During an eight-month siege which ended in the summer of 1992, the Dubrovnik monument complex was attacked on several occasions. The most disastrous attack took place on St Nicholas Day, 6 December 1991. Already at that time, while the palaces and houses were burning and the centuries-old heritage was being destroyed, the residents and both local and government authorities were convinced that Dubrovnik would be restored. This is a brief review on what happened with the Dubrovnik monument complex and on the restoration of Dubrovnik after the war.
Dubrovnik is situated in Croatia's most dangerous earthquake zone. Particularly vulnerable to earthquake is the central area of Dubrovnik monument complex located between the cliffs of historical isle of Laus and the slopes of Mount Srđ. The total area of Dubrovnik monument complex is only 13,38 ha, including 824 buildings, the majority of which lie in the most vulnerable zone. The seismic micro-regionalization shows the intensity level of the expected earthquakes to be from 7,5 to 10 according to the MSC scale.
1979 was the year when Dubrovnik was recognised worldwide owing to UNESCO's decision to include the Dubrovnik monument complex in the world heritage list. This year also warned us of the existence of earthquake, nature's biggest enemy. The earthquake of 1979 reminded us of the biggest destruction of Dubrovnik ever – the one caused by the earthquake of 1667. The Dubrovnik Restoration Programme, including the expert- and organisation-wise most extensive action dedicated to the repair of damage and the prevention of earthquake consequences in the future, was launched then. The symbol of that programme was the activity of the Institute for the Restoration of Dubrovnik, the foundation of which aimed at the post-earthquake restoration, as well as the prevention including the reinforcement of buildings within the Dubrovnik monument complex in order to minimise the damage caused by some other earthquake in the future.
When the war started, the largest parts of the restoration and aseismic improvement were completed, while the revitalization projects were about to commence. In spite of the aggression of the Yugoslav National Army and the Chetnik formations all over Croatia, we somehow believed that Dubrovnik would be spared. Our illusions were dispelled already in the late summer of 1990. The destruction of the heritage of Konavle, Primorje, Župa Dubrovačka and Pelješac was an introduction to the devastation of the Dubrovnik monument complex.
The attack on the strategically insignificant monument complex, which had been marked in accordance with the international law and which provided no reason or cause for military action, shocked the people of Dubrovnik as well as the national and international public.
The chart shows all shell hits that the Dubrovnik monument complex received, which the Dubrovnik conservators recorded together with the UNESCO representatives who stayed in Dubrovnik during the siege. They include more than two thousand mines, shells and missiles that hit the buildings within the Dubrovnik monument complex. 68,33 per cent of all buildings were damaged, including eight completely burned down palaces. The roofs of the residential and public buildings were damaged, and so were the churches, monasteries, city walls, streets and squares.
The damage and restoration review was systematized according to the priorities, which were determined by the Institute for the Restoration of Dubrovnik - in accordance with the opinion of the Expert Advisory Committee for the Restoration of Dubrovnik - and approved by the proper conservatory office.
The buildings destroyed by fire were given first priority during the restoration. Its major principle (this also referred to all other buildings within the Dubrovnik monument complex) was to conserve everything that was possible up to a maximum degree (minimal intervention) employing the original materials in the traditional way.
Sacral buildings of all types (Catholic churches and monasteries, the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Synagogue) were destroyed by shells, particularly the oldest among them, the Franciscan Monastery from 1317, which had managed to survive earthquakes, wars and ravages of time for almost seven centuries.
Everything that could serve as a target was destroyed, including the streets, fountains, steps, city walls and statues of St Blaise. The people of Dubrovnik were deeply saddened because of the destruction of the main street Placa (Stradun) which they - as well as the visitors - experienced as the City's drawing room. Placa alone had 52 hits altogether, which at the same time heavily damaged the facade walls.
The roof damages, which were the most numerous, destroyed the idyllic image of the so called fifth façade wall of the City. The restoration of roofs coincided with the restoration of stone elements such as gutters, installations and ornamental sculpture. A local factory (the present-day Tondach of Bedekovčina) designed and produced exclusively for the restoration of Dubrovnik two types of roof tiles - each in two nuances - whose shape and colour are the imitations of roof tiles manufactured in the medieval Dubrovnik.
The entire postwar restoration of Dubrovnik programme amounted to 80.000.000 US $, of which 50.000.000 US $ were secured by the Republic of Croatia through the Ministry of Culture, while the remaining amount was provided by other Ministries, the Dubrovnik-Neretva County, the City of Dubrovnik, UNESCO and by donors.
Author: Vjekoslav Vierda, M.S., Director of the Institute for the Restoration of Dubrovnik from 1994-2007
Bibliography: UNESCO and the Institute for the Restoration of Dubrovnik materials