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Interesting historical facts about Dubrovnik

Updated: Dec 19, 2023

Discover Dubrovnik - A closer look at its captivating past

The exact age of Dubrovnik is still unknown

Until 1981 there was a firm belief that Dubrovnik had been founded in the 7th century. However, during the reconstruction works that followed the earthquake of 1979, the remains of an until-then-unknown cathedral were found in the foundations of the existing cathedral. Based on those remains, the experts deduced that the unknown cathedral had been erected before the 7th century. This gave space to many theories about the origins of Dubrovnik, but none of them has been confirmed as the right one, yet.

Dubrovnik used to be an independent state

The period from 1358 until 1808 (450 years) is known as the time of the Republic of Dubrovnik. (The term 'Republic' was officially introduced in the 15th century). During that period, Dubrovnik became a relevant Mediterranean city-state, important for its maritime trade.

Dubrovnik’s most potent weapon was diplomacy

It is hard to imagine that a tiny state like Dubrovnik could survive throughout centuries in its turbulent historical context. In order to overcome the challenges of history, Dubrovnikans developed their diplomatic skills, which even today provoke admiration and respect.

The only monument that the aristocratic Republic erected to honour a real person during its long existence, was the monument dedicated to a plebeian

Miho Pracat was born into a low-income family and had to provide for their living at a very early age. Since he was fast learning and skilful, he became one of the wealthiest people in the Republic. What made him worthy of the monument was the fact that he bequeathed a considerable amount of his enormous fortune to charities, brotherhoods, churches and monasteries. The bronze bust of this Dubrovnik benefactor can be found in the atrium of the Rector's Palace.

The island Lokrum is believed to be cursed

Lokrum is situated in the immediate vicinity of the Old City. It is one of the favourite relaxing spots for locals and tourists. What makes it intriguing is the story that the island is cursed. Legend has it that Benedictines, who had lived there for centuries, were obliged to abandon the island because the government of Dubrovnik had decided (and the Pope had approved) to sell it to get money for Dubrovnik's charitable institutions. Prior to their forced departure, Benedictines, shrouded in black habits, hooded and carrying lit candles, turned upside-down, processed around the island three times and cursed by death or heavy misfortune all the future owners of the island. The fact is that Lokrum saw numerous proprietors who died in tragic or unexplained circumstances or they faced a bad financial situation, so they had to sell their portions of the island.

Dubrovnik was governed by a ‘prisoner’

The head of the government of the Republic was a rector (even though his role was more symbolic and representative). His mandate lasted one month, during which he lived in the Rector's Palace without his family. He was allowed to leave the Palace only for state and protocol duties.

Dubrovnik often proved to be ahead of its time

  • Medieval sewerage

By the end of the 13th century, Dubrovnik adopted an ecological codex which manifested in provisions for the construction & maintenance of septic tanks and sewerage channels and deciding to pave streets and manage the rainwaters' drainage. Even today, the Old City's sewerage and rainwater systems rely on the medieval network.

  • Dubrovnik against slavery

By abolishing the slave trade on the Republic's territory in 1400 and banning the transportation of enslaved people on Dubrovnikan ships in 1416, the government of Dubrovnik started the process that led to the complete eradication of slavery by the end of the 15th century.

  • Spring water was brought to the thirsty city in the first half of the 15th century

Not many European cities can compete with this remarkable achievement that occurred in Dubrovnik in 1438. Since the traditional water supply methods did not meet the requirements of Dubrovnik at the time, the government of the small state decided to build an aqueduct, which would bring fresh water from a 12 km distant spring. Two Italians (Onofrio della Cava actually gets all the credit, two fountains were named after him) were contracted by the government to execute the delicate project to bring fresh water to the city. Since Dubrovnikans were suspicious of a positive outcome, the two Italians agreed to bear the expenses themselves in case of failure. However, they succeeded; they finished the project on time and remarkably improved the life of Dubrovnikans.

  • Dubrovnik manifested the humanitarian character from its early beginnings

Dubrovnikans knew that the state and the progress of a society could be measured by the care the community took for their most vulnerable members. Written sources witness that the awareness of the importance of humanitarian work existed in Dubrovnik already in the second half of the 13th century. The care for abandoned children in Dubrovnik draws the most attention. We know about the existence of a private orphanage within St. Clare's Convent in 1290. In 1432, the government of Dubrovnik decided to found the state orphanage, considered one of the first such institutions in Europe. The institution has been active since then.

  • Quarantine – Dubrovnik way to prevent epidemics of contagious diseases

In 1377, after many people had died due to the Black Death, which, as it was believed, had come to Europe from Asia, the government of Dubrovnik decided to introduce a quarantine, where all those arriving from countries affected by contagious diseases, had to spend 40 days in isolation before entering the city or the territory of the Republic (word 'quarantine' derives from Italian 'quaranta', which means forty). The Republic built many quarantines in different locations. The last one, which is well preserved, was built in the suburb of Ploce in 1624.

  • Dubrovnik had one of the first pharmacies in Europe

Established in 1317, the pharmacy within the Franciscan monastery is one of Europe's oldest pharmacies and is still operating.

Interesting facts about Dubrovnik
Old Pharmacy, Franciscan Monastery

If you are interested in more interesting facts about Dubrovnik opt for our private walking tour of the Old City of Dubrovnik



Dubrovnik Driving Guide

Hi! I'm Julija, a licensed tourist guide and private driver-guide based in Dubrovnik, Croatia. I started this blog as an extension of the Dubrovnik Driving Guide Website. Over the years, my journey in this field has been shaped by continuous learning and the positive feedback shared by those I've had the pleasure of assisting. This blog is my way of offering helpful insights to enhance your holiday experience in Dubrovnik and Croatia.

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