Eastern European Narratives: Dubrovnik, Croatia II


Dubrovnik’s long history of survival

For more than 3,000 years, the Adriatic has been the most practical trade route between Europe and the East. And for centuries, Croatia has been a buffer zone between east and west and between north and south.

Recorded history in Croatia starts with the Illyrians, a group of tribes that shared building and funeral techniques. By the 7th century BC, the Illyrians were trading with the ancient Greeks, and within two centuries the Greeks had established colonies in the area, notably Pharos (now Stari Grad) on the island of Hvar. By 229 BC, the Greeks were calling on Rome to help them in their quest to dominate the region.

In 1205 Dubrovnik came under Venetian control in the Adriatic, remaining under their sovereignty until 1358, when it became part of the Hungarian-Croatian kingdom. By then Dubrovnik was also becoming a trading state of increasing importance. Capitalizing on its fortunate position, Dubrovnik developed a strong seafaring tradition, eventually establishing trade routes all the way to Spain, Portugal and England.

In the early 14th century, after a huge fire destroyed most of Dubrovnik, a new urban plan was developed. At the beginning of the 15th century the remaining wooden houses in Dubrovnik were demolished and rebuilt in stone, in order to prevent fires from spreading.

By that time, Dubrovnik flourished as a haven of liberalism, allowing Dominicans and Franciscans within the city walls and offering asylum to refugees, including Jews, when many other cities turned them away at the gate. Dubrovnik abolished slavery in 1416, more than 400 years ahead of Britain (1833) and America (1863). Many slaves subsequently had their freedom bought for them by Dubrovnik nobles. The republics’s wealth was put to good use in a major building program.

Tragically, an earthquake destroyed most of the city in 1520, and the plague returned in force in 1528, killing more than 20,000 people. By the end of the 1520s, the Turks had pretty much defeated Hungary, and Dubrovnik was quick to change its allegiance from the Hungarian king to the Turkish sultan.

In 1588 Dubrovnik joined the Spanish in their ‘Invincible Armada’, losing a dozen of its finest ships and interrupting trade with Britain for nearly two centuries. New trade routes across the Atlantic made Britain, Spain and Portugal into wealthy nations; Mediterranean shipping was never to regain its former importance.

Disaster struck again in April 1667, when a massive earthquake destroyed Dubrovnik, killing more than 5,000 people, including the entire Minor Council and more than half of the Great Council. Dubrovnik’s massive rebuilding program continued through the early 18th century. By the end of the 18th century, Dubrovnik had regained a considerable amount of its wealth and standing.

Unfortunately, however, on May 26,1806, Napoleon broke a month-long siege by Russian and Montenegrin forces, and the republic allowed a French garrison to enter Dubrovnik. Once installed, the French didn’t leave. In 1809, Dubrovnik was absorbed into the newly created French Illyrian Provinces stretching up the Adriatic Coast to Trieste. When Napoleon was finally defeated, Austria sent troops south and took control of Dubrovnik in 1814. A century later Dubrovnik became part of Yugoslavia.

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