destruction, decay, design, delight

Before I arrived in Dubrovnik, I read about the abandoned Hotel Belvedere on my colleague Ed Holden’s blog, and I’ve been waiting for a good opportunity to explore it myself. Saturday was the day, and I coaxed my friend Sebastian out of his dissertation-writing cave to come explore with me.

The hotel was built in the 1980s, and opened for business in 1986. Five years later, the Homeland War resulted in so much destruction that the hotel was abandoned. More than twenty years later, it’s a decaying shell, full of broken glass and gutted guest rooms, but still boasting some of the most spectacular views I’ve seen since I’ve been here.

I took hundreds of photos, and uploaded over a hundred of them to Flickr; you can see the full set here:

It took about half an hour to walk from Sebastian’s apartment near the Old Town to the top entrance of the hotel. From the outside on that level it looks almost industrial. A non-descript cement block exterior with a simple blue script “Belvedere” sign on it. Anyone passing by would have no clue of the decaying elegance contained within.

In the US, an abandoned building like this would boarded up, plastered with no trespassing signs, and probably patrolled by security guards or surrounded by barbed wire fences. Here, though, the building stands open, with no warnings or barriers. We found a staircase around the corner from the main façade, and climbed up and into the cavernous interior of what seemed to be a ballroom or dining hall of some kind. In the corner, there was an alcove that was part of a turret along the side of the building. All of the windows had been knocked out, but the views of Lokrud Island across the water, and the Old Town down the coast, were still stunning.

interiorturret

We wandered the interior for several hours. It’s hard to describe the size and sprawling nature of the building. There are multiple staircases, including a stunning spiral staircase that we used to go to the lower levels, and a variety of other staircases that we used to explore everything from guest rooms to terraces to nurseries.

spiralstairs

staircase

There were elevators, too, with doors open on some floors to show the long drop down to the lower levels. I wouldn’t want to explore this place in the dark, or alone!

shaft

But for every creepy or dangerous thing we saw, there was something breathtakingly beautiful to balance it. Sometimes they were intertwined, like this lovely view of the Old Town through broken dining room windows.

brokenwindowview

As I explored, I kept thinking of the ways that the space I was in could inspire and inform game designers. It felt like being *inside* a game. (I was reminded of Alex posting a photo of the Old Town from the city walls to Facebook, with the caption “I’m living in Assassin’s Creed.”) That feeling was only reinforced when Sebastian ventured out onto a guest room terrace, and started laughing. I followed him, only to find that the terrace itself was waterlogged, but the water was hidden beneath the surface. The shutters we walked across were a real balance test, and it was hard not to think of ourselves as being inside a side-scrolling platformer game.

terrace

We finally found our way to the exterior areas of the hotel, which were far less damaged than the interior. Like the hotel itself, they were multi-level, and it took some time to explore their various nooks and crannies. (This included accidentally stumbling upon a couple in flagrante delicto–we quickly backtracked to give them back the privacy they must have thought would be guaranteed in that secluded spot!

[nope. no photo of that. 🙂 ]

The exterior areas have apparently been used for years for big rave parties and concerts, and it’s easy to see the appeal. From the arched terraces to the open-air amphitheater, it seems custom-made for the purpose.

arches

amphitheater

There was graffiti all through the interior and exterior spaces. Some of it was simply depressing white power and neo-nazi slogans, but some of it was whimsical and beautiful. This particular piece, near the swimming pools, was my favorite.

graffiti

But the best part was being able to take in the spectacular views. We were able to go all the way down to the rocky coastline, which reminded me so much of Malta.

pier

From there, we were able to find the lower entrance to the hotel, and walk back out along the road that knew must have been there, but couldn’t see from our approach above. We made it back to the Old Town by about 12:30, where we parted ways so that I could enjoy the beautiful afternoon while he went back to churning out more pages in his manuscript.

All in all, it was a remarkable experience, and one I’m really grateful for. At dinner tonight, one of my colleagues told me that the hotel is scheduled to be demolished and replaced with a new complex starting next year, so there won’t be many more opportunities to explore the space.

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