Dubrovnik, Zagreb, Belgrade and Ljubljana – Wonderful Cities in Former Yugoslavia!
Soon after the end of World War I (1914-1918), three communities of people in Central and Eastern Europe – the Slovenes, Croats and Serbs – joined to form a united kingdom under King Peter of Serbia. In 1929, this group of states was renamed as the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. After World War II, yet another historic change came along and with it, there was an end to the monarchy! On 29th November 1945, Yugoslavia was declared as the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Yet again, in 1989, after the break-up of the USSR, the country was divided into many smaller nations – Serbia, Croatia and Slovakia among them. Each of these countries has its own charm, its own beautiful, historic cities and natural wonders which offer a memorable holiday to visitors!
By Vimla Patil
My first unforgettable impression of the beautiful land of the earlier Yugoslavia and today’s Croatia is that of my plane landing gently on a beautifully-laid tarmac among the undulating hills of Dubrovnik. As the plane cruised downwards, the ramparts of the old city, the glittering bridges over silvery rivers, the grand buildings in Greek and Venetian architecture, the impressive churches and most important, the verdant wooded forests set like green jewels in the cityscape came in view one after the other. The sweeping view of this city – one of the most beautiful in the world – with its towers, bridges, wooded spaces and old-world European architecture buildings, bridges and churches has remained imprinted on my mind.
A city with a colourful history, Dubrovnik was an important medieval trading post with links to several African ports, Venice and surprisingly, Goa! Over the centuries, the city has had several names – from Laus to Raus and then to Ragusa! Finally, with the marshlands being filled, the modern city of Dubrovnik was established. Strangely, the word Dubrovnik has a poetic connotation! Dub in the Croatian language means an oak tree, perhaps suggesting that the city was a verdant oak forest in eras gone by. Dubrovnik today is a mix of Greek, Italian and East European cultures and its old town, chosen as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, was built in the 13th century. Its ancient Byzantian Empire look is the most attractive feature for visitors. Miraculously, this old part of the city remains largely unchanged. As I toured through the city, I found that the ramparts built around the old town with two entrances is a favourite haunt for millions of visitors in the summer when Dubrovnik puts on a festive air with citizens dancing, singing and gathering in the open spaces and around the wonderful music halls, museums and art galleries. Dubrovnik is Croatia’s prominent art centre with year-round performances by the Western world’s famous artists. It is no wonder that the great British writer George Bernard Shaw was mesmerized by this beautiful city. He said, “Those who seek a paradise on earth should come to Dubrovnik to enjoy the beauty of this “Pearl of the Adriatic Sea”.
The next city I visited in Yugoslavia, now in Croatia, is Zagreb, known as the industrial capital of the country. Situated on the Sava River, Zagreb is set amidst the Medvednica Hills which means its climate remains cool throughout the summers. With a beautiful climate and many connections through the Adriatic Sea to Central Europe, Zagreb enjoys a strong economic position. It has several important industries, scientific research institutions as well as all Government Offices of Croatia as this is the capital of the new state. Zagreb, which was Yugoslavia’s industrial hub, is the capital of Croatia today. The city has beautiful medieval buildings including churches, highways which allow quick and comfortable traffic and worth-seeing music halls and public buildings that left a deep impression on my mind. Just wandering through the city, gazing at the buildings, was a novel experience for me. Zagreb is also home to many international commercial fairs and exhibitions and has large grounds designed for this purpose. In fact my visit to this city was to participate in one such international textile fair which brought designers from all European and Asian countries to this beautiful city with fabulous restaurants, entertainment centres and shopping malls.
There are several intriguing stories about the city’s name. One says it originated in 1094 from the term ‘za breg’ which means “beyond the hill” which was presumed to be on the banks of the River Sava, which is believed to have previously flowed closer to the city centre. According to another legend, an ancient ruler of the city was thirsty and ordered a girl named Manda to bring water from the Lake Manduševac (which is today the name of a fountain), using the words “Zagrabi, Mando!” which means, Scoop it, Manda! A third unlikely story says that the name Zagreb is believed to originate from the name of the Zargos Mountain in Iran!
However, the most beautiful city I visited – again in connection with an international textile show in Yugoslavia (now the capital of Serbia) was Belgrade or Beograd. By its very name, Belgrade is beautiful. Its lovely tree-lined roads, its beautiful old buildings, superb restaurants and above all, its shops full of the world’s best crystal-ware are sights I will never forget. Also, Belgrade, the old capital of Yugoslavia, is extremely friendly to Indian visitors as it was the seat of power for President Josip Broz Tito, a great admirer of Pandit Nehru and a member of the Non-Aligned Nation Group of three nations, namely Egypt, India and Yugoslavia. He is known as the chief architect of the ‘Second Yugoslavia’, a socialist nation that lasted from World War II until 1991.
Belgrade is a shopper’s paradise with fashion and jewellery from all European countries. Its indigenous crystal-ware and chandeliers are bought by the rich and famous of the world. The city has great music festivals, industrial conclaves and museum shows which I saw with great enthusiasm. Simultaneously with my visit, the World Bank was holding a meeting of international bankers in Belgrade and the city had put on a festive air to welcome them. Belgrade also offers cruises down the River Danube and fishing is a leisurely joy for those who love to sit by the riverside to watch the world go by! Every night the city is lit up with myriad lights, giving Belgrade the name “The White City” with its illuminations! It is a city that welcomes visitors in a thousand lovely ways!
The last city I visited in the old Yugoslavia is Ljubljana, now the capital of the state of Slovakia. Visiting the ice caves of this city is the world’s most unique experience and no one going to Eastern Europe should miss it! I was extremely fortunate to find a weekend to travel to this busy city to spend a day inside the huge natural-formed caves in which the stalactites and stalagmites form the most incredible shapes to showcase nature’s wonders!
Ljubljana is the largest city and capital of Slovenia and is named after the regal eagle of that name. The bird remains the emblem for the city. For centuries it has been the centre of culture, art, research institutions and surprisingly, the best hot chocolate in the world!
Arriving in this city after a few-hour car ride from Zagreb, I reached the entrance of the caves with such excitement that I forgot to bring a heavy shawl to remain warm in the icy caverns! However, I could loan one from the helpful officials at the entrance. After standing in a long queue, I got onto the tiny train that goes through the caves at a slow speed giving me every opportunity to gaze with incredible wonder at the fabulous ‘natural sculptures’ formed by icicles in every part of the miles-long caves. Known as the Karst Caves, this ice-age wonder is one of world’s finest visions. Though numbering nearly 8000, only 25 of them are ‘on show’ and open to visitors. The train passed through these wonderful caves one after the other, with ice forming natural sculptures of the Madonna and her Infant Jesus, angels, chandeliers and other objects of beauty. In the centre of the caves was a huge hall, formed naturally by the cavernous insides of the mountain, where refreshments and rest was available before leaving the caves. I returned from the caves, never to forget that Nature can create unsurpassable visuals, beating every human effort. The opportunity I got to gaze with wonder at the fabulous ‘natural sculptures’ formed by icicles in every part of the miles-long cave is a miracle of my life – never to be forgotten!
Today, after Yugoslavia was divided into many nations, the attractions of the countries have acquired more significance with both European and Asian visitors choosing the three beautiful cities as preferred destinations to experience the old-world charm and the modern industrial buzz which exist side-by-side in this beautiful part of the world!
Did you know?
Stalactites and stalagmites are formed by deposits of minerals which line the insides of a cave. Stalactites are the formations that hang from the ceilings of caves with icicles, while stalagmites emerge from the ground. Some take thousands of years to form, while others can grow quickly. In the Ljubljana caves, ice stalagmites and stalactites have been forming for thousands of years with icicles mixing with minerals to form the most interesting shapes which look like sculptures designed by experts. There is a Madonna, various animals and human figures as well as many other shapes that fascinate viewers. In India, the Amarnath Shivling, which is visited by lakhs of people each year, is also considered to be made of icicles in a cave in the Kashmir Himalayas near Pahelgam. This Shivling is a natural ice stalagmite that is seen to wax from July to September (in the holy month of Shravan) and wane thereafter. It is believed that Shiva revealed the secret of immortality to his wife Parvati in this cave. The Shivling, which has been forming naturally for thousands of years, is considered the holy abode of Shiva.
Museums to visit while in Dubrovnik, Croatia
Dubrovnik is located in the south of Croatia and it is a very popular tourist destination for many reasons. Its opalescent beauty welcomes you in with a wonderful warmth and you will not want to go anywhere without a camera. As well as the spectacular scenery, Dubrovnik holds a wealth of culture and interesting history. This includes a great many museums that are all very varied and provide great ways to find out more about the history of the area.
The Dubrovnik Natural History Museum features preserved animals including a great many birds and small mammals. This makes for a fun day out with the family, or as an alternative activity to your usual one of reading a novel or playing Czech PartyPoker. With free entry, how could you not want to enter into this place of wonders and get your fill of the natural world as it once was.
It is 20kn to visit Bukovac House, a museum that features works by one of the most famous Croatian painters of the modern day. It used to be the residence of artist Vlaho Bukovac, who lived from 1855-1922, and it was turned into a cultural monument in 1969. As well as showcasing his work, the museum also includes an area where it displays the work of young artists. It is very refreshing to see this, as the talents of the youth are being recognised and they are being given an encouraging reason to persevere with their artistic creations.
The Franciscan Monastery Museum houses valuable works of art within a spectacular Romanesque-Gothic cloister. It is a particularly ornate building, with numerous columns and 12 huge pilasters. There is a fountain with the statue of St Francis and contained within the walls of the building are many artefacts including well-preserved pharmacy furniture. There are many other museums that are well worth a visit in Dubrovnik so if you are planning a visit, then get ready to enjoy exploring and finding out more about the city.
_______________________________________________________________________________Tagged with: Travel • Yugoslavia
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