Today we are exploring one more extraordinary location in the far south part of the Riviera, in the Konavle region. This small town, founded in the 6th century by the Greeks had a number of names throughout its existence. Epidaurus, Ragusa Vecchia or Zaptat. Today, Cavtat is a sort of a mirror image of its more known neighbor Dubrovnik, with an old town similarly built and a history so rich it will take you a bit of time to explore.
The first thing you have to know about Cavtat is that you can’t get lost. There are two parallel streets which run through the whole town and the vertical ones lead to them going up or down. It’s really easy to get around, so go on and wonder. Although the city has changed throughout the centuries if you pay close attention you will be able to see and imagine how it all looked some time ago. Except for people who live inside the Old Town traffic is forbidden, so put your walking shoes on. The stone wall, now a bit camouflaged, will lead you directly to the Rector’s palace. Through the garden, you will enter a beautiful building which was the home of the wardens of Cavtat during the time of the Dubrovnik Republic rule. Today the building and its content are governed by the Croatian Academy of arts and science and houses the priceless Baltazar Bogišić collection of 35 thousand pieces made up of literary, museum and archive items. Bogišić, a lawyer and scientist born in 1834 is considered to be a pioneer of sociology and a cosmopolitan. He was elected president of the International Institute of Sociology in Paris in 1902. His contribution to the heritage of Cavtat and Croatia is immense.
The St. Nicholaus Church is located right next to the Rectors Palace. The church was built in 1484 and upgraded in 1737 when the bell tower was built. The Pinacoteca just a bit further along up the stairs holds works of high cultural and historic importance.
On top of the stairs, the street Prijeko starts. Prijeko will take you across Cavtat and along the way reveal extraordinary vistas. Stone houses hundreds of years old, with each stone telling a story, indigenous plants flourishing in the gaps between and in the cracks of the stone. Gardens of rose and bougainvillea bushes, lemon and orange trees and lilac branches forming natural eaves making shade in hot days. Prijeko ends beneath the small hill on top of which a beautiful piece of architecture has found its home. The Račić family Mausoleum designed by Ivan Meštrović is the focal point of the St. Roco cemetery. Meštrović was the most prominent sculptor of Croatian modern sculpture, an architect, alma mater of the Academy of the fine arts in Vienna, professor of sculpture at the Syracuse University and at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, USA. Meštrović and Marija Račić were dear friends. That fact was of crucial importance for the architect when making plans for the Mausoleum. Meštrović had a special bond with the family and he incorporated it into the design with unbelievable feeling. He used only two materials for the final resting place of the Račić family; white stone from the island Brač and bronze for the bell and the door. The inside walls of the mausoleum are decorated with heads of angels, the floor with pictures of the Apostles and stories from the Bible. The Mausoleum depicts the basic phases of the human fate – birth, life and death. Perhaps the most intriguing and beautiful detail of the Mausoleum is the inscription on the church bell suspended in the dome. The bell was molded according to exact Meštrovićes designs and says: “Learn the secret of love, you will solve the secret of death and you will believe that life is eternal”. The Mausoleum is dedicated to Our Lady of Angels.
Along the way down to Cavtat, a beautiful vista upon the whole town extends. You will see the waterfront decorated with palm trees extending all the way to the water polo court in the sea where the Wild League is played. In summer children learn to swim as well as play water polo there. You will surely catch a game in the summertime. Water polo is in the DNA of Cavtat so to say. Generations of Cavtat born water polo players have achieved great success with individual teams as well as with the national water polo team of Croatia.
Past the water polo court, a path will lead you along the peninsula Sustjepan on which hotel Croatia is located. Sustjepan is covered with indigenous vegetation and if you are up for it you should go to the open sea side of the peninsula. You won’t regret it. The hotel is considered to be a prime example of architecture which is perfectly integrated into the environment. It is a unique site for sure (see the gallery below).
A walk back to the old town, as you will see for yourself by now, is not a long one. One more place you should definitely visit is the house of Vlaho Bukovac. He was born in Cavtat in 1855 and he was the most influential Croatian painter at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century. Without formal education, while visiting America, he discovered his talent for painting. Right upon his return from the trip, with the help of Orsat “Medo” Pucić a poet form Dubrovnik and bishop J.J. Storssmayer he enrolled in the Ecole de Beaux-Arts in Paris. His Cavtat house is at first glance a typical 19th-century bourgeois house – two stories high with a courtyard and a spacious back garden. But almost immediately upon entering the house will transport you back in time. On the first floor, everyday objects in front of rooms with fully painted walls will leave you imagining about the daily life of its occupants some hundred years ago. The entire first floor is a display of portraits and paintings of an intimate setting and is a good insight into the growth and the change of the artist throughout his stages of creation.
The atelier on the second floor is set to represent all of the phases of the artist’s artistic creation – Parisian, Zagreb, Cavtat and the Prague stage.The atelier was not a part of the original house, but was connected by Bukovac himself. It is the perfect setting for an artist to transform his inspiration into beautiful art – with the picture window on one side overlooking the garden and large windows on the other side with a beautiful sea view, one is obligated to imagine how beautiful it must have been a hundred years ago.
And with the beauty of creation, we will leave you till next time when we continue our discovery of the Riviera.
Baltazar Bogišić, a part of his collection preserved in the Rectors Palace in Cavtat