Dubrovnik History

The main street of Dubrovnik

It is said that in the area of Dubrovnik, settlements were formed in the prehistoric period, but because this is too old and there is no record, the real beginning of Dubrovnik history cannot be truly confirmed. However, what is certain is that Dubrovnik has existed on this hard rock land for more than 1400 years.

Coat of arms
Coat of arms of the Republic of Ragusa.

Foreword to the History

Dubrovnik history - Map of Ragusa Republic in Croatia
Location of Ragusa Republic in today Croatia.

Dubrovnik was built in the 7th century AD. The name means the “Rock Island”. It is located at the south of Croatia, near the border with Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro, and faces the east coast of the Italian Peninsula. Dubrovnik was located on the maritime line between Europe and Asia, and it was an important point to control the freight lines of the Adriatic Sea. It has been a fortress for military strategists since ancient times, so that Dubrovnik history is like a microcosm of European history. Dubrovnik is today a famous tourist destination. In 1979, UNESCO registered the old part of the city in the list of World Cultural Heritage.

Origin of Dubrovnik History

Map of eastern and western Roman Empire
Eastern and western Roman Empire.

The city was originally ruled by the Ostrogoth Kingdom. In the mid-sixth century, the Eastern Roman Empire (that is, the Byzantine Empire, and now Turkey) won the war against the Ostrogoth Kingdom in order to regain the power of the Western Roman Empire. Dubrovnik was then included under the protection of the Eastern Roman Empire. After that, although there was a period when Dubrovnik was a politically autonomous republic, after the Fourth Crusade, it was ruled by the Republic of Venice. At the end of the 13th century, due to a fire that destroyed the entire city, Dubrovnik made a new urban plan and began to look like the current city.

Rise and Heyday of Dubrovnik

The Republic of Ragusa was established from the 14th century until 1808. The country’s national strength peaked between the 15th and 16th centuries. Its economic and military power could rival Venice and other Italian coastal countries. After becoming a free state, the Republic of Ragusa began to implement many very advanced policies at that time, including the establishment of a medical system, the opening of the first pharmacy (which is still in operation), the establishment of elderly shelters and infectious disease isolation hospital, the abolition of the slave trade, the opening of an orphanage, and the build of a 20-kilometers water supply system.

Ragusa flag
Ragusa flag.

Dubrovnik had a large fleet of merchant ships, and businessmen traveled freely throughout the world. They established some settlements from India to the United States and brought back some local culture and plants. One of the key of success of the Dubrovnik caravan in the world trade was to not use conquest way, but when the Republic abolished the slave trade in 1418, it adopted the word “freedom” written in Latin letters on a white flag. The Merchant Marine team traded and sailed around in a free spirit, thus establishing friendly relations with all parts of the world.

The Disaster

Draw of Dubrovnik in 1667
Dubrovnik before 1667.

On the 6th of April 1667, at about 8 am, Dubrovnik experienced the largest natural disaster of its history. A major earthquake caused almost the entire city to be destroyed, killing more than 5,000 people. The subsequent tsunami shock destroyed the port and all ships, and drowned everything near the coast. Due to the fires caused by the earthquake and the strong wind, the 20-day fire completely destroyed everything in the city. The Governor and most of the political figures died in this catastrophe, and the city fell into anarchy and was immediately plundered by robbers. Under the severe natural and human disasters, the originally affluent Republic of Ragusa was hit hard and began to decline. In order to avoid the collapse of the welfare of the Republic and the military conflict between the Ottoman Empire and the Grand Duchy of Venice, in 1699, the Republic was forced to sell the territory of Neum to the Ottoman Empire.

End of the Republic

The 27th of May 1806, the French Imperial Army occupied the neutral Republic of Ragusa and incorporated it into the Kingdom of Napoleon. In 1810, the three regions of Ragusa, Istria, and Dalmatia, merged to become the French Illyria province. Because the Republic gained support from Austrian and British armies, in 1815 they successfully expelled the French army, and tried to restore the sovereignty and status of the Republic. But there is no unconditional support in politics, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, leader of the European allies, didn’t give back the occupied territory to the Republic of Ragusa. Instead it combined it with the occupied territories of the entire Adriatic coast from Venice to Kotor (in now Montenegro) to establish the Kingdom of Dalmatia, and the political center and parliament were located in Zadar, the oldest city in Croatia. Since then, the Republic of Ragusa has never been able to return successfully.

Rise Again

After the First World War, the Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed. The city of Dubrovnik was incorporated into the new country of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (later called the Kingdom of Yugoslavia). Dubrovnik became one of the 33 regions of the Kingdom. During World War II, the city was occupied by Italian and German troops. After the war, and many years reconstruction, the city was reopened for sightseeing, and tourists began to return to Dubrovnik. In 1965, after 10 years of construction, opened an important road called “Adriatic Highway” (Mastila) built along the entire coastline, connecting Dubrovnik to Rijeka. This greatly helped to promote tourism development.

After Dubrovnik was registered as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979, a large number of tourists entered this ancient city. As the income from the growth of tourism industry was crucial to the development of post-war cities (including airport construction), the government decided to lift military control of the old town of Dubrovnik. Since then the city has been fully open to the world without reservation.

Since the 19th century, Dubrovnik has become a famous tourist resort and trading city because of the blue sea and the lively trading market.

In 1993 the Republic of Croatia was established and Dubrovnik became a Croatian city.

Here is a nice video from the Croatia365 youtube channel going through the 3 lives of Dubrovnik:

Visit Dubrovnik: Useful Links

Here is a list of useful tourist links about Dubrovnik:

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