Culture & Art 26.12.2019

“Kupjerta” – Red roofs of the Old Town

The distinctive red roof tiles of the Old Town are sure to catch your eye, particularly from the vantage point of the city walls. From the viewpoint on the ramparts, the harmonious architecture of Dubrovnik is distinct; every single building in the old city is topped with clay roof tiles, red and honey rooftops that glitter in contrast with the turquoise sea.

This architectural harmony dates back all the way to the municipal building codes established in 1272.

Despite changing architectural trends, major earthquakes, wars and most of all, time, the streets, houses, and churches are much the same as they were centuries ago – built of strong limestone with the same terracotta and light red roofing tiles.

The medieval building codes applied to all. Especially during the rebuilding following the great earthquake of 1667, aristocratic residences and most public buildings were unadorned, and other important buildings were rendered impressive through composition and not size, thus creating a compelling whole of architectural harmony.

“kupe kanalice”

These distinctive roof tiles are known as “kupe kanalice”. They were hand-manufactured in Kupari, a small village just outside Dubrovnik, up until 1925.

Their shape was moulded by stretching wet clay over the worker’s upper thigh, and later dried in the oven. This meant that they varied slightly in width, but the length mostly remained the same – 465 mm (18.30 inches).

The average life span of a terracotta-tiled roof is about one hundred years

but it varies depending on exposure to the sun, wind and water. As a result, over time the weather creates a gorgeous patchwork of colours and shades.


In case of Dubrovnik, the patchwork of roofs has been greatly influenced by the bombing damage

inflicted during the Homeland War of 1991 and 1992. In all, 382 residential structures and 29 public buildings were damaged. This represented 86 percent of the area within the city walls.

After the armed conflict, the city of Dubrovnik was the focus of a major restoration programme coordinated by UNESCO. During the restoration process, finding a similar colour of the famed red rooftops was a difficult task, which lead Dubrovnik Conservation office all the way to terra cotta factories of Toulouse, France.

Today, glittering in the sunlight, these distinctive tiles remain one of the most memorable features of Dubrovnik Old town, especially photogenic in the early mornings. 


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