By day, it could be easy to get overwhelmed in Dubrovnik, given the city’s countless ornate buildings and the enormous sea of tourists streaming down the main street, the Stradun. But it’s important to not miss the details, especially the maskeron or gargoyle-like faces that emerge from fountains and walls, adding a delightful quirkiness to the architecture.
Yesterday, we had maskeron madness, spying some fun examples just inside the Old Town’s Pile Gate, which is on the western side of the city. Many visitors, canines and locals passed them by unnoticed. Tourists snapped shots of the nearby Onofrio’s Fountains, missing the maskeron, which seemed to be waiting for the perfect moment to gobble up their shins from behind.
Rainwater once drained from building-tops via pipes, spraying out water from these ground level maskerons‘ mouths, but the pipes have since been rerouted. On Onofrio’s Fountains, you’ll see higher maskerons still in action, gushing out water that many still drink today.
One of the most legendary maskerons is near the Franciscan monastery, close to the steep stairway that visitors climb to reach the city walls. As you come through the Pile Gate, it’s on the left side, about a foot off the ground. According to legend, if you can stand on top of the head facing the wall, maintain your balance, and remove your shirt, you will forever be lucky in love. We didn’t learn about this custom until after we spotted this maskeron – and we already feel quite lucky in love anyways :) – but it was nevertheless fun seeing these maskeron balancing attempts and learning more about the legend afterwards.
Have you attempted to balance on the Dubrovnik maskeron, and if so, are you now lucky in love? Which city’s architectural details do you fancy?
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Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.
23 thoughts on “The Details of Dubrovnik – Meet the Maskerons”
I have a feeling I would have been one of the people who walked by and missed these if someone didn’t point them out. I’m trying to imagine how standing on one of them with your shirt off a) ever originated, and b) could be considered good luck. I think there must have been a woman standing on the sidewalk once, urging her man to do that, and wondering if he’d be foolish enough to try. Sounds like he did, and she loved him more for it.
Wonder what I could get my husband to do? ;)
Juliann, indeed it’s fun to imagine where these legends got started! Perhaps the genders are mixed up in your scenario? :)
It’s so interesting to see the ‘green men’ versions here – which are always so nice to try to spot in cathedrals and churches hopping. (One way to keep the kids going..) They’re usually hidden up high as little pagan tokens looking down on the carefully crafted religious figures. I suppose these guys are a bit the same – a little subversive!
Chas, in what part of the world are you? You’re absolutely right about these architectural details keeping kids interested in a trip. As we’ve been exploring this region, spotting all the crumbling nooks and crannies, we keep saying how it must be a child’s dream place to play. Or perhaps the local little ones just take it all for granted.
Hi Tricia – I’m in Australia (rich in ancient heritage but a little lacking in ancient built environment!) We used to do green man & gargoyle spotting with the kids when we lived in the UK and on trips to France etc. Now the youngest has to be content with the odd day of foraging, making bows and arrows and shooting at furry creatures (luckily without success!)
That must’ve been fun to have lived in the UK – which city?
We were in Bali last year, and debated hopping over to Australia then, but in the end, decided it’s worth a trip in itself. The world is so small and so large at the same time… :)
Hi Tricia – We lived in Newbury, which is south of Oxford, and I worked in London. Commute was a bit tough going after a while although I love travelling by train. ! I hope you can get to Australia sometime – it is on the big side so a dedicated trip is a good plan.
During the summer months, the Maskeron is busy with tourists trying to balance. More than 50 years ago, I was able to do it but did not remove my shirt. Now there is little chance.
Bravo on being able to do this! Now that I know the legend, I am a bit tempted to give it a whirl myself, your way of course. :)
Love that last one, Tricia! Looks like he’s trying to huff and puff and blow the place down. Amazing how many people seem oblivious. (and no, I didn’t feel the need to stand on him either)
Jo, now that I know the legend, I’m a bit tempted to try it myself (sans removing my shirt). Funny you should mention the last maskeron. I snapped a silly shot of Shawn, with a blowfish sort of face to mimic the maskeron, but it didn’t make it onto the post. :)
Very interesting – thanks for sharing. Some say Rome’s Bocca della Verita’ was actually the cover to a well, the holes designed to allow the inflow of rainwater…
An interesting tidbit, Alessandro. I remember the Bocca della Verita from the Audrey Hepburn film, Roman Holiday, but think we might have missed it during our travels there? Must revisit our images.
I haven’t decided if it’s more interesting to know the stories behind these architectural flourishes or if it’s more fun for them to remain a mystery, when you first see the sites. The latter scenario allows the mind to venture off on creative paths. :)
My take on Roman Holiday: http://ciapannaphoto.wordpress.com/2012/11/09/scream-romes-bocca-della-verita/
Tricia, What wonderful spotting … and beautiful photos as always! We saw so many of the fountain maskerons, but totally missed that one down low. I guess we’ll have to come back! LOL! I think I’ll let James do the balancing. All the best, Terri
Terri, before we left Dubrovnik, I simply had to try balance on the maskeron. Since it’s still a bit chilly, though, I had on tights. I found this made the balancing act even more challenging (because the tights are a slick, synthetic material). Finally, Shawn and I just cheated a bit. A Dubrovnik resident played along and snapped our image as Shawn held me up with one hand, my body clinging on to the wall for dear life. I suppose you and James could always go that route on your return to Dubrovnik. :)
Great article. I will be in Dubrovnik in the middle of June, I will look out for these. I just missed seeing the city in 2011 when I was visiting family in NE Croatia. I did have one question for you: what can a person expect as far as crowds in Dubrovnik in the middle of June? Thank you.
Greetings Henry, glad you enjoyed the piece, and ‘hvala’ for your nice comment. I have only been to Dubrovnik in April 2013 and in July 2007, so I can’t say for sure about June, but I do remember that it was busy when I came in July. When a cruise ship arrives, that can fill the city up fast!
That said, I’ve heard that walking on some of the residential side streets is a good way to escape some of the crowds. We enjoyed peeking at the various architectural details that way a few weeks ago.
One of my readers, Carol, lives near Dubrovnik, and I bet she’d be happy to help with more detailed questions. Her site is: http://essenceofdubrovnik.com/ She’s a Dubrovnik expert.
I also have more Croatia posts here: https://triciaannemitchell.com/croatia/
Finally, where is your family from in NE Croatia? We spent seven weeks in Dalmatia this past winter, in lovely seaside Trogir.
Thank you, Tricia.
My family live mostly in Vukovar and Otok and Vinkovci. Vukovar is still really showing the signs of the war, sadly.
I’m leaving this June and will visit Split again, and for the first time, Dubrovnik as well as 5 days on Hvar. I will let you know how the trip goes.
Henry, we did not make it to Vukovar, but learned of its symbolic significance to the people of Croatia. It’s hard to imagine that so much destruction happened in Croatia just two decades ago.
Oh, Hvar… We didn’t make it there, nor to any islands, but everyone spoke so highly about them! Wish you safe travels and looking forward to hear how your adventure goes.
Wonderful write-up and photography…the details and history of the maskerons are fascinating. Cheers!
Many thanks, Dalo! With so many details in Dubrovnik and beyond, it’s easy to overlook them, especially when they’re at shin height. I should update this post to say that I finally balanced on the maskeron a few days after I filed this post. :) My husband did assist with a very firm push, though, so not sure if that really counts!