topics: The Walls of Dubrovnik, Josip Broz Tito, HISTORY, Nonalignment Policy, "sobe"; jump to dispatch

BikeAbout Log


Rider Notes: April 12, 1998

Food of the Day: Italian food

While the BikeAbouters are great lovers of Italian food, they were a little surprised to be seeing so much of it so soon. The Italian influence is strong on the Croatian coast as a result of both its geographic proximity and the close ties that the people and cities (especially Venice and Dubrovnik) of both nations have had with one another throughout history. We have been seeing and eating a lot of pizza, spaghetti and risotto during our stay in Croatia. This is yet another example of how one country can have a profound impact on another's food (and culture).

Person of the Day: Josip Broz Tito

Josip Broz Tito was the president of Yugoslavia for 35 years - the critical period following the Second World War. One of many crucial figures that greatly influenced the Balkan area, a closer look at his legacy can shed a little light on the Yugoslavian War that shocked and horrified the world for much of the 1990s.

Tito was actually born of a Slovene mother and a Croatian father in what was then a part of the Austria-Hungarian Empire. He served in the Austrian army during the First World War until he was wounded and captured by the Russians. In Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution, Tito became a Bolshevik and returned to Croatia (which at that time was part of the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes - and eventually became Yugoslavia) where he secretly worked as a communist organizer. Eventually caught and imprisoned for 6 years, he eventually fled to Russia and became part of the Communist International organization known as the Comintern, which was devoted to sponsoring world revolution based on the Russian Communist model.

The Comintern eventually sent Tito back to Croatia with orders to cleanse the Communist Party (which he dutifully did) and at the same time he began to criticize the Serbian domination of all of the Yugoslavian nationalities. He even proposed the breakup of the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes.

The beginning of the Second World War, however, quickly changed everything in Yugoslavia. Tito organized a resistance movement consisting of an "all-Yugoslavian Partisan" forces to counter the threat posed by the Germans and their Croatian Fascist allies (Croatia was allied with Germany in World War II). In the middle of the war, Tito established a provisional Communist-dominated government which immediately began to be challenged by the Chetniks (a Serbian resistance movement that wanted to see the restoration of the prewar monarchy). The Allies, after trying to unite the separate Yugoslavian groups, eventually gave their support to Tito. Largely as a result of this support, Tito was able to set up a one-party dictatorship after the war was over.

Following a disagreement with Stalin over his policies in Yugoslavia, Tito chose a path that led towards greater independence (supported by the US, which was embroiled in the Cold War and followed the ancient Arab proverb "the enemy of my enemy is my friend") and moved away from the Soviet Union. It is this period in which Tito's legacy is perhaps best demonstrated. Eager not to side with either Cold War power, Tito joined other world leaders (in India and Egypt) and adopted a policy of nonalignment. He also moved towards a policy of Marxist humanism, which advocated the decentralization of the party and governmental power. This decentralization, however, led to the revival of nationalistic aspirations among the Yugoslavian republics, especially in the Serbian areas (where there were still dreams of a Greater Serbia). Tito's policy of independence from the Soviet state preceded and influenced the Chinese, Albanian and European challenges to Soviet domination of the Communist world.

Tito was without a doubt one of the most powerful manipulators of the postwar political scene (ranking up there with Egypt's Nasser and Malta's Mintoff), pushing for nonalignment among the Third World counties as well as insisting that a communist state was feasible outside of the umbrella of the Soviet Union. He also worked at instituting liberal reforms within Yugoslavia while strictly maintaining the central role and political supremacy of the Communist Party. As mentioned, his policies had the effect of encouraging separatist and nationalistic movements among the rival republics within Yugoslavia. The rumble of these movements preceded the earthquake that was to engulf this area in the 1990s.

Place of the Day: walls of Dubrovnik

Today the BikeAbouters took to the sky. Well not really, at least not like they did in Konitsa, Greece. But they did spend the morning walking around the city's walls so it felt like they were in the sky above Dubrovnik. As they made there way around the city, always from the walls, they eventually had a 360° bird's eye view of the city and the surrounding coast. click to view a photograph

The walls of Dubrovnik are certainly not new. Originally constructed between the 7th and 9th centuries, they initially encircled the island on which the original town was built. They were not quite as large and impressive as they are today (around 850 they were even severely damaged in a strong storm), but constant work over the centuries resulted in the imposing protective edifice that has helped make Dubrovnik famous.

In the 10-11th century, the people of Dubrovnik filled in the canal that separated the city from the mainland meaning it was an island was no more. Today this canal is the site of the Placa Street which is the main boulevard running east and west in the city. click to view a photograph The walls one walks today were constructed mainly from the 13-16th centuries. For this reason, Dubrovnik still retains a medieval flavor. (For more about our walk around the city, including some spectacular photos, go to the Rider Notes.)

Tech Fact of the Day: sobe

In Croatia, a "sobe" (which literally means "room") is a private room in a residence that is rented out to visitors. The room can be just a bedroom in a house that is no longer being used, or sometimes people will have one floor of their home (with a separate bathroom and maybe even a kitchen) set aside. A sobe is usually a cheaper alternative to a hotel. Almost always, sobes are a way for a homeowner to earn a little extra cash, especially during this period of high unemployment.

Group Dispatch, April 12
picture of Anthony

Today's dispatch opens with our heroes, the wanderers of the Mediterranean (sometimes called BikeAbouters), dragging themselves out of bed at an inhumane hour. OK, OK, it might have been 10:30 a.m. which is not all that inhumane for you working scholastic stiffs, but the night before had been a little rough on them.

Their goal for the morning was to CONQUER THE WALLS OF DUBROVNIK. While this might sound like the title of a new multi-million dollar James Cameron movie starring, we hope, Ashley Judd and Lisa Tomei (oh sure, there should be a male lead as well but this is Anthony's daydream and he can do whatever the heck he wants... if he wants an all-female cast, so be it), it is actually a tourist walk around the entire city - on top of the ancient walls! This is no mean feat. These walls (constructed mostly between the 13th and 16th centuries - see today's Place of the Day for more info) have managed to keep out many of the cities attackers for the last 600 years, which is not at all surprising as this wall of stone is, in some spots, 25 meters high (around 80 feet) and over 2 kilometers (well over a mile) in long.

Fortunately, the city has built handy little stairways that lead up to the top of the walls (greatly disappointing Ethan who had been carrying around a grappling hook for the last 7 months hopeful for just for such an occasion). The ticket vendor was not at all impressed with Anthony when he loudly proclaimed (well... yelled) that BikeAbout was there to CONQUER THE WALLS OF DUBROVNIK. (The BikeAbouters, eager to protect the reputation of American tourists the world over, pretended, yet again, to be British tourists (they are really starting to perfect the accent) and moved on.

The walls of Dubrovnik are widely considered to be some of the finest in the world. Once the BikeAbouters actually reached the top of the walls, they were awestruck by the magnificent vista over the city and the surrounding coast and quick to agree. From their viewpoint, it was possible to see both round towers, 14 square towers, two corner fortifications and the fortress. (You can compare the walls of Dubrovnik with some of the other walled cities we have visited like Sousse and Kairouan in Tunisia, or Coptic Cairo in Egypt, Jerusalem, 'Akko in Israel, and Rhodes in Greece.)

The explorers started their tour just above Pile Gate (one of the round towers click to view a photograph) so their first view was down Placa street click to view a photograph, the site of the canal that used to separate Dubrovnik island from the mainland (see today's Place of the Day for more info). The street was packed with well-dressed families out to enjoy a welcome warm Easter Sunday in Dubrovnik. (Yes, today is Easter, but that deterred us not at all for pursuing our conquest of the walls.)

Quickly climbing up to the highest point on the walls, Minceta Tower, they quietly absorbed the panoramic view of the city click to view a photograph, Fort Lovrjenac (a separate structure just to the north of the city click to view a photograph) and the beautiful coastline click to view a photograph before slowly making their way around town in a clockwise direction. From every vantage, they were rewarded with excellent views.

They looked down on the Franciscan and Dominican click to view a photograph Monasteries. The original construction of the Franciscan Monastery dates to 1317 and is famous for having one the oldest pharmacies in Europe (it is either the oldest, the second oldest or the third oldest - our sources were varied).

They stopped to take a peak at the deep moat outside the walls click to view a photograph and to check out the impressive views click to view a photograph of St. Blaise's Church (in the foreground) and the Cathedral (in the background).

They made their way around to the town's port. click to view a photograph During the 14th century, the town port was actually protected by a thick steel chain, which the townspeople stretched from the breakwater to the tower of St. Luke. (This reminded them of how a similar tactic had been used in Istanbul.)

Looking back across the port, it was also possible to get an excellent view of Fort Revelin. click to view a photograph Fort Revelin was one of the primary entrances to Dubrovnik and was doubly protective (since it created a double moat at the city entrance). Attackers would have to ford the first moat, attack the fort and then ford the second moat before finally attacking Dubrovnik.

Next the BikeAbouters turned to the south side of the city's walls. In some ways, this is the most impressive part of the walls. Built on top of steep rock cliffs click to view a photograph click to view a photograph click to view a photograph and facing out towards the sea, these walls seem capable of repulsing any sea based attack. Dubrovnik must have been an impressive and imposing city to approach from the sea. The views of these walls (especially from Fort Lovrjenac click to view a photograph click to view a photograph) certainly are some of the most impressive.

Interestingly, the seaward section of the walls is also the lowest section and the BikeAbouters were able to look back over the impressive distance to Minceta Tower where they had just been. click to view a photograph

As they came around to the west side of the city, they were rewarded with magnificent views of Fort Lovrjenac. click to view a photograph click to view a photograph

Looking at Dubrovnik's beautiful walls and gorgeous stone buildings and streets, it is hard to believe that Dubrovnik was actually the site of one of the most heinous attacks by Yugoslavian and Serbian forces during the Yugoslavian War. Although Dubrovnik is of little modern strategic value, and played no significant role in the war, it was shelled repeatedly starting on October 1, 1991. Almost immediately, the city was without water or electricity, and within a month of the commencement of the attack, many important buildings within the old city had been damaged, while outside the walls, every major hotel was practically destroyed, as were the port facilities in Gruz and the airport in Cilipi.

By December of the same year, the city was surrounded and enemy artillery had systematically destroyed most of the old city and its suburbs and there were serious shortages of food and drinking water. Many of the buildings that we visited or saw today had been seriously damaged. However, by early 1992, the Croatian Army had had some success repelling the Yugoslavian and Serbian forces, but Dubrovnik was the still under heavy artillery attack up through late May. This period was one of the darkest in Dubrovnik's history. While its medieval walls had proven to be very effective at repelling invaders during the first 400 years of their existence, they were no match for modern warfare and artillery attacks. This attack, watched in horror by the world, was an important element in turning public opinion against the Serbs.

Today, the repair of the city, greatly aided and financed by UNESCO, is a remarkable success. Workers were able to use original construction techniques to repair the many damaged buildings and walls. While there are still quite a few buildings that are under repair, the damage is almost unnoticeable. One area where it is possible to get an idea of the extent of the damage was from above - from the city walls - as evidenced by roof tiles. Every building in Dubrovnik uses clay tiles for the roofs. The older tiles have usually turned a darker color due to exposure to the weather and the growth of lichens. From our perch above the city, we were able to look out and see how many of the roofs had been replaced. It was an impressive sight. click to view a photograph

Finishing their tour the BikeAbouters decided to satisfy the hunger that had been eating at them for the previous two hours.

After this delightful repast, they retired to their rooms to get a little work done before meeting Slaven to arrange a meeting time for the morning so that they would be able to get their bikes from the storage room of Club Otok. Once that was accomplished Ethan, Corinne and Anthony decided to stay for a drink while Padraic headed back to the sobe (see the Tech Fact of the Day) to catch up on his beauty sleep (boy does he need it). Corinne quickly befriended two women from Australia who insisted that the three BikeAbouters follow them to another club where they graciously bought the thirsty bikers their first Guinness in a long, long, long while. They talked about BikeAbout and traveling and Australia until a friend of the ladies invited the whole gang to yet another club, which was having an Easter party.

Once they arrived at the last club (somewhere along the way, they lost the two Australian women), they were quickly embraced (in Ethan's case this was quite literal) by the festive owner. The owner seemed to be quite fond of Americans and of Ethan and Anthony in particular. Arm in arm, Anthony and the owner would sing John Denver songs together (their favorite being "Country Road") much to the delight of Ethan and Corinne. Every once in a while the owner, who was about 2 meters tall (6'5") and 140 kilos (300 pounds), would give Ethan a big bear hug and kiss him on the top of his head. This man was very, very happy.

Finally, around 2:30 in the morning, the BikeAbouters called it quits and, arms laden with gifts from their new friend (Easter eggs and bread), headed for home in an attempt to get a little sleep.

Go to Previous Rider Notes PageGo to Next Rider Notes Page

Questions? Ask Anthony Go To Anthony's Page!

Return to Fast Facts

BikeAbout Itinerary & Journal Discussion Groups About Croatia eDscape Projects BikeAbout Scrapbook
Discussions About

About BikeAbout Mediterranean Journey BikeAbout Partners Resource Library

CARNetInternet access and Web hosting while in Croatia has been provided by the Croatian Academic and Research Network.

Daedalus Design Group Computer Curriculum Corporation Compaq

Copyright 1997-99 BikeAbout. All rights reserved.