If Dubrovnik knows one thing well, it is that beauty has its price. Almost from its founding in the 7th century, Dubrovnik (formerly known as Ragusa) has been forced to pay off potential conquerors -and indeed has done right up to the loth century - in order to preserve its internal autonomy or save the city from destruction. Byzantine emperors, Venetian doges, Normans, Hungarians, Turks all demanded tribute of one sort or another as a price of going away and leaving Dubrovnik alone.

By dealing deftly with warring powers, by the 15th and 16th centuries Dubrovnik was experiencing a Golden Age with a merchant fleet that ranked third in the world and a ruling class that spent lavishly on the arts. However, when the great earthquake of 1667 either totally destroyed or badly damaged every building in the city, Dubrovnik was already experiencing downturn in its prosperity; by now England and Holland dominated the seas and trade had shifted to the Americas.There was massive chaos after the quake as people fled in panic rather than trying to control fires. It was said that pupils were heard crying for help from beneath the rubble of their school, and there was looting and pillaging everywhere. When the city was finally rebuilt, it was in the white stone that dominates today rather than the elaborately wealthy Renaissance style of before. For the next two centuries Dubrovnik was caught between adversaries, as the Hapsburg Empire battled with the Turks and Napoleon with Russia, each empire crashing in its turn.

When the Hapsburg Empire was finally pulled apart in 1918, Dubrovnik was incorporated into the newly created Yugoslavia.This hobbled along through recessions and hardships until World War II, when Communist partisans became the only effective force against the Axis occupation. After Dubrovnik was liberated in 1944, it became part of the Republic of Croatia, a semi-autonomous unit within Yugoslavia under Marshall Tito. Here it remained until the final collapse of Communism in 1989.

In 1991, with the United States refusing to recognise Croatian independence and Serbia pushing for a unified Yugoslavia, war once again broke out.The Yugoslav army began its attack on Dubrovnik on 1 October, overrunning tourist resorts in the south, shelling targets within the city and destroying the airport and the seaport at Gruz.The bombardment lasted until May 1992 when finally, once again, Dubrovnik's beauty saved the day. Since the city had been declared a World Heritage site and its city walls recognised as Europe's best, there was a huge global outcry at this terrible destruction. The attacking forces retreated, but they left behind a city with almost all of its hotels damaged in one way or another, and much of the rest scarred from mortars or shelling.

Dubrovnik has now been'back in business'for several years, slowly whittling away at the immense debt incurred from the war. Working together with UNESCO, the authorities have repaired and rebuilt all damaged buildings, recreating the magnificent jewel in the crown of Croatia.


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