A Closer Look at Dubrovnik’s Churches

Lauren Simmonds

Whether you’re religious or you just love history and architecture, Dubrovnik has an array of churches and places of worship for all different religions. Many of them have been there since before the rest of Europe (and indeed the world) accepted the idea of more than one faith being permitted in any one place, showing Dubrovnik to once again be a step above the rest when it came to human rights. Let’s take a closer look at some of them…


The Church of Saint Blaise (Crkva svetoga Vlaha)

Perhaps the most well known Baroque church in Dubrovnik, the Church of Saint Blaise bears the name of the city’s patron saint and sits proudly right at the beginning of Stradun on Luza square (when accessed from Ploce gate). This church is both a central and integral fixture in Dubrovnik’s beautiful Old City. It is one of the major attractions for visitors from all over the world. The church was constructed in 1715 by Marino Gropelli, a Venetian architect and sculptor, it was modelled on Sansovino’s Venetian church of San Maurizio. The barrel-vaulted interior of the church is adorned with Baroque style decorations, with Corinthian columns bearing the tambour of the cupola and lantern. There is a precious silver Gothic statue of Saint Blaise in the main alter, which is a rich combination of polychrome marble and white. In Saint Blaise’s left hand sits a scale model of the Romanesque church which was destroyed by the infamous Dubrovnik earthquake of 1667, he is flanked by two kneeling angels. The statue was the only one to survive the fire of 1706. Although virtually impossible to miss visually, the address for the Church of Saint Blaise is Luza Ulica 2.

Saint Saviour Church (Crkva sv. Spasa)

Located in Dubrovnik’s Old City, this church is a small votive church dedicated to Jesus Christ. On May the 17th 1520, an earthquake struck, killing about twenty people and heavily damaging many buildings in Dubrovnik. The local Senate which governed the Dubrovnik Republic commissioned the building of a new church as a sign of gratitude for sparing Dubrovnik from even more disastrous destruction. Construction began in 1520 and was finished by 1528, it was designed by Petar Andrijic, an architect from the nearby island of Korcula. The main facade of the church is in Renaissance style, but there are certain Gothic elements to it, including lateral windows with typical pointed arches and one nave with a Gothic cross-ribbed vault. Dubrovnik was struck once again by an earthquake in 1667, one which wiped out around half of the population (5,000 people) and completely destroyed the vast majority of the city. Saint Saviour managed to withstand the damage and stands today in its original form. Saint Saviour is the first church in the Old City when entering via Pile gate, its address is Poljana Paska Milicevica.

Dubrovnik Cathedral (Katedrala Velike Gospe, Katedrala Marijina Uznesenja)

Dubrovnik’s Cathedral, officially called the Assumption Cathedral is a Roman Catholic cathedral in the seat of the Diocese of Dubrovnik. Built on the site of several former cathedrals, the Assumption Cathedral is one of the most easily recognised churches in the Old City, it also has one of the most extensive backgrounds of them all. The former king of England, Richard the Lion Heart was shipwrecked on the island of Lokrum in 1192 while on his way back to England following the Third Crusade, it was he who contributed the money to build the basilica as a sign of gratitude to the people of Dubrovnik for taking him in while he recovered from his ordeal. Like many other significant Dubrovnik buildings, it was all but destroyed in 1667’s earthquake. The then Senate of Dubrovnik appealed to Andrea Bufalini of Urbino, an Italian architect, who sent a model for a new church in Baroque style with a nave, a cupola and two aisles. Several Italian architects worked alongside both domestic and foreign stonemasons to complete the Cathedral over three decades. Construction began in 1673 and was only completed in 1713, by local architect Ilija Katicic. Another earthquake damaged the building in 1979, the damage was gradually repaired over several years. It was severely damaged by at least one shell during the Siege of Dubrovnik in 1991, and it has since been restored. The typical Roman Baroque style of the Cathedral is in keeping with the style of the rest of the city. The Cathedral Treasury (Riznica Katedrale) showcases numerous connections Dubrovnik once had with seaports all over the Mediterranean sea, holding an impressive 182 relics from local masters dating from the 11th to the 18th century. Among the most significant relics are the gold plated skull, arm and leg of Dubrovnik’s patron saint, Saint Blaise. The Cathedral’s address is Ulica kneza Damjana Jude 1.

Saint Ignatius Church (Crkva sv. Ignacija)

Located on the southern side of Gundulic Square (Gunduliceva Poljana) is an impressive Baroque staircase leading up to Rudjer Boskovic Square (Poljana Rudjera Boskovica), at the top sits the visually dramatic Church of Ignatius and the reputable Jesuit college (Collegium Ragusinum). This church is one of the finest examples of typical Baroque style in Croatia. Back in 1555, Beccaddeli, the bishop of Dubrovnik, asked the newly founded Jesuit order to open a college in the city. Nothing came of this until much later. In 1652, Gianbattista Canauli, the Jesuit Rector embarked on a project which intended to regulate the urban structure of the suburb in the oldest section of the city, and to provide enough free space to begin building the Jesuit church and college. The 1667 earthquake put a stop to all plans and the project only resumed at the end of that century. Iganzio Pozzo, a renowned Jesuit architect was called to the city in 1699 to work on the project, his plans were finalised by 1703 and building was complete by 1725. The belfry is home to the oldest bell in Dubrovnik, cast back in 1355 by Viventius and his son Viator. This church is an absolute must see for lovers of architecture. The address for Saint Ignatius is Poljana Rudjera Boskovica 7.

Dubrovnik Synagogue (Sinagoga Muzej)

Dubrovnik’s Old Synagogue is the oldest Sefardic synagogue still in use today, and the second oldest synagogue in Europe. It was allegedly first established in 1352, but only gained full legal status in 1408. It is owned by the local Jewish community, its main floor still functioning as a place of worship on Holy days and special occasions in the Jewish faith. Speaking generally, it is now a city museum which is home to various artefacts spanning throughout the Jewish community’s history in Dubrovnik. It is located down one of the many alleyways in the Old City, connected to a neighbouring building which has long since been owned by the caretakers of the synagogue, the Tolentino family. Due to numerous refurbishments through the centuries, the interior of the Synagogue differs from other European examples. The building sustained significant damage throughout its existence, from the 1667 earthquake to the the second world war, as well as during the Croatian War of Independence in the 1990’s. Damage has been periodically repaired with attention being paid to keep it as close to its original design as possible. Due to the small number of Jews registered as residents in Dubrovnik, the Synagogue does not have its own Rabbi, on Holy days, a visiting Rabbi comes to conduct any services. The address of the Synagogue is Zudioska 5. 

Dubrovnik Masjid (Islamska Zajednica Dubrovnik)

Many Muslims passed through the Dubrovnik Republic as merchants, traders, boat engineers and officials of the Ottoman empire throughout the centuries. Dubrovnik, unlike very many other places, had a relatively workable relationship with the Ottomans and the two compromised on a number of things, particularly on trade. Only after the fall of the Republic did Muslim families decide to settle permanently in the city. In 1878, the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina was integrated into the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy by the Vienna congress, making Dubrovnik and the Herzegovinian hinterland part of the same state, following this, a free flow of people started to move and the first Muslim families arrived in Dubrovnik as permanent residents. The commercial development and expansion of Dubrovnik’s main port at Gruz created jobs and very many people moved from Herzegovina to Dubrovnik, a lot of them were Muslim. By the turn of the 1920’s, the small Muslim community living in Dubrovnik began organising worship and held prayers and services in their respective homes, the Karamehmedovic family house was the centre for prayer in 1929. As the community gradually grew, this method became increasingly inadequate and the search for more suitable locations began, concluding with the idea of the creation of an official Islamic Community in Dubrovnik in 1932. By 1933 the idea came to fruition and the very first Imam was appointed. A local goldsmith called Josip Krilic agreed to help the small yet growing Muslim community in 1937 by leasing his store house in Ranjina street for worship, this was short lived due to the lack of proper water supply in the building. The search continued until 1941, when the community leased premises in Miho Pracat street (the third house), the property fell under the official ownership of the Islamic Community in 1964. Services, worship and prayer are still held there today. According to a census taken back in 2001, 2310 Muslims live permanently in Dubrovnik (numbers are expected to have increased since then) as well as descendent families who have Muslim names but claim to not actively practice Islam or follow Islamic traditions. You can find the Masjid at Ulica Miha Pracata 3.

The Dominican Monastery (Dominikanski Samostan)

The Dominican monastary is close to Ploce gate at the eastern end of the city, it is one of the first buildings you’ll pass as you enter the walled city. A major treasury of art and cultural heritage and one of the most important architectural parts of Dubrovnik, the museum inside it exhibits very many artefacts, paintings, jewellery and historical pieces from throughout the centuries of Dubrovnik’s rich past. In 1225, the Dominicans put down roots and established their monastery, but the construction of the building took much, much longer, resulting in the entire thing only being completed in the 14th century. The chosen location of the building was one of the most sensitive defence points for the city at that time. The design of Saint Dominic’s church is typically Gothic, with several arched openings and high rising, bare outer walls. Only in 1419, when Bonino of Milan (Italy) added Romanesque style structures did the southern side of the building alter. The entire complex is a walking museum, rich with history and adorned with famous names. The 14th century work of Paolo Veneziano can be seen inside the richly decorated church, in the form of a large golden Crucifix above the main altar. Below the 14th century Crucifix sit Mary and Saint Joseph in typical Byzantine-Gothic style. By the turn of the 15th century, the monastery complex took on its final form, when the capital hall, the cloister and the vestry were added. The aesthetically stunning porches of the cloister were built by local builders, Utisenovic, Grubacevic and Radmanovic from the designs of the Florentine architect Massa de Bartolomeo. The capital hall is located in the eastern section of the monastery complex, built by local architect Bozitko Bogdanovic. The back room contains the Renaissance sarcophagus of the bishop of Ston and in the front lie graves of noble Dubrovnik families, some of the most significant being the graves of local poets Junije Palmotic and Dinko Ranjina. Moving to the vestry, an inscription on the wall can be read, which tells how of its construction in 1485 by Paskoje Milicevic, a Dubrovnik architect who designed the port that very same year, and was held in particularly high esteem. Upon his death, he was laid to rest in the vestry he had so lovingly built. The founding columns which hold up the belfry were built by order of the respected Gundulic family. The architect Checo of Monopoli began building the bell-towers in the 16th century, but they were not completed until the 18th century. The impressive monastery contains a library, various illuminated manuscripts and a rich archive of invaluable documents. As well as this, ex voto jewellery can be seen, and some of the absolute best paintings from the Dubrovnik art school of the 15th and 16th centuries can be found here. The address for the Dominican Monastery is Ulica svetog Dominika 4.

Church of the Holy Annunciation (Crkva svetih Blagovijesti)

Dubrovnik’s only Serbian Orthodox church, the Holy Annunciation was built in 1877 in typical Neo-Byzantine architectural style and is located in the Old City. The church contains a collection of icons and relics, some of which date all the way back to the 15th and 16th centuries. In 2009, the church was restored using finances from the Croatian Ministry of Culture, the City of Dubrovnik and private contributions. A detailed history of this church and its parish called ”The Serbian Orthodox Church in Dubrovnik to the Twentieth Century” was published in 2007. The church was damaged by bombs during the Siege of Dubrovnik and subsequently repaired. The address for the Church of the Holy Annunciation is Ulica od Puca 8.

The Convent of Saint Claire (Samostan sv. Klare)

Next to Onofrio’s fountain sits the Convent of Saint Claire, built and completed within the 13th and 14th centuries. One of the best known convents to exist prior to French occupation, it was the place where girls of noble birth were ordained. Following the completion of the convent, major restorations took place through the centuries. The convent was in many ways before its time, complete with a shelter for abandoned and illegitimate children and babies in the 13th century, prompting local authorities to build one of the oldest orphanages there in the 1430’s. The orphanage building can still be seen today, located in Zlatariceva street with a Latin inscription above the door – it was where unwanted children were left. By the time of Napoleons invasion, the convent was turned into an ammunition storage and a stable for horses.

The Benedictine Monastery, island Lokrum

Located on the idyllic emerald island of Lokrum, just 600m from Dubrovnik sits the ruins of the former Benedictine Monastery and church, founded at the very beginning of the 11th century. The first known records of Lokrum’s earliest mention were in 1023. The Benedictine monastery was purposefully constructed to face the open sea, making it easier for the Benedictine monks who resided there to warn the City of Dubrovnik by smoke signal of any approaching ships that could pose a threat. During their time on the island, the Benedictines traditionally cultivated exotic plants from all over the world, this practice earned Lokrum its name, which derives from the Latin word ”acrumen” meaning sour fruit. Just two fragments of the original pre-Romanesque church have managed to survive through the centuries (examples of such churches can be found on the nearby Elaphiti island of Lopud). The Romanesque church of Saint Mary has preserved a wall, along with three semicircular apses, in which significant traces of frescoes can be found. A 16th century stone relief of the Annunciation has also been well preserved throughout the many years. The design of the monastery is typical to both Gothic and Renaissance style, with a Gothic biforum on the eastern side and a Renaissance cloister on the western side.


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