’t as high as on Capri but they weren’t much cheaper than at home. Trying to navigate the old town on a busy afternoon maybe even on a day when a fresh cruise boat spilled out her sandaled selfie-stick fighters is no fun, even late in the evening it is still crowded. A good time to explore is the early morning, another plus being the temperatures which become nigh on unbearable for a northman like me later on. So after an initial look around we jumped a boat to the nearby island of Lokrum (80 Kroner ~ 11€) for a day at the sea and a walk in the woods. Although there is no beach per se, just big flat boulders and some concrete steps to sit on this was the perfect start of our trip. Cristal clear waters just warm enough to stay in as long as you like, a free sweet water shower and a nice restaurant on top of a hill, that used to be the summer home of Archduke or such.  Before we went back we circled the island on foot (at least 3/4 of it) shadowed by pinetrees and other evergreens glimpsing the yachts of the superrich that anchored between island and city. The boatride itself is totally worth the money and time for the view on the fortress alone.

Lokrum lies directly off the coast of Dubrovnik, island seen from the boat

Lokrum lies directly off the coast of Dubrovnik, island seen from the boat

Unfortunately the cable car up the mountain was closed due to a thunderstorm that never came and we simply didn’t have enough time to visit Cavat, a peninsula everyone agrees is extremely beautiful – and another Shooting location for GoT as well. Besides the fortress and the old town what really stuck with me were the stairs. As I said we were maybe 100m or more above sea level and most all of it was steps, broad narrow, winding, straight,  deadended stairs. By a rough estimate I climbed some 1.500 stairs in 40 hours – one way. As a fundamentalist cyclist (in Berlin I even ride to the bakery, a single block away) I can still feel my calves two days later.

At the beach oin Lokrum peacocks strut between the bathers, being fed scraps. Sadly though their huge feathers were largely missing.

At the beach oin Lokrum peacocks strut between the bathers, being fed scraps. Sadly though their huge feathers were largely missing.

 

Historic overview Dubrovnik

Th original settlers of Dubrovnik were probably Illyrian (Hellenistic tribes as far as I was able to find out). Back then, what today is the bigger part of the old town was an island. From the 7th century onward Slavs settled on the mainland just opposite. The name of the town derives from an oak forest that stood there when they arrived. Over the years relations between the roman people on the island and the Slavs on the mainland became more and more friendly until they finally decided to fill in the channel that seperated them from each other. Construction of the fortress as seen today began in the 12th century updating earlier fortification from as early as the 8th, when Dubrovnik was under Byzantium’s influence.

Colonnades at a former summer home of the Austro-Hungarian Archduke on Lokrum the island that lies just off the coast of Dubrovnik

Colonnades at a former summer home of the Austro-Hungarian Archduke on Lokrum the island that lies just off the coast of Dubrovnik

In its incarnation as the city-state of Ragusa, Dubrovnik paid hommage to different overlords (Byzantium, the Ottoman Empire, Venice, Kroatia-Hungary) without ever really loosing their independence until 1806, when Dubrovnik was taken by force for the first in history. Even then Napoleon’s army was only able to do so because the city was already at the end of a long decline after a major earthquake that killed nearly a third of its people and left the harbouring ruins. After the congress of Vienna it came under Austro-Hungarian rule and was part of the first Yugoslavia. Today it is part of Croatia seperated from the main body of that country by a small piece of land belonging to Bosnia-Herzeghovina, where originally the Ottomans were given access to the sea.

The last rays of evening sunshine illuminate the hills of Dubrovnik on the night before our departure

The last rays of evening sunshine illuminate the hills of Dubrovnik on the night before our departure

On a side-note Dubrovnik/Ragusa was the first state to officially outlaw slavery in 1412.

For accommodation I suggest to just check out Airbnb.com where we found Kristina’s nice apartment with an ocean view to dream of for very reasonable 50€/night. If you want her numer let me know.

This is part of a six-issue series from a roadtrip through Bosnia and Montenegro in August 2016:

 

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