The most recognizable feature which defines the physiognomy of the historic city of Dubrovnik and gives it its characteristic appearance, famous all over the world, are its intact city walls, which run uninterrupted for 1940 meters encircling the city. This complex structure, one of the most beautiful and strongest for system in the Mediterranean, consists of a series of forts, bastions, casemates, towers and detached forts.
The walls were built systematically in the difficult times of permanent danger to the City and the Republic, and they have been preserved to the present day and are still functional, not only because of the proficiency of their skillful builders, diligence and care of the citizens of Dubrovnik who maintained them and added to them as necessary, but also because of the splendid ability of the famous diplomats who knew how to obviate and avert the dangerous intents of the enemies and rivals of the Republic.
The city of Dubrovnik is completely surrounded with walls and forts, including the Old Port. The history of the fortifications goes back to the early Middle Ages. No doubt the earliest urban settlement upon the islet of Laus was protected with walls. The fact that the city was able to resist the Saracens who besieged the city for 15 months in the 9th century means that it was fortified well. The city first spread towards the uninhabited eastern part of the islet. The eastern section was included within the defence walls in the 9th and 10th century. When the sea channel separating the city from mainland was filled with earth in 11th century, the city merged with the settlement on land and soon a single wall was built around the area of the present-day city core. The whole city was enclosed in the 13th century, except for the Dominican monastery, which came under their protection not before the 14th century. The average thickness of the wall was 1.5 meters, and it was built of stone and lime. To increase the strength of the walls and ensure better defence, 15 square forts were built in the 14th century.
Extensive work was done on the walls towards the close of the 14th century, at the time of the final liberation from the Venetian supremacy. The design of the walls derives from 14th century, while the definite shape was fixed in the period, which is, not without reason, referred to as the Golden Age of Dubrovnik, from the fall of Constantinople in 1453 until the devastating earthquake of 1667. The main wall on the landside is 4 to 6 meters thick, but narrower on the side facing the sea-1.5 to 3 meters thick. Its height reaches 25 meters in some places. An additional scarp wall as defence against artillery fire protects the wall on the landside. The irregular quadrilateral formed by the walls is protected at four prominent points by strong forts. The strong round Tower Minčeta is to the north, the port is protected by the detached Fortress Revelin in the east and by the big complex of the Fortress of Saint John in the southeast. The western entrance to the city protects the strong and beautiful tower Bokar. Powerful detached Fortress Lovrijenac also protects the western end of the city from danger from the sea and land. In additional to these strong and most prominent fortifications, the city walls are protected additionally by 2 round towers, 12 quadrilateral forts, 5 bastions and 2 corner towers, while the scarp wall is flanked by one large and 9 small semicircular bastions.
The most prominent point in the defence system toward the land is round tower Minčeta. The name derives from the name of the Menčetić family, who owned the ground the tower was built upon. By its height and impressive volume the tower dominates the northwestern high part of the city and the walls. It was built in 1319, originally as a strong four-sided fort. It was build by a local builder Nićifor Ranjina. As the fall of Constantinople in 1453 was a clear sign to the cautious citizen of Dubrovnik quickly to take ample defensive measures, the first and one of the most important tasks was to strengthen this hey point. The fall of Bosnia, which followed soon in 1463, only hastened the works. The Republic invited a famous architect, Michelozzo di Bartolomeo of Florence. His work in Dubrovnik resulted in several buildings of highest importance for the defence of Dubrovnik. Among his principal activities around middle of the 15th century was the reconstruction of the tower Minčeta. Around the earlier quadrilateral fort Michelozzo built a new round tower adapted to the new technique of warfare and joined it to the new system of low scarp walls. The walls of the new tower were full 6 meters thick and had a series of protected gun ports. The famous architect and sculptor Juraj Dalmatinac, born in Zadar, continued the work on the Minčeta. He designed and built the high narrow round tower, while the battlements are a later addition. The tower was completed in 1464, and is the symbol of the unconquerable city of Dubrovnik. Since it is the highest point of the wall, it offers an unforgettable view on the city. In the period of unmistakable Turkish danger and the fall of Bosnia under Turkish rule, the fortress Revelin was built to the east of the city in 1462, a detached fortress providing additional protection to the land approach to the eastern Ploče Gate. The name derives from rivelino (ravelin), a term in military architecture, which refers, to work built opposite to the city gate in order to afford better protection from enemy attack.
Danger of Venetian assault suddenly increased in the times of the First Holy League, and it was necessary to strengthen this vulnerable point of the city fortifications. The Senate hired Antonio Ferramolino, an experienced builder of fortresses in the service of the Spanish admiral Doria, a trusted friend of the Republic. In 1538 the Senate approved his drawings of the new, much stronger Revelin. It took 11 years to build it, and during that time all other construction work in the city had stopped in order to finish this fortress as soon as possible. The new Revelin became the strongest city fortress, safeguarding the eastern land approach to the city. It is an irregular quadrilateral, with one of its sides descending towards the sea, and protected by a deep ditch on the other side. One bridge crossing the protective ditch connects it to the Ploče Gate, and another connects it to the eastern suburb. The construction work was executed perfectly so that the devastating earthquake of 1667 did not damage Revelin. As its interior is divided into 3 large vaulted rooms, Revelin became the administration center of Republic.
The session of the Council were held in the fortress, and the treasuries of the Republic and of the cathedral were transferred there, and so was all other wealth which was saved from the ruins and fires following the earthquake. The top of Revelin is a huge stone terrace, the largest in Dubrovnik, used in summer as a stage for many events of the summer festival. The Fortress of St. John, often called Mulo tower, is a complex monumental building on the southeastern side of the old city port, controlling and protecting its entrance. The first fort was built in mid 14th century, but it was modified on several occasions in the course of the 15th and 16th centuries, which can be seen in the triptych made by the painter Nikola Božidarević in the Dominican monastery. The painting shows St. Blasius, the patron saint of Dubrovnik.
In his hand he holds a scale model of Dubrovnik where the fortifications of the port can be seen clearly. The present appearance of the fortress dates from the 16th century and is mainly the work of the local builder Paskoje Miličević, whose reconstruction plans contributed considerably to the present look of the fortification of the old port. The side toward the sea is round and lower part of the wall is inclined, while the part facing the port has flat vertical walls. This large building, which had many gun ports for its primary function, is a cultural monument today. It houses the Maritime Museum, containing objects, paintings and documents relating to a most important activity in the history of the city. The ground floor houses the famous Aquarium. The monumental space of the fortress creates a special mood for visitors who can view specimens of Adriatic fauna in 27 basins of various sizes. The tower Bokar (Zvjezdan) is among the most beautiful instances of harmonious and functional fortification architecture. The previously mentioned Michelozzo of the Florence built it while the city walls were reconstructed (from 1461 to 1463). This tower was conceived as the key point in the defence of the Pile Gate, the western fortified entrance of the city. Together with Minčeta this tower is the second key point in the defence of the western land approach to the city. It was built as a two-story casemate fortress, standing in front of the medieval wall face protruding into space almost with its whole cylindrical volume.
Nowadays the tower is used as a stage for events in the summer festival of Dubrovnik. The famous fortress Lovrijenac was built upon a sheer rock 37 meters high overlooking the sea. This detached fortress is of prime importance for the defence of the western part of Dubrovnik, both against attack from land and threat from the sea. The fortress was mentioned in a legend from the 11th century, but reliable date is from the 14th century, when its present form was determined. It was reconstructed several times in the centuries that followed. The main reconstruction occurred together with other fortress: in the 15th and 16th centuries. In those times the municipal builder I.K.Zanchi of Pesaro was repairing the parapets. Having suffered damage in the earthquake of 1667, Lovrijenac was also repaired in the 17th century. Triangular in plan and following the contour of the rock on which it was built, Lovrijenac faces the western suburbs with its narrowest, highest part, and its longest wall is open towards the tower Bokar and the western wall, thus protecting the small, but also the oldest port of the city - Kolorina.
The fortress has a quadrilateral court with mighty arches. As the height is uneven, it has 3 terraces with powerful parapets, the broadest looking south towards the sea. Lovrijenac was defended with 10 large cannons, the largest and most famous being “Gušter”(Lizard). It never fired a single shot. It was designed and cast in 1537 by master Ivan of Rab. As it is a dominant fortress whose capture could endanger the city and the Republic, its construction reveals all the wisdom and caution of the administration again. The walls exposed to enemy fire are almost 12 meters thick, but the large wall surface facing the city does not exceed 60 centimeters. The caution of the Republic was not only directed against the foreign enemy, but also against possible munity of the commander of the garrison of the fortress. Therefore the would-be tyrant was permanently exposed to the threat of destruction of the thinnest wall of the fortress. As caution was never sufficient, the commander of the fortress, always elected from the rank of the nobility, was replaced every month. The Republic defended freedom in every possible way. The famous inscription over the entrance to Lovrijenac: NON BENE PRO TOTO LIBERTAS VENDITUR AURO is witness to that. In translation: Freedom is not sold for all the gold in the world.
In search for space suitable for theatre productions during the summer festival, it was observed very early that 3 terraces of this fortress are great potential. It is especially suitable as the stage for Shakespeare's “Hamlet”, and its production at Lovrijenac has become cultic and trade mark of the Dubrovnik Summer Festival.
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