When people imagine history, they have these different images in the back of their minds. Images set there by paintings and movies they saw. People visualize medieval history as high castles, fair princesses, and knights in shiny armor.
When people check out Dubrovnik as a travel destionation they see a picture of Old Town, surrounded by high walls. They subconsciously connect it with castles. Well, it's much more than that.
This may be semantics, I know, but let's see why there is no castle in Dubrovnik.
What is a castle anyway?
According to Wikipedia...
Is Dubrovnik Old Town a castle?
If we compare the look of Dubrovnik to the definition set by historical scholars, then no, Dubrovnik is not a castle.
Dubrovnik was a city republic fortified with defensive walls. It may look small now, but back in the day at the height of its power, the city was quite big.
At the time, Dubrovnik was a republic with no king or queen. Dubrovnik's population did divide into nobility and common people. Unlike kingdoms, the nobility did not have too much power. There was no threat of rebellious peasants trying to overthrow them. They didn't need to hole themselves into castles; thus, they didn't build any.
There was no need to.
What they did build were forts and walls around the whole city. Within them, inside the old castle Dubrovnik interior were streets with trader and craftsman shops, commoners' houses, nobility palaces, and churches.
Baroque is the style of architecture that is prevalent inside the city walls. The reason is the catastrophic earthquake that struck in 1667. Many Gothic and Renaissance works of art and architecture were destroyed.
The great thing about Dubrovnik Old Town is how well preserved this 'castle' stayed throughout history. Seeing the buildings as they were at that time is the main reason people travel to Dubrovnik today.
Dubrovnik castle walls
Ragusa, as Dubrovnik was known, was ruled by elected Rectors and did not erect statues or palaces to kings, queens, or princes.
Instead, over 450 years, they built miles of fortifications and a prosperous city-state within them.
They were built around the Old Town of Dubrovnik to protect the city from enemy armies, pirates, trade competitors, and other undesirable visitors. The walls encircle it from land and sea, almost 2 kilometers in length.
Walls were built over a long period - from the 12th to 17th century. The city had palisades even before the ones we see today, so some parts of the Dubrovnik Walls are almost 900 years old.
As the siege equipment evolved, so did the architecture of defensive walls. Over time city officials ordered the addition of towers, large and small bastions, angular fortifications, casemates, forts, and a moat to the walls.
Five forts were crucial for the defense. Three fortresses were within walls: Minčeta, Bokar, and St. John. In addition, two were detached forts; Revelin and Lovrijenac.
The city walls are the main attraction that over a million people visit each year. It's pretty much THE thing to do when visiting the city. Unmissable.
When you are already up there, walking the walls, consider learning a bit about these fabulous remnants of history. The story of how the tiny Dubrovnik managed to survive over many centuries, surrounded by huge empires, is fascinating.
I recommend joining one of the Dubrovnik castle walls tours. It would be a shame to visit the city and skip on the interesting tales and legends that got this city to where it is today.
When I went on a castle walls walking tour, I was fortunate to have a hilarious tour guide. It was an engaging but also funny 2 hours that just flew by.
Is Lovrijenac the Dubrovnik castle?
Often, travelers in Old Town see Lovrijenac perched on a rock 37 meters above sea level outside of the western city walls overlooking Old Town and assume it is a Dubrovnik castle.
Lovrijenac is a fort, not a castle. However, its unusual triangular shape, which corresponds to the form of the large rock it stands, looks menacing like a castle would.
Three terraces surround a courtyard featuring parapets, with the broadest one looking south towards the sea. Nearly 12 meters thick is the wall facing the sea. Large cannons whose replicas you can find there today were positioned to defend Lovrijenac.
To ensure the loyalty of troops and their commander stationed in St. Lawrence Fortress, they rotated them every 30 days. Their only rations during their stay in the fort were only sufficient for 30 days.
Looking back at the historians' definition of a castle, since it had a purely defensive purpose and no nobility lived there, we see it does not fit the description.
Dubrovnik as a Game of Thrones castle
Dubrovnik Old Town is also misguidedly considered to be a castle by many Game of Thrones fans. Game of Thrones, which aired from 2011 to 2019, still attracts a wide and active fan base years after the show has ended.
The big star of the series was Dubrovnik. Surrounded by mighty walls, intoxicated by eternal summer and the turquoise Adriatic Sea, Dubrovnik played the role of a city of intrigue and desire for rule and power for seven full seasons.
There was hardly a better backdrop to act as King's Landing, the capital of the Seven Kingdoms, than Dubrovnik.
Fans can visit the staircase of the Great Brotherhood of Baelor, which Cersei Lannister used to take the "walk of shame" through the streets of King's Landing castle. Lovrijenac Fort was the setting to film the Red Keep scenes, the seat of the king of the Andals and the First Men.
Do you remember the legendary Battle of the Blackwater bay? The place where Stannis Baratheon's powerful fleet was overrun, well, it was filmed on Šulić Beach at the foot of the Old Town walls.
Did you know that at Minceta Fort, you can walk like Daenerys Targaryen when she was looking for her lost dragons in the House of the Undying? This location and 15 others were used to film Game of Thrones TV show.
If you loved the show I recommend you join a Game of Thrones castle tour I went with. I had an amazing time during the excursion.
There are no proper castles in Dubrovnik. At least not the ones you see in the traditional sense, like Edinburgh Castle in Edinburgh, Scotland or Neuschwanstein Castle in Schwangau, Germany.
What Dubrovnik does have is a historical center surrounded by city walls lined with forts and keeps, perfectly preserved. Most other European cities tore down their walls when defensive walls got outdated with the invention of big cannons. The main reason was to have more space for building construction. Something Dubrovnik officials did not do.
And we are all very happy they didn't, as we can now walk along these amazing leftovers of centuries gone by.