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Within the Adriatic fortress of Dubrovnik, cafés, churches and palaces reflect 1,000 years of turbulent history

The BaroqueCity seen by visitors today features a few Renaissance buildings that predate the earthquake. But Dubrovnik’s greatest treasure is its archive. In vaulted rooms on the second floor of the SponzaPalace are thousands of pristine, perfectly legible documents dating back more than eight centuries. “The Venice archives are exclusively political, but ours cover every aspect of life,” said archivist Ante Soljic as he extracted a medieval dowry contract from a folder bound with velvet ribbon. “We have virtually the complete economic history of the republic, 1282 to 1815, seen through real estate transactions, leasing agreements, customs documents and court records.

 

“We have records in Latin, Hebrew, Medieval Greek and Bosnian Cyrillic script,” Soljic continued. “We also have more than 12,000 Turkish manuscripts, many of them beautiful works of art.”

 

Not all of the city-state’s history is readily accessible. A 1967 guide to Dubrovnik touts the Museum of the Socialist Revolution in the SponzaPalace, with exhibits on the history of Dubrovnik’s Communist Party and Nazi persecution of Tito’s Partisan army. Today, one looks in vain for that museum. The receptionist at the palace hasn’t heard of it. Only Ivo Dabelic, Dubrovnik’s curator of recent history, knows the location of Dalmatia’s revolutionary past. And he’s glad somebody asked him where it is.

 

“Don’t worry, the exhibits are safe,” he said when we met at Luza Square . “Just follow me.” Crossing the square to the Rector’s Palace, Dabelic entered a room where a portion of the wall sprang open, revealing a hidden cupboard. “Ah, here it is,” he said, removing a large iron key. We made our way back to awooden door at the palace’s rear. “The Socialist museum was closed in 1988; we intended to display the items in a lending library,” Dabelic said as we inched down a stairway. “But when the [Serbian] Yugoslav army began shelling the city in 1991, things got very confused.

 

“There they are,” he said, shining a flashlight on a stack of wooden boxes set in the middle of a subterranean cell. “All the helmets, photos and documents of the socialist era,” he said. “Dubrovnik has the resources for a museum of contemporary history, but the city prefers to spend its money on the Summer Festival.”

 

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