These hallways once echoed with the steps of esteemed guests, but now they lie empty and silent. The grand facades of buildings are pockmarked with bullet holes, while nature climbs in slowly through the cracks. What could have caused this once-popular resort to be abandoned to such a dismal fate? Let’s find out and take a trip back in time.
On a beautiful bay in the south of what is now Croatia lies the village of Kupari. Close to the city of Dubrovnik and boasting some of the country’s best beaches, it seems like the perfect spot on which to build a holiday resort.
The Yugoslav People’s Army certainly agreed. Back in the 1960s, the region was under the government of the Socialist Federation of Yugoslavia and its leader Josip Broz, known as Tito.
Under Tito’s orders, work began on a tourist resort in Kupari. It was intended as a place where the military elite of the country could retreat to with their families for some rest and relaxation.
The site already had one building, the Grand Hotel, which had been constructed in 1920 by a Czech investor. Then, much later, in 1965, this was followed by the first purpose-built structure – the Goričina I Hotel.
It must have all been a success, too, because over the years three more structures were built around the resort: the Goricina II Hotel, the Kupari Hotel and the Pelegrin Hotel. What’s more, in 1979 the Grand Hotel was renovated, bringing the total number of bedrooms at the Kupari Tourist Complex to more than 1,500.
In addition to these hotels, the complex also boasted a campground with enough space for another 4,500 guests. Furthermore, there was even a luxurious villa where Tito himself would come to spend his vacations.
So it was that for more than 25 years the resort played host to the cream of Yugoslavian society. But history had some big surprises in store, and the summer of 1991 saw everything change.
Since the 1970s Croatia had enjoyed a certain level of autonomy within the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. By the early 1990s, though, most of the Croats living in the region wanted to split completely and become an independent country.
Nevertheless, the area was also home to a large population of Serbs who wanted the region to remain part of the federation. After the end of the Cold War, then, tensions began to grow.
In 1990 a Croatian Parliament was formed and a new constitution issued. Moreover, although Serbs were a majority in Yugoslavia as a whole, they were a minority within Croatia. Many of them were therefore concerned about the effects that further autonomy would have on their rights there. Things were about to spiral out of control.
Fueled by propaganda from both sides, ethnic hatred subsequently escalated into a full-scale war between the Serbian-led Yugoslav People’s Army and the Croatian military forces. And while Croatia declared itself independent in June 1991, the conflict would rage for another four years.
By the end of 1995, then, the war was over, and Croatia had emerged victorious, at least on paper. However, 20,000 people had died, and much of the country was in ruins – not least the Kupari Tourist Complex.
Despite looking like paradise, the resort had suddenly found itself at the center of a war zone. Yes, during the conflict, although some Croatian forces were stationed there, the Yugoslavian warships that approached from the Adriatic Sea vastly outnumbered them.
Consequently, in October 1991, the Yugoslavian People’s Army regained control of the area. However, fighting had reduced the complex to a ruin – and the hotels were furthermore stripped of valuables and the buildings burned.
After the war, the resort was also briefly used as a base for the Croatian Army – before they too left in 2001. By then, of course, the buildings were ghosts of their former selves, war having made a mockery of this once-luxurious locale.
Compounding matters, for the intervening 15 years, the once-grand Kupari Tourist Complex has been left to slowly decay. Nature has begun to reclaim the land, with trees laying roots where guests would once have walked.
Meanwhile, times have changed in Croatia, and the area around Dubrovnik is now a hotspot for vacationers from around the world. In fact, the ruins of the resort have themselves become something of a magnet for those seeking to explore the country’s turbulent past.
“I heard about this place and the chance to see the effects of war and I just had to come,” one British tourist told The Dubrovnik Times. “This might be the last chance I have to experience the horrors of war, and I want to take as many photos as possible.”
However, things are on the move again. In 2016 work began to transform the Kupari Tourist Complex into a five-star Marriot hotel. Yes, while the listed Grand Hotel will remain, the rest of the complex is set to get a major facelift.
It’s certainly true that the new plans for the site are more in keeping with the modern image of Croatia as a vacation paradise rather than the scarred location of a bloody war. Even so, there are many who will lament the passing of this site in its current form. It will be the loss, after all, of a significant, haunting monument to the country’s struggle for independence.