Culture & Art
Hidden gardens inside the city walls
GUEST BLOGGER STORY
Mrs. Pave Brailo takes us inside the cloister garden of the Friars Minor monastery, on a special wine tour of the oldest Old Town garden.
Whichever entrance to the city walls you choose, a counter clockwise walking direction should be respected. Your eyes will be watching with amusement all those picturesque rooftops, many types of chimneys, small gabled windows in attics, weathervanes, flowers, clotheslines, gardens...
However, the largest cultivated, terraced land plots become visible as you lean against the northern wall in front of St Barbara Tower, the first quadrangular tower east of Minčeta Fortress (15th c.). What a place to unwind and enjoy the most beautiful, breathtaking view of the walled city of Dubrovnik, its surrounding neighbourhoods and the open sea from the top level of mighty Minčeta with its bulging battlements! Descending several steep flights of steps from the Upper Corner Tower towards St Francis Tower, you will see the gardens of the Franciscan monastery on your left. There is an orchard on the uppermost terrace, a 15th century Renaissance upper cloister with a small garden in the middle and a lower Romanesque cloister garden laid out in 14th century style. The monastery has been guarding the western entrance into the city ever since.
It was from 2000 until 2006 that a very young friar named Damir Cvitić joined his brothers in the monastery and started tending gardens, and cultivating medicinal plants and aromatic herbs. He also kept some animals, but only tortoises remain today. Many fruit trees were damaged by shells during the Homeland War and almost all of them died. Friar Damir obtained seedlings and carefully replaced many plants.
He planted both white and red grapevines alongside the damaged pergola. Their growth required props which were in accordance with tradition of Dubrovnik gardens.
The pergola is a special garden element composed and laid out to provide shelter over its access path as well as spots for resting and meeting in the garden after work. Such elevated grapevine cultivation was useful from the production point of view. Individual vine varieties were allowed to creep with their stems and sprouts all over the trellis to allow bigger and better grape yields.
The elegant Gothic octagonal columns which urgently needed repair were badly damaged. The missing parts or those columns broken to pieces were replaced by pieces saved from the pergola, which used to be located on the upper terrace. Both are visible on the Austrian map from 1837.The restored pergola was replaced in its entirety in 2009 with twelve eight-sided columns on each side, supporting the wooden trellis offering a lovely 50-metre walking path and a sitting area in the shade of overhanging grapevine leaves.
It was in 2009 that sweet, juicy grapes were harvested in the old city for the first time. What a source of pride for the Friars Minor (OFM) and their head monk friar Stipe Nosić!
Nowadays, more than five years after friar Damir passed away at the age of 41, the fruit trees in his orchard bear fruit: lemons, peaches, oranges, tangerines, plums, quince, grapes, figs, kiwi, and Seville oranges. He planted a vegetable garden as well as lilacs. A peach tree on the highest level is particularly interesting. The tree is always partly in blossom as its topmost branches and other overhanging parts bear fruit and ripen one after another. Thus friars are blessed with fresh fruit during different seasons of the year.
While friar Damir's garden glows in the light of the setting sun, the lower gardens with all their birds are havens of peace and tranquillity. A Latin inscription in some historic gardens of Dubrovnik reads: “Stay far away envy, disputes, vanity and worries.”
It does illustrate the ambience in those gardens as well as the lifestyle of those times.
The cloister garden in the Friars Minor monastery is the oldest existing garden in the walled city, which has been continuously tended since the Middle Ages (1317). It is the only one which is open to the public. Visit one of the oldest pharmacies in the world, enjoy this charming place, discover the restored frescoes, the cloister with double columns, smell the fragrance of roses and orange blossoms, look at the clipped boxwood hedges, grapefruit trees, crepe myrtle, and many other species.
The story was brought to you by one of the most famous tourist guides in Dubrovnik, Mrs. Pave Brailo. A president of the Dubrovnik tour guide society, she has been a personal guide to numerous celebrities, statesmen, Nobel Prize winners and Presidents during their visits to Dubrovnik, such as Japanese Prince Akishino and Princess Kiko, Margareth Thatcher, Prince Charles, several Oscar winners, a Thai princess and many others.