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The Storied History of Dubrovnik

The Storied History of Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik, which recently came into vogue after it served as the setting for Game of Thrones' Kings Landing, has long been a European tourist destination, but few are aware of its stunning history. The city sits on the Adriatic Sea and has a rich past as a seafaring merchant city, similar to its better-known rival, Venice. We discussed this city in our travel guide, but make sure to learn about its history, below, before you go so you can truly appreciate it.

Onofrio's Fountain, just inside Pile Gate - Dubrovnik History
Onofrio's Fountain, just inside Pile Gate


Dubrovnik's rich history dates back to the 7th century, when a group of refugees from Epidaurum (now Cavtat), fleeing from the invading Slavs and Avars, established a settlement on the island of Laus (today's Lokrum). Around the same time, another group of refugees established a settlement on the mainland, beneath the cliff where the current city of Dubrovnik stands. These two settlements eventually merged, forming a symbiosis that would evolve into the city of Dubrovnik.

Middle Ages

In the early Middle Ages, Dubrovnik was under Byzantine rule, offering it protection from various would-be conquerors. By the 12th century, however, Dubrovnik began to establish its own semi-autonomous status. In 1205, it came under Venetian control, remaining a vassal state to Venice until 1358.

In 1358, Dubrovnik gained its independence from Venice under the Treaty of Zadar, subsequently becoming a vassal of the Hungarian-Croatian king. During this time, the Republic of Ragusa was established, with the city flourishing as a powerful and prosperous maritime republic.

The Golden Age

Dubrovnik's Golden Age occurred in the 15th and 16th centuries. The Republic mastered the art of diplomacy, managing to maintain its independence despite being located between the warring Ottoman Empire and Venice. As a neutral state, Dubrovnik thrived on international trade and seafaring. It developed a robust fleet of merchant ships that traveled throughout the Mediterranean and beyond, fostering connections with ports from Spain to the Black Sea.

During this time, Dubrovnik demonstrated remarkable advancements in science, literature, and art. The Republic established one of the first quarantine facilities (Lazarettos) in 1377, a testament to its understanding of public health. It is also home to one of the oldest pharmacies in the world, which opened in 1317 and still in operation today.

Dubrovnik History

Challenges and Changes

Dubrovnik's fortunes started to change in the late 17th century. A catastrophic earthquake in 1667 destroyed most of the city and killed many of its inhabitants. The city was rebuilt in the Baroque style that we see today, but the Republic's power started to wane.

In 1806, Dubrovnik surrendered to Napoleon's French forces to avoid destruction. Four years later, in 1810, the city was annexed to the French Illyrian provinces. The Republic was formally abolished by the Congress of Vienna in 1815, and Dubrovnik became part of the Austrian (later Austro-Hungarian) Empire until 1918.

20th Century and Beyond

In the aftermath of World War I, Dubrovnik became part of the newly formed Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (later known as Yugoslavia). During World War II, it was occupied by the Italian and later German armies. After the war, it became part of the Socialist Republic of Croatia within Tito's Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

Dubrovnik suffered significant damage during the Croatian War of Independence (1991–1995), when it was besieged by the Yugoslav People's Army. The city has since been restored and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Today, Dubrovnik is an integral part of a free and independent Croatia, and its beauty and cultural heritage continue to attract visitors from around the world.

Dubrovnik History

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