Known as the “Pearl of the Adriatic”, Dubrovnik is one of the world's most magnificent walled cities. The Unesco World Heritage Site survived the Siege of 1991-92 to become Croatia’s most up-market destination.
Dubrovnik – Been There

Dubrovnik is a city built on gold

Photo by Eric Nathan

Dubrovnik – Been There Dubrovnik is a city built on gold

In the Croatian city of Dubrovnik, my friend Maja is keen to introduce me to Mladen Kraljevic, one of the town’s dwindling number of traditional goldsmiths.

Neil Geraghty
Neil Geraghty Travel Writer

Gold and silver was the key to Dubrovnik’s success,” says Maja. “There are rich deposits in nearby Kosovo and Dubrovnik’s goldsmiths were famous throughout the Mediterranean. It was gold that enabled the city to remain independent during the expansion of the Ottoman Empire which swallowed up all the surrounding lands. As long as Dubrovnik paid the Sultan generous tributes of gold, the Sultan was happy to turn a blind eye and let Dubrovnik govern itself.”

We walk down a narrow alleyway and into Mladen’s tiny shop. I feel as if we’ve stepped back in time. Mladen sits hunched over an antique wooden desk and is peering into an eyeglass. A lone candle burns on the table as he deftly fashions a strand of filigree gold with a pair of tweezers. He greets me with a warm handshake and I ask him how business is going. “Very well. There is a growing interest in old customs and folklore,” he says. “See these gold buttons? They were once used as status symbols and were sewn on to the lapels of men’s jackets and also worn as pendants by the women. They are now popular presents for baptisms and weddings.”

Taking a golden thread he coils it into a beautiful shape of swirling patterns .The process takes seconds and is sheer artistry but, sadly, it’s a dying art form. “I’ve been doing this for 44 years,” he says. “There are now only a handful of us, mostly retired, who still know the technique. My children don’t have much interest in carrying on the tradition but my grandson… Now, he definitely has a feel for gold.”

Rummaging through a drawer he pulls out a Norwegian newspaper dating from 1984. A grainy photo shows his fingers holding a button. “At least my fingers are immortalized,” he says with a chuckle. I think of the history of Dubrovnik gold and feel a pang of sadness at a disappearing tradition that might soon be consigned to the pages of a faded newspaper.

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Dubrovnik. Goldsmith

Gold enabled Dubrovnik to remain independent during the expansion of the Ottoman Empire. Photo by Jochem Wijnands / Alamy

Jochem Wijnands

Jochem Wijnands

Agency
Alamy

Gold enabled Dubrovnik to remain independent during the expansion of the Ottoman Empire.

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