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by Hugh Morris, The Daily Telegraph, November 7, 2016
Dubrovnik, though prominent in the Middle Ages as the Republic of Ragusa, has found a new lease of life in recent years and is increasingly appearing on the "bucket lists" of travellers (thanks in no small part to Game of Thrones). Think you know a thing or two about the city? Think again...
1. It once saved an English king's life
The city’s most notable place of worship, the Dubrovnik Cathedral of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, was built with the help of a large donation from Richard the Lionheart. In 1192 the English king was returning home from the Third Crusades, an attempt by European leaders to reconquer the Holy Land from Saladin, when he was caught in a storm off the Croatian coast. Legend has it that the monarch promised to God to build a cathedral wherever he reached land alive – and that land happened to be the small island of Lokrum opposite Dubrovnik. Hearing of the king’s arrival, locals sought out the monarch and convinced him not to build the cathedral on the island but instead in the city. The resulting basilica was largely destroyed in an earthquake in 1667 and rebuilt in 1713.
2. It’s best mates with the USA
Dubrovnik – as the capital of the Republic of Ragusa – made a name for itself through both trade (vying with the Venetians) and diplomacy. One of its diplomatic highlights was the key role it played in the blossoming independence of the United States. The newly-born US, anxious to conclude trade agreements with the European powers during the revolution years, did a deal with Ragusa, and hides arrived from Baltimore, New York and Philadelphia. Some claim Dubrovnik was the first state in the world to recognise the United States of America, in 1783.
3. Its thicker-than-thick city walls have never been breached
The city’s most famous feature is its imposing stone boundary. The walls seen today were constructed between the 12th and 17th centuries and encircling the old city. They are in places up to six metres thick and have never been breached by a hostile army. A trip to Dubronvik is not complete without a stroll around the walls ( citywallsdubronvik.hr ).
During the construction of the Minčeta Tower, one of the focal points of the city’s defences, in 1464, a shortage of local building materials prompted the authorities to order anyone arriving at the city from the direction of Gruž Harbour or Ploče Gate to bring a stone with them.
4. It was involved in Europe’s most recent war
Dubrovnik was badly affected by one of the Europe’s freshest conflicts. The city was besieged for nearly eight months by the Yugoslav People’s Army in 1991 and 1992 during the Croatian War of Independence (or the Homeland War). As many as 88 Croatian civilians and 194 military personnel died as the Yugoslav army rained shells down on the old city from the hilltop above (where there is today a museum to the war, accessible by cable car; dubrovnikcablecar.com/museum ). Nearly 11,500 buildings sustained damage during the bombardment, but the restoration work since has hidden much of the damage. Today, a map just inside the city walls show how each building fared during the attack, including any direct hits. There is also a Memorial Room of the Defenders of Dubrovnik, where the dead are remembered ( tzdubrovnik.hr ).
5. It’s a regular on the silver screen
For many visitors Dubrovnik is King's Landing, capital of Westeros (if you've not seen HBO's hit show Game of Thrones, then simply read on). And its starring role in the series has prompted other filmmakers to move in. This spring saw Benicio Del Toro and Laura Dern in town, for the filming of Star Wars: Episode VIII. And in early 2017, Dubrovnik's cobbled alleys will once again be packed for the shooting of Robin Hood: Origins, produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, and starring Taron Egerton as Robin Hood and Jamie Foxx as Little John. It's likely that this will not be just one film, but a trilogy.
6. It’s cut off from the rest of Croatia
Just north of Dubrovnik there is a 12-mile wide strip of Bosnia and Herzegovina that cuts Croatia in two. This corridor of land provides sea access to Croatia’s otherwise-landlocked neighbour and is a product of a slump in the finances of the Republic of Dubrovnik in the 17th century. It was forced it to sell two patches of land to the Ottomans – the Bosnian corridor being one of them – in order to raise a bit of cash and halt the Venetian forces advancing from the north. Today, anyone driving to the city from the north must negotiate border control on either side of the territory, passing the seaside town of Neum, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s only port.
7. It’s home to the world’s oldest pharmacy
Europe's longest operating pharmacy, and one of the oldest in the world, is located inside Dubrovnik's Franciscan Monastery, founded in 1317 ( tzdubrovnik.hr/franciscan_pharmacy ). The monks began making medicines, which they sold to local citizens - mostly herb-based cures for everyday disturbances, such as headaches, indigestion and insomnia. Although the pharmacy is now managed by the Dubrovnik Pharmacies Organisation, and stocks modern prescription pharmaceuticals, it still sells a modest selection of face creams and herbal teas, prepared to the monks' age-old recipes.
8. It has some famous fans
In the 19th century the city caught the eye of one of the more eccentric romantics of the era, Lord Byron, who proclaimed it the “Pearl of the Adriatic”. Byron is not the city’s only literary fan. Playwright George Bernard Shaw, who wrote Pygmalion, once said: “Those who seek paradise on earth should come to Dubrovnik.”
9. It's always been against slavery
The Republic of Dubrovnik officially banned slavery 600 years ago, in 1416. With a vote of 75 for the ban - and just three against, members of the Grand Chamber condemned slavery as "shameful, wrong and disgusting, and against all humanity". Anyone who disobeyed the law was fined and sentenced to a six-month spell in the lower dungeons. It took most other countries several centuries to catch up – the slave trade was not banned in Britain until 1833, and in the US until 1865.
10. It shows its age
Due to its age and civilised start to life, Dubrovnik lays claim to a number of world firsts (not just the pharmacy). It has one of the earliest medieval sewage systems, installed in 1296, and still used today, as well as one of the first quarantine facilities, established in 1377. Likewise, the orphanage set up in 1432 as part of the Monastery of St Clare was one of the first such institutions in the world.
This article was written by Hugh Morris from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.