Protected by its heavenly patron St Blaise, the Dubrovnik Republic survived a lot of difficulties throughout its rich history - from sieges by various conquerors, maritime blockades and plague, to hunger, disastrous earthquakes and inner turmoil. For many centuries it preserved its freedom and independence primarily owing to ingenious diplomacy, managing to win the favour of some of the leading European powers such as Austria, Turkey, Spain, Kingdom of Naples and the omnipresent Holy Seat. The pinnacle of the Dubrovnik Republic occurred in the 15th and 16th centuries, characterized by its most prosperous economic growth and exceptional cultural creativity, also known as The Golden Age of Dubrovnik.

Freedom remained woven into the golden letters LIBERTAS

Thanks to such protection, the Dubrovnik Republic dedicated itself to maritime trade with the East, becoming one of the major trade mediators. It had consulates on the entire Mediterranean and diplomats who took care of the Republic’s interests at the European courts. The residents of Dubrovnik invested their wealth in foreign banks, and in constructing palaces and summer residences in and around the city.

The French Invasion: Dubrovnik Caught Between Powers

However, in the early 19th century the Dubrovnik Republic had to face the most difficult situation in its history. Napoleon Bonaparte was about to conquer Europe. Having conquered the Apennine Peninsula, he seized the major rival of the Dubrovnik Republic, Venice, already in 1797, and, following the peace treaty of Pozun, Austria was forced to cede the entire east Adriatic coast to him, apart from the Dubrovnik area. The French presence on the Balkans and the weakened Turkish Empire did not suit the plans of Russia, and it therefore decided to take military action. Russia aimed to seize Dubrovnik and fortify its positions there, which was to be a starting point for further military actions against Napoleon.

Dubrovnik Republic - painting from 1667
Dubrovnik Republic (Ragusa) - painting from 1667

French Occupation: Lauriston's Proclamation and True Intentions

Early in 1806 the French army started out for Dubrovnik from Italy, while on the other side the Russian Admiral Senyavin disembarked in the Bay of Kotor and headed towards the Dubrovnik Republic, planning to push back the French troops from the Dubrovnik area. On 27 May 1806 the French General Lauriston with around 800 soldiers came before the city walls asking the authorities to open the city gates and give shelter to his soldiers so that they could continue their journey towards the Bay of Kotor. Having realised that they were caught between the two major European powers, the aristocrats of Dubrovnik decided to meet the requests of the French. They believed the situation to be a temporary one, and that the Republic would again be free and independent after the war.

The Rector of Dubrovnik and the Minor Council received Lauriston and gave him the keys of the fortresses. The French army immediately entered the city taking the positions at the city gates and fortifications. Already the following day the true intentions of the French could be seen. Lauriston issued a trilingual proclamation (in Croatian, French and Italian) accusing the Dubrovnik Republic of violating its neutral status, which was actually an excuse for taking possession of Dubrovnik.

In the meantime, the Russian army and the Montenegrin troops crossed the Republic’s eastern border, heading for Dubrovnik. The French-Russian military conflict began. Small in number, the French troops, which held positions in Konavle and Župa dubrovačka, had to retreat towards Dubrovnik. Reinforced with the Montenegrin troops, the Russian army completely defeated the French troops in a major battle near the village of Brgat. In panic, the French troops ran for shelter within the Dubrovnik city walls, where numerous dwellers from the suburban areas had already taken refuge.

The Russian- Montenegrin siege of Dubrovnik began. From the cannons positioned on Mount Srđ above Dubrovnik they started to shell the city. The French troops took up positions on the city walls. It is hard to believe, but they turned the city monasteries into barracks and horse-stables. Smaller Montenegrin forces ruthlessly ravaged and burned down the Dubrovnik suburbs of Gruž, Pile and Ploče, as well as many summer residences of the Dubrovnik aristocracy in Rijeka dubrovačka. Early in July the French General Molitor started from Makarska aiming to lift the siege. Having spotted the French troops, the Russians and Montenegrins began to retreat towards the Bay of Kotor. The war damage in the area of the Dubrovnik Republic was enormous, and the eastern part of the Republic, i.e. Župa dubrovačka and Konavle suffered the most.

Devastation and Diplomacy: The Dubrovnik Republic Seeks Protection

The Dubrovnik Republic immediately took diplomatic action, mostly in Istanbul, looking for protection from some of the European powers in the hope of preserving its neutral status, yet without success. The stay of the French army on its territory cost the Dubrovnik Republic a huge amount of money, and the situation got worse after the war destruction. Numerous residents were engaged as cheap labour in constructing forts, roads and the Imperial Fort on Mount Srđ. The end of the Dubrovnik Republic followed early in 1808.

The End of an Era: Marmont's Abolition of the Dubrovnik Republic

On 31 January General Marmont abolished the Republic issuing a five-item document. All governmental bodies were dissolved, and the French Consul Bruer was temporarily put in charge of the Dubrovnik area administration.

This is how the Dubrovnik Republic disappeared from the political map of Europe after several centuries of independence. In the minds of its inhabitants the Dubrovnik Republic remained for a long time an uncompleted dream, with the flag with the inscription “Libertas” (Freedom) fluttering within the walls of the city protected by St Blaise.

We inherited great wealth from the Dubrovnik Republic, both in the spiritual and material sense. This is the reason why nowadays the residents and friends of Dubrovnik call it the City, with a capital C. This gesture seems to symbolize the entire pride, self-awareness and self-respect of the residents fortunate enough to live within the walls of the city which used to be the Dubrovnik Republic.

Source: Dubrovnik Tourist Board