Dubrovnik – History of ‘A pearl of the Adriatic’

At the entrance to the Adriatic Sea, it’s the first point protected by islands on the sea route from east to west, and the Neretva valley as it’s connection to the interior. Recent archaeological research has established that the settlement on the site of today’s city existed in the 6th century, and probably even earlier. It spread with the arrival of the Croats, after leaving the ancient Epidaurus (today’s Cavtat) in the 7th century.

Increased traffic between east and west, during and after the Crusades, encouraged the development of maritime trade centers in the Mediterranean and the Adriatic in the 12th and 13th centuries, including Dubrovnik. Liberation from Venetian influence, which Dubrovnik gained from the Peace of Zadar in 1358, is crucial for its further successful development. Other Dalmatian towns did not succeed in preserving their independence, so in 1420 they definitely fell under the rule of the Venetian Republic. Already during the 14th and 15th centuries, Dubrovnik was, along with Venice and Ancona, the most important maritime and trade center on the Adriatic. Through contracts and purchases, the people of Dubrovnik expanded their territory from Klek in the north to Sutorina at the entrance to the Bay of Kotor, together with the islands of Mljet, Lastovo, Elafiti and Lokrum.

In the 15th century, the state legal position of the Republic of Dubrovnik was completely built, which means the independent election of princes and councilors, the minting of money and the state flag with the image of St. Vlaho, independent legislation and the right to open consulates abroad. According to the aristocratic constitution, the foundation of state power was the Grand Council of Dubrovnik nobles, elected by the Council of Petitioners and the Small Council as the executive body of the Grand Council. The prince was elected every month as a nominal symbol of power.

As early as the 15th century, the people of Dubrovnik organized well the transit trade with the Balkan hinterland. Due to the growing conquest policy of Turkey in the Balkans, the Republic of Dubrovnik accepted Turkish patronage and payment of tribute in 1525, but they obtained freedom of trade throughout the Turkish Empire, with a customs duty of only 2%. A small state, without its own army, perfected its defense system with skilful diplomatic service and extensive consular activity. Insisting on neutrality in international conflicts and the patronage of powerful states, especially Spain and the Vatican, enabled it to preserve its independence. Her only constant competitor and enemy was the Venetian Republic.

The golden age of the Republic of Dubrovnik began in the 16th century when the splendor and power of the Venetian Republic waned. Maritime trade is the foundation of prosperity. In the 16th century, the Dubrovnik Merchant Navy reached the world level with its quality and number of 180 to 200 ships. Growing ships of the galleon, karak, and nava type are being built, taking ever longer and more dangerous voyages across the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, and the ocean to the northern ports of England and Germany, and sailing to India and America. The people of Dubrovnik are becoming world-famous and sought-after freight carriers, with a very diversified maritime and trade business.

Material well-being, a sense of security and freedom, formed a culture of living in a humanistic spirit and encouraged creative creativity. Dubrovnik reaches brilliant achievements in its urban and architectural development, which has remained to this day in literature and poetry (Marin Držić, Ivan Gundulić), science (Ruđer Bošković) and many other forms of art and culture.

The general maritime crisis in the Mediterranean in the 17th century also affected Dubrovnik’s maritime trade. The catastrophic earthquake of 1667 brought the Republic of Dubrovnik into a critical period of struggle for survival and political preservation of independence. The 18th century brought Dubrovnik the opportunity for economic renewal in maritime trade under a neutral flag and thus welcomed Napoleon’s abolition of the Dubrovnik Republic in 1808.

With the Congress of Vienna in 1815, the Dubrovnik region was annexed to the rest of Dalmatia and Croatia, and since then they have shared a common political destiny. After the declaration of independence of the Republic of Croatia and Serbian aggression against Croatia, Dubrovnik was attacked in October 1991 by an unprecedented destructive force of Serbs and Montenegrins, with the intention of conquering and destroying the entire area. The Dubrovnik area was occupied and considerably destroyed, and the city itself, in its eight months of complete encirclement, was repeatedly bombed and most brutally destroyed, especially on December 6, 1991.

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