Dubrovnik, Medieval Gem Damaged by War, Recovers

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

The damage is best seen from atop the medieval walls that have protected this remarkable city for centuries. From here, Dubrovnik's canopy of red tiled roofs betray scars invisible at street level. Lichen-covered roofs that once topped the old town's Italo-Venetian buildings are all but gone, replaced by plastic and tar paper coverings. Scaffolding envelops the cathedral; boards cover the window casements of palaces burned-out by Serbian artillery and mortar shells. But most noticeable are the bright red replacement tiles that are spreading from roof-to-roof as quickly as city officials can buy them.

After a devastating six-month siege and five years on war footing, Dubrovnik is slowly returning to normal. Tourists wander the narrow streets of the old town; Italian yachts anchor in the harbor. Shops and restaurants are reopening, and cafe umbrellas spread like mushrooms along streets and squares.

"From a commercial point of view, this tourist season doesn't mean very much. But from a psychological point of view, it has meant everything to us," says Tonko Kolendic, vice president of Atlas, a travel and hotel company here.

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But residents say they and their city will never be quite the same. At 6,000 visitors a day, tourism is still down 80 percent from before the war. "This city lives from tourism, but for five years there were no tourists," says Mayor Nikola Obuljen.

Although the Serbia-Croatia war had raged for months, the Federal Army's attack on Dubrovnik in October 1991 took everyone by surprise. An affluent tourist town of 35,000, Dubrovnik was without military value. There were neither federal Army barracks nor a threatened Serbian minority for the Army to protect - the pretexts used by Belgrade to launch attacks elsewhere in Croatia. During months of bombardment, residents hid in cellars or within the stone fortresses and guard towers that may have protected some of their ancestors.

Mayor Obuljen says the town's revival stems from the Dayton peace accords. "Before Dayton, the Bosnian Serbs were close enough to be able to disrupt the tourist industry each summer with a few well-placed explosions. Every Easter, they'd send two to three grenades into our airport, and that would be the end of tourist season." The accords required Serb weapons to withdraw out of range of the city, which is tucked between the Adriatic Sea, Serb-controlled Bosnia, and Montenegro, a province of Serb-dominated Yugoslavia.

The American Association of Travel Agents has raised about $300,000 for repair of old-town roofs, and American Express is helping repair building facades. But much more money will be needed. Damage to old-town historic monuments may cost $100 million to repair, including basic infrastructure. For the city as a whole - including severely damaged suburbs and outlying areas - the mayor's office sees a $2.6 billion price tag.

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