Saturday, 25 June 2022
Where did everyone go? Where did everyone go? Mark Thomas

Will the last person to leave Dubrovnik please turn off the lights

Written by  Mark Thomas Jan 26, 2017

In the January sunshine the historic Old City of Dubrovnik looked resplendent yesterday. However the winter face of Dubrovnik came to the forefront, a face far away from the summer crowds. From May until September you often can’t see the cobbled stones underneath your feet, the tourist crowds bring both life and chaos to the city. For six months of the year the Old City is a cornucopia of colour as tourists from every corner of the world descend on the pearl of the Adriatic. The other six months are a different story. The times of Dubrovnik being a vibrant city are well behind us.

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As the population continues to fall, like a pebble sinking into the Adriatic, so the life continues to drain away from the UNESCO centre. In 1961 around 5,550 people lived inside the city walls. Forty years later that number had dropped by half, in 2001 2,700 people, inside the walls. Over those forty years a few major factors changed that helped cause this drop. Firstly new developments sprung up around the city suburbs, moving the urban centre, then in the early 1990’s the Homeland War also greatly affected the population. These two factors alone could make the drop in half of the population in forty years understandable. But that was just the beginning. From 2001 to 2006, so only a five year period, the population of the Old City of Dubrovnik halved again, to around 1,100. A five year period with virtually no new housing developments and no war, the reason this time was financial. During the centuries of Yugoslavia and under a socialist government, citizens were not allowed to sell property to foreigners. Of course there were a few cases that slipped through the net, but in the main an open housing market didn’t exist.

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With the fall of Yugoslavia and the birth of a new nation came the end of socialism and the opening of the country to foreign investment. The boom property years, from 2000 to 2005, in Dubrovnik saw hundreds of Old City residents sell their homes and move to the suburbs. And with prices sky-rocketing in the UNESCO World Heritage Site people were able to use their “windfall” to not only but a larger property in the leafy suburbs but also financially secure the futures of their family for years to come. International buyers loved the uniqueness of the medieval city, and holiday homes were snapped up. Ten years later the affects of this property rush have brought a sad, ghost-like quality to Dubrovnik. The empty streets, silent squares and boarded-up shop fronts are the results.

These photos were taken at 14.30 on the 25th of January - a working day, a school day, a normal day. Make your own conclusions.

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The Voice of Dubrovnik


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