When I stroll Dubrovnik during the tourist season I overhear the guides and know some of what they say is just not accurate. The tourists listen and then repeat it on internet forums and so, misinformation is spread and we get further and further from the truth.
Today, it is time to get the true facts about the cross atop Mt.Srd. After much research including extensive discussion with my friend Father Mirko from the Dominican Monastery, I must share with you the accurate details.
The cross, a gift from the Archdiocese of Brac, was constructed with the luminous white stone quarried there. The island of Brac is located about 100 kilometers north of Dubrovnik, near the town of Split. The cross was erected in 1935 as a celebration of 2,000 years since the birth of Jesus. It was destroyed by mortars and shelling during the war in 1991, as was the cable car used to reach the top of Mt Srd. After the war ended, reconstruction of the cross was done and again is positioned atop the mountain overlooking the town.
The fastest and easiest method of transportation to the mountain top is via the cable car which reopened in 2011. For travelers who are more adventurous and in shape, there is the serpentine path which can be walked; this option is not for the faint hearted. Along the path there are thirteen markers which are the Stations of the Cross; many pray at each station. Stations of the Cross are a series of artistic representations which are typically placed at intervals along the side walls of Roman Catholic churches and often depict Christ carrying the cross to his crucifixion.
On certain religious holidays there are residents who make their way up the serpentine path. They are always accompanied by the Dubrovnik Trubonari (guards of honor) carrying their old musket rifles which are shot off once they reach the mountaintop reminding the locals an important event is happening in town.
It is important that travelers learn the accurate history of the town and have a rewarding experience of our culture. Take the time and find the services of a private guide to have a quality tour. It is a reality that you get what you pay for and more often than not a large group is not the best choices for guests. Because an opportunity is presented to you and inexpensive does not mean it is a good value.
As with most professions, there are outstanding workers and those who choose only to show up. Dubrovnik has a vast number of tour guides with an in depth knowledge of the cultural and historical aspects of the town. We do indeed also have those few who are not locally born and bred and are here only for the season with limited knowledge. It is important to pick a guide with good references to enhance your visit to Dubrovnik.
Yen Baet photos
How many steps on the city wall? This is the most frequently asked question by people planning to visit Dubrovnik. Few people realize, until they visit and explore the old town, that the area within the wall is actually bowl-shaped. A far more interesting question should be: how many steps are there in the old part of town?
A few years ago a research team armed with cameras and recording devices spent time counting all the steps. They discovered there are a grand total of 4,343 steps within the perimeter of the wall. The city wall has a grand total of 1,080 steps which does include the three entrances.
For travelers with mobility problems, strolling down the brightly shining limestone Stradun offers no problems. The majority of the steps are either on the northern and southern parts of town and I tend to avoid those areas with my creaking knee problem. There are other routes which are often hidden and guests seem to miss out on seeing many areas of the town which are interesting and unique without a guide.
Or example, the street we call Iza Grad begins at the Pile Brsalje and the walk will take you around the outside of the wall to the high point of MincetaTower and eventually to the Ploce gate entrance. About half way is the well hidden and less known entrance to town which is Buza gate facing Mt.Srd. This is not to be confused with the Buza bars which are on the seaside of town outside the wall on the azure Adriatic Sea, a very popular location outside of the walls to savor a glass of wine while enjoying the blue sky turning to shades of red and golden at sunset. Visiting the Buza Bars requires climbing steps.
The best hidden gems of town are in the less traveled areas up or down many, many steps. Dubrovnik has steps, 5,423 to be exact and the glorious hidden gems are up there waiting to be discovered. Rest up, bring some water, a hat and sunglasses and get ready to roam.
Many visitors to Dubrovnik never wander far from the Stradun but there is so much more to see in the city. Let me take you off that main street and introduce you to one of my favorite people.
Parallel to the Stradun is a small street named ‘Ulica od Puca’. Translated it means ‘the Street of Wells’. This was the place for the inhabitants who resided inside of the city wall to draw water from wells. The street used to be lined with small shops where the tailor, the shoe repair, the thread lady, watch repair and many more unique and interesting services for household needs could be found. Now it is filled with many souvenir shops, sadly with only a few offering local homemade items. Most sell simply trinkets made in a country halfway around the world to unsuspecting tourists.
However there has been one constant which stands out as one of my favorite places to pop my head inside and greet the owner with Dobro Jutro. It is Muski Frizerski Salon, loosely translated as ‘a man’s barber shop’. Hrvoje Cikato is the current owner and is known to his good friends as Ciki (chick-ee). This Salon has been a family run barber/shave shop for the past one hundred years. Ciki learned his trade by watching and helping his father and grandfather since he was old enough to walk to the shop from his family home in the old town. Ciki is of my generation, born just after the end of WWII and is always one of the more interesting local characters. No longer a resident of the old part of town, he was part of the large exodus of residents who moved away after the Homeland War destroyed their home, but is still a permanent fixture on the street we call ‘Puca.’
Before I head to bed, I flip the remote to channel 813, Dubrovnik’s local television station. When there is no programming they show a live view of the Stradun from the webcam located on the logia of our clock tower. I begin each morning with a ritual of turning on the TV and, as I sip that first rejuvenating espresso, I watch the old town come alive as I sit at my computer. Often the lights of the Stradun are beginning to dim as the sun begins to rise over the red tile roofs, tables and chairs being set up at the many outdoor cafes, deliveries made and the cleaning crew working to maintain the cleanliness of our main promenade. I watch as workers enter town, residents head towards the bus to their jobs, and soon it is 0800. Within minutes I see a man wearing a bright red jacket, carrying a plastic bag slowly strolling down the middle of the Stradun – it is Ciki. Without fail he heads towards his first morning stop, a small pub just below the Prijeko near Sponza Palace. Again, about 0900 I glance up as I watch him walk across the Stradun to his second stop, the Fontana where he greets the local clientele with ‘Morning, Morning, Morning’ his total command of English.
The sign on the front door of the barber shop shows a 0900 opening hour, which means nothing as he opens when he gets there. That may be 0900 or 1000 or later. Locals accept this and tend to begin to wander into the shop about 1100, the best time to get a haircut or shave. The shop has become a gathering place for many of the older men of town; they come to sit and talk stories of today and yesteryear.
My first visit to the barber shop was amazing; it is filled from top to bottom with several varieties of birds singing in their small colorful cages. Every inch of the walls from ceiling to floor has photos, some of famous celebrities and many, many locals. There are also photos of the damage done by the 1991 Homeland War and awards, plaques and some handmade displays made by local residents adorn the walls. The shop is tribute to many relatives, friends and those who have stopped to visit with one of Dubrovnik’s most famous characters – our friend Ciki.
One of the most captivating legends of Dubrovnik is connected to one of our more intriguing gargoyles. This stone face, referred to as Maskeron, is attached to the outer wall of the Franciscan Monastery, just a few meters from the small entrance. The Monastery was completely rebuilt after the devastating earthquake of 1667. At that time the Maskeron had a pipe protruding from its mouth for the drainage of rainwater from the rooftop. The pipe is long gone and perhaps this is when the legend began.
The top is worn down, slippery as polished marble. It sits a short distance above the ground but extends only a very small 15 centimeters (6 inches) from the wall.
During the high tourist season many people attempt to balance on the slick top of the Maskeron. And since few arrive in our town with little or no research, they assume it is only a balancing stone, but beer consumption also contributes to attempts. Often as we stroll the Stradun during the late evening hours, we stop to watch.
Let me share with you the legend of the stone edifice of the much misunderstood Maskeron. If you are able to hop onto the worn, very slick stone face and balance with both feet, and then remove your shirt while facing the wall, legend has it that you will find true love.
Many have attempted, very few are victorious.