Saturday, August 6, 2011

Part 16

Saturday, July 23

After breakfast, we went down to the Sugar & Spice café for our morning coffee. We then headed over to the fruit market.

Except this was much more than just a fruit market. In addition to the produce vendors, the Luža square was full of people at tables selling all sorts of handicrafts. Lace and embroidery seemed to be the most popular items. But we had only come for some fruit; still, there’s no harm in looking at the things out for sale. In the end we only bought some nectarines and plums and made our way back to the apartment to drop those things off.

Today we were exploring the “other” side of old Dubrovnik ... the part between the Stradun and the mainland part of the new city. We started by heading to the Dominican Monastery. Portions of the original monastery date back to the early 14th century and portions of its walls are actually incorporated into the city wall; a large bell tower rises above. Easily the most beautiful part of the complex was the central cloister. After passing through the dark entryway this courtyard opens up like some kind of dream with palm and orange trees. In the centre of the garden is a well dating from the 14th century. During the Siege of Dubrovnik in 1991/92, this well provided water to half the city’s remaining population.

One of the doors off the cloister leads to a small museum containing reliquaries and other works of art. And although much of the original art was destroyed during the earthquake, there is still the beautiful “Mary Magdalene with Sts. Raphael, Blaise and Tobias” painting by Titian. But as with many of the other works of art that we’ve seen, definitely in need of a good cleaning or restoration.

The monastery’s chapel was undergoing restoration but I managed to go in anyway and spend a few minutes looking at the stained glass up in behind the altar ... before one of the attendants came and told me that I had to leave. The well-to-do residents of Dubrovnik attended services here; the Franciscan mission at the far end of the Stradun (near the Pile gate) was where the lower classes worshipped. We heard that the services at the Franciscan church were scheduled to start 15 minutes after the start of service at the Dominican church ... to give servants the opportunity to drop off their masters and hustle up the Stradun to be in time.

After we left the monastery we worked our way up, up, up and up some more to Peline ... running just below the city’s north wall. Every time we came to another “street” we’d look back down the vertigo-inducing stairways. I understand how a place like Costco would have a hard time catching on here ... how on earth you would ever be able to lug some of those jumbo-sized packages up here. Well, maybe the 36-roll packages of toilet paper.

I mentioned the religious tolerance of Dubrovnik and so it was no surprise to find that the city has a small “Jewish Quarter”. Well, actually more of a laneway than anything else – Žudioska ulica.

The year 1492 was momentous in Spain. Under contract to the King and Queen, Columbus sailed west to the Americas ... the Treaty of Granada concluded the “Reconquista” ... and the Alhambra Decree ordered the expulsion of the Jewish population. Many Jews – fleeing the ensuing religious persecution wound up in Dubrovnik; stayed and gathered on Žudioska ulica. The street runs perpendicular to the Stradun and continues up to the wall. Closed off by the wall at one end, the Stradun end had a gate that was locked at night. The small synagogue is the second-oldest in Europe and has a small museum. In addition to a number of ceremonial Torahs, the museum displays some articles from the Second World War.

During the Second World War Croatia was under the control of a highly-nationalist group known as the Ustaše. Installed as a puppet regime by the Nazis, the Ustaše promoted a racially “pure” Croatia and engaged in persecution and genocide against Jews, Romani (a.k.a. “Gypsies”) and Serbs. Like their Nazi masters, the Ustaše issued orders commanding Jews to wear armbands and identify their shops as “Jewish-owned”. Strangely, the museum is silent on the human toll extracted by the Ustaše: 20,000 Croatian Jews killed. Now, only about a dozen Jewish families remain in Dubrovnik.

The Ustaše did not, however, persecute Muslims. Although they were fanatically Catholic, which in the political context identified Catholicism with Croatian nationalism, they actually declared both Catholic and Muslim faiths as the religions of the Croatian people. We found the local mosque on the map and went to visit (since we had read that it was an “open” mosque) but when we got there, we found that it was “closed” for the balance of the day.

During our wanders we'd bought a couple of things, and came back by the apartment to drop them off. Just in time too, because as we were about to head out for lunch, a thunderstorm blew through with quite a bit of rain. Since the polished marble streets are not the best place to be when it rains we decided to wait it out.

After the rain stopped, we went back out and had pasta for lunch in yet another little restaurant in yet another narrow alleyway.

After lunch, we continued our explorations of the “other side” of the city. Just inside the Pile Gate is Franjevački Samostan Muzej ... the Franciscan Monastery Museum. As at the Franciscan Monastery at the other end of the Stradun, the monastery surrounds a beautiful central cloister with palm and grapefruit trees. In one corner of the cloister is the Franciscan pharmacy. The pharmacy was opened in 1317 and has been in continual operation since then. Of course, this is not the “original” room ... rebuilt after the earthquake, there were quite a few (obviously) newer stones used for repairs after the siege.

One thing that struck me about both the Dominican and Franciscan monasteries – as well as the Jesuit church – was how "unprotected" the art is. In most of the other churches in which we’ve been, the visitors are kept well back from the art. Here, it was (in many cases) possible to get up so close that it was possible to examine the brushstrokes. There were no restrictions on the use of flash” photography. As peace returns and tourism increases, I’m not sure how long they can allow this type of access to continue. Already, it appeared to me, many of the artworks were not in as good a condition as they could or should have been. Perhaps now the money for restoration and maintenance (and access control) will begin to flow ... but until then, there are incredible opportunities to get up close.

There still remained many, many more things to see (and do) in Dubrovnik ... the Tvrđava Lovrijenac (St. Lawrence Fort) is just outside the city’s walls – at the Pile Gate – and is not only Dubrovnik’s oldest fort, but also the venue for many of the concerts in the Dubrovnik Summer Festival series. We also didn’t get a chance to hike up to Mount Srđ (the large hill overlooking the city) to take a look at the Napoleonic- era fort. (Stick to the trails because there are still land mines and unexploded ordinance on the hillside.) A bit more time and/or a bit more aggressive touring schedule would also have given us the time to visit one (or more) of the beaches in the area. All good reasons to come back for another visit.

As it was, it was getting late in the afternoon, so it was time to head back to start getting ready to go out for supper.

Based on recommendations from we’d made reservations at the “Dubrovnik” restaurant. The restaurant's terrace was on the roof of a building – surrounded by other buildings with apartments. I had sea bass baked in a salt crust and Marg had scampi. When the sea bass arrived, it looked like this big lump of salt. The waiter carefully broke off pieces of the salt crust ... one of the medium-sized pieces was placed on the plate. He then removed the head and tail of the fish and placed those on opposite sides of the plate. Finally, he carefully separated the meat from the bones and placed that on the plate between the head and tail. The end result was the appearance of a complete (obviously fresh) fish on the plate without (nearly without) any of the bones. It was quite the production to watch. The food was great and the price was (for Dubrovnik) very reasonable.

Earlier in the day we’d picked up a couple of cake slices from Sugar & Spice; so we went back to the apartment for dessert.

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