Dubrovnik City walls are the most important feature of Dubrovnik and a world renowned iconic symbol of the white stone beauty, therefore the main reason why Dubrovnik is now known as the Pearl of the Adriatic. The characteristic appearance of Dubrovnik is unmistakable as no other city in the world has retained their medieval walls so perfectly as was the case of Dubrovnik and that is why Dubrovnik is included in the World Heritage List from UNESCO as far back as 1970. Dubrovnik City walls run uninterrupted for 1940 meters (6365 feet) encircling the City. The City of Dubrovnik is completely surrounded with defensive walls and forts, including the Old Port.
The walls were built systematically throughout history especially in difficult times when permanent danger of foreign attacks lured over the City and the Dubrovnik Republic, and the walls 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 Dubrovnik citizens who maintained them and built upon them as necessary, but also because of the splendid ability of the skilful Dubrovnik diplomacy who was able to obviate and avert threats posed by rivals and enemies to the Republic.
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 by 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 already in that time the City was well fortified. The original Roman-Greek city core first spread over the uninhabited eastern part of the Laus islet. The eastern section was included within the defence walls in the 9th and 10th century.
When the sea channel which separated the City from mainland was filled with earth in 11th century, Dubrovnik as we know today was formed in merger with originally Croatian settlement on land and soon a single wall was built around the area of the present-day city core. The whole city was enclosed with walls in the 13th century, except for the Dominican monastery, which came under the City wall complex only in the 14th century. The average thickness of the wall was 1.5 meters (5 feet), and it was built of stone and lime. To increase the strength of the walls and reinforce defensive position, 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 the 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 land side is 4 to 6 meters (13-20 feet) thick, but narrower on the side facing the sea 1.5 to 3 meters (5-10 feet) thick. Its height reaches 25 meters (83 feet) in some places. The wall on the land side is protected by an additional scarp wall as a defence against artillery fire.
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 south-east. The western entrance to the city is protected by the strong and beautiful Bokar fortress. The western end of the city is also protected from danger from the sea and land by powerful detached Fortress Lovrijenac. In addition to these strong and prominent fortifications, the city walls are protected additionally with 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.
History of the City gates
The city walls have been preserved to the present day, not only because of the knowledge of the skilled construction workers and the constant care provided by city dwellers that maintained and rebuilt the structures as needed, but also because of the brilliantly reputed diplomacy in Ragusa, which managed on many occasions to avoid dangerous measures taken by enemies against the Republic of Ragusa.
There used to be four gates leading into The City of Dubrovnik: the Pile Gate, The Ploce Gate, the Peskarija Gate and the Ponta Gate.
An interesting anecdote from the 15th century tells how the citizens of Dubrovnik considered opening another gate in the northern wall. However, the convened council could not agree as some claimed that opening the gate would be useful because goods could then be brought into the City more easily, while others feared it would weaken the City’s defences. Hence they invited two of the best known town planners of the time, one from Ancona and the other form Genoa, to come to Dubrovnik to advise them.
A gate was opened in the northern part of the walls after all, but during the Austrian rule of Dubrovnik in 1908 – the so-called Buža Gate. The reason why the gate was opened was to allow Austrian army officers who were stationed in the City easy access to the tennis courts that had been made in the City wall trench.
Pile Gate consist of Inner and Outer City Gates. Outer City gates with a Renaissance arch in the form of a semi-circular fortress were built in 1537. To this gates, over the City trench, leads a stone bridge with a wooden drawbridge insert that was heaved up in position by means of winch and counterwights. During the Dubrovnik Republic the drawbridge was closed each night. Nowdays the gates of Dubrovnik are always open to countless visitors.
First stone bridge was build in 1397 by Ivan of Siena. That bridge had only one arch and stone benches on both sides. That bridge was the same as the outer gate bridge of Ploce Gate as the Ploce gate bridge was built in 1449-50 according to the Pile Gate prototype.
Crossing this bridge one comes to the Revelin fortress. In 1471. the City trench had been widened and the new bridge with three arches was built in lieu of the former Pile gate bridge according the design of Paskoje Miličević.
In 1533-1537 the first bridge arch had been demolished and the gate had been re-made to take on the shape as they have today and the movable wooden gate bridge had been inserted in the design.
The inner Pile gates that lead through the main City wall with a gothic arch and double door doorway were built according to the prototype of Peskarija Gate in 1460 on the place of the old City gates that are mentioned in the Statute of Dubrovnik from 1272.
The inner Ploce Gate were once called The Gate of St Luka, according to the nearby church. Those doors are really small, their breadth is only 2m (7 ft). They are built in Romanesque style, with the main arch stone carved with a Romanesque head of patron of Dubrovnik, St. Blaise. Over the doors proudly stands high fortress Asimon. Next to these gates new larger gate is located. They were opened during the period of Austrian occupation in the end of 19th century.
The Outer Ploce gate are built in 1450 by Simeone della Cava, and towards the 19th century the gate were widened. As already mentioned the outer gate bridge was built according to the prototype of Pile bridge by Ivan of Siena.