History >> Dubrovnik history

Dubrovnik history

The emergence of Dubrovnik (History of Dubrovnik)


For many years it was thought that Dubrovnik (lat. and Italian. Ragusa) was founded by refugees from Roman city of Epidaurus (today's Cavtat) which was destroyed under the onslaught of the Slavs (beginning history of Dubrovnik). However, it is difficult to believe that the inhabitants of Epidaurus decided upon the Dubrovnik rock without there being any kind of settlement there already.


Dubrovnik most likely emerged over the centuries. The latest research confirms the thesis of gradual and long-term development. Bronze jewellery was recently found in graves from the Iron Age on the island of Lokrum (5th or 6th Century BC), Illyrian and Greek coins from the 3rd Century BC and a fragment of a gravestone in memory of members of the Roman army that was stationed in Dalmatia between the first and third centuries AD, all back up this theory.


All this leads to the conclusion that Ragusa was a place of a certain importance even before the destruction of Epidaurus. Since Dubrovnik is situated in an excellent geographical position with a lot of bays, (the old city port, Gruz port and the bays of the surrounding islands) old sailors like the Greeks - who had their colonies along the Adriatic coast – certainly didn’t skip it in their marine journeys.


Early Dubrovnik history under Byzantine protection (between 800 – 1205.)


In the second half of the 20th Century, beneath today's cathedral, remains from the Byzantine age were found. Some believe that the cathedral was built in the 6th Century but no one can be certain of this as similar cathedrals were built across the Byzantine Empire up until the 11th Century.


Dubrovnik for centuries fell under Byzantine protection which Constantine Porphyrogenitus mentioned in his work 'The management of the empire’. At that time, the Mediterranean was under siege by the Saracens, and according to legend, (which is considered to be false) Dubrovnik and the Byzantine Empire together with a French man named Orlando, (named after the hero Roland) freed Dubrovnik. Orlando was later honoured with a statue of him raised on the Stradun.


Byzantium on that occasion helped Dubrovnik, but at that time it was too far away for the old residents to rely on for constant protection. Dubrovnik was surrounded by dangerous neighbours and they themselves had to have some coping mechanisms. It was at that time that he well-known Dubrovnik's diplomacy came to be, negotiating with the neighbours and when necessary, paying bribes. At the end of the 10th Century the Diocese of Dubrovnik was established.


At the beginning of the 11th Century, Venice was strengthened by Byzantium which helped to protect its land in southern Italy , but also to win the Dalmatian cities under Byzantine protection . It is not known whether the Byzantine Emperor allowed it (when we get back in the context of the time, perhaps he wasn’t even aware) but the Venetians gradually put Dalmatian towns under their control.


The Venetians wished to also take control of Dubrovnik which would not fall easily, and so began the centuries-old struggle between Dubrovnik and Venice.


Dubrovnik history under Venetian rule (1205 – 1358)


At the beginning of the 13th Century Dubrovnik was strengthened and became an important trading community. However, things change when Venice pays the Crusaders to invade Constantinople, weakening Byzantine power and the protection it offers Dubrovnik.


Dubrovnik was then hit by a government crisis and this is the point when Venice takes it. But the Dubrovnik people are a tough nut to crack and constantly revolt, so Venice offers some self determination.


It is interesting that under Venetian rule, Dubrovnik’s territory expanded and adopted a Statute in 1272. In the early 14th Century Venice was at war with Hungary and weakened as a result. Dubrovnik increasingly fights for its independence.


Part independence under Hungarian rule (1358 – 1433)


Venice lost its war with Hungary, meaning that the Hungarians now control all Dalmatian cities including Dubrovnik.  Acceptance of the Hungarian authorities did not become an obstacle for Dubrovnik 's request to ensure maximum autonomy.


Skilled diplomats were brokered across the Hungarian King’s territory and given the possibility to choose whether they became rectors or have other benefits, and the first Hungarian King Lukovik did not complain too much. Dubrovnik continued to work on its autonomy, they paid fees to Hungary but at the same time wanted to take over the management of Korcula, Hvar and Brac, which they briefly succeeded in it.


At the time under Hungarian rule, the Dubrovnik commune was renamed the Republic of Dubrovnik.


The strongest period of the Republic (1433 -1667)


The Turks penetrate Europe and threaten to jeopardize the independence of Dubrovnik , but also its trade relations with the East .


Somehow Dubrovnik maintains independence by paying money to the Turks, meaning they can trade across Turkish territories freely. What is incredible is that Dubrovnik managed to deftly maneuver between the Eastern and Western powers, taking benefit from both of them. At that time Dubrovnik developed espionage to perfection. They sold the Spanish information from the Turks but also the Turks about what was happening in the West.


Many historians are still not clear how Dubrovnik managed to survive in the chaos of interests of powerful forces. It not only survived, but grew to huge proportions. At one time, the Dubrovnik Republic had the strongest navy in the world with more than 200 ships and traded everywhere. At the time of the English - Spanish wars, a great Dubrovnik warship led the supposedly invincible Spanish Armada which the British ultimately defeated.


Of course not everything in this golden period went smoothly, but because of resourceful diplomacy and the fact that the Republic came above all for Dubrovnik people, it become a Mediterranean power despite its small army.


The fall of the Republic (1667-1792)


Problems start in 1667 when Dubrovnik is hit by a disastrous earthquake that kills half the population of the city. For eight days the earth shook and a fire caused by the earthquake ravaged the city for twenty days, destroying everything in sight. Many buildings were destroyed, as well as works of art.


Just a year earlier, nearly 1,000 people died of the plague and the population fell to its lowest level in the last few centuries. The Turks, and especially Venice, felt that they were finally in a position to take Dubrovnik.


The nobility somehow managed to stay together, and diplomat Stjepan Gradic played a major role in the continuing independence of the Republic of Dubrovnik while living in Rome. He took hundreds of diplomatic actions and described in detail how Dubrovnik should be rebuilt with a special focus on the economy.


In the 18th century the power of the Turks and Venice weakened while Britain’s, France’s and Russia’s grew. At that time, the traditional enemy of Venice was replaced by France which acted as an aggressive force unprepared for negotiations and compromises which did not suit Dubrovnik diplomacy.


It is interesting that today many people in Dubrovnik believe that the Republic failed because the trade links with the discovery of America shifted from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic , but the truth is that the old Dubrovnik was not affected.  In the second half of the 18th Century Dubrovnik’s navy became powerful again and sailed across the Atlantic and the number of ships sailing under the flag of Saint Blaise grew.


It seemed that the Dubrovnik Republic was again the old powerhouse it once was and would survive for many years. But a combination of unfortunate and unbelievable circumstances will see it abolished forever.


Dusk falls over the Republic  (1808)


At the beginning of the 19th century, Napoleon is the most powerful person in Europe, expanding his empire to Russia. French troops on their way to Dubrovnik abolish the Venetian Republic (1797).  As if that were not enough, from the east Russians and their allies, the Montenegrins advance.


Dubrovnik area at that time was still officially under Ottoman rule and still paying money to enjoy its protection. Therefore, regardless of the abolition of the Republic of Venice, Dubrovnik survives. But Turkey is weak and of no use to her.


The Russians, who are at war with Napoleon in northern Europe, correctly believed that the French would attack them from the south so send their army to block them. The Russians, together with the Montenegrins, advance all the way to Dubrovnik, where they meet with the French army.


Dubrovnik does not know what to do and negotiates with both armies. Napoleon orders his army to take Dubrovnik because it is negotiating with an enemy force. Led by General Lauriston, they enter the city. This displeases the Russians who move in and attack Dubrovnik.  Together with Montenegrins they come all the way to the city walls, killing people, raping women and looting homes along the way. The French struggle to defend themselves and the Russians and Montenegrins cannon shell the Old Town. It seems that in just a few weeks since the French army occupied Dubrovnik, the Russians will do the same.


Napoleon sends help to the French in Dubrovnik. Generals Molitor and Marmont arrive and turn the Russians and Montenegrins away from Dubrovnik. But, help for the Russians arrives so the French build a strong fortress at Srdj hill to prevent Dubrovnik from being attacked again. Dubrovnik people consider the French liberators because they are afraid of a Montenegrin massacre.


The French soon suppressed the Russians and the citizens of Dubrovnik hoped that the Republic would continue. However, the French had other intentions and annexed Dubrovnik, raising the French flag on Orlando's Column and abolishing powers of the Rector and Senate.


The paradox is that the Republic was abolished at a time when it had been strengthened.  Such was its fate.



From the fall of the Republic to today (1815 –)


The French ruled the city only seven years. With the fall of Napoleon, Dubrovnik was annexed to Austria and hoped that it could become independent once again. The Congress of Vienna was held in 1815, once and for all foiling attempts to reestablish the Republic.


Austria devastated some of Dubrovnik's historical monuments such as the deep moat that used to surround the city walls. It was precisely that moat which had stopped the Russians and Montenegrins from entering the city. The Austrians built a road around the walls which vehicles use today. From beneath the Minčeta fortress through the mountain range, they planned to build a tunnel but the then- bishop of Dubrovnik objected because he felt the tunnel could become a place of immorality. Below the entrance to the city on Pile Gate - from materials used to build the road - they made a park which is still here today. Newspapers at the time were critical of Austrian procedures.


The Austrians built Porporela which is reached from the city's port and broke through the walls to create another entrance into the city at Buza. Between Revelin and Minčeta fortresses, where there is now a car park, the Austrians filled the moat in in order to make tennis courts for its officers.


Dubrovnik suffered no destruction of the First and Second World War but faced trouble in 1991 when the city was attacked by Serbs and Montenegrins. The Old Town was bombed and the damage done was far worse than that of the guns of the Russians and Montenegrins at the time of Napoleon and also the biggest destruction of Dubrovnik in history.


more texts