Traditional Dubrovnik: Bitter Orange Day

Lauren Simmonds

Dubrovnik is preparing to celebrate its patron saint, St. Blaise, on February 3, 2017, an event TCN will be covering in depth. There are many other traditions and events taking place during the festivities. A closer look at ‘The Bitter Orange Day’, organised by humanitarian group, Desa Dubrovnik. 

If you could get your hands on a time machine and transport yourself back to the days of the rule of the powerful Republic of Ragusa, the chances are you’d come across bitter oranges as one of your very first sights. Gardens during this time were packed with them, hanging temptingly from trees, lying on the ground waiting to be picked up, and as a staple at the majority of 12th century markets. Due to their abundance and ease, bitter oranges were cast as the main role in the gastronomical scene of Dubrovnik, and this tradition exists just as prominently in modern life. Bitter orange trees can still be found in many private gardens all over Dubrovnik, and indeed in the old gardens located at Ploce gate (eastern entrance to the Old City) and at Pile gate (western entrance) greeting visitors as they enter the majestic Old City.

By the time autumn and winter roll around, out-of-season festivities begin and the evergreen orange tree branches are heavily weighed down with ripe fruit. It’s not unusual to see many doorways and alleyways decorated lovingly with laurel wreaths and bitter oranges during this cooler, more quiet time of year. Carol singers and friends and family were among those readily given bitter oranges as gifts from the garden, the fruit has always been viewed as a staple part of the winter cuisine within the varied culinary world of the Dubrovnik region. The bitter orange is very diverse in its possible usages, its oil is used as a base in the fragrance industry, drinks made from the leaves of bitter oranges were excellent in curing indigestion and for sterilising open wounds at the time of the autonomous Republic, and the making of specialised bitter orange jams and marmalades in Dubrovnik is still practiced today.

Desa Dubrovnik is one highly commendable organisation determined to keep the tradition alive and relevant, their aim is to embed deeper the traditions surrounding bitter oranges alongside the festivities of Saint Blaise. Bitter Orange Day is a much loved manifestation organised by Desa Dubrovnik and is held annually on Kandelora (Candle Mass) on the 2nd of February in Luza square every year. This year, Bitter Orange Day will begin at 10:00am and end at 05:00pm. Numerous locally made bitter orange based delicacies will be presented and on offer, from jams and marmalades to cakes, biscuits and even liqueurs. Many of the delicacies will be made not only by individuals, but by reputable Dubrovnik hotels. The award winning seafood of the nearby township of Ston will also be on offer in Dubrovnik, as well as high quality wine from Peljesac and the island of Korcula, bringing the respective regional traditions of oranges, oysters and wine together for both locals and visitors to enjoy.

Desa Dubrovnik’s truly unique event is also a humanitarian one. Each year, the profits go to different charities. This years’ proceeds will go to support the League Against Cancer Korcula, Peljesac, Lastovo and Mljet to assist in their efforts to prevent, raise awareness and help those fighting the devastating disease.

Learn more about Desa Dubrovnik on their official website.


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