On the walkway along the walls towering over the city, I was greeted with the most beautiful view. On one side I had a sea of orange-roofed buildings, and on the other, the endless blue ocean. In front of me, the white-stone path curved along the steep sea cliffs, leading to centuries-old forts, bastions and towers. The summer sun was up in the sky; and despite the heat, the tired legs, and the constant stream of people — I felt as if I was transported back in time, and to a different world.
I was on the old city walls of Dubrovnik.
Dubrovnik’s Old Walls
Whether it is from land, sea, or from the air, the towering walls that encircle the old town of Dubrovnik is hard to miss. Construction of the stone and lime fortification is believed to have begun in the 12th century, with the bulk of the walls being built in the 14th and 15th century; and constantly enforced way up to the 17th century. The Dubrovnik walls run uninterrupted for about 2km around the city (that’s how far you have to walk) — it is about 4 to 6 meters thick on the land side, and narrower at 1.5 to 3 meters facing the Adriatic Sea. The wall reaches up to 25 meters in height at some points.
The Dubrovnik walls and the city itself is one of the main filming locations for the highly popular tv series, Game of Thrones, and has been attracting tons of visitors ever since. Most people look out for the key locations around the walls, which are mainly its four forts — the round Minceta Fortress in the north, the detached Revelin Fortress in the east, the huge St John Fortress in the south, and the beautiful Bokar Fortress in the west.
Entrance to the Walls
There are three entrances to Dubrovnik’s old city walls — Pile Gate, Ploce Gate and St John Fortress (which leads to the Maritime Museum). I was in Dubrovnik with my sister, and during our visit in the summer (of 2017), the one-time entrance fees to the walls cost HRK150 (US$24) per person; and opens at 8am.
Most people choose to climb up to the walls from the main entrance at Pile Gate, and we chose to do the same. The entrance is pretty easy to find — it is located between Pile Gate and St Saviro Church, just in front of the Onofrio Fountain. The steps up the walls are pretty steep and narrow, which made my legs a little woozy from the height — but once we got to the top, we were rewarded with a lovely view of the main street of old town Dubrovnik, the Stradun. Visitors are required to walk anti-clockwise along the walls, heading towards the sea to the south of the walls.
Fort Bokar and Lovrijenac Fortress
The first fort we came across was Fort Bokar, a circular 15th century fort that took almost 100 years to complete. It is one of the oldest buildings of its kind in Europe; and in the 19th century, was used as a prison in addition to its defensive position on the southwestern corner of the walls. We were one of the first people on the walls that day, and had the entire fort to ourselves (but just for a little while — it got super crowded later on).
From Fort Bokar (and also from the western walls), we could view the beautiful triangular fortress of Lovrijenac from across the channel. It sits on top of a 37-meters high rock, and served as one of the most important defensive forts from the 11th to the 16th century. The fortress looked so majestic and serene from beyond the walls, but we couldn’t find time to make a visit there.
The Open Sea and Cliffside Cafes
From Fort Bokar, the wall takes an upward incline to the highest point of the southern walls — where one side offers a gorgeous view of the wide blue Adriatic sea, and the other, one of Dubrovnik’s oldest neighborhoods. At certain points, the houses are so close to the walls that we could see colorful clothing hanging outside the windows!
Along this section of the walls, there are also several cafes overlooking the sea — perfect for a cuppa with a view, or an ice-cream on a hot summer’s day. And if you dare look over the colossal walls, you might spot one of the popular hidden cafes nestled within the cliffs below. We visited one later in the evening to watch the changing colors of the sky during sunset.
St John’s Fortress and the Maritime Museum
We followed the walls that curved over the steep cliffs from the south bastion to the St John Fortress, also known as the Sv Ivan Fortress. The fortress, located on the southeastern side of the walls, was built on the site of on older fortress in the 14th century to protect the port and that part of the walls. From the terrace of the fortress, we could see the historic island of Lokrum, and the many ships and boats sailing into the port.
The St John Fortress now houses the Aquarium and the Maritime Museum; and we made a quick stop at the museum with our City Museum Pass (HRK120~US$20). Founded in 1949, it houses many valuable objects, documents, paintings and maps relating to Dubrovnik’s maritime trade history and traditions; and is worth a visit. I enjoyed peeking out of its windows to admire the view of the ocean — these windows (which are all over the fort) were once cannon slots.
The Old Port and Revelin Fortress
The walk from St John Fortress continues to the Old Dubrovnik Port. The port is always crowded with people and filled with many boats and ships, all ready to take visitors out to sea or to the nearby islands on the Adriatic sea. After passing by the port, the walls reach Ploce Gate, which is another entrance to the walls (or an exit if you are too tired to carry on the rest of the walk). Here, tickets are checked again.
Just outside of the Ploce Gate stands the Revelin Fortress, built to secure the land entrance of the eastern city gates. It was constructed in the 15th century, and took 11 years to build. The fortress is detached from the city walls, but we made a separate visit to the Archeological Exhibition inside the fortress. It showcases the remains and stone furniture of centuries-old Benedictine churches in the Dubrovnik area. Entrance is included in the City Museum Pass.
The north part of the walls from Ploce Gate to Minceta Tower has got to be my favorite part of the walk. The walls gently slope upwards, offering more and more spectacular views of the old town of Dubrovnik — orange city roofs, tower bells, and the ocean in the distance. We just couldn’t get enough, and spent a good half hour or so just sitting under a shade along the walls and admiring the beauty in front of us. There are also so many great photo-ops on this part of the walls!
At the end of the northern part of the walls is Minceta Tower (and in my opinion, the prettiest of the four forts). Built in the 15th century, it dominates the city as it is the highest part of the walls — and is also an impressive looking fortress that resembles the ‘castle’ chess piece. Upon climbing the narrow stairs to the top of the tower, we saw what I believe is the most spectacular view of the city — the best along the old Dubrovnik walls.
Walking the Walls
We took a short downward stroll along the western walls from Minceta Tower back to the start of our walk from Pile Gate. The entire walk around the old walls took us about 2 hours or so (with many photo stops and a visit to the museum) and by the time we finished, the scorching summer sun was almost high up in the sky. It’s best to walk the walls as early in the morning as possible — we arrived just as it opened at 8am, and left a little past 10am. There were also less people at that time; the large crowds only started pouring in from 10am onwards. Oh, and if you love your Game of Thrones, there are Game of Thrones tours along the walls, and around the old town as well.
I enjoyed my stroll along the old walls of Dubrovnik — my sister and I visited on our first morning in the city, and I believe it gave us a lovely introduction to the old town and beyond. It is a definite must-do while in the city, and even if you don’t want to walk the entire walls — do the inner city part, and be wow-ed by the view of old town Dubrovnik in all its glorious beauty.