The defensive stone walls that surround Dubrovnik and tower over a sapphire sea have protected the citizens inside since they were built around the 8th century as a Byzantine fortress. Today they are a source of pride for Croatia's southernmost city, dubbed "The Pearl of the Adriatic."
The walls have been the target of several sieges during their storied history, including as recently as 1991 during the Croatian War of Independence when Dubrovnik was shelled relentlessly by the Yugoslav People's Army. The old city and most of the walls are now protected by UNESCO, though some of the physical and mental wounds of the past remain visible.
Walking the walls (about $17 per person) is the city's top tourist attraction and offers otherwise invisible views into windows of schools, onto courtyards with drying laundry, and into the heart of daily life in Dubrovnik.
I visited Dubrovnik in early April, before the cruise ships filled the streets with waddling passengers.It had rained (a rarity) for two days and on day three, my friend and I took advantage of the sun. So did a few others, including this local girl.
While others oohed and awed and snapped photos of the honey-hued ramparts on which we stood, I watched this little girl pedal passed what, to her, are just pieces of home. The walls, I realized, were a living monument in every sense of the word.
She looked so small. I watched her ride farther and farther away until she became one of the stones.