Jan 152012
 

Dubrovnik is now a part of the independent nation of Croatia which is an unusually shaped country. The majority of its land mass consists of productive plains situated in the northern part of the former Yugoslavia and is sandwiched between Hungary and Slovenia to the north and Bosnia-Herzegovina to the south. In the east there is a fairly short border with Serbia.

However Croatia also includes the coastal strip of Dalmatia which takes up most of the coastline of Yugoslavia and includes about eight hundred islands which are the projecting tips of ancient flooded mountain ranges.

Towards the southern end of Dalmatia the city of Dubrovnik stands on a projecting headland (formerly an island linked to the mainland). This part of Croatia is cut off by land from the rest of the country by the short Bosnian coastline. To the south of the city is the only really productive area of coastal plain on this side of the Adriatic and that is also the location of the Dubrovnik international airport.

Its isolation from the rest of the country by the bare, rocky coastal mountain range caused Dubrovnik to be an independent maritime state for much of its history. Indeed there was a period in the middle ages when it competed strongly with Venice. However the city was devastated in 1667 by a serious earthquake and, although it continued to enjoy a type of independence, it never recovered its former importance. Napoleon finally annexed it to his province of Illyria and, at the Treaty of Vienna in 1815, it became a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1919 Croatia and Dalmatia were incorporated into the new nation which became Yugoslavia in 1929.

When Croatia declared independence and seceded from the Yugoslav federation early in 1991 nobody foresaw that any reprisals would be visited on the Dubrovnik area which was strategically unimportant and contained the beautiful ancient city which had been designated a World Heritage Site. The population was overwhelmingly Croatian with only about seven percent being Serbs. It had no effective defence, consisting of just over a thousand troops, police and volunteers armed with just two 3-inch guns supplied by Russia in 1942.

So, when a sudden unprovoked attack was launched on the city by 20,000 JNA forces from Montenegro in early October 1991, the population of Dubrovnik and any visitors left in the city found themselves in a desperate situation.

The photo shows the view from one of the mountain peaks above the city.

I will tell you more about what happened in Dubrovnik next week.