Contemporary Dubrovnik is divided into two singular areas: the dense urban center within the city walls and Lokrum Island, a monument to nature and landscape architecture. Although different in character, these two spaces blend harmonically: covered in dense and lush autochthonous evergreen flora, the dark green Lokrum contrasts with the white stone of the Town, as a part of the renowned eastern panorama of Dubrovnik.
The protected small harbor of Portoč, the island’s accessibility and its abundance of fertile land on a large expanse of flatland, led to land cultivation and the construction of a CHURCH WITH A MONASTERY in the 11th century. The gardens of Lokrum on the protected and sunny plain were thus established many centuries ago.
Records from the 15th century state that the Benedictine monastery’s estates on Lokrum were superbly landscaped and cultivated. The monastery was known for its cultivated plants and herbs as well as good wine but also beautiful gardens. The island’s name (lat. acrumen = sour fruit) indicates that the fertile land was probably cultivated since prehistoric times and that at least lemons and oranges were grown there.
However, the history of the island begins with the establishment of the abbey. The transformation of Lokrum from a wild island into the largest Dubrovnik park is long and interesting, and Lokrum gardens hold a special place in the Dubrovnik and Croatian heritage of park art.
From plants and herbs cultivated by Benedictine monks, only the OLIVE GROVE to the north of the monastery complex was preserved. The empty spaces, which appeared with the loss of old trees, were filled in with young saplings during the PEN Congress in Dubrovnik in 1993.
The landscaping of the island experienced a particularly productive period after it was bought by Maximilian I of Habsburg in 1859. It was the beginning of a new era of garden and landscape architecture in Lokrum: the whole island was afterwards gradually transformed into a park.
Since the historic building of the Maximilian’s palace was erected next to the Gothic-Renaissance monastery, the gardens in front of it (and the monastery) and along the access road were landscaped first, while garden terraces within the palace were constructed and planted later. The terraces formed with the newly renovated cloister garden an intimate palace garden, open only to the sea.
The cloister garden of the Gothic-Renaissance monastery is one of the only preserved cloister gardens in the Dubrovnik region. It’s surrounded by portico arches from the east and the south, and on the cistern’s crown one can still see the emblem of the Dubrovnik noble family Đorđić.
Current gardens were landscaped during the second half of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century. The gardens in the front and along the access road, and the gardens within the Maximilian’s palace, were landscaped in the traditional Mediterranean and geometric design. Both traditional and certain exotic plants were cultivated.
Among the ruins of stone steps a grand staircase stands out, located between the highest and the lowest (as well as the largest) garden terrace with a central star shape out of boxwood, in the middle of which the bust of Maximilian used to stand, today kept at the Dubrovnik Museum.
The south-east forested part of the island is covered with an interweaving network of trails which rise and descend through the cool shade of old pine trees and evergreen oaks, groves of laurel trees and macchia. It’s a spacious and accessible park with secluded corners and stone benches, which by its shape and ambiance belongs to romantic landscape parks.
The lush greenery also features an oval and beautifully constructed CHARLOTTE’S WELL. Its secluded spots also hide several exemplars and smaller groups of plants from other parts of the world, brought to the island in the last century. Maximilian started introducing new plants immediately after buying Lokrum and in just five years planted over a hundred exotic species.
Lokrum walks and paths. The oldest path on the island is the one from Portoč to the monastery complex (between the points 1 and 2), which existed from the founding of the Benedictine abbey in 11th century. Also a part of the actual circular path, linking Skalica with Portoč (between the points 9 and 12), is to be considered as very old because it ensured the nearest access to the island from the mainland.
At Maximilian’s time, northwest of the palace, between the peak above the northern part of Portoč and the circular path around the peak of the island, a very considerable landscape-forming intervention on the arranging of the central part of the island was made.
Through the thick structure of the natural vegetation, a system of three parallel paths stretched in a line was built, unique among the gardens and parks in the Adriatic. The central path, called THE PATH OF PARADISE by the Lokrum inhabitants (partly between the points 15 and 16), was bordered on both sides by an avenue of pyramidal cypresses, from which only those at the beginning of the path and some along the way have been preserved until today.
Maximilian’s intervention was also the continuing of the procession walk from Skalica (12) towards the north-western part of the island, and further on along the south-western side to the joining with the olive-grove (18) and the monastery gardens (2). The circular path is sporadically provided with benches and the crossings with secondary paths and walks are often marked by smaller groups or solitary cypress trees.