Opening of the Sokol Grad fort in Croatia

Krak des Chevalliers, Massada, Rumelihisan, Entrevaux, Carcassonne, Roquebrun… Names of historic forts that by their history or ruins impose might and strength.  We humans have constructed defensive works for many thousands of years in a variety of increasingly complex designs. Many of them that have been well preserved or restored are among the most popular tourist attractions in the time of modern tourism.

Today another historic fort was added to the list of tourist destinations. This weekend I was invited by the organisers to the inauguration of the Sokol Grad fort in Croatia, south of Dubrovnik, after it has been restored to become a tourist attraction.

Sokol grad fort

The fort is an imposing site, situated high up on the mountainside on the border between Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Historically it was a guard post on the border of the Republic of Ragusa (Dubrovnik) in Dalmatia. It dominates the fertile fields of Konavle and monitors the old road that connected the cost to the Herzegovinian hinterland. The strategic importance of the location has been proven by archeological findings of military equipment dating to more than 500 BC.

View from downhillThe location of Sokol played a significant strategic and military role in the early byzantine époque, when it was a part of the Adriatic land limes, established by emperor Justinian (527-564), at the time of re-establishing the Byzantine rule at the Adriatic after the Gothic invasions.

Dubrovnik took possession of the fort in 1420. From then onwards work on it began with continuous upgrades, arming and maintenance. Sokol Grad was a military fort in which between ten and fifteen soldiers lived as a permanent garrison. From the archeological findings it is known that during times of war up to twenty would live there, while in peacetime this would fall to below ten. This is similar to most other imposing forts from the medieval age. The garrisons had few soldiers but they were well protected.

Queue to enter Sokol GradThe inauguration was very well visited, with long queues to enter the fort. Cameramen and reporters were present and a number of busses of guests that came for the two hour long ceremony. The activities included music, firing of guns and people dressed in medieval military costumes.

The fort has been carefully restored with lights, signage and well researched and presented exhibitions in historical rooms. At the top level is a gift shop with souvenirs made locally.

Several areas houses medieval weapons that in the 15th century were the basic weaponry, including six original cannons. The old weapon forgery has been renewed along with the fireplace where the soldiers warmed themselves before bedtime. A special attraction is a sound system which extends to outdoor areas, making the visitor expect to meet soldiers or gunfire around the corner.

imageThe restoration of the fort has been organised and funded by The Association of Friends of Dubrovnik Antiquities (Društvo prijatelja dubrovačke starine), a civil sector society that was created in 1952 and that originally had as purpose to preserve Dubrovnik’s cultural and historical heritage. The organisation has recently broadened its geographical scope and used its experience in restoration of fortifications for the restoration of Sokol Grad, and it is currently looking to do the same with the fortifications surrounding the town of Ston, north of Dubrovnik.

Quad Helix HQHerein lies the reason for writing about Sokol Grad on this blog. In many cases today, civil society organisations are the best equipped to do public good, because of key knowledge, access to funding and their natural opportunity to involve resources from both civil society and business.

By restoring the Sokol Grad fort, the Association of Friends of Dubrovnik Antiquities help to strengthen the place brand of Dalmatia and the Dubrovnik region, and this plays an important part in enabling economic growth.

As we have written about previously on this blog, development is most successful when the four sectors of government, business, academia and civil society cooperate according to the Quad Helix model.

Authentic dress codeDriven by globalisation, we now live in hyper competitive global markets. Numerous locations both in Croatia and internationally compete for attracting the same tourists.

This competitive environment makes it important for places, no matter their size or composition, to clearly differentiate and to convey why they are relevant and valued options for visitors, residents and investors.

Places have always competed with each other, but today the competitive environment is increasingly fierce, because of economic and cultural globalization and the increasing mobility of talents and capital, so for less fortunate places both people and capital may re-allocate away, speeding up potential decline.

Ticket deskBy developing unique assets, like the Sokol Grad fort, Dalmatia strengthens the regions attraction for visitors and may also offload tourism from Dubrovnik, that in high season otherwise is crowding the famous city. Bus tours to Sokol Grad from the major hotels in the area will start immediately.

Local tourist guides have been trained and preparations also for developing demand for visits have been prepared since a long time. The experiences from development of Dubrovnik has been well taken into account and I think the Sokol Grad fort is well set to once again become an important and successful place.

The next step the tourist authorities who will run Sokol Grad should think about is to set up a home page and a Facebook page for the fort and engage in an online marketing campaign. They should also work actively with Tripadvisor and other websites and organisations, who have an interest in thematic travelling for learning about history and fortifications. Internet is now the primary communication tool for place branding, as we in Bearing have experienced in recent work with development of place attraction elsewhere.

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