Wednesday, 20 October 2021
Englishman in Dubrovnik Englishman in Dubrovnik

Rotonda - a historical gem hidden away behind God's back

Written by  May 01, 2021

“We’re very much behind God’s back here,” joked the young man as I asked him for directions. “This is wild country, land that is good for wolves and that’s pretty much it,” he added as he waved me goodbye.

Although I have been along the coastline many times before, normally on a trip back from the north, I haven’t really driven inland before, into the wild country. And as I passed by village sign post that hadn’t in 20 years crossed my radar I began to realise that I had a mistake by not visiting earlier.

Dubrovacko primorje felt like a region forgotten in time, but with an idyllic charm.

“Ah, you’re that Englishman who writes for the newspaper,” said an old lady dressed completely in black and tending some goats as I again asked for directions. Ah, even though I had never been here before it seems that in some way I had.

As is so often the case it was work that had brought me into the unknown. Although sometimes the line between work and play is a little faded with me.

“This is the village of Ošlje and here is a rather unusual building, or rather what’s left of a building,” said my colleague as he entered a tiny village tucked away from the rest of civilisation. “Now, this is a good place to buy a weekend house if you want to get away from the world,” I joked.

Now, those of you who know the area will probably already have guessed which remains I am talking about. It seems to have a hundred names depending on which part of Dubrovacko Primorje you come from, but I’m going to call it the most common – Rotonda.

How this unique church hasn’t been advertised as a tourist attraction is beyond me! It isn’t what you expect to find at the top of a tiny, bumpy road in the middle of nowhere. How more hasn’t been written about the church is also beyond me. Once I started to Google and ask around it became clear that not only was its physical location hidden but also its online location.

I often find myself comparing the publicity and overall contents of tourist attractions here with other ones I’ve been to in other parts of the world. And I couldn’t help thinking that if this fascinating church was in France, Germany of the UK that it would be as well-known as Stonehenge, Mont Saint-Michel or Rothenburg ob der Tauber.

Ok, maybe not as well-known as them but it certainly deserves to be raised up a few levels. It should have all the amenities, café bars, info centre surrounding it. We are talking about a church that was started in the 9th century, and that, when you explore a little, has a history that is as intriguing as its location. If you actually brought tourists there and offered them something they’d love it.

We’re talking about a church that was built almost seven hundred years before Christopher Columbus discovered America! When England was being raided by the Vikings and gunpowder was invented by the Chinese. This is a seriously old building! And as you’d expect there are legends and stories surrounding the church.

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Tourism is very much about telling a story and creating an experience. We all complain that the Old City drowns under a million flip-flops in the summer, well in a normal summer, and yet just a few hills away with have hidden gems that would, and indeed should, draw tourists like bees to honey. It might now only be the remains of a once proud church but these very remains are intact enough that you can paint a picture in your mind of what it looked like over a thousand years ago.

Now just imagine that scene if it had all the contents of a tourist attraction such as Stonehenge! And you could argue that Stonehenge is just a pile of stones out in the middle of a field in the middle of nowhere, so is there really a big difference. Apart from the fact that the surroundings of Rotonda are immeasurably more picturesque. I started to think which other rough diamonds I had missed. Instead of concentrating all our efforts into the Old City why not spread the word of other unmissable sites? These should be celebrated and preserved, not hidden away from sight as if we are embarrassed by them.

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