Sunday, 24 September 2023
Englishman in Dubrovnik Englishman in Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik's Identity Crisis: City or Town? Words Matter When Defining its Status!

Written by  Aug 03, 2023

It seems that every year this dilemma raises its ugly head. I have given up correcting people, signs and addresses. I have up a long time ago. But every once in a while a new example turns up. And my annoyance bubbles to the surface.

This time I didn’t even see it but received a call, a rather angry call. “Unbelievable, just so embarrassing,” started the call. What’s the dilemma, well, it isn’t really a quandary at all, the answer is simple. Is Dubrovnik a city or a town?

The latest example came via a mobile version. Libertas buses had decided, and it is a good idea, to be more descriptive with their signage. Instead of Pile they added in brackets (Old town).

I have a theory that The Pogues are to blame. Everyone knows the song “Dirty Old Town.”

Why should it bother me if people or organisations use city or town? It is mainly to do with respect and status. Dubrovnik is a city, end of story!

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Now to be more precise the actual difference between city and town differs from country to country. But there are rules. And they aren’t just connected to the actual size of the place. There are six or seven factors that define a city. And yes I know it is challenging to translate the two into Croatian.

I am not quite sure why Libertas decided to go against the main bodies of the city, both in terms of administrative bodies and tourism, but they did. Should we change the slogan “Respect the City” to “Respect the Town,” and the tourist board’s slogan of “A Town for All Seasons.”

UNESCO, Wikipedia, the CIA and the Oxford English Dictionary all list Dubrovnik rightly as a city. Even the makers of Game of Thrones state that “the City of Dubrovnik was the backdrop for King’s Landing.” 

So I decided to ask artificial intelligence, ChatGPT to be precise. “Is Dubrovnik a town or city?” and in a flash it came back with “Dubrovnik is a city. It is a prominent coastal city in southern Croatia, located on the Adriatic Sea. As a major tourist destination and an important economic and cultural centre, it holds the status of a city in Croatia.” And there is the answer.

For population size is one of those factors, but not the only factor. Hum, according to the Guinness Book of Record as the smallest city in the world. Clearly in this case size doesn’t matter.

One factor that we really need to take into consideration is the historical significance. “In some cases, the distinction between a town and a city can be related to the historical significance of the place. Cities are often older and have played more prominent roles in the region's history and development,” says the Cambridge dictionary. And for the British, whose actual language we are using, a city is a town with a cathedral. The last time I checked Dubrovnik has a cathedral, and one that was originally built with an English King’s gold. Do we need any more reasons!?!

Now some people might argue that Dubrovnik is in fact a town now. That it’s importance has waned over the years. And that especially the historic core has lost its status and is now Dubrovnik town. I am not one of those people! Although clearly our bus company believes its prominence has shrunk.

Words matter. And if we keep shooting ourselves in the foot how the hell can we hope that tourists comprehend the status of Dubrovnik. Because believe me if I understand the word town as I do, then all those tourists from our biggest market, the UK, will also be underwhelmed with it.

Using town belittles not only Dubrovnik but also all the other institutions, festivals, culture, etc. Shall we call the walls, the Dubrovnik Town Walls?

And the icing on the cake, “Do you want your ad to be recognizable and "travel" around the city instead of being positioned in one place?” Yes, that text is taken directly from the Libertas website.

Even the damn timetable says city and not town! 

Read more Englishman in Dubrovnik…well, if you really want to


About the author
Mark Thomas (aka Englez u Dubrovniku) is the editor of The Dubrovnik Times. He was born and educated in the UK and moved to live in Dubrovnik in 1998. He works across a whole range of media, from a daily radio show to TV and in print. Thomas is fluent in Croatian and this column is available in Croatia on the website – Dubrovnik Vjesnik

The Voice of Dubrovnik


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