12 Apr Medieval Ships Of Dubrovnik: More Than Historic Attraction
“In coastal lands, it is like this: What is not there in the evening, will be there in the morning.“ These words, written by a long-gone traveler, are the kernel of medieval maritime city republics that kept the lively trade, cultural and artistic networks that connected Europe, Asia, and Africa. It is said that these small but mighty Mediterranean city-states met the end of their sea power with the rise of steamships that deposed the sailing ships. One of those state cities, Dubrovnik a.k.a. Ragusa, was famous around the world for its fleet. Its historic attractions still tell many a tale of how history is to be navigated to the benefit of all.
DUBROVNIK’S HISTORIC ATTRACTIONS HIDE MANY STORIES OF THE SEA
It is said that Dubrovnik is surrounded by walls and fortresses on all sides, but strangely enough, these walls do not close the city, on contrary… With its mighty fortresses, once the guardians of peace and freedom, and today the historic venues hosting top-class events – Dubrovnik was and remained a sea city, forever open to the horizons. The Republic’s merchant fleet was the key to its half-millennium history. During its golden age of the 15hth and 16th centuries, Dubrovnik’s fleet surpassed the Venetian’s on account of its tonnage. It successfully navigated the entire Mediterranean, Black Sea, and Atlantic, venturing as far as the Americas and India. The Republic has always placed the biggest emphasis on its sea trading, so much so that in 1395 it passed a law on maritime insurance, which preceded Lloyd’s insurance for three centuries, making it the oldest such act in Europe. Dubrovnik invented a way for continuing the safe trade even in the times of the black plague by establishing the world’s first quarantine that slowed but didn’t stop naval trade. Still standing, this 1377 quarantine – known as Lazareti – is a highly regarded historic venue that today hosts amen cultural events.
SHAKESPEARE ON DUBROVNIK’S SHIPS
RMany European historic documents testify how the Republic’s ships and the skills of its master shipbuilders were held in the highest regard. Italian writer Crescentio recorded, “Of all the galleon experts and shipbuilders, the most numerous and most capable in the whole of Mediterranean are Dubrovnikers“. The Republic’s ships were praised for using only the best wood in their construction, which made them the firmest in the world of the time and enabled repairs to be made only every ten years, a much longer period than was usual at the time. Besides exquisite ships, Dubrovnikers were also known for their naval skills, confidentiality, and reliability, and were often hired by various European powers for the transport of the most precious cargo.
In William Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice”, at the play’s very start, proud Antonnio’s galleons sail the seven seas: “There, where your argosies with portly sail, Like signiors and rich burghers on the flood, Or, as it were, the pageants of the sea, Do overpeer the petty traffickers, That curtsy to them, do them reverence, As they fly by them with their woven wings. “ In “The taming of the Shrew” the Bard also mentions argosy, which means “the ship from Dubrovnik, that is differentiated from other by carrying rich and precious cargo“. The word argosy came from Ragusa – another name for Dubrovnik – and is mentioned even in the Oxford dictionary along with the equivalents: ragasye, arguse, argose, rhaguse, ragosie, argosea, argosey, argozee, argosie, argosy.
TIME MACHINE CALLED GALLEON TIRENA
Though Dubrovnik had but a few battleships – choosing instead to rely on its diplomatic and maritime skills – it had many types of merchant vessels, some of which had canons as a measure of protection against pirates. Records and drawings conjure many of those ships: barka, koka, karaka, karakun, nava, galija… The latter, galija or galleon was the most famous among galleons of the era, side by side with Spanish ones. Dubrovnik galleon was the merchant ship with three to four masts, two or three decks, and enough arms and cannons to repel pirates and corsairs.
However, the Dubrovnik galleon does not only live in the well-documented city archives and memory, as one is still proudly sailing around Dubrovnik, all the way to nearby islands and archipelagos. It is the historic attraction, standing apart from all others, as it can – sail away!
Galleon Tirena, a 100% accurate replica of 16th century Dubrovnik galleon is the only historic ship replica in Croatia that is made completely of wood, following the precise historic plans and drawings, along with all the old navigation instruments and tools. To be aboard Galleon Tirena as she hosts her sails is to enter a true time machine, and experience the freedom of movement that was so cherished by the Dubrovnik Republic!
Blog photos courtesy of VSP Video.