Magic Kingdom

Within the Adriatic fortress of Dubrovnik, cafés, churches and palaces reflect 1,000 years of turbulent history

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Until well into 1992, the Yugoslav army pounded Dubrovnik with artillery. By the time the shelling stopped, 382 residential, 19 religious and 10 public buildings were seriously damaged, along with 70 percent of the city’s roofs. The lives of 92 people were also lost.


“There were banners all over the city proclaiming Dubrovnik a World Heritage Site under protection of UNESCO, but they were ignored,” recalled Berta Dragicevic, executive secretary of the InterUniversityCenter. “The archives were saved, but 30,000 books, many irreplaceable, were reduced to ashes.”


Today, extensive restorations have been completed. The city’s bas-relief friezes, lancet windows and terra-cotta roofs largely have been repaired, but much work remains. “Progress is slow because we’re using construction techniques that are centuries old,” said Matko Vetma, the director of a private company restoring the city’s 14th-century Franciscan monastery. “The stonecutters who are replacing the rose windows in the cloister possess the skills of Renaissance artisans.” Fortunately, the workers are not limited to Renaissance materials. “We’re reinforcing the walls with steel beams and epoxy,” Vetma added. “At least the friars won’t have to worry as much about earthquakes in the future.”


Dubrovnik today spends 20 percent of its budget on culture. During the Summer Festival in July and August, the entire walled city becomes an open-air stage. Plays, concerts and folk dances are performed at 30 venues, including intimate market squares, the foyers of Renaissance palaces and the ramparts of medieval fortifications.


“Performing in the open air is different than inside a small theater,” said 76-year-old Mise Martinovic, the dean of Dubrovnik actors. “There are silent nights when the air is dead calm. And nights when electricity from an approaching storm makes your hair tingle.



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