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Dubrovnik City Walls History | Know it All Ultimate Guide

Have you ever wondered what is Dubrovnik City Walls history? These iconic walls stand proudly around the perimeter of Dubrovnik’s Old Town and are essential part of the city’s identity and culture. In fact, many visitors flock to the walls to learn about their past and admire their impressive structure.

In this article we’ll focus on Dubrovnik City Walls history. We’ll delve into their fascinating past, explore their significance, and help you explore the beauty of the walls while guiding you through their history.

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Dubrovnik City Walls Map
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When were the Dubrovnik City Walls Built?

Dubrovnik City Walls started going up in the 7th century and kept growing until the 17th century. Ever since Dubrovnik was born, it had walls to keep it safe. These first walls weren’t as big as the ones we see today, but they did the job when things were uncertain.

Back then, a wall was already around the early settlement on Laus islet. In the ninth century, Dubrovnik held off a fifteen-month siege by the Saracens, proving its strong defense with those early walls. It’s likely they began with a simple wooden wall around the town.

But the walls we know today really took shape in the 14th century. They got even stronger in the 15th and 16th centuries, standing tall as a reminder of Dubrovnik’s history of strength and defense.

Dubrovnik City Walls History

Why Build Fortifications? Exploring the Purpose of Dubrovnik City Walls History

Dubrovnik built its City Walls mainly to stay safe. In the Middle Ages, wars and invasions happened a lot. In 1204, the crusade put all of Dalmatia, including Dubrovnik, in danger. Then, in 1358, the Peace of Zadar changed things. Dubrovnik came under the rule of the Croatian-Hungarian Kingdom, so they knew they needed strong limestone walls around the city.

Another big worry was the Turks, especially after Constantinople fell. Even though Dubrovnik’s leaders made a deal with the Ottoman Empire for trade, they still had to watch out.

Venice was also a threat. It dominated trade in the Mediterranean and aimed to control Dubrovnik’s port to hinder its development. The port was important for Venice to reach the eastern Mediterranean and keep its routes near Constantinople, a big trading center.

By the early 15th century, Dubrovnik became a republic, breaking free from Venice. But they understood that they could lose their independence if they weren’t careful.

So, to stay safe from all these dangers, Dubrovnik built big stone walls around itself. These walls showed the city’s wealth and how smart its people were – merchants, landowners, and nobles who knew it was smart to invest in their city’s defense. The walls weren’t just walls; they demonstrated Dubrovnik’s strength and determination.

Dubrovnik City Walls History

The Evolution of Dubrovnik City Walls History: How They Changed Over Time

In the old days, people fought with swords, bows and arrows, and other weapons. As weapons got better, attacking cities got easier.

To break through the walls, enemies set up sieges. They used big war machines like cannons and catapults to shoot at the walls. These machines could hit targets from far away. So, Dubrovnik made its walls taller and stronger.

They also put roofs on the towers, making them taller and thinner. This happened around the same time as the Gothic style became popular.

Dubrovnik expanded to Laus Island. At first, a wall protected the east side. But when the area between Dubrovnik and Dubrava village filled in, they built a wall around the new area, creating the Old Town.

Over time, the walls got bigger, surrounding the whole area by the 13th century. Even the Dominican monastery area got walls by the 14th century.

At first, the walls had simple square towers connected. But by the 14th century, they added more layers and made everything taller to fight off new weapons. They even dug ditches and moats with drawbridges to keep enemies away.

Dubrovnik City Walls History

Dubrovnik City Walls History: The Role of Gunpowder and Cannons

When gunpowder came into use, warfare changed a lot. Musketeers and cannons became super important in battles, pushing aside older weapons like trebuchets. This made Dubrovnik update its city defenses. The old walls, once really strong, became easy targets for enemy cannons because they were tall and thin.

So, Dubrovnik’s rich folks took action. They hired famous experts in building military stuff, like Pavle Antonijević and Michelozzo Michelozzi from Florence, to make the walls stronger. These experts beefed up the lower parts of the walls, turning them into tough structures that could handle cannon attacks.

Michelozzi had a smart idea: he suggested adding big, lower walls to the existing ones, which was a cool idea from the Renaissance time. This makeover made the walls thicker and shorter, so they were harder to hit. Builders filled the tower bases with dirt and rocks for stability, and they made wide platforms for cannons.

These changes were a big deal for Dubrovnik’s military style, fitting in with the Renaissance time. Dubrovnik showed it was serious about modernizing defenses by getting cannons in 1351 and starting a cannon factory in 1410. They redid the walls to fit cannons better, making them stronger.

Even though the walls changed from Renaissance to Baroque style, the way they defended the city stayed pretty much the same.

By the 17th century, they had pretty much finished building Dubrovnik’s walls. These walls stayed the same way until the Republic of Dubrovnik ended in 1808. By 1660, they had completed most of the walls we see now. They named each fort after saints, places, or their purposes, really showcasing the city’s amazing history and clever design.

Guardians of Dubrovnik City Walls History: The Timeless Watch

The Dubrovnik City Walls did their job well, keeping out people who weren’t welcome. You could only go in or out through special gates on the eastern and western sides. At night, these gates were locked tight until morning. It wasn’t until the early 20th century that Dubrovnik added a third gate, called Buža.

At night, the only way to get into or out of the city was by sea. To control this, the city used heavy chains and logs to block off the port, deciding who could come and go.

Walking through Dubrovnik Old Town today is calm and peaceful, which is different from the past when only guards could go near the walls.

Interestingly, Dubrovnik didn’t have its own army for defense. Instead, they hired soldiers, called barabants, from northern Croatia and Hungary to guard the walls. Even though this was the case, Dubrovnik took defense seriously, always keeping cannons on the walls ready to go, to make sure the city stayed safe.

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Gates of Glory: Exploring Dubrovnik City Walls History’s Entry Points

Dubrovnik stayed connected with the outside world through two main gates, located on the west and east sides of the wall. The Pile Gate on the west was well fortified, while the Ploče Gate on the east was guarded by the strong Revelin Fortress.

Entering the city wasn’t easy. Both gates led through multiple doors and winding paths, a smart design to prevent any surprise attacks from enemies.

Here’s an interesting bit of history: when the Austrians were in charge, they felt Dubrovnik needed more gates. So, in 1908, they made a new entrance through the north side of the walls to make traffic flow easier. This new gate, called the Gate of Buža (“buža” means “hole” in Croatian), was near the Drezvenik tower.

You could reach the City Harbor through two gates: the Ponta Gate for the port and the Fisherman’s Gate. A protective barrier called Kaše shielded the harbor from waves and unexpected sea attacks.

Today, these gates still serve as the only entrances to Dubrovnik Old Town. Exploring Dubrovnik means passing through one of these historic gates to discover the city’s marvels.

Fortresses Along Dubrovnik City Walls

The Dubrovnik City Walls aren’t just walls. They combine different defense features into one impressive system. At the city’s edges, four main forts stand out: Minčeta, Bokar, Revelin, and St. John. Each one acts like a guardian at the city’s corners. Then, there’s Lovrjenac, a fort that rises from the sea on the west side, outside the main walls. These forts and towers define Dubrovnik’s appearance, showcasing the city’s beauty and its clever protection design.

Revelin Fortress: A Powerful Chapter in Dubrovnik City Walls History

In 1462, Dubrovnik added a new defense piece – the Revelin Fortress. They placed it where they needed extra strength, by the eastern Ploče Gate, to watch over land approaches. The name “Revelin” comes from “ravelin,” a military term for forts set up across from city gates.

By the 16th century, the threat of attacks from Venice grew, putting Dubrovnik on high alert. The city’s leaders brought in Antonio Ferramolino, a seasoned military architect, to strengthen Revelin in 1538. They were so focused on fortifying this spot that they paused all other building projects in Dubrovnik for 11 years.

Ferramolino designed Revelin as an irregular four-sided structure, with one side facing the sea and a deep moat on another.

Today, Revelin’s not just a historical site. The basement hosts a museum where visitors can explore its past, and its upper floors are home to the Culture Club Revelin, a popular nightlife spot.

Revelin Fortress Dubrovnik, Revelin Fort,

Fort St. John: Unveiling Dubrovnik City Walls History 

In the northeast part of Dubrovnik, you’ll find the towering St. John Fortress. It was formed by combining two older towers, the Tower of Mulo and the Tower of St. John, giving it a unique slanted wall. Back in the 16th century, it got a makeover to look like it does today. Originally, it was a vital defense against unwanted ships, armed with cannons right at sea level.

Today, St. John is home to a delightful aquarium on the ground floor, while the upper levels showcase treasures at the Dubrovnik Maritime Museum. If you’re planning a visit, getting a Dubrovnik Pass is a wise choice – it gives you access to both the walls and this museum. The fortress once had a single floor ending in a terrace filled with cannons. By the late 19th century, they added Porporela, a sturdy breakwater.

The fortress’s southern side is guarded by the Dead Bell keep, named after the bell from nearby St. Peter Kločuć Church, ringing in memory of the departed. Paskoj Miličević, a renowned builder, designed it. While it might not stand out like Minčeta Tower, the Dead Bell has been crucial in shielding Dubrovnik from sea threats.

St. John Fort in Dubrovnik Old Town

Fort Bokar: A Defensive Jewel in Dubrovnik City Walls History

Dubrovnik’s Bokar Fortress, also known as Zvjezdan, stands guard over the city’s southwestern side. Designed by the famous architect Michelozzo Michelozzi from Florence in 1461, this round, low fortress with an innovative casemate style was completed in 1570. Bokar is one of Europe’s oldest casemented forts. Partly built on a sea cliff, with its foundation directly touching the sea through a network of arches. On a calm day, you can even enter it by boat.

Built in the 15th century, Bokar Fort strengthened Dubrovnik’s defenses, especially near the Pile Gate, bridge, and ditch, protecting the city from sea and land attacks. “Bokar” comes from “boka,” meaning “cove” in Croatian, highlighting its strategic location.

Throughout history, Bokar has been a crucial defensive spot for Dubrovnik. It played a significant role during the Napoleonic Wars’ Siege of Dubrovnik and the Croatian War of Independence in the 1990s. Positioned to shield the city’s harbor, its large cannons stopped enemy ships, making Bokar an essential piece in Dubrovnik’s defense strategy.

During the Napoleonic Wars in the early 19th century, Dubrovnik faced occupation by French and Montenegrin forces. Bokar played a crucial role in defending the city against these dangers because of its strong walls and advanced cannons.

Post-World War II, Bokar’s role as a defense point diminished, leading to its neglect. However, during the Croatian War of Independence in the early ’90s, it regained importance as a key defensive location. After the war ended in 1995, Bokar underwent extensive restoration, overseen by the Dubrovnik City Museum, to preserve its historical and cultural significance.

bokar fort

Minčeta Fortress: Standing Guard in Dubrovnik City Walls History

Minčeta stands tall as Dubrovnik’s pride, often praised as the city’s most stunning tower. Its beauty and design earned it this acclaim, with renowned architects like Michelozzo Michelozzi and Juraj Dalmatinac, masters of Dalmatian Renaissance architecture, shaping its form.

Sitting at Dubrovnik’s highest point in the north, Minčeta looms over the city. It takes its name from the Menčetić family, who once owned the land here. Originally built as a square tower in the Middle Ages, discussions arose about adjusting its height due to its small size. However, its grand appearance and beauty were deemed too valuable to change.

In the 15th century, Michelozzi improved Minčeta by adding a rounded fortification that connected to the lower courtyard, incorporating innovative casemates and corridors to modernize it for contemporary warfare.

An interesting aspect of Minčeta is its role in Dubrovnik’s water supply. In 1437, water from Šumet was directed through canals beneath Minčeta, splitting into two branches that supplied the Large and Small Onofrio Fountains. Later, Juraj Dalmatinac further modified Minčeta, giving the top section a semicircular shape, complete with a parapet and battlements. However, its height made it vulnerable to cannon fire.

A fascinating fact about Minčeta involves its construction following the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Facing a shortage of stone, a unique solution emerged: anyone entering Dubrovnik from Gruž or Ploče had to bring a stone, the size determined by their own strength, to contribute to the tower’s construction. This collective effort exemplifies Dubrovnik’s community spirit in fortifying their city.

Minčeta Fortress in Dubrovnik Old Town

Fort Lovrjenac: An Outpost of Dubrovnik City Walls History

Lovrjenac Fortress, perched on a 37-meter-high sea cliff, stands outside the western walls of Dubrovnik. Named after Saint Lawrence, it overlooks the city just like Gibraltar guards the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea. Dating back to the early 11th century, with the first records dating to 1301, Lovrjenac has undergone significant upgrades over the centuries. Initially, it was an irregular triangle with a simple drawbridge entrance, but its defenses and structure were continuously improved, including the addition of a moat and higher walls by the 15th century.

A unique feature of Lovrjenac is its city-facing wall, which is surprisingly thin at just 0.6 meters. It was designed for easy demolition from within if needed to prevent enemy capture or stop rebellion. Inside, Lovrjenac was a formidable arsenal, equipped with cannons on all levels, including the massive “Lizard” cannon, which became famous despite never being fired.

Despite suffering damage in the 1667 earthquake, Lovrjenac was restored and even served as a prison during World War II.

Dubrovnik City Walls History: Other Bastions and Towers

While Minčeta and Bokar often steal the spotlight, the other fortifications in Dubrovnik play their part in keeping the city safe and secure. They all contribute to making Dubrovnik one of the most famous fortified cities along the Croatian coast.

Dubrovnik City Walls Today

Today, many visitors come to see the Dubrovnik city walls, which are the main attraction. You can enjoy a unique experience by strolling along the well-kept paths that stretch for two kilometers. If you want to explore the Dubrovnik walls on a self-guided tour, check out our comprehensive guide with a map, points of interest, entrances, and tips!

These walls are some of Europe’s best-preserved fortifications, representing Dubrovnik’s architectural heritage and symbolizing freedom. They’re considered the city’s most valuable possession.

For over 60 years, the Society of Friends of Dubrovnik Antiquities has diligently maintained these walls. You can buy tickets to walk along them on the official website. For more details on ticket prices, where to buy them, and how to save money, read our guide.

The uniqueness, significance, and beauty of Dubrovnik City Walls History have earned them recognition from UNESCO, which added them to the list of World Heritage Sites. It’s time for you to explore them too!

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Enjoy Your Visit!

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