Dubrovnik

Photo by László Tóth on Unsplash
Photo by László Tóth on Unsplash

Photo by László Tóth on Unsplash

Short history

Initially known as Ragusa, the city was founded in the 7th century by refugees from Epidaurum. Its strategic location on the Adriatic Sea facilitated its rise as a major trading center, under the protection of the Byzantine Empire and later the Republic of Venice.

During the 15th and 16th centuries, Dubrovnik experienced its golden age, achieving remarkable prosperity through maritime trade. This period was also notable for the city’s diplomatic endeavors, which allowed it to maintain its independence. 

However, the city’s fortunes were dramatically altered by the devastating earthquake of 1667. The subsequent centuries saw the city face further challenges, including occupations during the Napoleonic Wars and the impact of the shipping crisis.

The 20th century brought new trials, most notably the Croatian War of Independence in 1991, during which Dubrovnik suffered significant damage. 

Today, Dubrovnik’s history is evident in its medieval architecture, preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Geography

Dubrovnik is positioned in the southern part of Croatia, along the coastline of the Adriatic Sea. The city is surrounded by a rugged landscape, with the serene Elaphiti Islands to the northwest and the Pelješac peninsula to the northeast, creating a natural barrier.

The climate in Dubrovnik is characterized by mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers, typical of the Mediterranean region. July and August are the hottest months, with temperatures often soaring above 30°C (86°F). Conversely, January is the coldest month, with temperatures ranging from 5°C to 12°C (41°F to 54°F).

The old town, enclosed by massive stone walls constructed between the 11th and 17th centuries, is a Dubrovnik’s most prominent feature. Its layout is a mix of medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque elements, with narrow streets and historic buildings that have been preserved or restored.

Administratively, Dubrovnik holds the status of a city within the Dubrovnik-Neretva County, one of Croatia’s 20 counties. 

Population

As of the latest data, the city has a population of 42,615 residents. This figure represents a community comprising primarily of ethnic Croats, who make up around 90% of the population. The city’s demographic profile is complemented by a mix of minority ethnic groups, including Serbs, Bosniaks, and Montenegrins.

The predominant religion in Dubrovnik is Roman Catholicism. This religious affiliation plays an important role in the cultural identity of the city’s inhabitants and influences various social and cultural events throughout the year. 

Croatian is the official language, spoken by the vast majority of the population. Additionally, the presence of Italian and English is notable, reflecting the city’s historical ties with Italy and its status as a global tourist destination.

Culturally, Dubrovnik is renowned for its preservation of traditional customs and practices. The city’s calendar is marked by numerous festivals and events, which include, for example, the famous Dubrovnik Summer Festival.

Main sights

  • The City Walls: Surrounding the old town, these formidable walls date back to the 10th century. Walking along the walls is a must-do for any visitor.
  • Stradun: Also known as Placa, this is the main street of Dubrovnik, running through the heart of the old town. It’s lined with cafes and shops.
  • Rector’s Palace: A masterpiece of Gothic-Renaissance architecture, the Rector’s Palace was the seat of the Rector of the Republic of Ragusa. Today, it houses the Cultural History Museum.
  • Dubrovnik Cathedral: Officially known as the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, this Baroque structure houses an impressive collection of religious art, including a painting attributed to Titian.
  • Sponza Palace: Known for its beautiful mix of Gothic and Renaissance architecture, the Sponza Palace has served various public functions over the centuries. Today, it hosts the Dubrovnik Archives.
  • Lovrijenac Fort: Perched on a cliff just outside the western wall of the city, Fort Lovrijenac is often referred to as “Dubrovnik’s Gibraltar.” 
  • Lokrum Island: Just a short boat ride from the old town, Lokrum Island is a nature reserve where visitors can explore botanical gardens, a monastery, and peacocks roaming freely.

Food

  • Black Risotto (Crni Rižot): Rich and creamy, made with cuttlefish or squid, rice, garlic, red wine, and olive oil. Its distinctive black color comes from the ink used in the preparation. 
  • Peka: A traditional Dalmatian dish, Peka involves slow-cooking meat or seafood with vegetables under a bell-like dome, or “ispod peke.” The ingredients, often including octopus, lamb, or veal, are mixed with herbs and then cooked.
  • Dubrovnik Rozata: A beloved dessert in Dubrovnik, Rozata is a custard pudding similar to flan, made with eggs, milk, sugar, and flavored with rose liqueur. This sweet treat is often topped with caramel sauce.
  • Grilled Fish: Freshly caught fish, such as sea bass or sea bream, is simply seasoned with olive oil, garlic, and lemon, and then grilled. It’s best enjoyed with a side of blitva (Swiss chard and potatoes).
  • Šporki Makaruli: A traditional pasta dish of Dubrovnik, Šporki Makaruli translates to “dirty macaroni.” The pasta is served with a meat sauce made from beef or veal, onions, and a mix of spices.
  • Ston Cake (Stonska Torta): Originating from the nearby town of Ston, this cake is made with macaroni pasta, nuts, sugar, eggs, lemon zest, and chocolate, baked in a dough crust.

Fun facts

  • Dubrovnik was one of the first cities in the world to abolish slavery in 1416, far ahead of many other European countries.
  • The city’s famous walls, which have protected it through centuries, stretch almost 2 kilometers (1.24 miles) around the city and were never breached by a hostile army during the Middle Ages.
  • Dubrovnik’s pharmacy, located inside the Franciscan Monastery, is the third oldest functioning pharmacy in the world, established in 1317.
  • The Republic of Ragusa (Dubrovnik’s historical name) had an unusual system of quarantine for travelers and goods as early as 1377, to protect its citizens from diseases like the plague.
  • Dubrovnik is a popular filming location and has been featured in numerous movies and TV series, including the globally popular “Game of Thrones,” where it served as the setting for King’s Landing.
  • The city operates one of the oldest arboretums in the world, Arboretum Trsteno, which was established in the late 15th century by the local noble family, the Gučetić-Gozze.