If visiting Dubrovnik for a few days, you may be interested in scaling the hill that overlooks the city called mount Srđ (pronounced “surge”). The hike is well worth doing at least once, if not for the fantastic view the mount has to offer of the city (see photo gallery below), then for the exercise benefit. A round trip will cost the average outdoor enthusiast about an hour and a half of time at a steady pace (15 minutes to the foot of the mount from Pile gate, 30-40 minutes to the summit, 20-30 minutes back down to the bottom, and 10 minutes back to the city), while runners can most certainly do it faster with a bit more caution. I would, however, highly recommend touring the grounds at the top of Srđ that can add an extra 30 minutes or so to the tour, bringing the total to around two hours.
The unmistakable mountain ridge shields the city’s north side and has been strategically important in defending the city throughout the centuries. At the 412 meter (1,350 feet) summit lies the Imperial Fortress – the Empire’s Fort, which was constructed between 1806 and 1812 for Napoleon during the French rule. The fortress and its grounds are open to the public to explore and also offers visitors the opportunity to see the Dubrovnik During the Homeland War (1992-1995) exhibit (for a nominal fee) housed on the first floor in the Museum of Croatian War of Independence which is open from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm Monday – Sunday. Visitors can take oasis at the coffee shop or Restaurant Panorama, depending upon when the journey to the summit is made. While difficult to miss, be sure to take in the unique HRT radio tower shaped like a cosmonaut rocket ship (freshly painted in 2013).
Srđ offers a breath-taking, panoramic view of the city. Spanning westward from Gruž and Pelješac, eastward to Cavtat and Konavli, the view is awesome; remember to bring a camera to capture the moment. What I found most intriguing about the view is how encompassing the city is from that vantage point. That is to say, when perched atop Srđ, you can really appreciated how compact Dubrovnik is as a city and how each building can be identified, including the Hilton Imperial Hotel and the Inter University Center (IUC), which I could locate without any trouble. The vantage point makes it easy to value its strategic location for military purposes. In fact, during the 1991 siege of Dubrovnik, the Croatian army used the the mount to counter attack Serb and Montenegrin forces’ heavy artillery siege on the city, as forces peppered the hillside and fortress with mortars from land, sea, and air. Remnants of the bombings can still be found today as rusted shrapnel shards lay scattered on the trial.
Getting to the trail entrance is quite a chore in and of itself, as it will take about 15 minutes from Pile Gate to climb some 550-odd steps. Once at the foot of Srđ, the newly marked trail entrance (look for the small section of sidewalk and stairs nestled between a grove of Cyprus trees) is located off the E65 highway so take heed when crossing; the cars will not stop for you! If you should wonder too far off course when making your way to the trail entrance, the landmark to look for is the tunnel leading into the city sporting the “Dobrodošli!” sign. Here is my Srđ Google map beginning from Pile Gate which I have found to be one of the more direct routes to the trail entrance, however, there are dozens of routes you can take to the entrance depending upon your starting point (be sure to zoom in to see the trial).
The serpentine path can be somewhat perilous with its loose gravel, rocks, stones (and occasional boulder) and the dozen or so switch-backs, each equaling about 100 meters in length as it winds its way to the top. The first third of the trail winds through a forest of evergreens and lush vegetation indigenous to the area with a symphony of cicadas humming in the tree-tops. The needle-droppings though out the years have provided a natural cushion, making this section of the trail easy on the feet. Traversing upward, the trail soon opens up to expose the rough hillside of the white limestone rock that the city is built from. The same rock is used to fortify the path with border stones and retaining walls that must date back a couple centuries. There are, however, a few sections of path blown out from mortars and care should be exercised (note: most have now been repaired). Although deemed safe, it is still advised to stay on the beaten path due to stray land mines remaining from the 1990’s war that may lay undetonated along the outskirts. Other obstacles to steer clear of include the aforementioned missing sections, donkey dung, ticks, larger rocks that stick up about toe-catching height and can be a source of twisted ankles or scrapped knees, and the unforgiving mid-day sun. One day I even saw what I believe to be a wild cat, but it was very timid and dashed off to the cover of the forest brush upon eying me.
Hikers will notice the placement of 14, five-foot wooden crosses in the middle of every trail section to represent the Stations of the Cross during Jesus’ last hours before his Crucifixion. Each cross is placed on a concrete block and have a Roman numeral inscribed on them starting with one at the bottom of the mount and ending with 14 (XIV) at the top. Some even have shell casing remnants placed at the foot of the cross acting as make-shift shrines. I’m sure the crosses’ significance also double to commemorate of the war as the symbol of Croatian Catholicism is strong. Beginning in 2012, bronze plaques measuring 1.5 m x 1.5 m at each hairpin have been erected depicting the stations of the cross (corresponding to the wooded crosses on each switchback) that appear to have been sculpted by a variety of artists. Each plaque is anchored atop a limestone rock wall with a seating area that were being built in the summer of 2013. In fact, as I hiked Srđ in the mornings I would see the workmen constructing the bases starting at the bottom and working their way upward. In order for supplies to make it to each plaque, a small front loader tractor was used to deliver the goods. Unfortunately, the modern mule has caused ware and tear to the path carving ruts and loosening the side stones ultimately making it more difficult to traverse while making the path more haphazard. Hopefully the path will be graded back once the project is complete.
Plans are underway to build a 1.1 billion Euro ($1.4 billion) 27 hole golf course spanning 3,300,000 m2 (designed by Greg Norman) on the plateau behind the fortress called Golf Park Dubrovnik. Although a fixed completion date has yet to be set, the entire development will include two hotels, 400 apartments, 250 villas and a sports complex (tennis courts and a horseback riding club). While opposition has been stiff, a referendum in April of 2013 to stop the project failed. My only hope is that the project proceeds, it will not deface the natural beauty of the of the area, but it is hard to argue with the supposed 36 million Kunas ($6 million) of annual revenue the development will bring to the city. To counter the development, a group called “Srđ je naš!” (translated as “Srđ is ours!”), is voicing opposition and will continue to fight to stop any construction. You can visit their facebook page to follow and “like” their progress. I will continue to update events as they transpire in the upcoming months. Despite the controversy, Srđ is still worth the experience.
- Google Map
- Wear sturdy shoes (no flip-flops).
- Bring water.
- Start either early or late (before 9:00 am or after 6:00 pm) to avoid the mid-day sun.
- Keep your eyes on the trail, but take time to stop and enjoy the view along the way.
- Bring a camera for the spectacular view of the city.
- Use the boarder stones when/where available for easier passage in lieu of the gravel path.
- Take it slow coming down as the stones are at the perfect toe-catching height to cause trips or rolled ankles.
- Don’t veer too far off the path.
- Have fun!