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Ragusa (Croatia, 16th century)

Ragusa (Croatia, 16th century)

Today called Dubrovnik, this Croatian city is known for its spectacular architecture and beautiful location.



Ragusa, Dubrovnik, Croatia, Adriatic Sea, BYZANTINE EMPIRE, Kingdom of Hungary, Habsburg Empire, Austro-Hungarian Empire, Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, modern history, city, center, city-state, Mediterranean Sea, port, fortification, fortress, palace, tower, statue, Renaissance, defensive wall, Gothicism, dwelling, bell tower, gate, history, merchant, trade, economy

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  • Ragusa was the center of which state?
  • What made the city of Ragusa rich?
  • Which of the following was not part of Ragusa's defense system?
  • The harbor is protected by which military building?


According to historical sources, the city of Dubrovnik was established on the coast of the Adriatic Sea in the 7th century. Its historical name was Ragusa, the origins of which are uncertain; it may come from the Greek word "lau" meaning rock or cliff. The name Dubrovnik, first mentioned in the 12th century, originates from the Slavic "dubrova" meaning oak grove.

At the beginning, the city was controlled by the Byzantine Empire but after the crusaders captured Constantinople in 1204, Ragusa fell under the jurisdiction of Venice for 150 years. It was during this time that trade in the city boomed.

The Republic of Ragusa was established in 1358. It was placed under Hungarian suzerainty but could make its own decisions in certain matters.

In the 16th century Ragusa successfully defended its sovereignty against its rival Venice and the Ottoman Empire. In 1667 a massive earthquake hit the city. It was almost completely destroyed but it was soon rebuilt in spite of the devastation.
Ragusa ceased to function as a republic during the Napoleonic Wars. After the Congress of Vienna, the Habsburg Empire gained control over the city.

When the Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed after World War I, the city became part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (Kingdom of Yugoslavia after 1929). Today the city, which is also as the "Pearl of the Adriatic," is part of Croatia that became independent in 1991.

The wall surrounding Ragusa made the city one of the most heavily fortified places in Medieval Europe. It also helped the city defend its sovereignty against its rivals (e.g. Venice) and the Ottoman Empire for centuries.

The wall is 1,940 m (6,364.8 ft) long and 3 to 6 m (9.8 to 19.6 ft) thick. Most of this fortification was built during the 14th and 15th centuries. There are five fortresses and numerous towers and bastions along the wall.

The wall on the landside stretches from Bokar Fortress to Revelin Fortress. The highest point of this section of the wall is 25 m (82 ft).

  • St. John Fortress
  • St. Lawrence Fortress

St. John Fortress (or Mulo Tower) was one on the most important fortifications of the city’s defense system. The monumental building complex gained its final shape in the middle of the 16th century. It was built with the merger of previous fortifications and the addition of new ones in 1557. Its main function was protecting the port and supervising marine traffic.

Revelin Fortress is located in the eastern part of the city. It was built outside Ploce Gate to protect the eastern entrance. It was finished in 1549. Its name probably derives from the word "rivelino" (ravelin) which is used in military architecture to refer to a fortification opposite the most vulnerable part of the city wall.

Minceta Tower is located in the northernmost part of the city wall. The large, circular defensive structure has a characteristic Gothic crown. It was renovated and reinforced in the 15th century. The tower had a key role in protecting the city from attacks from the mainland. There were nine cannons in the tower, the largest one being a bronze cannon made by Ivan Rabljanin who also made the bell of the city clock tower.

Bokar Fortress was built to protect the western entrance of the city, Pile Gate. The two-story fortress received its final shape in the second half of the 16th century. Together with Minceta Tower, it played a key role in repelling attacks from the west.

St. Lawrence Fortress was built on a 37 m (121.4 ft) tall cliff. It played an important role in protecting the western part of the city from attacks from the sea and the mainland. It was probably built in the 11th century but was extensively renovated in the 15th and 16th centuries. Its triangular floor plan follows the contour of the cliff. It’s three terraces were armed with ten cannons, the largest one being the "Guster" (the lizard).

Sponza Palace is located on the north side of Luza Square at one end of the Stradun. It is standing on the site of an old cistern ("spongia"), hence the name.

It was built in the Gothic and Renaissance style between 1516 and 1522. It housed several offices, a bank, a bonded warehouse, a treasury and an armory. An atrium was also built inside the large rectangular building. Luckily, the palace was not damaged during the earthquake of 1667.

The main street of Ragusa is the Stradun or Placa. It is about 300 m (984.3 ft) long and stretches from Pile Gate to Luza Square. A fountain made by Onofrio della Cava is found at both its western and eastern ends. The Stradun became the most important street of the city in the 13th century since it connected the eastern and the western gate. It was paved with limestone in 1468.

The 31-m-tall (101.7-ft-tall) bell tower (or clock tower) standing on Luza Square, at the eastern end of the Stradun was built in 1444. Its bronze bell, weighing more than two tonnes, was added in 1506 (or 1509). It was made by Ivan Rabljanin, who also made the cannons of the city. The wooden figures of the bell tower were also replaced that year with bronze figures. The 191-cm-tall statues portray Roman soldiers. They are called Maro and Baro, or "Zelenci" (green men) by the locals because of the characteristic color of patina that formed on the surface of the bronze.

Ensuring water supply to cities was of the utmost importance in the Middle Ages. First, cisterns were used to provide water for the city of Ragusa. When affected by drought, trading vessels carried drinking water to the city. In 1436 the city council ordered the building of an aqueduct to supply the city with water from a nearby spring. Once completed, Italian architect and sculptor Onofrio della Cava also designed two fountains. The Small Onofrio’s Fountain, located on Luza Square at the foot of the bell tower, was built between 1440 until 1442.

A special stone column, Orlando’s Column, is located on Luza Square. Legend has it that the figure carved into the column features a medieval knight, Orlando, who liberated the city from the sieges of the Arabs in the 8th century. The column was made in 1418 by two sculptors named Antun Dubrovčanin and Bonino di Milano.

It probably served different functions. Speeches could be held to the public from the top of the column. The opening on the top could be used to hold a flagpole. Public punishments were probably also carried out near the column.

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