The Cabinet of Curiosities

by Palace Natali

We would like to introduce you to the magical world of Dubrovnik’s history. Line by line, you will come out of our cabinet of curiosities richer for a piece of knowledge.

From the coat of arms of the Dubrovnik Republic, through the hymn of liberty to the embroidery of Konavle, our history will lure you in and take you to some other times and places.

Take a walk through history to better understand the present.

1 Chapter
The Cabinet of Curiosities

The City that Grew from a Rock

Dubrovnik was long thought to have been founded in the 7th century by Roman refugees fleeing their town of Epidaurum (a.k.a. Cavtat) in the face of brutal Slavic raids. But the 1980s discovery of the remains of a Byzantine basilica underneath the present-day cathedral suggests that at the time, Dubrovnik was already a community large enough to have its own church.

Over the next centuries, Dubrovnik continued to exist as a small, fortified settlement on the cliffs, something that would give birth to its future name, Ragusa. In the newcomers’ language, the word for rocks was laus. Over centuries, the name evolved to raus, the people living there became Ragusans, and the small laus evolved into the great Respublica Ragusina.

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As Croatian historian Lovro Kunčević writes, „the concept of “liberty” (libertas, libertà) is one of the key motifs in the political tradition of old Dubrovnik“. Libertas, liberty, as a concept has been deeply rooted in both Dubrovnik’s history and the present. The inscription standing on the Lovrijenac fort „Non bene pro toto libertas venditur auro“, which means „Liberty is not sold for all the gold in the world“, has been the city’s motto for centuries. Not only was it a slogan and the most precious life value, but Libertas was also a principle the people of the old Dubrovnik lived by.

On January 27, 1416, the Republic of Dubrovnik prohibited slave trade, being among the first to do so. It took until the end of the century to put a stop on the practice of slavery, but nonetheless, it all happened some 400 years earlier than in the USA or UK.

The primary state flag of the Dubrovnik Republic depicted Saint Blaise. However, the secondary flag had LIBERTAS on it, emphasizing liberty as an integral, crucial pillar of the Dubrovnik Republic’s longevity.

Today, as a symbol of the Dubrovnik Summer Festival which runs more than 70 years, the Libertas flag is being raised every year in front of the church of St. Blaise on the opening ceremony.

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Hymn to Liberty

Along with raising the Libertas flag, Dubrovnik Summer Festival opening ceremony is marked every year by the solemn performance of the impressive Hymn to Liberty, the hymn which has been with us through many difficult times.

The Hymn to Liberty was written by one of the most prominent Dubrovnik writers, Ivan Gundulić, as a part of his allegorical pastoral Dubravka. It was put to music by the renowned Croatian composer, Jakov Gotovac.

Ever since 1953, the Hymn has been performed at the opening of the Dubrovnik Summer Festival. As the Hmyn comes to the end, the Libertas flag is being raised. It is the most solemn moment of the opening that every Dubrovnik citizen experiences most deeply.

Fair liberty, beloved liberty, liberty sweetly avowed,
thou are the treasured gift that God to us endowed,
all our glory is thy true creation,
to our Home thou are all the decoration,
no silver nor gold, not life itself
could replace the reward of thy pure and sublime grace!

Listen to one of the performances here.

Saint Blaise, the Patron of Dubrovnik

Saint Blaise, who is believed to have helped save Dubrovnik from the Venetians, is loved by the people of Dubrovnik who have been celebrating him for more than a thousand years, ever since 972.

The Festivity of Saint Blaise, which celebrates the city’s patron saint with a procession on February 3, became UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2009.

The exhibited sculpture of the Saint Blaise is a replica of the stone sculpture that was made about 1503 for a niche over the portal of the Rector’s Palace, believed to be made by the renowned Croatian Renaissance sculptor Ivan Duknović Dalmata.

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The Coat of Arms of the Dubrovnik Republic

The Coat of Arms of the Dubrovnik Republic has gone through several appearance changes over time. A definite turning point in Dubrovnik’s heraldic history took place in 1358, when the Venetians, after suffering a defeat, gave up Dubrovnik, among all, as part of the Treaty of Zadar concluded with the Hungarian-Croatian king Louis the Great.

Afterwards, the people of Dubrovnik concluded new treaty with their new sovereign, acquiring the protection of the Hungarian-Croatian ruling Arpadović dynasty and receiving the confirmation of all attributes of statehood of the Republic of Dubrovnik. What a great diplomatic move it was of the small commune that became a republic, forever free from the Venetian domination!

Furthermore, according to the treaty, the people of Dubrovnik had to use the coat of arms of the Arpadović dynasty, with 8 red and silver bars on the shield. However, they usually used it in a somewhat modified form, reversing the original layout and starting with a silver bar instead of a red one.

Later on, the coat of arms underwent further changes. Silver bars that were believed to represent rivers in Hungary, became blueish at the beginning of the 18thc. Blue-red coat of arms are found on numerous documents issued by the Republic in the 18thc. and at the beginning of the 19thc.

There are no official explanations for this change, but it may be that due to the Republic’s tributary relationship with the Ottoman Empire, the Republic wanted to distance themselves from the allied ties with the Hungarian-Croatian crown that had just become the new Habsburg authority and thus they changed the colours of the state coat of arms.

The Cabinet of Curiosities
6 Chapter

The Old Map of the Dubrovnik Republic

The map showing the Dubrovnik Republic territory was made in 17thc. by the well-known Venetian cartographer Vincenzo Maria Coronelli. It is the first preserved geographic map precisely showing the territory of the Dubrovnik Republic.

The interesting fact is that the residents of Dubrovnik offered to award Coronelli with 20 gold coins if he published in his maps all the information about the Republic they provided him with. Receiving all the topographic data and descriptions about the Republic’s territory from the Republic itself, Coronelli luckily included it in his atlas rewarding us with valuable historical information.

The picture of the map is the scan of the original map, reproduced by courtesy of the House of Marin Držić in Dubrovnik.


The Cabinet of Curiosities
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The Cabinet of Curiosities

Orlando’s Column

So many meanings are held in the Orlando’s column.

Orlando’s column was built in 1419 by Bonino da Milano, replacing the old column. Why “Orlando”? At that time, a medieval brave knight Roland (Orlando in Italian) was very popular in local poetry and stories. According to the legend, Orlando defended Dubrovnik from the Saracens. Furthermore, columns with a statue of the legendary knight Roland were popular in Central Europe, especially in Germany. They were a symbol of the freedom and autonomy of the medieval trading towns. Dubrovnik’s Orlando is said to be the best depiction of a warrior in full war gear in this part of Europe.

Orlando was erected in the central point of the city square, carrying the flag of the Republic of Dubrovnik. It was a place where all government decisions were announced, and also a place where all punishments were executed.

Additionally, the length of Orlando’s right elbow (51.2 cm) was a measure of length (the “Dubrovnik elbow” – the ell). It was a place where the merchants would measure the length of the sold fabric.

Orlando carries the flag of Saint Blaise during the Festivity of the Saint Blaise. It also carries the Libertas flag, during the Dubrovnik Summer Festival, a key annual Dubrovnik’s festival that’s been running for more than 70 years. The Festival’s award for the artistic performances bears its name.

And last but not least, Orlando is a place to wait for a friend or rest after a long day’s sightseeing.

The Cabinet of Curiosities

The Story of Maro and Baro

More than 400 years, the bronze figures of the jacquemarts (bell strikers), popularly called “the green ones” (Zelenci – in Croatian), have hammered out the hours on the city bell tower built in 1444/1445. Zelenci are a masterpiece made in 1478, a first-class monument and an inseparable part of Dubrovnik history and tradition.

It’s rather funny to hear that we call our robotic lawn mowers Maro and Baro. 🙂

The Old Dubrovnik Pharmacies

The pharmacy Dubrovnik is famous for is the Old Pharmacy in the Franciscan Monastery of the Friars Minor, one of the oldest preserved pharmacies in Europe, founded in Dubrovnik in 1317. The fascinating fact is that, since then, the pharmacy has been continuously operating. It has come a long way from a cabinet with dried plants, over medicines prepared under the influence of alchemy, up to today’s contemporary pharmacy.

The pharmacy jars exhibited in our Cabinet of Curiosities were used to hold thick syrups in the Dubrovnik public pharmacy “Domus Christi” (The House of Christ – in English).  “Domus Christi” pharmacy was known to have existed in 1420, as part of the namesake public hospice that was opened earlier, in 1347, as a shelter for the poor, situated inside the city walls. The hospice was turned into a real hospital in 1540.


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Dubrovnik Carrack (Karaka)

The Dubrovnik carrack is a large sailing ship built in the Republic of Dubrovnik since the 15th century. They were among the most respected ships in those times.

In the second half of the 14thc. Dubrovnik developed into an important maritime and trading centre. The maritime trade of the Republic of Dubrovnik experienced its peak during the 15th and the 16th century. Along with maritime trade and navy, Dubrovnik becomes recognized for its shipbuilding, becoming among the most powerful in the world.

The carracks appeared at the beginning of the 14thc. in Venice, while almost at the same time, the construction also began in Dubrovnik. In addition to transporting expensive cargo, carracks were also armed with up to 40 cannons, for defence against pirates. By the end of the 16thc., carracks building came to perfection, enabling the transport of up to 1,000 soldiers and 900 tons of cargo. The carrack sailed the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, and could last for 40 years.

In the 17th c., followed by the great earthquake in 1667, the Dubrovnik Republic was hit by severe economic crises. At the same time, by the end of the 17thc., carracks gave way to large sailing ships for transoceanic voyage.

In “The Merchant of Venice” and “The Taming of the Shrew”, Shakespeare mentions the word “argosy”, which depicts Dubrovnik carrack (“argosy” comes from Ragusa – Dubrovnik).

Our Cabinet of Curiosities holds a model of the Dubrovnik carrack from the 15th century.

The Cabinet of Curiosities
11 Chapter

The Island of Lokrum

Lokrum, a nature reserve and a special forest vegetation reserve, has always had a special place in the hearts of the people of Dubrovnik. So close to the city, and yet so far away, Lokrum has always been a perfect day getaway.

The first mentions of Lokrum can be traced back to 1023, when the Benedictine abbey and monastery were founded. But, according to the grave goods preserved in the Dubrovnik Museum, Lokrum was inhabited in prehistoric times. Certain data show that Basilian monks lived in Lokrum around 915.

Lokrum is known for its legends. According to one legend, Richard the Lion-Heart was shipwrecked in the 12thc., after returning from the Crusades, and cast ashore on Lokrum. He made a vow that if he saved himself, he would build a church on that very spot. However, the people of Dubrovnik asked him to build a cathedral in Dubrovnik instead, which he agreed to do.

Another legend is related to the Benedictine curse. After being on Lokrum for centuries, the last Benedictines left the monastery in 1798, after their property was sold to some people from Dubrovnik. The night before leaving, the monks walked around their estate along the ancient walkway, with lit candles, allegedly cursing the future owners. The story wouldn’t be as interesting if it weren’t some historic events that supported it. The family of the Austrian Emperor and Croatian King Francis Joseph I, with some of its members being the owners of Lokrum, was hit by great misfortunes. The execution of the emperor’s brother, Archduke Maximilian in Mexico, the murder of his wife Elisabeth on Lake Geneva and the suicide of his son and heir to the throne Rudolf in Mayerling made legend just plausible enough to believe that there is more to it than the legend itself.

In 1859 the Archduke Maximilian of Austria became Lokrum’s owner and built his summer residence and beautiful gardens there. Maximilian arranged the old and planted new gardens in the spirit of European landscape art, turning the whole island into a garden. What’s special about the landscape is that, aside from planting exotic plants in the gardens, Maximilian planted them in the surrounding nature as well.

Lokrum Botanical Garden was founded in 1959 to research the adaptation of foreign plants to the Lokrum climate. Today it is home to approx. 800 exotic plant species.

Be sure to visit Lokrum while in Dubrovnik, it will be an unforgettable experience!

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The Embroidery of Konavle

„Konavle has for centuries been renowned for the production of silk yarn, where it was used for the decoration of male and notably female national costumes. The production occurred in the rooms of the women every spring. Every woman of Konavle had to rear enough silkworms to produce her own yarn for her individual embroidery. Until marriage, she would produce enough embroidery for various occasions and circumstances, for a long time it would be her only accessory and identity card.

Every embroidery has a unique language that describes its tailor, her cunning, wealth or hardship, and when she makes it a part of her costume it becomes part of her personality. The Konavle embroidery is worn around the chest and the sleeves, where jewelry is worn today, and on the part of our body where we point with our finger when a person says „I”. The Konavle embroidery is an important part of the national costume of a small region and it has developed its own artistic language transforming into something more than simple decoration.“

The embroidery exhibited in our cabinet is an original piece made by the academic painter Antonia Rusković Radonić, who collects historic pieces of Konavle national costumes and studies the production techniques of historic Konavle. She lives and works in Konavle.

Ston Saltworks

The tradition of harvesting salt in Ston is 4000 years old. The Ston name comes from the Roman word Stagnum – Stamnum, which means stagnant or still water.

The saltworks in Ston, dating back to the 14th c., from the Dubrovnik Republic period, is the oldest active salt factory in Europe today, and possibly in the world.

After becoming a part of the Dubrovnik Republic in the 14th c., Ston was positioned as the most important economic and strategic place, alongside Dubrovnik. One third of the Dubrovnik’s income came from the salt. Naturally, the government did everything to protect that treasure, even built monumental city walls, in order to protect the salt pans.

The Republic held a monopoly over salt sale. No one could sell salt in Dubrovnik without the rector’s permission, otherwise they would have to pay a fine. The sale of salt was strictly regulated by law that changed over time, adapting to the needs of the current period.

The saltworks in Ston remained faithful to the ancient tradition and way of producing salt, using only the sea, the sun and the wind. Fascinating! Did you know that Ston salt ranks second in its purity in the Mediterranean region?

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The Oyster Farming in Mali Ston Bay

The oyster farming in the Dubrovnik region is a centuries-old tradition. According to the archaeological findings, the Bistrina Bay, in Mali Ston channel, is believed to be known for its oysters since the Roman times. Even before the Romans, there is evidence that the Illyrians enjoyed these delicacies.

The Dubrovnik Republic government, which bought Ston in 1333 from the Bosnian ban, recognized the value of the shellfish cultivation in the Ston region, and put it under its authority. The oysters and a bottle of Malvasia were special delicacies that the Dubrovnik officials would welcome the Bosnian pashas and foreign delegates with. The Mali Ston oysters also found their way to Vienna, Prague and Paris.

At the beginning of the 18th c., the oyster farming almost collapsed. The Dubrovnik government realized they had to react promptly, so they protected it by law, ordering two more families to preserve oysters in the Bistrina Bay and allowing the harvest exclusively from October until May, in order to protect the most sensitive period of the reproductive cycle. The time would show that the Senate’s measures saved oyster farming from complete disaster.

In 1936, the Ston oyster received the “Grand Prix” and a golden medal at the international exhibition in London.

Today, Mali Ston oysters are highly esteemed delicacy, having received European Union’s protected designation of origin and protected geographical indication. They are protected throughout the European Union, which guarantees its authenticity.

Take the opportunity, go on a road trip with us and taste the best of Mali Ston Bay.

The Cabinet of Curiosities

The Great Personalities of Dubrovnik

16 Chapter

Marin Držić

Marin Držić (1508 – 1567) was a great Renaissance Croatian poet, playwright, author of political texts and actor born in Dubrovnik. Due to his invaluable literary legacy, Držić is also called “the Croatian Shakespeare”. Truth be told, Marin Držić is the forerunner of Shakespeare, his comedies are among the best in European Renaissance literature. Full of liveliness, his pieces celebrate love, liberty and sincerity, while mocking avarice, egoism and dramatizing the troubles of evil and antisocial characters.

The most famous Držić’s piece is Dundo Maroje, which was also played in international theatres. His great pastoral Grižula, a shepherd play, actually announced the structure of Shakespeare’s famous comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Držić lived in Venice and Florence, died and was buried in Venice, in the Saints John and Paul Basilica.

Marin Držić is one of the most prominent Croatian writers and one of the most important authors of European Renaissance comedy.

Dubrovnik holds a museum The House of Marin Držić where you can learn more about this great personality. One of the avenues in Zagreb, the Croatian capital, bears his name.

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Ivan Gundulić

Ivan Gundulić (1589 – 1638) was the most prominent Croatian Baroque poet. Being born into a noble family in Dubrovnik, Gundulić had access to the best of education. He lived his whole life in Dubrovnik, where he performed many governmental duties of the Dubrovnik Republic.

His first works were made under the influence of the Dubrovnik Renaissance writers. However, later, Gundulić abandons the work he has done, and profiles himself as a Christian poet, promoting values of the Roman Catholic counter-reformation: religious enthusiasm and emphasizing the vanity of this world.

The three of his works represent exceptional achievements of Croatian and European Baroque literature:

  • the epic poem Osman, his most valuable piece, covers the events related to the life, reign and death of the Turkish Sultan Osman II. The poem contains a total of 10428 verses!
  • allegorical pastoral Dubravka with the Hymn to Liberty that became an unofficial Dubrovnik’s hymn, celebrating freedom as a “gift from God”;
  • and the religious poem The Tears of the Prodigal Son (based on the Parable of the Prodigal Son).


He died at the age of 49, and unfortunately, never managed to become a rector of the Republic (to become a rector one had to be at least 50 years old). He was buried in the family tomb in the Franciscan church in Dubrovnik.

Ivan Gundulić is a Croatian literature classic, but also a crucial part of the European Baroque in general.

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Cvijeta Zuzorić

Cvijeta Zuzorić or Flora Zuzori (in Italian), a poet, was born in Dubrovnik around 1552. Cvijeta moved to Ancona, Italy, with her father, where she got her high education and where she spent plenty of time with artists.

When she was 18, she married a Florentine nobleman. Since her husband was given a consul position in Dubrovnik, they moved back to her hometown where they lived until 1583. She wrote poems in Croatian and Italian, as well as composed epigrams, but, unfortunately, none was found.

Cvijeta captured attention with her red hair, her beauty and exceptional education. She loved gathering artists in her house, where they held scientific discussions and art talks. Quite a few poets, charmed by her beauty and intelligence, wrote poems in her honour.

Many people in Dubrovnik criticized her and were jealous of her free spirit. Cvijeta was firmly defended from slander by her best friend, Marija Gundulić Gučetić, the first feminist in Dubrovnik, who sharply criticized the attitude of the people of Dubrovnik, supporting all the other women as well.

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Ruđer Bošković

Dubrovnik was the birthplace of many important scientists, but perhaps the most famous name remains that of the polymath Ruđer Bošković (1711 – 1787). This scientist and Jesuit priest was a physicist, mathematician, philosopher, diplomat, poet, and theologian. His contributions to astronomy were so great that a moon crater bears his name – the Bošković crater.

He was only 15 years old when he has been writing scientific treatises on mathematics, physics and astronomy. Thus, he was very early recognized as a gifted scientist.

The highlight of his work was the famous Theory of Natural Philosophy, which supported the idea that one single law of forces exists in nature, that is, the idea that all reality is interpreted on the basis of one law.

Bošković was a versatile, universal man, one of a kind. From archaeological work through solving problems of draining swamps and regulation of rivers to construction statics, Bošković was omnipresent. His contribution to world science is enormous.

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Marin Getaldić

Marin Getaldić (1568 – 1626) was a renowned Croatian mathematician and physicist born in Dubrovnik. Getaldić studied across Europe, and even spent time with famous Galileo Galilei.

He studied the practical application of mathematics in solving geodetic problems. He even tried to determine the latitude of Constantinople and Dubrovnik. Getaldić’s work significantly influenced the development of the application of algebra to geometry before the discovery of analytic geometry.

However, Marin Getaldić was most known for his work in the field of optics. In the cave that was on his family estate, he performed all sorts of experiments with parabolic mirrors. His fellow citizens believed he was burning ships on the sea with his instruments and declared him a sorcerer. But what they didn’t know is that his parabolic mirror construction will enable communication for satellites and spacecraft (to this day). His construction is also used for microwave transmission of radar antennas and wireless WLAN connections. Furthermore, it is used in telescopes, microscopes and reflectors. We can’t help but wonder, what our world would be like without Marin Getaldić?

To this day the cave, a favourite destination of both tourists and locals, bears the name Bete’s Cave/Betina Špilja, according to his nickname, Bete.

The Cabinet of Curiosities
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Mato Celestin Medović

Being born on the Pelješac Peninsula, Mato Celestin Medović (1857 – 1920), a famous Croatian painter, grew up in a large hardworking peasant family.

At first, he studied to become a priest in the Franciscan Monastery of the Friars Minor in Dubrovnik. However, noticing his talent, the general of the Franciscan order invited him to Rome to study painting.

As written in Croatian encyclopedia, “he painted scenes with historical and religious themes, genre-scenes…, still life and portraits, but he was the first to notice the value of the coastal landscape and nurtured it as an independent painting genre, paving the way for modern Croatian landscape painting”.

The guests at Palace Natali can enjoy the beauty of the two tapestries inspired by his paintings (in the reception area and in saloča Pilo (the ground floor living room).

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Vlaho Bukovac

Vlaho Bukovac (1855 – 1922) was one of the most significant Croatian painters, the originator and main representative of Croatian modernity.

The path of Vlaho Bukovac to become one of the most prominent Croatian painters was rather difficult. At an early age, he went overseas, to the USA, with his uncle. After his uncle suddenly died, Vlaho was put in the reform school for juvenile, where he was left all alone. After finishing school, he returned home and at the age of 15, he embarked on his first voyage as a sailor.

Later he went from Peru to San Franscisco searching for better life, and back home. His first distinguished works were done while he was in the USA for the second time. Finally, a stroke of luck hit him – one of the most significant Croatian personalities of the 19thc., bishop Strossmayer, saw his talent and sent him to Paris to study art, where Bukovac established himself as a renowned painter.

Vlaho Bukovac was able to convey so clearly the atmosphere of the moment, his paintings are lively, bursting with energy.

Bukovac created in Zagreb, Prague and Paris, and in England as well. The last, almost 20, years of his life, he spent in Prague as the academy professor, longing for his hometown by the end of his life.

He left behind an oeuvre of four hundred portraits and over a hundred other paintings. His work is characterized by depicting family portraits, cycles of acts and the genre of scenes, including sacred themes sometimes.

One of his great compositions is the Croatian national revival which found its place on the curtain of the Croatian National Theatre, showing a group of distinguished Croatian personalities.

The Cabinet of Curiosities
23 Chapter

Luka Sorkočević

Luka Sorkočević (1734 – 1789) was a Croatian composer and a diplomat of the Dubrovnik Republic, coming from the renown Dubrovnik patrician family Sorkočević. Luka studied music in Dubrovnik and Rome.

Being a member of the reputable patrician family in the Dubrovnik Republic, Sorkočević was the state official and a diplomat, thus he engaged in composing as an amateur. But still, as an amateur, he could compete with his European contemporaries.

Sorkočević was the first Croatian composer of symphonies. Luka performed his symphonies at the family palace or summer residence just as it was usually done at that time. Private concerts were usually held at summer residences, in the salon. All of his autographs and manuscripts of compositions are stored in the Franciscan Monastery of the Friars Minor in Dubrovnik.

Unfortunately, the last years of his life were not kind to him. Due to kidney disease and major depression, Sorkočević took his own life by throwing himself through the window of his house (today’s Bishop’s Palace, opposite to the cathedral). He was buried in the Franciscan church in Dubrovnik.

The art school in Dubrovnik bears his name.