O beautiful, o beloved, o sweet freedom, God has given us all the treasures in you,
You are the true source of all our glory, you are the only decoration of this Dubrava.
All silver, all gold, all human lives cannot repay your pure beauty!

Ivan Gundulic

There are very good reasons for calling Dubrovnik the ‘pearl of the Adriatic’. The gentle sweep of the mountains, the curvature of the bay and the sporadic islands guarding the approach to harbour give the old city the appearance of a pearl resting in the palm of an oyster shell. Tinged with a golden glow, the terracotta roofs and cathedral domes look infinitely peaceful. As in Ivan Gundulic’s day, Croatians breathe sweet freedom, and now look forward to coming under the European umbrella. Business is booming.

Dubrovnik was, until recently, full of Italian tourists. The decline of the Euro has led to a shortfall readily made up for by a huge increase in English interest and enthusiasm. And for several years now, the English have been discovering the excellent seafood, idyllic weather and architectural richness of Croatia’s loveliest city.

Tragically, it was not always so. Dubrovnik does not shirk the fact that it was shelled disastrously in the early 1990s. Indeed, the martyrdom of the two hundred defenders of the City killed by Serbian aggression over Christmas 1991 and the photographic tradition which made the wars resulting from the break up of Yugoslavia so searing has left its mark. Even monuments to a distant past – the days when the City State of Dubrovnik exercised independence within the Venetian Empire – contain exhibitions on the lock down forced on the City and the days when up to six hundred mortars would fall on the densely-packed houses.

War has left its mark on tourism, on history, and on art. There is no escape. Fortunately, however, it is not overpowering and Dubrovnik has rebuilt itself with sturdy determination and discrete expertise. Nightclubs and restaurants focus only on providing a good time for their punters and the tourists in turn revel in the atmosphere.

Forgiveness and forgetfulness have played their part in this happy turn in history. Had former President Franjo Tudjman lived into the third millennium of the common era, questions would have been asked of his complicity in the carving up of Bosnia and his abuse of human rights. Perhaps he would have seen the inside of the Hague, like Milosevic and Mladic and the negative publicity would have retarded Croatia’s development. Henry Kissinger might even have suffered for his obsequiousness towards Tudjman, although the odds are less positive.

As it stands, Croatia has had a free run and has taken full advantage. As talks with the EU progressed, Dubrovnik itself became more cosmopolitan. Bosnian restaurants popped up and the City continued to shelter Catholics, Orthodox, Muslims and Jews, the latter having first arrived from Spain at the time of the Inquisition. In an age short of European success stories, that is not something to begrudge. Nonetheless, after the failures of the 1990s, a Europe that fails to reach out to Muslim countries like Turkey and Bosnia is abrogating its right to preach.

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