By Renée S. Gordon
I select travel destinations based either upon something I have read that sparked my interest in a region or I plan my trip around an event. In the case of my recent journey to Croatia I chose to visit Dubrovnik because of the beauty of this city nestled on the Adriatic, its 1300-year history, its access to other additional destinations and, most significantly, the 10 year anniversary of the world famous Julian Rachlin & Friends Chamber Music Festival. www.rachlinandfriends.com
In addition to featuring such internationally renowned musicians as the Academy of St Martin in the Fields Chamber Orchestra, Boris Andrianov, Itamar Golan, Janine Jansen and Mischa Mayski the festival showcased such events as a gala to help fund UNICEF and an in-school program, “Stop the Violence Among Children,” and a series of master classes for young musicians from around the globe.
Musical selections were chosen from the catalogs of Beethoven, Brahms, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Schumann, Shostakovich and others, Croatian President Ivo Josipovic and unique aspects of the event were dramatic presentations, against a background orchestral chamber music, by Sir Roger Moore and John Malkovich.
Croatia is recognized as the “Jewel of the Adriatic” because of its stunning beauty. Located on the southeastern coast of the sea it has 3626 miles of shoreline that stretches from the Alpine foothills to the Pannonian Plain. Just off its shores are 47 inhabited islands out of 1,185 islands, islets and reefs.
The region is rich in prehistoric sites that point to middle-Paleolithic habitation but the first recorded settlers were Illyrians and Celts followed by the Romans around 229 BC. Hungary and Croatia formed a union in 1102 that lasted until the Hungarian king sold the country to Venice for 100,000 gold ducats in 1409. It was part of the Hapsburg Empire from 1527 until 1914 and declared itself independent in 1918. The Banovina of Croatia was established as part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1934 and remained so until 1991. On January 15, 1992 the Republic of Croatia was officially recognized by the European Union and the United Nations. www.croatia.hr/en-GB/Homepage
Seven properties within the country are inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List and an amazing sixteen having been submitted for listing. The first of the sites to be designated a cultural treasure was the Old City of Dubrovnik in 1979, with an extension in 1994. www.tzdubrovnik.hr/eng/index.php
This ancient trading city remains as cosmopolitan and exciting as it was to the ancients so it is no wonder that Julian Rachlin chose it as the location for his annual two-week celebration of the classics. Individual concerts are held in various venues throughout the Old City and I can’t think of a better way to visit than to the accompaniment of music.
The listed sites were performance spaces during the festival and their use added to the texture of the history of the place. The city has remained virtually unaltered since the 13th-century with the exception of some damage during a 1667 earthquake and with or without music they are worth exploring.
Dubrovnik, founded by 7th-Czentury Romans, fell under the rule of Byzantine, Venetian and Hungarian rule in 1205. In 1382 the country declared independence and became the Republic of Ragusa. Gradually the country established itself as an international trading center with representatives as far away as Africa.
The 1,940-ft. triangular walls of the Old City reach heights of 82-ft. in some areas and are 20-ft. wide at the widest point. There are ten semicircular bastions and the fortresses of St. John, Lorjenac and Revelin. Walking tours of the city walls are offered and are accessed by a steep staircase of 3,050 steps to the top. The walk is 1.2-miles.
The city can only be entered via one of the leading to the Stradun, the main thoroughfare. The Stradun is only 985-ft. long but narrows so that it appears longer. A filled-in moat leads to the main entrance, the 1537 Pile Gate and between the inner and outer walls there is an even older door dating from 1460. The Ploce Gate is entered from the port after crossing a massive stone bridge. This entrance is guarded by the exterior 12th-century Asimov Tower and the 1580 Revelin Fort.
Antonio Ferramolino, as the final part of the defense complex, designed Fort Revelin with huge stonewalls. This pentagonal edifice during the Renaissance housed the foundries for casting ammunition within its massive walls and in modern conflicts the city’s treasures have been stored here. It is one of the Dubrovnik’s most popular festival performance spaces.
Onofrio di Giordano de la Cava built the gothic Rector’s Palace in 1435. After suffering damage from a gunpowder accident in 1463 Renaissance touches were added during rebuilding and after the 1667 earthquake Baroque elements were added. This building was the seat of power during the Ragusa Era. Today the stone benches on the loggia are a prime photo location. The interior houses the Cultural Historical Museum and a collection of artworks that includes a Tinteretto.
The Gothic-Renaissance Sponza Palace was constructed from 1516-22 and named for the word meaning “the spot” because it was situated at the place where rainwater was stored. It previously housed the armory, bank, customs house and mint. Currently the state archives are stored there and the atrium functions as an art gallery.
Dubrovnik’s Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin was designed in 1713 in Roman Baroque. It was constructed on the site of a previous 9th-century basilica and later 12th-century Romanesque Cathedral. Legend states that the second church was built with money obtained from Richard the Lionhearted who was shipwrecked near here and was well treated by the people.
The cathedral has a Latin cross design with a trio of naves. The interior Treasury showcases a stunning collection of more than 200 reliquaries including a fragment of the True Cross and the gold-plated skull of St. Blaise, the city’s patron saint.
The construction of the St Ignatius Church lasted 56-years from 1669. Modeled on the Church of Gesù in Rome, it was the first Jesuit Church established outside of Rome. The Baroque stairs that lead to the entry are based on Spanish Steps in Rome. The interior décor represents some of the earliest Jesuit artwork on the continent.
Day trips from Dubrovnik are offered by a number of tour companies. The usual city tours are scheduled daily as well as visits to two of the regions most fascinating destinations, Montenegro and Medjugorje.
Montenegro, “Black Mountain,” is a two-hour drive around the Bay of Kotor, the southernmost fjord in Europe and the largest bay in the Adriatic. Montenegro has 174-miles of coastline and 20-miles of what is said to be the most beautiful beaches in the Balkans. This tiny country dates from the 9th Century but only gained independence in 2006. www.visit-montenegro.com
On June 25, 1981 the Virgin Mary appeared to six children in a tiny mountain village in Medjugorje in Herzegovina. After identifying herself she stated, “I have come to tell the world that God exists.” The village has become a place of healing, prayer and international pilgrimage for all denominations. www.medjugorje.org
Dubrovnik is one of Europe’s hottest destinations. It has everything, great shopping, beaches, historic sites, five star accommodations and gourmet dining. You can have all that and spectacular entertainment and you too can be one of Julian Rachlin’s friends at the 2011 festival.
I wish you smooth and lyrical travels!
Every time I fly I get congested because of the recycled air. A new product has just hit the market that made my last flight a lot more comfortable, Achooz Saline Nose Wipes. These nonprescription wipes contain a non-medicinal, mineral, saline solution. They soothe irritation and moisturize while breaking up congestion. They are wonderful for the plane and even better for flu season.www.achooz.com