“It’s something you really have to see” is one of those redundant phrases often thrown at would be travelers. The phrase usually denotes some site that is so incredible or otherworldly that it ends up as a “must see.” These places have become part and parcel of “bucket lists” a pop culture phrase for places you have to see before you die. I have been to plenty of these sites, sometimes because they were so called “must-sees” and sometimes out of curiosity. In many cases I’m glad I saw these places, but I could care less whether I ever see them again.
The Eiffel Tower As A Non-Impression
For instance, the Eiffel Tower is a legendary “must see” but that’s not why I went to Paris, far from it. Nonetheless, since I was already in Paris, I felt compelled to go walk around the world renowned monument. I decided not to go up in it, the tower is not all that tall and the view, while probably impressive, did not seem worth the bother or expense. I can’t say I’m better or worse off for my Eiffel Tower experience. It did not change my life. It did not alter my opinion of Paris or France for that matter. It’s just something I have done and probably will never do again. The Eiffel Tower left me not with a lasting impression, but instead with a single phrase, “I’ve seen it.” Now I am able to definitively say “I was in Paris!” and people I do not care about will believe me. Does this really matter, only if I’m looking to impress social gatherings or co-workers with what might be defined by polite society as a higher level of sophistication?
Dubrovnik – Historical Beauty & Historical Novelty
There are some must-sees though, that have attained their status not by virtue of popular exaltation, but because they hold an intrinsic value that speaks across the ages. And that brings me to Dubrovnik that famed walled medieval city. Set astride the craggy coastline of southern Croatia, scenically buffeted by the bright blue, sun kissed Adriatic Sea. The city has become increasingly popular. It has been given a permanent place on “bucket lists.” With Croatia’s recent entry into the European Union its popularity is likely to grow even more in the years to come. Dubrovnik is truly a must see, not to check it off any list and certainly not to impress your social circle (especially in the United States where hardly anyone is even aware of its existence).
Dubrovnik should be seen because it is a stunning example of a walled medieval city in relatively pristine shape. The seascape which surrounds it only adds to the aesthetics, stirring the imagination in a manner that only sea, sky and stone can do. It becomes quite apparent to the visitor that Dubrovnik is unique, in the same way that Venice is unique. The city is a historical novelty, both representative and one of a kind, representative in the quality and design of its medieval architecture, one of a kind in the way its structural landscape is integrated with the natural landscape.
Besides its astonishing location, what makes Dubrovnik so special? From a historical standpoint it is the city’s ability to survive. Dubrovnik has survived the ravages of time, nature, war, invaders, republics, empires and nation states. It represents the defiance of fate, as much as it does its own history. Unfortunately, we will never see the many medieval towns that once dotted Europe, in among other places Croatia. They have been bombed, split asunder by earthquakes, fallen into decay, crumbled into ruin and finally, mercifully disintegrated into oblivion.
Perhaps we should look upon Dubrovnik for the real miracle it performs before our very eyes, the miracle of its continued existence. And by its very existence, this singular example acts as a magnificent counterpoint to all that has been lost. There was much, much more of this architecture, this style, this history at one time. Perhaps it was not quite the same, but brilliant in its own way. This past, if discernible at all, is largely composed of ruins. Dubrovnik gives us the power to conceptualize all that we have lost, that which no longer exists and never will so again. This walled city, in resplendent stone seems to be saying, “You must remember this.” History here is an impossible image that can finally be glimpsed, if only for a moment. Dubrovnik allows that glimpse, this is why it is truly a must-see.