The city Dubrovnik, is considered a world heritage site. The old town of medieval Dubrovnik was added to the UNESCO world heritage list in 1979 because the walled city has retained the old city walls so well.
What are some countries historically linked to Croatia?
During the Roman times, Croatia was part of Pannonia and Dalmatia. Later the Byzantines took over. Croatia was its own kingdom from 925 until 1918. Since Croatia had strong ties with the Habsburgs, it became incorporated into Yugoslavia when Austria-Hungary fell during WWI. In 1991, Croatia once again became independent when Yugoslavia was dissolved.
We join Marija on a virtual tour of the dark tales of medieval Dubrovnik old city. Our journey begins over 500 years ago when Dubrovnik was known as the Republic of Ragusa, 400 years before Napoleon took over. Marija tells tragic stories of love and death, political intrigue, and violence.
During the middle ages noble families would only marry off their eldest daughters. Noblemen sent their younger daughters to a convent to lead the life of a nun. Medieval Dubrovnik housed 8 convents. The Convent of Saint Claire stood across the street from a Franciscan monastery. Locals believe ancient love affairs between these nuns and the monks cause supernatural occurrences . The convent was closed down in the 1800s but it is still associated with a church which has ordered people not to talk about these ghost stories.
Forbidden Escape in Medieval Dubrovnik
In 1432 a young man from the Bona family fell in love with a girl from the family Tudisi who lived in the convent. He got the help of three of the monks to break her out of the convent one night. They all managed to escape the city before the drawbridge closed for the night. Their plan was to get to a fortress and have the priest marry them so the girl would no longer be under the rule of the nuns. However, the priest refused to marry them. Instead he reported them and they were imprisoned. The man went to the city dungeon, and the girl to the dungeon of the nunnery.
Surprisingly, they both managed to escape and traveled to Corsica, where people still have the surname Bond.
After that, the convent made some changes to prevent further escapes. They raised the walls surrounding the convent. They removed balconies and placed bars on all of the windows.
The Bell Ringer
Like most cities, Dubrovnik had a bell tower. The bell ringer would ring the first bell at 6am every morning. One morning when he came to ring the bell, he saw a parade of monks in the church walking with lit candles. However, he was unable to recognize any of their faces. Then one monk handed him a candle. As soon as he took the candle, the monks vanished, and the bell ringer fell unconscious. When he awoke, instead of the candle, he was holding a human bone.
In the 14th century plague killed half of the population of Dubrovnik. Again in 1527, another plague killed 20,000 people. This was a large percentage of the population since the Republic of Ragusa was not very large. The city blamed a tailor who had recently traveled from Italy. The citizens believed that his merchandise was tainted.
The people sentenced him to execution. Normal execution of the time was to hang someone outside the city walls. However, the city deemed his crimes so severe that they dragged him around the main street of the town for all to see while pinching him with hot pokers until he died.
Dubrovnik was the first place to institute a quarantine in Europe.
Tales of Unwanted Children in Medieval Dubrovnik
# 32 still marks the door of the city orphanage which was first opened in 1434. Women would come disguised by the darkness of night and leave their babies at the door of the orphanage. They would then ring a bell to alert the nuns to the baby. Some of these were poor women who had conceived out of wedlock. However, citizens believe at least half of the infants were the illegitimate children of noblemen. Shame then caused them to open the orphanage as a way to care for their offspring. A law passed preventing anyone from disturbing someone seen leaving their infant, punishable by up to 2 months in prison. Often women would try to come back for a child. Initially they would leave the child with half a coin and they would take the other half to reunite with their child later.
The nuns were the guardians of the orphanage. The children often had high mortality rates. Those that were adopted were often used as slave laborers.
Rumors abound that the monks and nuns met in the passageway underground between the convent and the monastery for secret love affairs. People have found remains of many children buried here. Some assume these are the bones of children conceived by the nuns and monks. Others believe the bones are those from the children from the orphanage.
Tales of Taverns and Brothels
Once the sun went down, the narrow winding streets of Dubrovnik were dark. The bell ringer would ring the 3rd bell around 7 or 8 pm depending on the time of the year, and citizens would remain in their homes until morning. Due to crime a curfew went into effect after the ringing of the 3rd bell.
However, this is when all the shady characters would come out. Often noblemen would drink wine and gamble in the taverns. Of course afterwards they would look for sword fights. When the taverns closed for the night the men would seek out companionship from the women of the brothel.
Prostitution was tolerated due to many foreign merchants coming to the port. Having the brothels was thought to prevent attacks on the women of Dubrovnik by the foreigners.
After a syphilis outbreak in the 15th century. The government closed the brothel and banished prostitution. However, prostitution continued behind the scenes.
In the late 1600s a tale unfolds about a married prostitute and her two lovers. The tale tells that the woman hated her husband and engaged the two lovers in a plan to murder him. The plan was successful, and the prostitute and her lovers escaped to an island under Venetian jurisdiction.
In 1602 the people of a local Island rebelled due to high taxes. Some people accused one monk of being involved in a conspiracy. They raided his chambers and found letters proving his disloyalty to Dubrovnik. The government secretly executed him, but sullied his name by saying he seduced nuns. Some of the monks didn’t believe this so they went to the Vatican to meet with the Pope. They stated they believed the government murdered this Catholic priest and used the seduction as a coverup to say he was imprisoned. The Pope excommunicated the entire government for 1 year. When the year was up, the government had to receive their pennance in front of the entire Republic.
The Lore of the Necromancer
During the medieval times, the people celebrated Carnival as in other places in Europe. People would usually wear masks depicting Roman Gods or mythical creatures such as satyrs or nymphs. Another mask was that of the necromancer, or wizard.
Necromancers often studied astronomy or other sciences that seemed mystical to the people. Therefore they were seen as supernatural beings. One story is as follows:
Another plague killed 1000 people in 1666. One necromancer studied noises he heard while listening to the ground. He warned the people that the world was going to end, but nobody believed him. Additionally he predicted he would not be alive to witness this event. He died in early 1667.
Then on April 6, 1667 between 8 and 9am an earthquake hit Dubrovnik. Although the quake only lasted about 20 seconds, it was felt as far away as north Africa and Turkey. All of the Renaissance style buildings crumbled to the ground, and the dust covered the sky making it seem like night. The collapsing structures trapped many under the rubble. Dead bodies lay in the streets. People chopped body parts off the corpses to pillage jewelry. Then a fire started in one of the churches which raged for 20 days. About half the population died. The predictions of the necromancer were true.
The Metamorphasis of the Nobleman
Another story that happened during this same time involves a nobleman known for his bad temper. He traveled to Turkey and became intrigued with the culture. He made many trips to Turkey during the following years, so much so that rumors started that he collaborated with the Turkish government against Dubrovnik. The nobleman became enraged. When he found his accuser he stabbed him 3 times with a sword. Consequently, authorities imprisoned him.
However, while imprisoned, the earthquake hit. Surprisingly he survived and escaped the rubble of the prison. The nobleman began helping people out from the rubble and chased away many robbers. The state pardoned him due to his amazing rescue efforts. He eventually ended up working for the government of Dubrovnik as well as the Turkish emissary.
Real Tragic Love Stories in Medieval Dubrovnik
Across a small body of water were two settlements. On one side was a small settlement of Romans, and on the other was a settlement of Croatians. Both groups of people often came together for Christian celebrations. During the celebrations a young Roman girl and a Slavic boy fell in love. They knew their parents would not approve so they began a secret relationship.
Soon someone discovered them and informed their families. The young man argued with his father and decided to sail away. He snuck away to tell his lover that he would return for her some day. Meanwhile her parents imprisoned her in the convent. There she was to wait until her marriage to a young Roman.
A year later, as the wedding day approached, the young Slavic man returned. He brought a beautiful pearl to give to his love on her wedding day as a gift to let her know he still loved her. He found an old beggar woman to give the pearl to her at the church.
However, unbeknownst to him, the Romans had murdered the old women’s son. And so she held a grudge and sought revenge. She then wrapped the pearl in a handkerchief that she took from a corpse that died from the plague.
Soon after receiving the gift, the young girl became ill with fever. Her lover heard of the tragic occurrence and rushed to her. Her family allowed him to see her. She died in his arms.
Unfortunately, the plague then spread to the rest of the community leading to this area of Dubrovnik now being called “The deserted land”. The Romans and the Croatians began joining together more. Eventually they filled in the water that separated them with rocks and stones and became one community.
Visit Medieval Dubrovnik Yourself
To hear further details and more stories from medieval Dubrovnik join Marija on one of her tours. Marija has been giving walking tours for 7 years but due to Covid-19 is now giving her tours virtually. We joined the tour through Airbnb. You can click here to join her experience. She also has her own company called Haunted Dubrovnik. Marija was a great guide and invited us to get in touch with her if we actually get to go to Dubrovnik. I hope you join her experience.
What are must see and do things near Dubrovnik, Croatia?
A visit to Old Town is a must. Check out the Pile Gate which is the main entrance to the old city. During the medieval times in Dubrovnik history a wooden drawbridge would be taken up at night to prevent unwelcome guests from entering.
If you are visiting in the beginning of February, you can attend the festival commemorating medieval Dubrovnik’s patron saint, Saint Blaise, who warned local priests of an invasion by the Venetians, thereby preventing the attack.
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