Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Duplicitous Dubrovnikians

Today, I was in Cabarete, Dominican Republic. First, allow me to plug this delightful seaside town. Cabarete is among my favorite places that I have ever been. Even then it is a bit of a backwater, it is incredibly cosmopolitan. I stayed at the Kite Beach Inn, which was unbelievably affordable, well kept and fantastically run. The place is owned by someone from Chicago, but currently run by an Italian couple and they were delightful. We stayed there for two nights for under $65 in an air conditioned room. It is among the best places I've stayed in Cabarete. The only drawback is to the hotel is that it is a bit removed from the center of the town where our favorite places are. However, because of its boonies status, we found this incredible breakfast nook next to the Dare2fly Kite School. The breakfast nook was run by a Yugoslavian refugee that fled to the Dominican Republic after she and her family fled Belgrade after a bombing in 2000. 

The breakfast was excellent. It was the first good bagel I've had since I was in Brooklyn in 2011. As we were leaving the place though I mentioned that I might be going on a honeymoon to Split, Croatia because of its history. She however suggested that we go to Dubrovnik, as it was in her estimation, one of the most gorgeous cities in the world. Interested, I checked the place out and saw that it had a fascinating history. So without further ado, here is the brief history of Dubrovnik.

Dubrovnik is currently a Croatian city on the Adriatic coast. There are a couple of theories as to when it was founded. The older theory suggests that it was founded sometime in the 7th century AD by some refugees. However, another theory suggests that the city is much older and was founded sometime prior to the BC/AD switchover by Greek sailors who would have likely made it a port between two other Greek settlements in the area, Budva and Korčula. This alternate theory is boosted by the presence of a Byzantine basilica from the 8th century that was large enough to suggest that Dubrovnik was quite populous in its time. It would have been unlikely to grow so rapidly in an hundred years to warrant such a large church.

If the latter theory is to be believed the ancient Greek settlement would have fallen into the hands of the Roman Empire during the conquest of Dalmatia and then became part of the Ostrogothic kingdom upon the fall of the Western Empire. From there it seems to have been protected by the Byzantine Empire in the east and grew to a respectable maritime power in the region. But, another more famous maritime power decided that this little city could not be allowed to grow into a more serious threat. Venice began as early as 948 AD, though with no success. Venice wouldn’t give up on this though and eventually took over the city and its lands in 1205 during the fourth crusade.

Venice ruled over Dubrovnik for about 150 years. When the city finally broke free they became the Republic of Ragusa. Being a smallish kingdom they searched for a big brother to keep them safe. This led them into the hands of the Ottoman Empire. The Republic of Ragusa remained free, but paid some cash to the Ottomans for protection. This fended off the Venetians. It also paid off some dividends. Ragusa got special trade permissions in the Ottoman Empire and did all of the Ottoman’s business along the Adriatic Sea. The Republic became quite wealthy and was a viable alternative and fierce rival of Venice.

It was after it broke free from Venice when it tried its hands at the double game, playing both sides against the middle. Dubrovnik looked initially to the Hungarians for some muscle to back them up. Then, to make sure that Venice wouldn’t try any of its old tricks, the Republic of Ragusa cozied up to the Ottoman Empire, declaring their allegiance to the Sultan. This arrangement worked well for a while, but as the Ottomans pushed to far into Europe it made the Hapsburgs quite cantankerous. The Austrians got their crew together, including Venice and began to push back. For a little while the duplicitous Dubrovnikians found themselves paying homage both the Emperor of Austria and the Sultan of the Ottomans. After the Austrians and their allies defeated the Ottomans and the Ottomans had to give up a large chunk of their eastern European holdings Venice began to make a power play at Ragusa. Venice began to grab up all the land surrounding the republic, which would have given them a chance to attack Ragusa from both land and sea. But, Dubrovnik played another master stroke, giving some of their land to the defeated Ottomans to build a buffer between themselves and Venice. As much as the Austrians loved to quarrel with the Ottomans they weren’t about to start a new war so that Venice could snuff out their old rivals.

The double-dealings of the Ragusans could not save them forever though. After the end of the Austrian – Ottoman conflict simmered down a bit, the rest of Europe decided to duke it out over the 1700s. Ragusa however decided to stay neutral. They used their neutrality to trade between enemies and this somehow worked really well. Until of course Napoleon came along and screwed everything up for everyone. Napoleon pushed down into the Balkans and began to gobble up all of the cities and forts along the way. The Russians who were in the area came up to Dubrovnik and asked to use their very defensible city against the onslaught of Napoleon’s forces. Ragusa balked and the Russians besieged the city. But, it would be the French who eventually occupied the city. Dubrovnik would become a big fish in a small pond as a part of the Illyrian Provinces of the French Empire. But, Napoleon would have his Waterloo, which for Napoleon actually was Waterloo and the Republic of Ragusa would be folded into the Austrian-Hungarian Empire as the Kingdom of Dalmatia. The Hapsburgs decided however that Dubrovnik had been a seat of power for long enough. The capital of the newly created puppet kingdom would be Zadar. Dubrovnik would fall out of fashion and a number of the city’s noble families would move away. Dubrovnik would last in the Austrian Empire until 1918 when it was transferred into the State of Slovenes, Croats and Serbs. This little political experiment wouldn’t last and the city would become a part of Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia would go from kingdom to socialist republic to bloody civil war and in the end, Dubrovnik would wind up being in the modern state of Croatia.

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