The walls of Dubrovnik, once impregnable, are now penetrated daily by thousands of invaders from around the planet. They come armed, not with their guns but with their Gucci. Not with their cannon but with their cameras. Plundering the city for pleasure and secretly stealing a billion digital images.
As I write this, another impossibly large cruise ship slides into port below our apartment balcony, ten minutes north of the city. More than a dozen coaches sit patiently like camels on the dockside, ready to taxi their latest batch of willing tourists to the old city. Like millions before them they will funnel through the Pile Gate, and congregate around Onofrio’s fountain before being unleashed into the town.
They will flow like water through the Placa-Staradun, its gorgeously mirrored stone pavement reflecting the thousands of feet on legs which polish it with every shuffling step. Some will window-shop the boutiques and pillage the gift-shops. Others, more erudite, will head for the museums and palaces. The remainder will swarm like ants in and out of the labyrinth of narrow streets and corners foraging for food and refreshment. All encapsulated and imprisoned within the container of the enormous and impenetrable walls.
The walls of Dubrovnik hold the city like a mother and protect it like a father. With arms which never move and never flinch. Keeping their children safe within; keeping the enemy safely without. As high as five tourist coaches and as thick as two of them. A never ending circle of nurture and security.
There are only four ways of escape through Dubrovnik’s mighty walls. One is the way you came in – swimming upstream against the endless river of people entering. The second is the Ploce Gate to the east. Two further gates take you to the old port, where the only route to liberty is Bond-esque by boat.
The fourth escape is a tiny doorway into the Buza Bar. Squeezing through this tiny blowhole must be how the air feels as it exhales from a whale, or how the survivors of the Poseiden adventure felt as they finally penetrated the thick hull of their sinking prison.
Through it lies a lovely secret garden. A terraced haven built on the rocks at the bottom of the main sea wall. Here you can relax with a beer or a cold drink overlooking the unbelievably blue Adriatic Sea. A breathing and watering hole, a sanctuary, a refuge, before returning to the madness and heat of the city. That’s if you pass up the opportunity to take the leap of faith off the rocks from an impossible height and plunge into the cool, clear sea-waters.
Back inside, the walls of Dubrovnik keep the city almost intolerably warm and sweaty. Like an over-indulgent mother wrapping up her children in too many jumpers, absorbing and retaining the heat of the day and then slowly emitting it at night. Like a giganantic circular storage heater. Add into that the thousands of warm bodies, and it really is a melting pot. It soon has you – literally – climbing the walls.
We decided to attempt this Olympian feat in the early evening. Dubrovnik’s walls can be circumnavigated in an hour and a half. Climbing the 100 or so steps up the city wall was relatively easy. But it was airless up there. There was not a hint of wind. Even as we looked out over the Adriatic from the pinnacle of the southern walls above the crashing waves, a professional caddy would have been unable to deduce the wind direction. There is something uncannily immovable about Dubrovnik.
History bears this out. These ancient walls completed over 500 years ago were originally protected by a moat and 120 canons. Inside a civilised and privileged community has flourished in relative peace and prosperity, interrupted by only three successful sieges. The Bosnian Herzeg Stjepan Vukčić Kosača took the city in 1451. A price of 15,000 ducats was put on his head by the Russians, which frightened him sufficiently to raise the siege. 350 years later, those same Russians with the and Montenegrins fired 3,000 cannonballs and took the city, before a certain Napoleon Bonaparte liberated it.
And a mere twenty years ago, Dubrovnik was besieged by the Yugoslav People’s Army, who wanted to detach the city from Croatia and to attach it to Montenegro. Over two thirds of the buildings were damaged, and nine of them were destroyed by fire. Six months later the Croatians counterattacked and lifted the siege. Today, there seems to be little evidence of such a recent bombardment, thanks, no doubt to the millions of pounds spent to repair it. As my sources have it “it is a testament to the resilience of the ancient walls that more buildings in the old town were not destroyed during the bombardment”.
We all have our walls, and we all need our walls. Walls which protect us. Walls which hold us long after our parents have stopped doing so (if they ever did). Walls which contain a labyrinth of capillaries and corners, swarming with coach-loads of thoughts and emotions, which plunder for pleasure and meaning in the madness and the heat of the day. A billion images and experiences being stored and added to our memories as we explore this thing called life. All encapsulated and imprisoned within the container of our impregnable minds.
We receive new input through the gates of our ears and our eyes. From within our walls, we communicate back to the world outside through the gates of our mouths and our fingers. Even as I type, I am publishing from within my walls. In a very controlled way, of course.
Sometimes it may feel good to step outside ourselves and look outwards rather than inwards. To find the gap, the blowhole, the escape hatch in our walls. To slow down, sit down, look out to sea. And maybe even occasionally to dare to leap off the cliff into the ocean.
If you read this far, please do feel free to like/dislike, rate or, go for the plunge, and comment!
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