For many years it was thought that Dubrovnik was established by refugees the Roman city of Epidaur (today Cavtat), which was destroyed by the Slavs. The city probably slowly grew and developed for many centuries. Taking into account Dubrovnik’s excellent geographical position, with many uvalas, including the main town pier of Gruž, as well as many more on the surrounding islands, the city must have been visited by ancient sailors from countries like Greece, who couldn’t have missed to visit the city, as they had colonies along the Adriatic coast.
Dubrovnik Under Byzantyne Rule (800-1205)
Dubrovnik was under Byzantine protection for several centuries, which was mentioned in Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrgenitus’s work, De Administrando Imperio. At that time, the Mediterranean was ravaged by the Saracens, and a legend that is deemed false has it that Dubrovnik was liberated by a Frank named Orlando and the Byzantine Empire, in whose honor a pillar was erected. After this, Dubrovnik was helped to recover by The Byzantine Empire, but it was at that time too far away to be trusted by the city’s inhabitants to provide constant protection. Dubrovnik was surrounded by dangerous neighboring countries, so certain means of survival had to be found, and this need prompted the creation of the famous Dubrovnik diplomacy, which brought negotiations with neighboring states and tax systems in the city itself. At the end of the 5th century, the Diocese of Dubrovnik was established, and in the following century, The Republic of Venice gained enough strength to help the Byzantine Empire protect its territories in southern Italy, but, at the same time, Venice conquers Dalmatian cities under Byzantine rule. It is uncertain whether this was allowed by the Byzantine emperor, but Venice slowly managed to gain control over towns in Dalmatia. Their aim was the same when it came to Dubrovnik, but the city repelled them strongly, starting the centuries-long clash between Venice and Dubrovnik.
Dubrovnik under Venetian Rule (1205-1358)
At the beginning of the 13th century, Dubrovnik gained strength and became an important trade hub. However, tides change when Venice pays the Crusaders to attack Constantinople, which makes the Byzantine Empire lose power, and its protection over Dubrovnik begins to weaken. Dubrovnik, having been struck by a power crisis, is finally taken over by Venice. However, the people of dubrovnik proved to be a tough nut, and Venice was forced to give them certain benefits in governing the city. Interestingly, Dubrovnik’s territory grew during this time, and its first by-law was established in 1272. The 14th century saw Venice in a state of war with Hungary, which had the weakening of the Republic as a consequence. In the meantime, Dubrovnik increases its effort to regain independence.
Partial Independence under Hungarian Rule (1358-1433)
Venice was defeated by the Hungarians, who now gained control over Dalmatian cities, including Dubrovnik. However, accepting Hungarian rule did not falter Dubrovnik in securing its autonomy. Skillful diplomats managed to secure territorial rights in negotiations with the Hungarian King, Louis I, who, aside from the territory, allowed Dubrovnik to choose its own duke (locally known as knez) and other rights without much protest. Dubrovnik continued to work on its independence, paying a tribute to Hungary, while trying to gain control over the islands of Korčula, Hvar and Brač, which they succeeded in for a short period. During the time spent under Hungarian rule, the community constituted the Republic of Ragusa.
The Republic (1433-1667)
The turkks, who were advancing into Europe in increasing numbers, posed a threat of colonization for the people of Dubrovnik, but a chance to open trade routes to the East was also apparent. By accepting to pay a tribute to the Turks, the people of Dubrovnik were allowed to establish trade throughout Turkish territories without any problems. Dubrovnik managed to skillfully maneuvre between eastern and western powers, securing gains from both sides by selling information about the Spanish to the Turks and vice versa.
Many historians today have trouble understanding how Dubrovnik managed to survive in the chaos of interest and power struggle between major political and military powers of the time, but it not only managed to survive, but it also fluorished. It even managed to become the leading naval power in the world, owning over 200 ships and establishing trade everywhere it could. During the conflict between England and Spain, a large war ship owned by Dubrovnik led the so-called indestructible Spanish Armada, which was ultimately defeated by the English. Not everything went smoothly at the time, but thanks to skillful diplomacy, teamed with the fact that the people of Dubrovnik put the Republic before all else, the state became a military power in the Mediterranean despite its small army.
Problems began occuring in 1667, when Dubrovnik was struck by a catastrophic earthquake which killed half of the city’s inhaitants. Only a year before that, 1000 people of Dubrovnik were wiped out by the plague, all of which made the Turks, and Venetians in particular, feel confident that they could conquer Dubrovnik. The nobility of the Republic managed to recover from their losses, and great credit in the formation of the Republic of Ragusa was given to Stjepan Gradić, a Dubrovnik diplomat who at the time lived in Rome. He undertook hundreds of diplomatic missions and described in detail how Dubrovnik was to recover, placing particular importance on the economy.
In the 18th century, the power that the Turks and Venetians once had was weakened noticably, whereas Great Britain, Russia and France gained strength. At the time, the title of Dubrovnik’s arch enemy was shifted from Venice to France, who acted as an aggresive military force, not particularly interested in negotiations and compromise.
The Fall of the Republic (1808)
At the beginning of the 19th century, Napoleon became the most powerful ruler in Europe, spreading his country’s borders all the way to Russia. Dubrovnik was, at the time, still officially considered part of th Turkish Empire. Now in war with France in the north, Russia thought that the French would flank them from the south as well, so soldiers were sent there to counter any possible attack, advancing along with Montenegrin soldiers all te way to Dubrovnik, whey they met the French. Meanwhile, diplomats from Dubrovnik didn’t know which side to choose, trying to negotiate with both parties, which leads to Napoleon’s order for his army, led by general Lauriston, to attack Dubrovnik for negotiating with enemy forces. This wasn’t popular with the Russians, who also commence an attack on Dubrovnik and, together with the Montenegrins, they reached the very walls of the city, only too be swiftly defeated by the French, who intended to take over Dubrovnik, placing the French flag on Orlando’s pillar, therefore taking power away from the duke and the senate.
From the fall of the republic (1815) until today
The French ruled over the city for seben years, but with the fall of Napoleon, Dubrovnik became an Austrian territory and was again hopeful that it would gain independence. Austria devastated several of Dubrovnik’s historical monuments, creating roads around its walls which are still in use today. Underneath the entrance to the city, the Austrians created a park under The Gate of Pile from the material left over from the construction of the road, and this park is still there today. Between the Revelin and Minčeta fortresses, where you can see a parking lot today, the Austrians filled a large hole in the ground so as to create a tennis court for their officers.
Dubrovnik is a town hidden behind its stone walls, a city with an open heart that greets visitors from all around the globe. The whole town revloves around the sea and sunlight, with its clear skies, greenish-turquoise and dark-blue sea next to its stone shore creating an experience that is entirely unique to the city, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site thirty years ago. Dubrovnik fascinates all who visit it, with its many churches, museums, fortresses and its unique history, and the city is one of the world’s most important tourist destinations, where people of all nationalities and trades meet, from tourists, diplomats, politicians to artists.Today, the city is very proud of its tourism, as well as the popularity it has gained thanks to its appearance in the popular TV series, Game of Thrones.