Known as the ‘European Wall of China’, the Walls of Ston are a series of defensive stone walls that surrounded and protected the city of Ston in Dalmatia, now in Croatia. The walls, originally more than 7 km (22,965 feet) long, were built in 1333 when Ston became a part of the Republic of Dubrovnik.
It all started in the 9th century, when the first set of walls was built to enclose the city. In the middle of the 14th century, when Dubrovnik (known as the city-state of Ragusa in those days), extended its influence over the Pelješac Peninsula and decided to erect a defensive line on its borders. In the 15th century, the threat of attacks from the Turks prompted the city to strengthen the existing forts and add new ones. The walls are thicker on the land side, up to 6m and range from 1.5m to 3m on the sea side. Along with the talents of the local master builders like Zupan Bunic (1455) and Paskoje Milicevic (1488-1506), the walls were partly built by an Italian, Bernardin in 1461 and a Frenchman, known as Olivier between 1472 and 1478.
The formation of the walls looks like an irregular pentagon, which took around two centuries to build. The walls have three parts: the Ston city walls, the Mali Ston city walls and the Big wall with its three forts. The 5 to 10 m tall walls are further strengthened by ten round shaped and thirty rectangular shaped stunningly defensive towers and a massive hillside fortress looking over the city from the rocky outcroppings above.
For centuries, the Ston Walls protected the independence of Dubrovnik, the salt city, providing stable commerce and a degree of safety for the local populace. Apart from serving as a first line of defense for the fairly distant city of Dubrovnik they were constructed to protect salt, a precious commodity. The walls were last used in the 19th century and no invaders could destroy the massive system. Unfortunately, the Ston walls were massively damaged in an earthquake in 1996.
But, the natural disaster spurred a restoration project of the walls. Although original restoration had been started in 1960 by Lukša Beritic, a conservationist based in Dubrovnik, it was not until 2003 that the final push to fully restore the walls began. Finally, the walls were reopened to the public in 2009.
Today, around four and a half km in length, the Walls of Ston connect the city of Ston and Mali Ston. The historic walls circle the village of Ston and then climb up the hill to reach the Pozvizd Fortress. They then follow a narrow strip of land, known as an isthmus, to meet with the walls of the village of Mali Stan.
The Walls of Ston are one of the longest fortification systems in Europe and the second largest in the world, after the Great Wall of China. Apart from that, they are considered as a priceless monument of immense architectural and cultural value. However, despite its historic legacy, Ston is one of the most under visited places in Europe, due to its slightly isolated location on the Peljesac Peninsula, which is 60 km away from the nearest large city, Dubrovnik with a population of less than fifty thousand.