Walls of Dubrovnik Architecture

How Were The City Walls Built

Dubrovnik is a medieval city with a medieval infrastructure, street network and – most important – the medieval city walls. On the other hand, most of its public spaces and public buildings are examples of the Baroque. The reason is that most of the buildings that we see today in Dubrovnik were built after the great earthquake of 1667. The earthquake destroyed almost everything, only the walls remaining almost untouched, being of such massive and solid construction. After the great earthquake almost the entire town was rebuilt and Dubrovnik is not one of those cities with a particular unified style. In some Italian cities you will find more perfect examples of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture, but not the whole package. In Dubrovnik, the whole package is more important than its parts”. It is important to note that the criteria inside and outside the city walls are not the same, and here we are talking about the characteristics of the architecture inside the walls.

The geographical position is about rather permanent things such as the land form, the climate, and its strategic importance. Periods and styles just come and go. There are only a few places in Dubrovnik from which we won’t be able to see the heavy rock massive of the surrounding mountains and islands. On the other hand, there are not so many places in the world where we can witness such a triumph of architecture over nature as here when we look from the outside at the Dubrovnik city walls. The cultivated landscapes of Dubrovnik are great examples of how human activity has changed nature.

Dubrovnik Game of Thrones Filming

Old City is by all means the most interesting and the most attractive part of Dubrovnik. Since it occupies a rather small city area, it is best to sightsee on foot. While walking through the romantic city lanes you will not only see the most interesting sights, but also feel the specific, somewhat mystic atmosphere rising from the ancient stone walls. The smell of aromatic herbs, the whiteness of the sheets drying in the sun between the houses, the constant chatter of the locals on the narrow, busy streets… the best way to learn, to feel the city is to merge with the crowd and let it take you on an unforgettable journey through the maze of Dubrovnik city streets and through centuries. The entire historical city core is surrounded by the medieval ramparts, creating the perfect illusion of a well protected settlement from some other, past times. There are several city entrances located below the magnificent forts overlooking the gates. If you approach the ramparts from the direction of the modern Dubrovnik city center, you will enter the old town through the Pile City Gate, the main city entrance. The gates are overlooked by the two forts: Minčeta from the north and Bokar from the south.

onofrio's fountain dubrovnik

Once you enter through the city gates you will find yourself looking at the beautiful Onofrio Fountain, the favorite meeting place of the city youth. Perhaps the most beautiful and interesting monument of this part of the Old City is the Franciscan Monastery built in the late medieval period. It is one of the finest and most harmonious examples of Gothic and Romanesque architecture in Dubrovnik. The church of the monastery is often a venue for various concerts throughout the year. As you walk on, you will find yourself on the most famous and beloved Dubrovnik city street, Stradun. With its numerous souvenir shops, galleries, coffee bars and restaurants, Stradun is never quiet. As you make your way through the crowd, you can enjoy in the performances of many street entertainers.

On its other end, Stradun finishes in a lovely square surrounded by some of the most important historical sights of Dubrovnik. You will see the City Cathedral, the Church of St. Blaise, the Sponza Palace (the city archive), the Rector’s Palace, the bell towers and the Orlando’s Column. All those beautiful monuments are the finest examples of the late medieval and early renaissance architecture. Once you complete this sightseeing route obligatory for every Dubrovnik visitor, you can lose yourself in the maze of narrow city streets and explore other sights. There are numerous museums and galleries where you can enjoy some of the finest exhibits of historic as well as contemporary art.

When you are infront of Dubrovnik you will see three entrances to Dubrovnik City walls. First entrance is located on the western side of the City at the very end of Placa (Stradun) street just across the Big Onfrio’s fountain next to the Church of Holy Savior, to the left. The second entrance is located at the eastern part of the City close to the inner Ploce Gate and the third entrance to the City walls is located at the back side of St. John Fortress and the entrance to the Maritime museum. This third entrance is a bit tricky to find as you need to go behind Dubrovnik Cathedral to the south, climb the small staircase and turn left into a vaulted street. These are really specific entrances and they are the most important part of Dubrovnik’s history.

Saint Blaise church Dubrovnik
As stated, walls of Dubrovnik are one of the most famous fortification monument with significant fortresses.

Bokar Fortress

The fortress Bokar (or Zvjezdan) is one of the most beautiful instances of harmonious and functional fortification architecture. The fort is located on the South-western part of Dubrovnik City walls. Bokar was conceived as the key point in the defense of the Pile Gate, the western fortified entrance of the city. Together with Minčeta tower this fort is one of the key points in the defense of the western land approach to the City, the main task being protection of the Pile gate bridge and the ditch.

It was built as a two-story casemate fortress, projected in front of the medieval walls with its whole cylindrical volume. Considering that one part of the fort is standing on a detached rock, arhced supports were made to bridge the gap. The sea still passes beneath the fort as it did when the for was first built. This can be seen in the picture left.

The Bokar fortress was built according to the designs of Michelozzo di Bartololmeo of Florence. The building of the fort started in 1461. From 1463, historical data shows that cannons were tested form atop of it and the fort was not completed for a long time afterwards. In 1470 a debate is held about the neccesity of finalizing the project. The fort had been roofed in 1555 and upgraded in 1570 to its present state.

Minceta Fortress

City walls of Dubrovnik form an irregular quadrilateral ending at each corner with strong forts. Tower Minčeta is the strong fort located in the North wall ending, facing toward the land. The name derives from the name of the Menčetić family, who owned the ground the tower was built upon. Minčeta, the highest point in the Dubrovnik defence system, is a large round fort with a massive base in the form of a huge covered outer wall. The fort is topped with a great Gothic crown that spreads over the side of the fort instilling the sense of power. The gothic crown is of negligible strategic importance and is more decorative in nature.
The fort was originally built in 1319 as a high reaching quadrilateral fort according the designs of local architect Ničifor Ranjina. For over 100 years this design proudly served its purpose.

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 building started in 1461.

After the fall of Bosnia to the Turks in 1463, the works on the City walls hastened. The abrupt ending in the cooperation between Dubrovnik government and Michelozzo happened in 1464 when Michelozzo left Dubrovnik offended as his plans for the reconstruction of the Rector's palace were not approved. Following Michelozzo-s departure the work on the City walls continued under Juraj of Dalmatia (Juraj Dalmatinac) from Zadar, who also constructed the Cathedral in Sibenik. On Tower Minčeta, Dalmatinac built the bottom of the fortress and gave it the recognizable overhead part, the crown. During his time in Dubrovnik, Juraj mostly worked on fortresses. He would have most probably left a more noticeable impact on the look of Dubrovnik if he had not ran from the City in front of the plague. In its active service Minčeta was armed with 9 guns among which was also one mighty bronze cannon, a masterpiece of Ivan Rabljanin who also made the Bell for the City Bell Tower.

Today, as it was true in the past, Minčeta stands high above rest of Dubrovnik as a symbol of the unconquerable City Dubrovnik and tells the Dubrovnik story of love for the most precious sweet liberty. The fort provides a magnificent view of Dubrovnik and it is rightfully said that one has not been in Dubrovnik unless he/she witnessed the view from atop of Minčeta.

Fortress of St. John

One of the key forts in the Dubrovnik City walls defence complex is most certainly the Fortress of St. John, often called Mulo tower. It is a complex monumental fortress located on the south-eastern side of the old city port, controlling and protecting the entrance of the port. The fort was built as a consequence of many upgrades of the port defence system. 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.

In 1346 Dubrovnik government concluded to build a fort on the outer dock of the port - Dock Fort. The building started that year and lasted for several years. This fort is still visible as a integral part of St. John fortress. The outline of this initial fort is visible on the western wall of St. John fortress. This initial fort was connected with the City with a defensive wall and the gates passing through those walls (Croatian - "Vrata mula" - Dock Gates). On the very corner of the City, near the defensive wall stood the old quadrilateral fort that everyone called "Fort Gundulić".

In the beginning of the 15th century a low semicircular bastion was built forward of the Dock Port. The newly built bastion effectively integrated as the outer wall of the Dock Fort. In the year 1500 the upgrade of old Gundulić started. This fort was sometimes called the Fort of St. John according to the nearby church. The old quadrilateral fort was upgraded into a much bigger fort with semicircular form and a pentagonal bastion in front. In 1552, the merger of all bastions commenced in a grand upgrade of the whole fortification complex according to the designs of master architect Paskoje Miličević. Both forts, Gundulic fort and Dock fort, with their respective bastions were merged into a single building which got a new official name: “The fortress of St John at the Dock”. The merger was completed in 1557.
Today the large interior of the St John fortress houses the Maritime Museum and the Aquarium.

Fortress of St. John Walls of Dubrovnik

Fort Revelin

On the eastern part of the City, outside Ploče City Gate, the massive fortress of Revelin is located. The initial fort was built in 1463, in the period of unmistakable Ottoman empire (Turk) threat, who have conquered Constantinople in 1453 and were about to occupy nearby Bosnia (occupied in 1463). Revelin was built as a detached fortress providing additional protection to the eastern City Gate. The name derives from rivelino (ravelin), a term in fortification architecture which refers to forts built opposite to the weakest points in the city defence system or opposite to the particular city gates with purpose of reinforcing defensive position.

The first Ravelins were mound-like entrenchments which was also the case with the initial Revelin fort in Dubrovnik. However danger of Venetian attack suddenly arose during the time of First Holy League, and it was necessary to strengthen this vulnerable point in the City fortification complex. The Senate hired Antonio Ferramolino, an experienced builder of fortresses in the service of the Spanish admiral Doria who was a trusted friend of the Dubrovnik Republic.

In 1538 the Senate approved Ferramolino's drawings of the new, much stronger Revelin. It took 11 years to build it, and during that time all other construction work in Dubrovnik had stopped in order to finish this fortress as soon as possible. The new Revelin became the strongest fortress of Dubrovnik, safeguarding the eastern land approach to the city. Revelin was finally completed in 1549.

Revelin fortress has a form of an irregular quadrilateral with its Northern corner forming a sharp outward spike. The entrance to the fortress is at its Southern side where the street leading between the two fortified gates crosses over a large platform. Both the fortress and the platform are isolated from all sides, southern side steeply descends to the sea, while the City ditch surrounds the fortress in all other directions. In the thick Northern wall of Revelin fortress, at ditch level, corridors are divided into small subsections with triple embrasures which are also provided with ventilation ducts that finish at the upper floor of the fortress. These purpose of these embrasures was to attack the enemy in the ditch. A bridge from the middle of the 15th century leads from Revelin, over the ditch, to the inner City gates while the outer City gates are equipped with a toll bridge that lowers down to the access bridge from the end of the 15th century that leads to the eastern suburbs. The outer bridge was a work of the master architect Paskoje Miličević while the inner Gate bridge was built by local builders according to the prototype of the old Pile bridge from the 14th century.
Revelin Fortress Walls of Dubrovnik
The construction of Revelin fortress work was executed perfectly hence Revelin was not harmed by the devastating earthquake of 1667. As its interior is divided into three large vaulted rooms, Revelin became the administration centre of Republic after the earthquake. The session of the Council were held in the fortress, and the treasures of the Republic and Dubrovnik cathedral were transferred there, as well as all other wealth which was saved from the ruins and fires following the earthquake.

The top of Revelin features a huge stone-paved terrace, the largest in Dubrovnik. The terrace is sometimes used as a stage for many events of the Dubrovnik Summer Festival that takes place in Dubrovnik each year from July 10th to August 25th.

Also, the inside of the Revelin fortress was rearranged to serve as a night club thus a large part of Dubrovnik night life scene takes place at this ancient fortress with unique ambience. Different night life happenings also take place at Revelin night club: from rock concerts, techno and rave parties to exclusive entry parties, and normal night club evenings.

Fortress Lovrijenac

Built upon a 37 meter high sheer rock overlooking the sea, fortress Lovrijenac is one of the most impressive locations in Dubrovnik. This detached fortress was of prime importance for the defence of the western part of Dubrovnik, both against attack from land and the sea. During its service fortress was manned by 25 man garrison and a Commander of the fort.

Chronologists date the fort to 1018 or 1038. However first records of the forts existence are from 1301 when the council voted on the Commander of the Fort. According legend in the 11th century Venice planned to entrench its troops at this rock in front of Dubrovnik and build a fortress in order to conquer the City. However Dubrovnik learned of this plan and the citizens were mobilized to build a fortress at the very spot before arrival of the Venetians. They had been successful with the building project and as the Venetians came with ships carrying troops and supplies, much for their surprise, they realized their plan has failed.

The fortress was upgraded several times from its construction with major alterations made in the period of the 15th and 16th century at the time 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 being “Gušter” (the Lizard), marvelously carved and decorated. It never fired a single shot. It was designed and cast in 1537 by master founder Ivan Rabljanin. The Lizard is now lost at the bottom of the sea below Lovrijenac, as in the time when the Fortress was being disarmed by the Austrian troops in the 19th century, a rope holding the gun had broken off during hoisting and transport hence the gun fell to the depths. It was never recovered.

Being a dominant fortress whose capture could threaten defensive position of whole Dubrovnik a fail safe mechanism was designed into the fortress. The walls exposed to the sea and possible enemy fire are almost 12 meters thick (40 feet), but the large wall surface facing the City does not exceed 60 centimetres (2 feet). The caution of the Republic was not only directed against the foreign enemy, but also against possible rebellion of the Commander in charge of the fort garrison. In case of any trouble, the thin wall could never hold against the firepower of the mighty Bokar fortress facing Lovrijenac. In addition, the Commander of the fortress had always been elected from the rank of the nobility and replaced each month.

Over the entrance to Lovrijenac fortress an ancient inscription reads as follows: NON BENE PRO TOTO LIBERTAS VENDITUR AURO. In translation: Freedom is not sold for all the gold in the world.

In search for space suitable for theatre productions during the Dubrovnik Summer Festival, it was observed very early that 3 terraces of Lovrijenac fortress have great potential. Lovrijenac is especially suitable as the stage for Shakespeare's “Hamlet”, an its production with the ambiance stage of Lovrijenac fortress is unforgettable.

City Gates

The view from the spot where you first come out on top of the walls of Dubrovnik The present shape of the walls was defined in the 14th century after the city gained its full independence from Venetian suzerainty, but the peak of its construction lasted from the beginning of the 15th century until the latter half of the 16th century. Being constructed very solidly, the walls were generally unaffected by a strong earthquake occurring in 1667.The largest stimulus for continued development and emergency repairs and works of the Ragusan fortresses came as a result of the danger of unexpected attack by Turkish military forces, especially after they conquered Constantinople in 1453.
The city was also under latent danger of attack by the Venetians.For centuries the people of Dubrovnik were able to preserve their city-republic by skillful maneuvering between East and West. A strategic treaty with Turkey protracted Ragusa’s liberty and maintained the opportunity for a major trading role between the Ottoman Empire and Europe. The irregular parallelogram surrounding Dubrovnik consists of four strong fortresses at its most significant points. To the north is the strong circular Minčeta Tower, and to the east side of the city port is the Revelin Fortress. The western city entrance is protected by the strong and nicely-shaped Fort Bokar, and the strong, freestanding, St. Lawrence Fortress (also known as Lovrijenac), protects the western side of the city from possible land and sea assaults. The large and complex St. John Fortress is located on the southeast side of the city.
The main city gate and entrance to the city Dubrovnik in Croatia

Land Walls

The main wall on the landside is 4 metres (13 ft) to 6 metres (20 ft) thick, and, at certain locations, the walls reach up to 25 meters (80 feet) in height. The land walls stretch from Fort Bokar in the west to the detached Revelin Fortress in the east. On the landside, the wall is protected with an additional range of slanted supporting walls as defense against artillery fire, especially against possible Ottoman attacks.The town has four city gates: two that lead to the harbor and two (with drawbridges) that lead to the mainland. During the time period when the Austrian Empire controlled the city, two more gates were opened in the wall. Communication with the outside world on the land side was maintained with the city through two main well-protected city gates, one placed on the western side of the city and the other placed on the eastern side. These entrances were constructed so that communications with the city could not be carried out directly; the messenger had to enter through multiple doors and walk down a winding passageway, which is evidence of the security measures taken as a last defense against the possibility of a surprise breach or entrance of unexpected visitors.
Pile Gate in the morning

Gate of Pile

The Pile Gates are a well-fortified complex with multiple doors, defended by Fort Bokar and the moat that ran around the outside section of the city walls.

At the entrance gate to the Old Town, on the western side of the land walls, there is a stone bridge between two Gothic arches, which were designed by the esteemed architect Paskoje Miličević in 1471. That bridge connects to another bridge, a wooden drawbridge which can be pulled up.During the republican era, the wooden drawbridge to the Pile Gate was hoisted each night with considerable pomp in a ceremony which delivered the city’s keys to the Ragusan rector.

Today, it spans a dry moat whose garden offers respite from crowds.

Above the bridges, over the arch of town’s principal gateway, there is a statue of city patron Saint Blaise (Croatian: Sveti Vlaho), with a model of the Renaissance city. After passing the Pile Gate’s original Gothic inner gateway, it is possible to reach one of a three access points to the city walls.

On the eastern side of the land walls stands the second major entrance to the city, the Gate of Ploče. This gate is protected by the freestanding Revelin Fortress, which are connected by a wooden drawbridge and a twin-spanned stone bridge spanning a protective ditch.

Ploce Gate Walls of Dubrovnik
Gate of Ploce

The Outer Gate of Ploče was designed and constructed by architect Mihajlo Hranjac in 1628, while the two bridges to the Revelin Fortress were built in the 15th century by Paskoje Miličević. Miličević was also designed the Pile Gate bridges, which explains the similarities between the bridges.
Over the bridge, just like with the Gate of Pile, there is the statue of Saint Blaise, the patron saint of Dubrovnik

The Gate of Buža (meaning “hole”) is located on the northern side of the land walls. This gate is relatively new compared to the other gates, as it was constructed during the early 1900s.

Buza Gate Walls of Dubrovnik
Gate of Buza

Sea Walls

The main wall on the sea-facing side of Dubrovnik stretches from Fort Bokar in the west to St. John Fortress in the south, and to the Revelin Fortress on the land-side. These walls are 1.5 to 5 meters (5–16 feet) thick, depending on their location and its strategic importance. The purpose of these walls were to help defend the city from sea-based attacks, particularly from the Republic of Venice, which was often considered a threat to Dubrovnik’s safety. Those openings take you to a bathing spot on the rocks below the City walls and cocktail bar terraces that feature lovely seaside views and romantic atmosphere.

City Harbour

One of the oldest sectors of Dubrovnik was constructed around a Late Antique castle by the sea, which stretched landwards a bit more than it does today. It was constructed on the site of the Pre-Romanesque cathedral and the Rector’s Palace, thus encircling the city’s harbour. The harbour was designed and constructed by engineer Paskoje Miličević in the late 15th century. Notably, the harbour was noticeably painted on the palm of St. Blaise in a triptych painted by the artist Nikola Božidarević around 1500. The most prominent portion of the harbour is the three enormous arches (the fourth original arch was walled in) of a large arsenal built in the late 12th century and enlarged in the latter part 15th century. The harbour is also the oldest shipyard within the city and is still in use today. Porporela was built in 1873, next to St. John Fortress. The Kase jetty (Kaše Breakwater) was built in 1485, according to the design of Paskoje Miličević, in order to defend the harbour and protect it from south-eastern winds and waves. The breakwater thus shortened the harbour’s bulky chain stretched in the night from the St. John Fortress to St. Luke’s tower. It was constructed of huge stone blocks laid over wooden foundations without binder. Today, the arsenal hosts the City Café and a movie theatre, whereas both the harbour and Porporela have become pleasant promenades and tourist attractions.In the city port area, one of the most significant areas of the maritime trade city, there were two entrances: the Gate of Ponte (port) and the Fishmarket Gate. The entire layout of the Dubrovnik streets, as well as a range of expansions, was intended for fast and effective communication with the forts of the city walls.