A museum–city and unique UNESCO World Heritage Site that had always been ahead of its time
Located in the southernmost part of the region of Dalmatia, on the shore of the Adriatic Sea, the Old city of Dubrovnik is easily the most famous Croatian tourist destination and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city’s most visible features are its well-preserved walls encircling the old city, which were constructed between the 12th and 17th centuries and are about two-kilometres long. Being a true open-air museum immersing visitors in centuries past, Dubrovnik is pure amazement.
As a former maritime and commercial power and rival to Venice, the city used to be the centre of the flourishing and independent Republic of Dubrovnik (1358–1808). Thanks to its policy of neutrality between the Pope in the West and the Ottoman sultan in the East, Dubrovnik managed to preserve its security, independence and continued prosperity. It reached its peak in the 15th and the 16th centuries, before being conquered and having its independence abolished by Napoleon in 1808. After the fall of the French Empire, its territory was reunified with other Croatian lands within the Austrian Empire.
The “Pearl of the Adriatic”
For centuries, the Republic of Dubrovnik had always been ahead of its time. Despite once having the third largest merchant fleet in the world (180 ships) and having played a significant role in global trade, Dubrovnik refused to trade in slaves. So in 1416 Dubrovnik banned slave trading and became one of the first in Europe to do so.
Moreover, Dubrovnik was a pioneer in developing old maritime laws. The regulations concerning Maritime Law contained in the multi-volume Statute of Dubrovnik, promulgated in 1272, are considered the oldest such document in the world. What is more, Dubrovnik’s 1395 Insurance Law is the oldest in Europe, predating the better-known Lloyd's by three centuries.
In 1377 Dubrovnik was also the first town in the world to establish a quarantine hospital, as well as one of the first to have a sewerage system and a 13-kilometre long water supply system, dating back to 1436. A refuge for old people was opened in 1347 and an orphanage in 1432. In addition, the Old city’s pharmacy, opened in 1317 within the walls of the Franciscan Monastery, is the third oldest in Europe and the oldest pharmacy still in use on the continent today. Another testimony of the openness of Dubrovnik and its inhabitants is the city’s Old Synagogue, established in 1352. It is the oldest Sephardic synagogue still in use today in the world and the second oldest synagogue in Europe.
The “Pearl of the Adriatic”, as it is today often referred to, has enjoyed the protection of St. Blaise, patron saint of Dubrovnik, for centuries. His feast is celebrated on 3 February without interruption since the year 972. During the festivities, the patron saint's relics are carried across Dubrovnik’s city streets in a colourful procession attended by a large number of people. In 2009, the Festivity of Saint Blaise was included on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Liberty first and foremost
One of the most typical traits of the people of Dubrovnik has always been their love of freedom. This is reflected both in the old flag of the Republic, bearing the Latin word ‘Libertas’, as well as in the official motto of the city, ‘Non bene pro toto libertas venditur auro’, meaning ‘Liberty should not be sold at any price’.
Freedom is also the main theme of the legendary Ode to Liberty, by Ivan Gundulić (1589–1638), one of the most famous Croatian poets, originating from Dubrovnik, the first verse of which starts with the following words known by every Croat: O beautiful, o precious, o sweet liberty!
Even in 1991, during the Homeland War when Dubrovnik was besieged, heavily shelled and endured the hardest time in its long history, the old city successfully resisted and the spirit of its people was never broken. Eventually, the Croatian forces broke the siege and liberated the city in summer 1992.
Today Dubrovnik is a major tourist and cultural destination and one of the most recognizable sites in Croatia. The city's major cultural event is the Dubrovnik Summer Festival which takes place each year from 10 July to 25 August, involving more than two thousand musicians, actors and dancers from many countries. Concerts given in the Renaissance atmosphere of the Rector’s Palace or plays staged on the Lovrijenac Fortress overlooking the waves of the Adriatic inspire as much by the quality of the performances as with the picture-perfect set they are staged on.
In 2003, Dubrovnik was also visited by Pope John Paul II on the occasion of his 3rd pastoral visit to Croatia. The Pope chose Dubrovnik for his 100th papal visit abroad. The city was also a main filming location for Star Wars: The Last Jedi and the Game of Thrones, the famous television series. In 2018 Dubrovnik was visited by 1.3 million tourists.