While locals come to find a little peace and privacy at the hotel’s still-charming waterfront, tourists tend to find themselves drawn to its murky depths and the many secrets within.
Deep turquoise waters, roads made of pure marble and enough history to make your head spin; to many, the walled medieval city of Dubrovnik, Croatia is a paradise on Earth. Yet only a short walk from the tourist-infested Old Town lies a grotesque reminder of the seaside resort’s bloody recent history: the ruin of luxury hotel Belvedere, destroyed during the 1991-1992 Siege of Dubrovnik.
Sometimes you have to start from the end. It’s what I’m doing now as I’m finally getting around to revisiting some of the memorable places of my Great Balkan Tour of 2015, which took my sweetheart and me to Albania, Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Croatia. As you might guess, urban dereliction around these parts came plentiful – and the losses and tragedies behind it exceptionally heavy.
I’ll be honest with you: Dubrovnik is not my favorite place in the world. In fact, it may very well be my least favorite place in the world. I’d passed through the town once before for the same reason we now ended our trip there, that reason being cheap homeward flights, and both times the experience proved thoroughly unpleasant. Ridiculously overpriced, culturally hollow and just plain hostile, the Dubrovnik of today is little more than a medieval theme park intent on sucking your money.
Visiting the ruin of Hotel Belvedere, then, stands out as highlight of our too-long stint in Dubrovnik. Though certainly not part of the official tourist curriculum, it has nevertheless become a bit of an attraction on its own. While locals come to find a little peace and privacy at its still-charming waterfront – a welcome change from the noisy and overcrowded in-town beaches, I’m sure – us foreigners tend to find ourselves drawn to its murky depths and the many secrets within.
In 1991, Hotel Belvedere became a victim of a seven-month siege that grabbed the world’s attention and ultimately led to Croatia’s independence from Yugoslavia. No human casualties were recorded at the hotel, but the infrastructure of the picturesque Old Town, granted UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1979, suffered major damage from attacks by the Yugoslav People’s Army – the remaining military body of an impossible state in a permanent state of decline.
The destruction of Dubrovnik’s seaside hotels (there were several more at the nearby resort of Kupari) was quick and dirty. When foreign tourists abandoned the town following the outbreak of the Croatian War in March 1991, the hotels became refugee shelters for people fleeing from the countryside, where YPA was seizing villages one by one. This of course made them tactical targets. On 3 October and again from 9 to 12 October, YPA attacked the hotels from the sea, destroying some partially and others completely.
The siege ultimately ended in Croatian victory in May 1992. YPA, followed by loud booing from Western powers that were slowly beginning to realize the darkness and chaos that the disintegrating Yugoslavia was in the process of descending in, withdrew its troops and released the town. Quite unceremoniously, Hotel Belvedere was left to rot away.
It wasn’t until 2014, 22 years after the last shots were fired, that a Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg allegedly bought the ruin at an auction for 12 million Euros. What he plans to do with it anybody’s guess, but it does seem unlikely that the brilliantly located plot of land will stay underutilized for long now.
Recently, Belvedere received some mainstream media attention as a scene of the HBO hit series Game of Thrones filmed there. The long-awaited fight between Oberyn and the Mountain, known to have deeply traumatized many a viewer (yours truly included) when it first aired, was set in the hotel’s outdoor amphitheater overlooking the beach. Those who were able to watch the scene without covering their eyes might recognize the spot from the pictures.
So if you do find yourself in Dubrovnik and short of things to do that won’t cost you an arm and a leg, I can genuinely recommend a visit to Hotel Belvedere. It may not earn you a lot of urban exploration scene cred – plastered all over the internet, the place is hardly top secret or off-limits – but it will give you a different perspective to the pre-packaged and pre-chewed town that would no doubt rather see it gone.
If nothing else, it will at least give you some sweet views over the Adriatic Sea.
The seige of Dubrovnik, In Your Pocket – Dubrovnik
Siege of Dubrovnik, Wikipedia
Visiting movie locations: the abandoned hotel Belvedere in Dubrovnik, Brands & Films, 09/23/2014