The Summer Villas of Dubrovnik1. March 2023.
‘Otium’, an ancient philosophy of mindfulness, inspired the design of Renaissance villas around Dubrovnik, and, even more so, lifestyle inside them. Visit Palace Natali to find your ‘otium’ today.
Once the old town was completely walled, it didn’t take long for its residents to understand that it was not the most pleasant place to live during hot summer months. Aristocrats, followed by wealthy merchants, quickly moved on to building summer villas outside of the city walls.
First of such estates were built close to the sea. At the time, travelling by boat around Dubrovnik was easier and safer than travelling by land. For this reason, some of the most representative villas today sit on the Elaphiti Islands. In the small seaside hamlet of Trsteno on the mainland, Gučetić/Gozze estate remains one of the best preserved summer retreats of Dubrovnik nobility. Today, it is a world-renowned botanical garden, Arboretum Trsteno, and it is open to the public (daytrip, anyone?).
The construction of Dubrovnik waterworks in the 15th century opened up more possibilities on the slopes of Srđ hill, closer to the town. The Gornji Kono Street, present-day address of Palace Natali, literally translates to ‘the Upper Channel’. As a part of the waterworks route, this area flourished over the next 200 years.
It is believed that our foundations date from the 16th century, but Palace Natali as we know today certainly dates from after the 1667 earthquake. It makes sense: the earliest known Natalis resided on Lopud Island in the 15th-century. In Dubrovnik, they rose to their heyday after the Great Earthquake, when they were accepted into the noble ranks.
Palace Natali features many attributes that were common for aristocrats’ summer villas in Dubrovnik. Its interiors are centered on expansive, high-ceiling salons called saloče. There are several support buildings, from sheds to water cisterns, that would help the property sustain itself throughout the year. Crossing its manicured Renaissance gardens is a shaded promenade that leads to a dreamy lookout, just ideal for pondering life’s most important questions.
Regardless of their location, Dubrovnik summer villas shared a unique philosophic backbone, the one of otium. This Latin word literally translates to ‘leisure’, but the meaning is very different from the ‘poolside-cocktail’ interpretation we use today. Back in the day, time was not money; rather, it was a gift from God.
Otium denoted a period of time devoted to the study of the human soul, a period in which we may decide to spend our time in the most meaningful ways. The idea itself can be traced back to Seneca’s book De Otio, ‘Of Leisure’, penned in the 1st century. These ancient writings inspired many Renaissance minds. One is Nikola Gučetić who spent many of his summers at their Trsteno Gučetić/Gozze estate. He wrote that ‘time is life’, and that one should think carefully what to do with this great privilege.
Otium is precisely that – time as a privilege, and summer villas of Dubrovnik, Palace Natali included, are its perfect stage. Somewhere between vita activa and vita contemplativa, in their inviting gardens, attractive interiors, inspiring promenades, and quiet private rooms, these summer estates nurtured a space where we could simply seek out ourselves.
At Palace Natali, we still do.