History of Dubrovnik


Often called the “Pearl of the Adriatic”, Dubrovnik is a seaport city, located at the southern end of Croatia. It is the primary maritime base and was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. It has a fascinating history which dates back to the time of the Romans.

It was originally called Ragusa and was formed in the 7th century when residents of the coast, took shelter on a rocky island called Laus, to escape the barbarian hordes. The residents built huge walls to protect themselves from these hordes. The Roman Empire was already declining at this point and the residents of this town sought to make it their permanent home. Later, when the Slav migration was in progress, the Croatians settled there and both communities fortified and transformed this settlement into a major city. It flourished because of its proximity to the sea and the emergence of sea trade.

dubrovnikBy the 15th century, it flourished under the protection of the Byzantine Empire, although it maintained local autonomy by electing its own Rector. After the Crusades, it came under Venetian sovereignty and remained so for about 150 years. Between the 14th and 18th centuries, it ruled itself as a sovereign state, but had to pay annual tribute to the Ottoman Empire. Further, it became an ally of Ancona, and both ports resisted the many attempts of the Venetians to obtain complete control of the Adriatic Sea. It managed to survive through most of these political wrangling through canny diplomacy and used its wealth to gain political and cultural significance.

It adopted modern laws and customs from an early time. After a devastating fire, town planning and quarantine were incorporated. Its first pharmacy, almshouse, quarantine hospital and orphanage were all built between 1301 and 1432. A water supply system was also constructed and as early as the 15th century, the slave trade was abolished because the residents prized personal freedom. For centuries, it managed to balance its own sovereignty while carefully pacifying Venice and the Ottoman Empire. There was a system of social classes that were followed, and the city was ruled by the aristocracy, who governed through two councils. The primary languages spoken were Croatian and Romance Dalmatian. Dalmatian was spoken mostly by the ruling classes while Croatian was the common tongue.

The economic wealth of Ragusa was mostly due to its seafaring trade. Traders from Ragusa were welcomed all over the world because they didn’t use conquering and violent methods to do so but used peaceful methods and trading of commodities. This helped the Republic become extremely wealthy and prosperous.

The calamitous earthquake of 1667 destroyed most of the city and killed over 5,000 citizens. Further, it had to give up two of its main territories, in order to avoid being taken over by the Venetians. This marked the first major decline in the rise of this remarkable city. In 1806, the city offered free passage to Napoleon and his French troops. Although they initially sought to free passage, once inside the city they took control of it and abolished the Republic. It remained under French rule until 1815, when the Congress of Vienna ceded Ragusa to Austria. It remained a part of Austrian or Habsburg Empire until 1918.

After the First World War and the fall of the Austrian Empire, it came under the control of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Around this time, the name was officially changed to Dubrovnik. During the Second World War, it became part of the Croatia, which was seeking independence. Later in 1944, it again became part of Communist Yugoslavia and was punished for declaring its independence. Almost 80 of its influential citizens were killed and for the next few years, the Croats were constantly persecuted.

In 1991, Croatia, which had been part of the Republic of Yugoslavia, declared its independence and it was henceforth known as, the Republic of Croatia. Later in 1991, the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA), attacked the city in a siege that continued for 7 months. This was primarily because they believed that the city of Dubrovnik was part of Montenegro and not Croatia. As many as 114 civilians were killed and the renaissance architecture, along with many of its marble streets were destroyed. However, after the city was liberated by the October 1992, being a UNESCO Heritage Site, much of its architecture was restored, in a process that lasted until 2005.

Dubrovnik has a long, legendary history and since its restoration, it has seen its former glory refurbished. George Bernard Shaw, was totally enchanted by the city and famously quoted, -“Those who seek paradise on earth, should come to Dubrovnik. “

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