History of Dubrovnik
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Material remains from prehistory and Hellenistic period as well as numerous archeological and numismatic finds of the Roman heritage testify to the continuity of life in Dubrovnik (Ragusa). The findings from antiquity and late antiquity discovered on the underwater site of the City port prove the existence of a harbour and settlement in the 1st century BC. Early-Christian fragments found along the southern city fringes and the surviving architecture of a late antique ecclesiastical building in the lower layers of the pre-Romanesque church of Sigurata bear witness to the existence of a Byzantine settlement in the 5th but also 6th century. An episcopal complex south-east of Kaštel, on the site of today's baroque cathedral and Bunićeva poljana, affords evidence on the importance and dynamics of the settlement's development. Recent archeological research on the site shows the remains of an early-medieval three-apsidal basilica with narthex and baptistery.
As Dubrovnik gradually rose to political and economic prominence, Epidaurum (Cavtat), however, slipped into decline. Well before the Slavs and Avars destroyed Epidaurum in the 7th century, Dubrovnik, endowed with a sheltered harbour, was already acquiring the qualities of a regional centre. Dubrovnik's succession of Epidaurum is evidenced by legendary accounts on the destruction of Epidaurum and the flight of its inhabitants to find a more secure refuge in Dubrovnik. Ragusan commune founded its identity on the antique heritage of Epidaurum and legitimised its episcopal and territorial aspirations. Dubrovnik continued to develop on the Roman and Croato-Slav ethnic tradition under the centuries-long Byzantine protection. Development of trade, commercial fleet, in association with diplomatic expertise and military power contributed to Dubrovnik's economic success in the Middle Ages. As early as 782 written evidence shows the construction of an arsenal for the building of warships strongly fortified, Dubrovnik successfully resisted a fifteen-month siege by the Arabs in 866-867.
Shortly afterwards, Ragusan fleet participated in the transport of the Croatian troops which, supported by the Franks and Byzantium, liberated the town of Bari from the Arabs. In the course of the 11th century Ragusan ships sailed under the Byzantine flag and that of the Croatian kings. In 1032 Ragusan fleet won another victory over the Arabs who had again entered the Adriatic.
As early as the 10th century Dubrovnik was an important trade and political centre in the eastern Adriatic. The original site of Ragusa was on the promontory with Pustijerna as its most protruding district. Because of a gradual rise in sea level (about 3m over 2000 years) some zones were drained out to enable the city to spread to the north and to the west. Later it expanded towards the lower slopes of Mount Srđ in the Prijeko precinct. By the end of the 13th century the city perimetar was fully enclosed with walls. The new urban layout was defined after the great fire of 1296.
The framework of Dubrovnik's economic and political development had been provided very early. By the end of the 10th century, during the papacy of Pope Gregory V, the see of Dubrovnik was raised to metropolitan status and archbishopric with the dioceses of Kotor, Bar and Ulcinj as its suffragans. In 1022 the Bull of Benedict VIII confirmed the
jurisdiction of the Ragusan archbishop, this being the oldest original document in the rich collection of the State Archives of Dubrovnik. The cult of St Blaise, patron and protector of Dubrovnik, began during one of the many Ragusan conflicts with Venice which, according to the Ragusan chroniclers, took place in 972. His image was depicted on paintings, reliefs, flags, becoming thus the commune's symbol of sovereignty.
In the 12th century Dubrovnik negotiated a number of political and trade agreements with the Mediterranean cities, ports and rulers of the neighbouring lands, so as to reinforce commercial ties and secure free overland and maritime trade.The first treaty was signed with the town of Molfetta (1148), Pisa (1164), Ravenna (1188), Fano and Ancona (1199). The charter issued by Ban Kulin in 1189 granted the Ragusans privileges in Bosnia, while according to the charter of the Byzantine Emperor Isaac Angelus, issued in 1192, Dubrovnik's merchants were permitted to trade freely throughout Byzantium and Bulgaria. The privileges on free trade in Albania, granted in 1210 by the ruler of Kroia, and in Bulgaria by Tzar Asen II in 1230 contributed to the consolidation of the Ragusan trade monopoly in the Balkan interior. The growth of overland trade parallelled Ragusa's maritime prosperity. As early as the 13th century, numerous trade agreements testify to Dubrovnik's lively commercial ties with Egypt, Tunisia and other parts of North Africa. By the mid-14th century Dubrovnik had consuls posted in its merchant colonies in the Balkan hinterland. The Ragusans traded mostly in textiles, timber, livestock, farming products, salt, ores, gold and manufactured goods. The development of credit trade and banking gave way to the opening of the Dubrovnik mint in 1337. At the time, the city also had a grain warehouse (Fontik) and Arsenal. Population decreased by half due to a serious outbreak of plague in 1348, which had important social and economic consequences.
Similar to other medieval towns, Dubrovnik developed independent administrative and judicial institutions, expanding its communal autonomy. The Statute was promulgated in 1272, an eight-volume collection of Dubrovnik's laws which regulated the most essential segments of communal life (administration, law of succession and other laws, trade, maritime affairs, crafts, urban development, agrarian relations, etc.). The shaping of the commune was marked by intensive social stratification during which, on the basis of accumulated wealth and status, the urban patriciate (nobiles) seized power, as opposed to nonnobles (populus). By the end of the 13th century the Ragusan nobility dominated on the city councils, class differentiation being legally consolidated by the 'closing' of the Major Council in 1332.
Defeated by King Louis I of Hungary and Croatia, Venice renounced all its claims to Dalmatia under the Treaty of Zadar (1358). Unlike the other Croatian towns in the eastern Adriatic, Dubrovnik never again acknowledged rule by Venice. The year 1358 marked a turningpoint in Dubrovnik's history. The Visegrad agreement with King Louis I guaranteed Dubrovnik the protection of the Hungaro-Croatian Crown, having thus become part of the Kingdom of Dalmatia and Croatia. Within the new framework Dubrovnik achieved full political autonomy, which it managed to maintain until the Napoleonic campaigns in the early 19th century. Having acquired the attributes of a sovereign state - defined borders, armorial bearings, flag and its own monetary system - from the mid-14th century the Ragusan commune tended to refer to itself as a republic (Respublica Ragusina). It spread over 1,092 km2. The population of the urban area varied between 5,000-10,000, while of the entire Republic it ranged between 25,000 and 85,000 depending upon the economic situation, epidemics and other demographic factors.
Power in both the city and the Republic was in the hands of the Major Council (Consilium maius), constituted by all the male patrician adults. This political body passed laws, dealts with matters of state and elected magistrates and office-holders. The Council of Appeal (Consilium rogatorum) or Senate functioned as an operative political body whose influence permeated both foreign and domestic affairs. The Minor Council (Consilium minus) represented an executive body of state primarily dealing with communal issues. Dubrovnik Rector (Rector) presided all the council sessions, embodying the state and its dignity. Given the Rector's impersonal and symbolic role, the term of his office was only for one month.
The Republic flourished in the early 15th century. It was the time of great urban development. In the period 1406-1413 the last wooden houses were replaced by those built of stone in conformity with the strict urban regulations drawn in the Statute. Rector's Palace and the Council Hall were rebuilt since the original buildings were destroyed by a gunpowder explosion in 1435. Public water supply was constructed between 1436 and 1438 according to the plans of Onofrio della Cava (Onofrio Fountain), and in 1444 a new Clock Tower was erected. Large-scale works on the fortifications were crowned with the construction of the Minčeta Tower (1461-1463) and Bokar Tower (1462-1464). Somewhat later, 1484-1486, the Kaše breakwater was completed. First public institutiones were founded as early as the 14th century. Thus the year 1347 witnessed the opening of the first hospice, quarantine (lazareti) in 1377, and pharmacy in 1420. Orphanage was established in 1432, and three years later a first public school. Dubrovnik was in its heyday during the expansion of the Ottoman Empire. As an established maritime and commercial power, by the beginning of the 15th century the Republic was granted special privileges by King Sigismund. In 1433 Privilegium navigationis ad partes Orientis was granted by the Council of Basel for Dubrovnik to trade throughout the concolidated Turkish lands. This contributed to Dubrovnik's important role of a link between East and West. Having foreseen the significance of the Ottoman expansion, the Ragusans established tributary relations with the Empire, which guarenteed the already acquired monopoly and free trade. From 1478 onwards, annual tribute together with flat-rate customs duties amounted to 12,500 ducats.
The spread of Dubrovnik's maritime trade in the fifteenth century required more than twenty consuls in different Mediterranean ports, mostly on the Apennine Peninsula and Sicily. The city itself witnessed the growth of cloth industry and crafts, such as goldsmiths, stone carvers, masons, carpenters and others. In 1500 GDP of the Republic of Dubrovnik equalled 900 USD per capita or it exceeded that of Switzerland by 20% (742 USD per capita), by 25% that of France (727) or England (714), by 30% that of Spain (698) or Sweeden (695). It was surpassed only by Venice (1,100) and it was twice the GDP of the rest of Croatia (490 USD per capita).
Having accumulated huge wealth through overland and maritime trade, the Ragusans generated brilliant accomplishments in politics, diplomacy, architecture, scholarship and art. Prosperity and prudence were the essential elements of Dubrovnik's freedom which enabled them to take advantage of the historical moment
by becoming a link between the Chriatian West and the Ottoman East. Wealth and wisdom generated magnificant city walls, towers and bastions, men of letters (Marin Držić, Ivan Gundulić), scholars (Ruđer Bošković, Marin Getaldić), founder of double bookkeeping Benedikt Kotruljević, composer Luka Sorkočević and other great minds, in whom the city was prolific.
Financial strength of the Republic and its citizens reflected upon the general layout of the city and its surroundings. In the 16th century numerous palaces, villas and fortifications were constructed, along with magnificant public buildings, such as the Customs House - Sponza (1516), multifunctional Revelin Fortress (1539), large salt warehouses in Ston (1581) and Rupe -huge granaries built between 1543 and 1590.
The disastrous earthquake of 6 April 1667 was yet another milestone in Dubrovnik's history. As fire spread immediately after the earthquake, the city suffered considerable damage and more than 1,200 people were killed. With the exception of the walls, Sponza, Rector's Palace and several churches and private buildings, the entire city and the Island of Lopud were destroyed. Thirty years of reconstruction followed, during which the Ragusans, irrespective of rank, showed fierce determination to restore Dubrovnik's prosperity.and survive through a most difficult period of its history. The Republic turned for help Europewide, and received relief from its traditional allies: pope, Spain, Austria, Kingdom of Naples and the small Republic of Lucca.
Dubrovnik managed to overcome the crisis and peak to new heights by building a strong commercial fleet in the 18th century. In the 1790s it tried to attune to the social movements in France by gaining the trust of the new civic government and, at the same time, suppress, though in vain, the emergence of revolutionary or democratic ideas at home. After the fall of Venice in 1797, strategically significant territories of the Croatian coast became a new target of Napoleon Bonaparte. Dubrovnik was first to become a diplomatic and then a military battlefield. In fear of Russian invasion, the city peacefully surrendered to the French Army on 27 May 1806. This was followed by a siege and battle between the French on one side and Russians and Montenegrins on the other. The full extent of the damages suffered was estimated to 9,000,000 ducats. General, later Marshal Marmont defeated the Russians and their Montenegrin allies and the French took over civil administration of the city. Enormous contributions and taxes for the maintenance of the French government and troops exhausted the Republic financially. Ragusan ships were either destroyed or seized in the Mediterranean ports, and trade with the interior came to a standstill. On 31 January 1808, without Napoleon's prior approval for his action, though duly won, Marmont decreed abolition of the Senate and Dubrovnik's independence on 31 January 1808.
Under the new circumstances, Dubrovnik region together with Boka kotorska came under the administration of Napoleon's Italian viceroyalty, and from 1810 to 1814 it was incorporated into the French Illyrian provinces. According to the terms of the Congress of Vienna in 1815, the territories of the former Dubrovnik Republic were annexed by the Austrian Empire, in which it was to remain until 1918.
The year 1867 saw the opening of the renovated Bond's Theatre, while the Dubrovnik Museum opened its doors in 1873. Dubrovnik expanded by absorbing several surrounding areas. Electrification and railroad connection with the hinterland (1901) contributed to the development of Gruž as an important port in the southern Adriatic. A series of architectural projects connected the extramural areas with its nucleus, and in 1910 Dubrovnik saw the first tram route (closed in 1970). The opening of the first Hotel Miramare in 1868, in line with a number of smaller boarding houses, but above all a luxury Hotel Imperial in 1898 marked the beginning of the general expansion of modern tourism, the most important economic branch of the century to come.
Stjepan Ćosić and Nenad Vekarić