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Bokar Fortress

The Dubrovnik Republic protected its freedom and sovereignty like pure gold by building, enlarging and strengthening its strongholds and fortresses. One more, among the strong ones, though it might seem that way at first sight, is Fort Bokar. It is located on the southwest side of the city, at the corner of the city walls and opposite another mighty guardian, Fort Lovrijenac. This fortress, also called Zvjezdan in the 15th century when it was erected, watches the open sea from this important strategic position and at one time protected the western port of the city, the moat and of course the Pile bridge.

The three basic rules the Roman architect and engineer Vitruvius laid down at the start of his ten-volume treatise on architecture were as follows: “A good building”, he said “must be functional, it must be firm and it must be delightful”.

Fort Bokar has all three; it is threatening if necessary, stone solid and firm in its elegance and dominating with its splendid appearance and position in all that magic 'unreal' setting called Pile.

This is not surprising as various famous Italian engineers dedicated their talents to its perfect design, such as Michelozzo from Florence, Ferramolino from Bergamo and many other specialists. The bulwark on the approach to the fort made from Pile is noted to be the work of Mato Martini, yet another expert on the construction of fortifications and a military architect of the period.

The Renaissance torreta with its interesting roundish body was built on the south-facing city slopes and has given itself up to the sea which hugs and bites its feet, washes its cheeks and gives it its flavours and scents when it is rough and heavy as well as during the high tide. These remarkable scenes make it seem as though it were placed there for decoration rather than for defence. This is true today, though its role through centuries was, indeed, to guard and protect and also to fire from if necessary.

The Fort has three horizontal cornices and the upper part with its battlements encircles its attractive splendid terrace, the ideal stage and a real challenge for creative artistic souls. The beauty and tranquillity have been enjoyed primarily by seagulls and the sky itself as they seem to be its only residents for the time being. 

Its interior is as exciting as its exterior. Symmetric deep niches around its body with their loop-holes, once used for soldiers and their cannons, nowadays create the incredible light/shade effects full of charm and 'cry out' for theatrical scenes in that unique atmosphere. It was indeed the stage of Areteus, a hero of the great Croatian writer Miroslav Krleža and a celebrated physician of Cappadocia some decades ago and the actor was honoured to walk these mythical stairs and corridors that hide the Fortress's secrets and all that imbued defence as well as the human force of one more Dubrovnik fort. The emblem of Fort Bokar on the façade is unique, rather unusual for the type of military architecture of the city. Most of them have the stone sculpture of the famous Dubrovnik Patron, St. Blasius on the most significant spots, but Bokar has Jesus’ initials instead. This was ordered by the powerful Senate, once the ruling body of the independent Republic. Today, the Fort Bokar is an open-air museum with a rich collection of stone pieces and fragments from different localities which show various artistic styles. Again being a guardian and protector of the rich Dubrovnik legacy, Bokar looks proud but somehow lonely, seeking for more visitors to admire its hidden beauty and splendour of 'a pearl in the brooch of Pile' where it had been carefully chosen to be built.

Author: Kate Bagoje


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