The prosperity of the city was historically based on maritime trade; as the capital of the maritime Republic of Ragusa, it achieved a high level of development, particularly during the 15th and 16th centuries, as it became notable for its wealth and skilled diplomacy.
In 1991, after the break-up of Yugoslavia, Dubrovnik was besieged by Serbian and Montenegrin soldiers of the Yugoslav People's Army for seven months and suffered significant damage from shelling. After repair and restoration works in the 1990s and early 2000s, Dubrovnik re-emerged as one of the top tourist destinations in the Mediterranean.
The names Dubrovnik and Ragusa co-existed for several centuries. Ragusa, recorded in various forms since at least the 10th century, remained the official name of the Republic of Ragusa until 1808, and of the city within the Kingdom of Dalmatia until 1918, while Dubrovnik, first recorded in the late 12th century, was in widespread use by the late 16th or early 17th century.
The name Dubrovnik of the Adriatic city is first recorded in the Charter of Ban Kulin (1189). It is mostly explained as "dubron", a Celtic name for water (Gaulish dubron, Irish dobar, Welsh dubr/dwfr, Cornish dofer), akin to the toponyms Douvres, Dover, and Tauber.
The historical name Ragusa is recorded in the Greek form Ῥαούσιν (Rhaousin, Latinized Ragusium) in the 10th century. It was recorded in various forms in the medieval period, Rausia, Lavusa, Labusa, Raugia, Rachusa. Various attempts have been made to etymologize the name. Suggestions include derivation from Greek ῥάξ, ῥαγός "grape"; from Greek ῥώξ, ῥωγός "narrow passage"; Greek ῥωγάς "ragged (of rocks)", ῥαγή (ῥαγάς) "fissure"; from the name of the Epirote tribe of the Rhogoi, from an unidentified Illyrian substrate. A connection to the name of Sicilian Ragusa has also been proposed. Putanec (1993) gives a review of etymological suggestion, and favours an explanation of the name as pre-Greek ("Pelasgian"), from a root cognate to Greek ῥαγή "fissure", with a suffix -ussa also found in the Greek name of Brač, Elaphousa.
The classical explanation of the name is due to Constantine Porphyrogenitus's De Administrando Imperio (10th century). According to this account, Ragusa (Ῥαούσιν) is the foundation of the refugees from Epidaurum (Ragusa Vecchia), a Greek city situated some 15 km (9 mi) to the south of Ragusa, when that city was destroyed in the Slavic incursions of the 7th century. The name is explained as a corruption of Lausa, the name of the rocky island on which the city was built (connected by Constantine to Greek λᾶας "rock, stone").
According to Constantine Porphyrogenitus's De Administrando Imperio (c. 950), Ragusa was founded in the 7th century, named for a "rocky island" called Lausa, by refugees from Epidaurum (Ragusa Vecchia), a Greek city situated some 15 km to the south, when that city was destroyed in the Slavic incursions.
Excavations in 2007 revealed a Byzantine basilica from the 8th century and parts of the city walls. The size of the old basilica clearly indicates that there was quite a large settlement at the time. There is also evidence for the presence of a settlement in the pre-Christian era.
Antun Ničetić, in his 1996 book Povijest dubrovačke luke ("History of the Port of Dubrovnik"), expounds the theory that Dubrovnik was established by Greek sailors, as a station halfway between the two Greek settlements of Budva and Korčula, 95 nautical miles (176 km; 109 mi) apart from each other.
After the fall of the Ostrogothic Kingdom, the town came under the protection of the Byzantine Empire. Dubrovnik in those medieval centuries had a Roman population. After the Crusades, Dubrovnik came under the sovereignty of Venice (1205–1358), which would give its institutions to the Dalmatian city. After a fire destroyed almost the whole city in the night of August 16, 1296, a new urban plan was developed. By the Peace Treaty of Zadar in 1358, Dubrovnik achieved relative independence as a vassal-state of the Kingdom of Hungary.
Between the 14th century and 1808, Dubrovnik ruled itself as a free state, although it was a vassal from 1382 to 1804 of the Ottoman Empire and paid an annual tribute to its sultan. The Republic reached its peak in the 15th and 16th centuries, when its thalassocracy rivalled that of the Republic of Venice and other Italian maritime republics.
For centuries, Dubrovnik was an ally of Ancona, the other Adriatic maritime republic rival of Venice, which was the Ottoman Empire's chief rival for control of the Adriatic. This alliance enabled the two towns set on opposite sides of the Adriatic to resist attempts by the Venetians to make the Adriatic a "Venetian Bay", also controlling directly or indirectly all the Adriatic ports. Ancona and Dubrovnik developed an alternative trade route to the Venetian (Venice-Austria-Germany): starting in Dubrovnik it went on to Ancona, through Florence and ended in Flanders as seen on this map.
The Republic of Ragusa received its own Statutes as early as 1272, statutes which, among other things, codified Roman practice and local customs. The Statutes included prescriptions for town planning and the regulation of quarantine (for sanitary reasons).
The Republic was an early adopter of what are now regarded as modern laws and institutions: a medical service was introduced in 1301, with the first pharmacy, still operating to this day, being opened in 1317. An almshouse was opened in 1347, and the first quarantine hospital (Lazarete) was established in 1377. Slave trading was abolished in 1418, and an orphanage opened in 1432. A 20 km (12 mi) water supply system, instead of a cistern, was constructed in 1438 by the Neapolitan architect and engineer Onofrio della Cava. He completed the aqueduct with two public fountains. He also built a number of mills along one of its branches.
The city was ruled by the local aristocracy which was of Latin-Dalmatian extraction and formed two city councils. As usual for the time, they maintained a strict system of social classes. The republic abolished the slave trade early in the 15th century and valued liberty highly. The city successfully balanced its sovereignty between the interests of Venice and the Ottoman Empire for centuries.
The languages spoken by the people were the Romance Dalmatian and common Croatian. The latter started to replace Dalmatian little by little since the 11th century among the common people who inhabited the city. Italian and Venetian would become important languages of culture and trade in Dubrovnik. At the same time, Dubrovnik became a cradle of Croatian literature.
The economic wealth of the Republic was partially the result of the land it developed, but especially of seafaring trade. With the help of skilled diplomacy, Dubrovnik merchants travelled lands freely and on the sea the city had a huge fleet of merchant ships (argosy) that travelled all over the world. From these travels they founded some settlements, from India to America, and brought parts of their culture and flora home with them. One of its keys to success was not conquering, but trading and sailing under a white flag with the word Latin: Libertas (freedom) prominently featured on it. The flag was adopted when slave trading was abolished in 1418.
Many Conversos, Jews from Spain and Portugal, were attracted to the city. In May 1544, a ship landed there filled exclusively with Portuguese refugees, as Balthasar de Faria reported to King John. During this time there worked in the city one of the most famous cannon and bell founders of his time: Ivan Rabljanin (Magister Johannes Baptista Arbensis de la Tolle). Already in 1571 Dubrovnik sold its protectorate over some Christian settlements in other parts of the Ottoman Empire to France and Venice. At that time there was also a colony of Dubrovnik in Fes in Morocco. The bishop of Dubrovnik was a Cardinal protector in 1571. At that time there were only 16 other countries which had Cardinal protectors; those being France, Spain, Austria, Portugal, Poland, England, Scotland, Ireland, Naples, Sicily, Sardinia, Savoy, Lucca, Greece, Illyria, Armenia and Lebanon.
The Republic gradually declined due to a combination of a Mediterranean shipping crisis and the catastrophic earthquake of 1667 which killed over 5,000 citizens and levelled most of the public buildings, and consequently negatively impacted the whole well-being of the Republic. In 1699, the Republic was forced to sell two mainland patches of its territory to the Ottomans in order to avoid being caught in the clash with advancing Venetian forces. Today this strip of land belongs to Bosnia and Herzegovina and is that country's only direct access to the Adriatic. A highlight of Dubrovnik's diplomacy was the involvement in the American Revolution.
In 1806, the city surrendered to the Napoleonic army, as that was the only way to end a month-long siege by the Russian-Montenegrin fleets (during which 3,000 cannonballs fell on the city). At first, Napoleon demanded only free passage for his troops, promising not to occupy the territory and stressing that the French were friends of Dubrovnik. Later, however, French forces blockaded the harbours, forcing the government to give in and let French troops enter the city. On this day, all flags and coats of arms above the city walls were painted black as a sign of mourning. In 1808, Marshal Auguste de Marmont abolished the republic and integrated its territory first into Napoleon's Kingdom of Italy and later into the Illyrian provinces under French rule. This was to last until 28 January 1814 when the city surrendered to Captain Sir William Hoste leading a body of British and Austrian troops who were besieging the fortress.
The official language until 1472 was Latin. Later, the Senate of the Republic decided that the official language of the Republic would be the Dubrovnik dialect of the Romance Dalmatian language, and forbade the use of the Croatian language in senatorial debate. The Gospari (the Aristocracy) held on to their language for many centuries, but it slowly disappeared.
The Italian language as spoken in the republic was heavily influenced by the Venetian language and the Tuscan dialect. Italian took root among the Dalmatian-speaking merchant upper classes, as a result of Venetian influence.
When the Habsburg Empire annexed these provinces after the 1815 Congress of Vienna, the new authorities implemented a bureaucratic administration, established the Kingdom of Dalmatia, which had its own Sabor (Diet) or Parliament, based in the city of Zadar, and political parties such as the Autonomist Party and the People's Party. They introduced a series of modifications intended to slowly centralise the bureaucratic, tax, religious, educational, and trade structure. Unfortunately for the local residents, these steps largely failed, despite the intention of wanting to stimulate the economy. Once the personal, political and economic damage of the Napoleonic Wars had been overcome, new movements began to form in the region, calling for a political reorganisation of the Adriatic along national lines.
The combination of these two forces—a flawed Habsburg administrative system and new national movement claiming ethnicity as the founding block toward a community—posed a particularly perplexing problem: Dalmatia was a province ruled by the German-speaking Habsburg monarchy, with bilingual (Croatian- and Italian-speaking) elites that dominated the general population consisting of a Croatian Catholic majority (and a Slavic Orthodox minority).
In 1815, the former Dubrovnik Government (its noble assembly) met for the last time in Ljetnikovac in Mokošica. Once again, extreme measures were taken to re-establish the Republic, but it was all in vain. After the fall of the Republic most of the aristocracy was recognised by the Austrian Empire.
In 1832, Baron Šišmundo Getaldić-Gundulić (Sigismondo Ghetaldi-Gondola) (1795–1860) was elected Mayor of Dubrovnik, serving for 13 years; the Austrian government granted him the title of "Baron".
Count Rafael Pucić (Raffaele Pozza), (1828–1890) was elected for first time Podestà of Dubrovnik in the year 1869 after this was re-elected in 1872, 1875, 1882, 1884) and elected twice into the Dalmatian Council, 1870, 1876. The victory of the Nationalists in Split in 1882 strongly affected in the areas of Korčula and Dubrovnik. It was greeted by the mayor (podestà) of Dubrovnik Rafael Pucić, the National Reading Club of Dubrovnik, the Workers Association of Dubrovnik and the review "Slovinac"; by the communities of Kuna and Orebić, the latter one getting the nationalist government even before Split.
In 1889, the Serb-Catholics circle supported Baron Francesco Ghetaldi-Gondola, the candidate of the Autonomous Party, vs the candidate of Popular Party Vlaho de Giulli, in the 1890 election to the Dalmatian Diet. The following year, during the local government election, the Autonomous Party won the municipal re-election with Francesco Gondola, who died in power in 1899. The alliance won the election again on 27 May 1894. Frano Getaldić-Gundulić founded the Società Philately on 4 December 1890.
In 1905, the Committee for establishing electric tram service, headed by Luko Bunić – certainly one of the most deserving persons who contributed to the realisation of the project – was established. Other members of the Committee were Ivo Papi, Miho Papi, Artur Saraka, Mato Šarić, Antun Pugliesi, Mato Gracić, Ivo Degiulli, Ernest Katić and Antun Milić. The tram service in Dubrovnik existed from 1910 to 1970.
Pero Čingrija (1837–1921), one of the leaders of the People's Party in Dalmatia, played the main role in the merger of the People's Party and the Party of Right into a single Croatian Party in 1905.
With the fall of Austria–Hungary in 1918, the city was incorporated into the new Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (later the Kingdom of Yugoslavia). Dubrovnik became one of the 33 oblasts of the Kingdom. When in 1929 Yugoslavia was divided among 9 Banovina, the city became part of the Zeta Banovina. In 1939 Dubrovnik became part of the newly created Banovina of Croatia.
During World War II, Dubrovnik became part of the Nazi-puppet Independent State of Croatia, occupied by the Italian army first, and by the German army after 8 September 1943. In October 1944 Yugoslav Partisans occupied Dubrovnik, arresting more than 300 citizens and executing 53 without trial; this event came to be known, after the small island on which it occurred, as the Daksa Massacre. Communist leadership during the next several years continued political prosecutions, which culminated on 12 April 1947 with the capture and imprisonment of more than 90 citizens of Dubrovnik.
Under communism Dubrovnik became part of the Socialist Republic of Croatia and Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. In 1979, the city joined the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.
In 1991 Croatia and Slovenia, which at that time were republics within Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, declared their independence. At that event, Socialist Republic of Croatia was renamed Republic of Croatia.
Despite demilitarisation of the old town in early 1970s in an attempt to prevent it from ever becoming a casualty of war, following Croatia's independence in 1991 Yugoslavia's Yugoslav People's Army (JNA), by then composed primarily of Serbs, attacked the city. The new Croatian government set up military outpost in the city itself. Montenegro, led by president Momir Bulatović, and prime minister Milo Đukanović, coming to power in the Anti-bureaucratic revolution and allied to Slobodan Milošević in Serbia, declared that Dubrovnik would not remain in Croatia because they claimed it historically had never been part of Croatia. This was in spite of the large Croat majority in the city and that very few Montenegrins resided there, though Serbs accounted for 6.8 percent of the population.
On October 1, 1991 Dubrovnik was attacked by JNA with a siege of Dubrovnik that lasted for seven months. The heaviest artillery attack was on December 6 with 19 people killed and 60 wounded. The number of casualties in the conflict, according to Croatian Red Cross, was 114 killed civilians, among them poet Milan Milišić. Foreign newspapers were criticised for placing heavier attention on the damage suffered by the old town than on human casualties. Nonetheless, the artillery attacks on Dubrovnik damaged 56% of its buildings to some degree, as the historic walled city, a UNESCO world heritage site, sustained 650 hits by artillery rounds. The Croatian Army lifted the siege in May 1992, and liberated Dubrovnik's surroundings by the end of October, but the danger of sudden attacks by the JNA lasted for another three years.
Following the end of the war, damage caused by the shelling of the Old Town was repaired. Adhering to UNESCO guidelines, repairs were performed in the original style. Most of the reconstruction work was done between 1995 and 1999. The inflicted damage can be seen on a chart near the city gate, showing all artillery hits during the siege, and is clearly visible from high points around the city in the form of the more brightly coloured new roofs. ICTY indictments were issued for JNA generals and officers involved in the bombing.
General Pavle Strugar, who coordinated the attack on the city, was sentenced to a seven-and-a-half-year prison term by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia for his role in the attack.
The 1996 Croatia USAF CT-43 crash, near Dubrovnik Airport, killed everyone on a United States Air Force jet with United States Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown, The New York Times Frankfurt Bureau chief Nathaniel C. Nash and 33 other people.
The annual Dubrovnik Summer Festival is a 45-day-long cultural event with live plays, concerts, and games. It has been awarded a Gold International Trophy for Quality (2007) by the Editorial Office in collaboration with the Trade Leaders Club.
The patron saint of the city is Sveti Vlaho (Saint Blaise), whose statues are seen around the city. He has an importance similar to that of St. Mark the Evangelist to Venice. One of the larger churches in city is named after Saint Blaise. February 3 is the feast of Sveti Vlaho (Saint Blaise), who is the city's patron saint. Every year the city of Dubrovnik celebrates the holiday with Mass, parades, and festivities that last for several days.
The Old Town of Dubrovnik is depicted on the reverse of the Croatian 50 kuna banknote, issued in 1993 and 2002.
The city boasts of many old buildings, such as the Arboretum Trsteno, the oldest arboretum in the world, dating back to before 1492. Also, the third oldest European pharmacy is located in the city, which dates back to 1317 (and is the only one still in operation today). It is located at Little Brothers monastery in Dubrovnik.
In history, many Conversos (Marranos) were attracted to Dubrovnik, formerly a considerable seaport. In May 1544, a ship landed there filled exclusively with Portuguese refugees, as Balthasar de Faria reported to King John. Another admirer of Dubrovnik, George Bernard Shaw, visited the city in 1929 and said: "If you want to see heaven on earth, come to Dubrovnik."
In the bay of Dubrovnik is the 72-hectare (180-acre) wooded island of Lokrum, where according to legend, Richard the Lionheart, King of England, was cast ashore after being shipwrecked in 1192. The island includes a fortress, botanical garden, monastery and naturist beach.
Among the many tourist destinations are a few beaches. Banje, Dubrovnik's main public beach, is home to the Eastwest Beach Club. There is also Copacabana Beach, a stony beach on the Lapad peninsula, named after the popular beach in Rio de Janeiro.
Dubrovnik has also been mentioned in popular film and theatre. In the 1997 film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea with Michael Caine, one of the characters said to have been dreaming of fairy from Dubrovnik (motive known from local legends and literature).
Few of Dubrovnik's Renaissance buildings survived the earthquake of 1667 but fortunately enough remained to give an idea of the city's architectural heritage. The finest Renaissance highlight is the Sponza Palace which dates from the 16th century and is currently used to house the National Archives. The Rector's Palace is a Gothic-Renaissance structure that displays finely carved capitals and an ornate staircase. It now houses a museum. Its façade is depicted on the reverse of the Croatian 50 kuna banknote, issued in 1993 and 2002. The St. Saviour Church is another remnant of the Renaissance period, next to the much-visited Franciscan Church and Monastery. The Franciscan monastery's library possesses 30,000 volumes, 216 incunabula, 1,500 valuable handwritten documents. Exhibits include a 15th-century silver-gilt cross and silver thurible, and an 18th-century crucifix from Jerusalem, a martyrology (1541) by Bemardin Gucetic and illuminated psalters.
Dubrovnik's most beloved church is St Blaise's church, built in the 18th century in honour of Dubrovnik's patron saint. Dubrovnik's Baroque Cathedral was built in the 18th century and houses an impressive Treasury with relics of Saint Blaise. The city's Dominican Monastery resembles a fortress on the outside but the interior contains an art museum and a Gothic-Romanesque church. A special treasure of the Dominican monastery is its library with 216 incunabula, numerous illustrated manuscripts, a rich archive with precious manuscripts and documents and an extensive art collection.
The Neapolitan architect and engineer Onofrio della Cava completed the aqueduct with two public fountains, both built in 1438. Close to the Pile Gate stands the Big Onofrio's Fountain in the middle of a small square. It may have been inspired by the former Romanesque baptistry of the former cathedral in Bunić Square. The sculptural elements were lost in the earthquake of 1667. Water jets gush out of the mouth of the sixteen mascarons. The Little Onofrio's Fountain stands at the eastern side of the Placa, supplying water the market place in the Luža Square. The sculptures ware made by the Milanese artist Pietro di Martino (who also sculpted the ornaments in the Rector's Palace and made a statue – now lost – for the Franciscan church).
The 31-metre-high (102 ft) bell tower, built in 1444, is one of the symbols of the free city state of Ragusa. It was built by the local architects Grubačević, Utišenović and Radončić. It was rebuilt in 1929 as it had lost its stability through an earthquake and was in danger of falling. The brass face of the clock shows the phases of the moon. Two human figures strike the bell every hour. The tower stands next to the House of the Main Guard, also built in Gothic style. It was the residence of the admiral, commander-in-chief of the army. The Baroque portal was built between 1706 and 1708 by the Venetian architect Marino Gropelli (who also built St Blaise's church).
The Republic of Ragusa, as Dubrovnik was then named, erected in 1418 the statue of Roland (Ital. Orlando) as a symbol of loyalty to Sigismund of Luxembourg (1368–1437), King of Hungary and Croatia (as of 1387), Prince-Elector of Brandenburg (between 1378 and 1388 and again between 1411 and 1415), German King (as of 1411), King of Bohemia (as of 1419) and Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire (as of 1433), who helped by a successful war alliance against Venice to retain Ragusa's independence. It stands in the middle of Luža Square. Roland statues were typical symbols of city autonomy or independence, often erected under Sigismund in his Electorate of Brandenburg. In 1419 the sculptor Bonino of Milano, with the help of local craftsmen, replaced the first Roland with the present Gothic statue. Its forearm was for a long time the unit of measure in Dubrovnik: one ell of Dubrovnik is equal to 51.2 cm (20.2 in).
A feature of Dubrovnik is its walls (1.1 million visitors in 2016) that run almost 2 kilometres (1.2 miles) around the city. The walls are 4 to 6 metres (13–20 feet) thick on the landward side but are much thinner on the seaward side. The system of turrets and towers were intended to protect the vulnerable city. The walls of Dubrovnik have also been a popular filming location for the fictional city of King's Landing in the HBO television series, Game of Thrones.
The total population of the city is 42,615 (census 2011), in the following settlements:
The population was 42,615 in 2011, down from 49,728 in 1991 In the 2011 census, 90.34% of the population was Croat.
Dubrovnik has an international airport of its own. It is located approximately 20 km (12 mi) southeast of Dubrovnik city centre, near Čilipi. Buses connect the airport with the Dubrovnik old main bus station in Gruž. In addition, a network of modern, local buses connects all Dubrovnik neighbourhoods running frequently from dawn to midnight. However, Dubrovnik, unlike Croatia's other major centres, is not accessible by rail; until 1975 Dubrovnik was connected to Mostar and Sarajevo by a narrow gauge railway (760 mm) built during the Austro-Hungarian rule of Bosnia.
The A1 highway, in use between Zagreb and Ploče, is planned to be extended all the way to Dubrovnik. Because the area around the city is disconnected from the rest of Croatian territory, the highway will either cross the Pelješac Bridge whose construction is currently stalled, or run through Neum in Bosnia and Herzegovina and continue to Dubrovnik.
Dubrovnik has a number of educational institutions. These include Dubrovnik International University, the University of Dubrovnik, a Nautical College, a Tourism College, a University Centre for Postgraduate Studies of the University of Zagreb, American College of Management and Technology, Diocesan Classical Gymnasium "Ruđer Bošković" in Dubrovnik and an Institute of History of the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts.
Dubrovnik has a borderline humid subtropical (Cfa) and Mediterranean climate (Csa) in the Köppen climate classification, since only one summer month has less than 40 mm (1.6 in) of rainfall, preventing it from being classified as solely humid subtropical or Mediterranean. It has hot, muggy, moderately dry summers and mild to cool, wet winters. The Bora wind blows cold gusts down the Adriatic coast between October and April, and thundery conditions are common all the year round, even in summer, when they interrupt the warm, sunny days. The air temperatures can slightly vary, depending on the area or region. Typically, in July and August daytime maximum temperatures reach 28 °C (82 °F), and at night drop to around 23 °C (73 °F). In Spring and Autumn maximum temperatures are typically between 20 °C (68 °F) and 28 °C (82 °F). Winters are among the mildest of any Croatian city, with daytime temperatures around 13 °C (55 °F) in the coldest months. Snow in Dubrovnik is very rare.
The HBO series Game of Thrones used Dubrovnik as a filming location, representing the cities of King's Landing and Qarth. Locations used in filming include Arboretum Trsteno, St. Dominic Street, Lokrum Island, The Knežev dvor and Sponza palaces, Lovrijenac, the abandoned Hotel Belvedere, Fort Bokar, and the Minčeta tower. Parts of Star Wars: The Last Jedi were filmed in Dubrovnik in March 2016. Dubrovnik was one of the European sites used in the Bollywood movie Fan (2016), starring Shah Rukh Khan. In early 2017, Robin Hood was filmed on locations in Dubrovnik. In Kander and Ebb's song "Ring Them Bells," the protagonist, Shirley Devore, goes to Dubrovnik to look for a husband and meets her neighbor from New York.