Transformative Journey of Dubrovnik: From Ragusa to Croatia

Dubrovnik's Historical Shift: The Journey from Ragusa to Croatia

Dubrovnik, once known as Ragusa, is a city in southern Dalmatia, Croatia, on the Adriatic Sea. It's a top tourist spot in the Mediterranean, with a population of around 41,562 as of 2021. In 1979, UNESCO recognized Dubrovnik for its beautiful medieval buildings and ancient walled town, adding it to the list of World Heritage Sites.

Transformative Journey of Dubrovnik: From Ragusa to Croatia
Boats at Dubrovnik Old Town Port

It used to be a small country called Ragusa in medieval times, but now it's a part of Croatia. Its journey through time has seen ups and downs, like times when it was rich, times when it was taken over, times when it was damaged, and times when it was reborn. This article tells the interesting story of how Dubrovnik changed over the years, talking about its important history, challenging moments, and how it became famous around the world. Here's a simple overview of how Ragusa became a part of Croatia.

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Early History:

Dubrovnik has a history that goes way back to ancient times when a small village where the city is now. This place was once an island called Laus, and it was separated from the mainland by a wetland. Nearby, there was a larger Greek settlement called Epidauros, which is known as Cavtat today.

In the 7th century, Slavs invaded the region and destroyed Epidauros and other nearby towns. The people who lived there had to escape to Laus for safety. Over time, Laus changed to Raus, and that later became Ragusa, which is the old name for Dubrovnik. Dubrovnik itself was built by the Croats around the same time. The name comes from the word "dub," meaning oak, and "dubrava," meaning wood, because the settlement was next to an oak forest. Even though the name "Dubrovnik" was used during the Middle Ages, it became an official name only in 1918 after the powerful Austro-Hungarian Empire fell apart.

Ragusa and Dubrovnik became one place when they filled in the swampy land between them. Some people also think there was a significant Greek settlement where Dubrovnik is now and that the city might have Greek origins.

Since the collapse of the Ostrogothic Kingdom in the year 553, Dubrovnik remained under Byzantine rule until 1204. The Byzantines maintained control over the region and its territories for several centuries, and it was during this period that Dubrovnik began to develop as a significant urban center within the Byzantine administrative system. During the Byzantine rule, the Dubrovnik region operated as a self-governing community. It served as a key Byzantine presence on the Adriatic Sea. This period was marked by rivalry between two powerful states, Byzantium and Venice, for control of crucial sea routes and trade.

Transformative Journey of Dubrovnik: From Ragusa to Croatia
Beautiful Dubrovnik

Venetian to Hungarian Rule in Dubrovnik:

During the years 1205 to 1358, Ragusa was under the control of the Venetian Republic. It all began in 1202 when Venice invaded Dalmatia with the Fourth Crusade, and Ragusa had to pay tribute to Venice. Ragusa started giving Venice goods like hides, wax, silver, and metals. Venice also used Ragusa as its naval base in the southern Adriatic Sea. Unlike Zadar, there wasn't much tension between Ragusa and Venice at this point because Ragusa wasn't yet a major player in the trade between the East and West. However, the people of Ragusa were unhappy about paying more and more tribute.

In 1358, the Treaty of Zadar marked the end of Venetian claims on Dalmatia, and Dubrovnik came under the rule of King Louis I of Hungary. An agreement in Visegrád formalized Hungarian sovereignty while allowing local nobility considerable autonomy. This period proved beneficial for Dubrovnik, as Hungary lacked naval power and had few conflicting interests.

Transformative Journey of Dubrovnik: From Ragusa to Croatia
Croatian War of Independence

Dubrovnik under Ottoman Suzerainty:

During the 15th and 16th centuries, the Ottoman Empire posed a significant threat to the region. Dubrovnik faced multiple Ottoman sieges but managed to maintain its independence through diplomacy, neutrality, and clever political maneuvering. It continued to trade and engage with various powers while avoiding direct Ottoman control.

Hungarian rule over Dubrovnik collapsed in 1526 after the Battle of Mohács. Following the death of King Louis II of Hungary in that battle, the Kingdom of Hungary fell into a period of instability, and the Ottoman Empire began expanding into the region. The Ottomans eventually captured Buda in 1541, marking the division of Hungary into three parts: the Habsburg-controlled Royal Hungary, the Ottoman Empire's central and northern territories, and the eastern part, known as the Eastern Hungarian Kingdom, which was semi-independent. During this time of turmoil, Dubrovnik managed to maintain its autonomy and continued to be self-governing.

In the 15th century, Dubrovnik signed various agreements with the Ottoman Empire, becoming a tributary of the sultan. Despite this arrangement, the city retained a high degree of autonomy and was virtually independent. It often allied with the Maritime Republic of Ancona.

Transformative Journey of Dubrovnik: From Ragusa to Croatia
Lady of the Snows, Cavat, Croatia

As an Ottoman vassal, Dubrovnik enjoyed special trade privileges, including tax exemptions and trading benefits within the Empire. The city also operated colonies with extraterritorial rights in major Ottoman cities. Its merchants had unique access to the Black Sea and paid lower customs duties.

Dubrovnik served as a crucial port for trade between Florence and the Ottoman port of Bursa. During this time, Dubrovnik had a unique arrangement with the Spanish Empire, as long as it didn't go against the interests of the Ottoman Empire. This made Dubrovnik a strong rival to Venice in maritime activities, largely due to its access to oak resources in Gargano, which were essential for shipbuilding and gave them a competitive edge in the Mediterranean.

French Occupation to Yugoslav Control:

During Ottoman suzerainty, Dubrovnik continued to enjoy a degree of autonomy and independence. However, in the early 19th century, during the Napoleonic Wars, Dubrovnik's sovereignty was challenged. In 1806, the city was occupied by French troops under Napoleon. While initially, Napoleon had assured city officials that he had no intention of occupying the city, he later backtracked, and the French military entered Dubrovnik in 1808. This marked the end of the independent Republic of Ragusa, as it was integrated into Napoleon's Kingdom of Italy and later the French-governed Illyrian provinces. The city's centuries-long history of self-governance came to an end during this period.

Transformative Journey of Dubrovnik: From Ragusa to Croatia
The Roman Amphitheater in Croatia

After French troops left Dubrovnik, the city came under the control of the Austrian Empire in the early 19th century. Following the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte and the fall of the French Empire, the Congress of Vienna in 1815 reshaped the political landscape of Europe. As part of these post-Napoleonic arrangements, Dubrovnik and its surrounding region were placed under Austrian administration.

The Austrian Empire maintained control over Dubrovnik until the end of World War I, after which the Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed. The city then became part of the newly formed Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, which later became the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. 

This marked a significant shift in the political control of Dubrovnik and the broader region. After the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, Dubrovnik became part of the newly independent Republic of Croatia when Croatia declared its independence in 1991.


Dubrovnik's transformative journey, from Ragusa to Croatia, represents the city's spirit in the face of historical trials. It's a tale of triumph over adversity, from its maritime glory days to wartime suffering and ultimate revival, captivating visitors and celebrating the indomitable human spirit. 

Today, Dubrovnik is recognized as the Pearl of the Adriatic, surpassing the past history. This is now one of the most attractive tourist destinations in Europe, according to Holidu’s (A Travel tech companies worldwide) statistics.