Visiting the Hotel Belvedere* was one of the most eye-opening experiences of our trip to Croatia. The hotel was devastated during the 1991 Siege of Dubrovnik and though the basic structure remains intact, the windows are without glass, the swimming pool without water and the building now utterly deserted. I possessed only a vague notion of the conflict that led to its destruction - which I now understand was called the Croatian War of Independence - before visiting yet the experience was far more informative than a museum. The war museum we visited presented only propaganda and anti-Yugoslav language; the bombed out hotel, however, was haunting and sincere in the truths it portrayed. Wandering through the vast concrete hollow and navigating the crumbling spiral staircases, the futility of violence seemed more apparent than ever.
The shattered teacups littering the floor, the hotel notelets trodden underfoot and the shards of glass on every surface conveyed the horrors of war in a way I have never experienced before. What shook me so much was how calm the place was, eerie in its silence, only the gentle lapping of the Adriatic against the shore in the distance. I could hardly imagine how anyone could bear to attack such a beautiful place - and in my lifetime too. I often forget, cocooned in tranquil England, the world's more recent violent history. It seems somehow appropriate that the building has been left untouched, an unadorned and honest tribute to the country's tragic past.
*The Hotel Belvedere was one of Dubrovnik's most exclusive hotels, popular with film stars and the affluent, and enjoyed its heyday in the 1950s. It sits just outside of the city, its fifteen storeys cascading down the cliff and looking west to the Old Town. The hotel suffered severe damage during a 1991 naval bombing and has been abandoned ever since.