The Great Wall of Croatia

Trip Start Jun 08, 2010
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Trip End Aug 26, 2010


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Sunday, July 11, 2010

Last night, I talked to the hotel staff and arranged a rental car for today. I knew I couldn't stand being car-less for long. I had a good reason, though. I needed to go back to Ston, the place where I'd seen the big wall running over the hill from the bus. A rental car for just one day was a little expensive, around $60 for the tiny clown car I got, but I justified it because I would probably never be so close to Ston again in my life.

The tour companies offered a Sunday excursion to Ston, but the catch was the tour then went on to Korčula. Korčula's a fine island, but I'd already been there. Also, Korčula seemed to be the focus of the trip. The one large group I saw stop at Ston was just there long enough to take pictures and maybe eat lunch. They certainly didn't get to climb on the wall. That's also the reason I didn't just take the local bus out. I wasn't sure I'd have all the time I wanted (or I'd have too much time and spend yet more hours just sitting and waiting...).

The wall at Ston ran 5.5km over a large hill, across a peninsula, connecting several small fortresses and two towns, Ston and Mali Ston. The town guidebook claimed it was the longest stone wall in Europe. As with all these things, I'm sure there's some debate. I think the use of the modifier "stone", and the fact the 5.5km it counts still exist contiguously, allow it to claim the title, though. Although it's around 40km north of Dubrovnik, the building of the wall was funded by the Republic of Ragusa. The Republic built it to protect Ragusan land purchases in the area, including the valuable nearby salt-pans (still actively producing salt today).

When I visited, many years of reconstruction had been going on, using replacements stones shaped by hand as the originals were. Sections of the wall were sometimes closed for construction, but luckily there was no work going on when I was there because it was a Sunday.

For tourism and renovation purposes, the wall was divided into three parts. The first part ran about a quarter of the way up the hill to a small "fortress" (really just a tower) overlooking Ston. Renovation of this part seemed to be essentially complete, and it made for a good, quick hike to get a feel for the wall and a decent view of the town. The second part had on-going work, with sections of the crenelation (the "teeth" pattern along the top of the wall) missing. It was also much narrower, ran halfway up the hill and went all the way from Ston to Mali Ston (I think around 2km). The third section was not open for hiking. It ran up to a fortress on the top of the hill. This section didn't seem to have anyway walkway at all. There was a Ragusan flag at the fortress, but they must have gotten there via a more conventional hike.

I started with the first section, and then spent a few minutes hanging around the entrance to the second, debating whether or not to tackle it. I figured the wall was probably a little like Mt Fuji, best admired from a distance, although people still climbed it because it was there. It was hot and sunny, as usual, and it seemed like a lot of work...

While I was thinking it over, an enthusiastic Dutch family with three small children passed by and began their ascent. That was it. I couldn't let little Eva beat me over the wall. (I think her name was Eva, either that or Eva is Dutch for something like "Slow down!", "Come Here!" or "Watch Out!") So I joined the family on the wall and quickly passed them. (It was pretty narrow, so we had to go sideways to pass.) Then they passed me going down as I stopped to take more pictures, so in the end, Eva did win. Grrr. All-in-all, I'm glad I decided to go, I got a better view of the upper structures, but if climbing stairs isn't your thing, doing just the first section would have been a perfectly adequate way to appreciate the wall.

As for the towns themselves, they were both pretty small. More like villages. Ston had more shops and seemed to be intended as the main tourist stop for the wall. It had a couple of convenience stores, and I bought a bottle of water before tackling the wall in the summer heat. Mali Ston just had a couple of relatively fancy seafood restaurants. I didn't have the appetite for anything heavy, so I had only a crepe with ice cream before returning to Ston via a flat hiking trail along the road.

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