Dubrovnik History Facts and Timeline

(Dubrovnik, Southern Dalmatia, Croatia)

The popular Croatian city of Dubrovnik is one of the most important cities on the Adriatic Sea. Since its founding in the 7th century AD, the history of Dubrovnik has been inextricably linked to the sea.

During its heyday, this was one of the most powerful maritime republics in the Middle Ages, and although today its harbour is more scenic than strategic, the city still ranks amongst the region's top draws.


The Adriatic Sea has always played a major role in the history of Dubrovnik, which was originally known as Ragusa. Greek refugees from Epidaurus sought refuge here in the 7th century AD, fleeing from Barbarian invasions. They built walls to protect their settlement and slowly began to establish themselves as a maritime community of traders and sailors.

A Rival for Venice

Over the next few centuries Ragusa continued to grow, trading with other Mediterranean port cities and becoming quite stable and prosperous. In 1205, the town fell to the sovereignty of Venice, the most powerful maritime republic at the time. Ragusa eventually managed to break away from Venice in 1358, following the Peace Treaty of Zadar, although by then the Venetians had impressed their institutions of society and governance on Ragusa.

A Progressive Republic is Formed

The Republic of Ragusa gained its own statutes in the early 1270s, embracing local customs and Roman-style civic administration. The history of Dubrovnik shows that this was one of the world's most progressive early cities, adopting many laws and norms that are now considered common in a free and equal society.

A civic medical service was implemented at the turn of the 14th century and the city's first pharmacy was opened in 1317 - this still operates today. An almshouse was established in 1347 and a quarantine hospital opened roughly three decades later, while slavery was abolished in 1418. Ragusa also had orphanages as early as the 1430s and constructed a city water supply system soon after.

The Golden Years of Dubrovnik

From the 14th century until the turn of the 19th century, Ragusa governed itself as a free state under the watchful eye of the Ottoman Empire. As a vassal state, Ragusa paid its annual tribute to the Turkish sultanate, but enjoyed the peak of its civilisation during the 15th and 16th centuries, thanks to its strong trade with other maritime centres of the Mediterranean.

Hard Times for Ragusa

The thriving city hit a rough patch when a massive earthquake levelled much of Ragusa's lovely Renaissance architecture and art in the year of 1667. Only the Rector's Palace and the Sponza Palace survived this widespread devastation, giving modern visitors a glimpse at Dubrovnik's former glory.

The city was rebuilt in the Baroque style that was so popular at this time in history, although this marked a period of decline, as new trade routes siphoned off business. These troubled times required the city to undergo considerable reconstruction.

Ragusa's freedom came to an end in 1806, when Napoleon Bonaparte strolled into town and claimed its annexation. Just a few years later in 1815, Austria took control of the city in the Congress of Vienna and managed its administration for more than a century.

The Bombing of the City

Modern times began in 1918, when the Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed. The town changed its name from Ragusa to Dubrovnik and tourism began, with artists and writers such as Agatha Christie and Lord Byron discovering the charms of this city. Following the World Wars, the city enjoyed a relative period of calm until the tragic 1991 bombings by the Yugoslav army.

In December 1991, artillery from Serbian and Montenegrin forces rained down on the beautiful architecture of Dubrovnik, in a senseless and deliberate show of petty destruction. The bombings continued until the summer of 1992, causing extensive damage to the historic city core. Fortunately, the dedication of UNESCO workers and resilient locals restored Dubrovnik remarkably well. Today, the city is rightly one of Croatia's most popular tourist destinations.