Greater Dubrovnik Area
The first 2 articles focused on Jewish life in the City of Dubrovnik itself. I thought it would be a good place to start, considering the name of the Blog.
However, the Greater Dubrovnik Area makes up many regions, 90% of which luckly ended up in the Republic of Croatia.
The other 10% is the result of the Treaty of Karlowitz of 1699.
Here's the first extract from Wikipedia:
In 1399, the Dubrovnik Republic (Ragusa) acquired Neum from the lands of Hum, and was added to the territories in the possession of the city, which ruled it for 300 years.
In 1699, Ragusa relinquished control of Neum to the Ottoman empire in 1699, at the treaty of Karlowitz.
The Ragusan Republic gave the region of Neum to the Turks in the war between the Holy League and the Ottoman Empire. It gave the Turkish army access to the sea, but just as important to Ragusa it gave them a protection from the Venetian territories.
This means that todays sub-county of Neum, & parts of Ravno are in Bosnia. Anyhow, the 4 sub-counties (Neum, Ravno, Čapljina, & Stolac) closest to Dubrovnik-Neretva County, unofficially make up the Dubrovačko Zahumlje (or plainly put; Dubrovnik Highlands). Most of this region has always been looking towards Levant (Eastern Winds, as they say!). Hence, part of the Ottoman Empire.
Extract from Wikipedia:
The Alhambra Decree expelled Sephardic Jews from Spain in 1492. Some of these immigrated to Salonica, sometimes after a stop in Portugal or Italy. The Ottoman Empire, based on the Islamic law regarding people of the book (Arabic: ahl al-kitâb), granted protection to Jews as dhimmis, accepted and even encouraged the settlement on its territory of those affected by the expulsion.
Since, most of Bosnia was under the Ottomans, Jewish History in the Dubrovnik Highlands and the neighbouring Trebinje (Travunia) region is much more richer & vivid then in the city state it self.
However having said that, Bosnia is underfunded when it comes to protecting & preserving its beautiful heritige.
This means that, although, Dubrovnik Republic made sure that the Jewish presence was kept to a minimum in its lands, the culture that did survive, was so well preserved that, the vast Jewish presence in the neighbouring Ottoman Provices, made less difference to the overall picture.
What this means basicly is that, Jewish Tourism in Dubrovnik plays a significant role in the further studies conducted on Balkan Jewery, even though most Jews lived beyond the citadel.
This is why my next article will try to focus on Stolac, and its Jewish past.
Jewish Life Outside Dubrovnik's Old City
Within the walls of the old city, everything is well documented. Every street, every stone. But, there is more to Dubrovnik then just the old city.
Prior to 1546, Jews couldn't settle within the actual walls of the Republic. Instead, a rather small persistant minority, settled in the Suburb of Pile. At that time apart from being protected by the Fort Of St. Lawrence, Pile was just a collection of Artisan Workshops, sandwiched between the sea, today's Hilton Hotel, the City Walls & the Hill Palaces (which where at that time, few and far inbetween).
This First community of Jews, weren't specificaly Sephardic, but a blend of the original Roman Jews who settled here well before the Spanish Inquisition. It should be noted that by the time Spanish Refugees started arriving in Dubrovnik, most of these old Jews, had already been absurbed into the framework of the Republic. As such, they weren't looked upon as strangers. For some, this situation changed by the arrival of Sephardic Jews.
Neighbouring States around Dubrovnik, weren't always loyal. Their fickleness depended on opportunity. With so many nationalities trading within the Republic, it was important for the state to practise uniformity. Since, Roman Catholicism was the dominant faith, it was important to keep its population striving for the same goal.
The original old Jews, slowly inter-married within the Commoner Population. Hence, when Sephardi Jews arrived, the then discreet, Functioning Minyan (Congregation) in Pile, firstly got divided along Religious Divisions, and then seized to exist.
Anyone who retained the faith, had to move into the Ghetto, with the new arrivals. As expected, most Pile residence didn't.
Most people who come to Dubrovnik, aren't shown this, since Jewish history most visibly, is found in the later built Jewish Ghetto in the (not so pretty) Eastern Edge of the Old City.
But if you carefully look at some buildings while walking along the sea bank towards Šuljič Bay, you'll notice the old doorposts where Mezuzah used to be kept, still vivid.
In Pile, as you're looking from the Bus Station towards a 400 year old Plain Tree, right across it, is the original site of the first ever Dubrovnik Synagogue (which was really just a simple prayer house). Ofcource, just like most commoner dwellings in Pile, the documentation either didn't exist or didn't survive the 1667 earthquake.
Today the same plot is occupied by 4 Private Residences, probably built in the early 1750.
Pile is also famous for the modest Jewish drinking fountain today over shadowed by a huge neon light statue for the fallen victims of the recent War.
Besides that there is also, the Jewish cemetery at Boninovo, kept and maintained by the Dubrovnik Synagogue.
It was founded in the late 19th century and has about 200 tombstones, including some 30 centuries-old stones transferred there from an even earlier cemetery.
As a whole, the tombs provide a textbook illustration of different types of Jewish grave markers. Some are traditional Sephardic-style horizontal slabs with ornamental carving and Hebrew inscriptions. Others, as in Split, are horizontal tombs sharped like sarcophagi with peaked or gabled roofs and Hebrew inscriptions on their sides. Others still are the upright tombstones typical of Ashkenazic Jews, who originated in central Europe.
There used to be another Jewish cemetery, but in the 1960s due to congestion, it got turned into public toilets, parking facility & a service road.
A visit to Jewish Dubrovnik
By Arthur Wolak
Dubrovnik, a UNESCO World Heritage site situated in the south of Croatia along the coastline of the Adriatic Sea, is among the most prominent tourist resorts in the country. Its breathtaking panorama, best viewed from high above the city, is unparallelled. What few may know, however, is that in the heart of Dubrovnik's well-preserved medieval Old Town stands Europe's oldest functioning Sephardi synagogue.
After going through Dubrovnik's Pile Gate – separating the suburb of Pile (pronounced "Pee-lay") from the walled city of Dubrovnik – one is transported into a medieval world of ancient streets lined with stone palaces, Venetian-style buildings, bell towers, marble-paved squares, monasteries and fountains. The surrounding fortifications, first begun in the eighth century, reflect a powerful metropolis with considerable historic economic importance, derived mostly from maritime and commercial trade. After gaining independence from the Republic of Venice in 1358, Dubrovnik remained a self-governing free city until Napoleon's forces marched through the Pile Gate in 1808, ending 450 years of independence.
While the small Jewish population of Dubrovnik traces back to the 14th century (if not earlier), the number grew significantly following the Spanish expulsion in 1492. Of the Sephardi families passing through on their way to Turkey, several decided to settle in Dubrovnik, helping solidify a modest but strong Jewish community in the city.
However, after Napoleon, Dubrovnik fell under various jurisdictions: the Austro-Hungarian Empire (1815-1918); the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes; a pro-Nazi independent Croat State during the Second World War; and a communist Yugoslavia under General Tito for much of the 20th century.
Over the course of these transfers, the Jewish population of the city dwindled to about 87 prior to the Second World War. Of this number, about 27 perished in the Holocaust or as partisans who fought the Nazis. Today, there are just 44 registered Jews in Dubrovnik, with about 19 of them residing in the United States, yet the synagogue continues to function, with services conducted by members of the local community and tourists often helping form a minyan. A rabbi visits occasionally from Zagreb, the Croatian capital.
Life was not always idyllic for the Jews of the independent Republic of Dubrovnik. There were many episodes of persecution (most notably in 1502, 1515, 1571 and 1622), which led to false accusations and even executions. By the mid-18th century, as Dubrovnik's economic position declined, the small community of Jews was prohibited from engaging in commerce, and was confined to live in the ghetto. However, French rule – lasting from 1808 to 1815 – gave equality to the Jews of Dubrovnik, annulling all prior restrictions. Although Austrian rule brought in new laws regulating their lives, full emancipation would occur towards the end of the century.
In the years of Dubrovnik's independence, the Jews – given their broad knowledge of languages – fit well in Dubrovnik's highly developed economy. Many served as interpreters. Others became merchants and importers of materials, such as wool and spices from the east, and textiles and paper from the west. Beyond commerce and maritime trade, many Jews served as insurers and owners of ships. Although prohibited from owning land or buildings, Jews were allowed to invest in ships that served Dubrovnik's trade routes. Many also served as a significant number of the city's physicians.
In 1546, the growth of the Jewish population led Dubrovnik officials to allow Jewish settlement within the city, establishing Ulica Zudioska (Street of the Jews) as the Dubrovnik Ghetto. A few buildings were allocated for newcomers to settle within the fortified walls. Other houses were leased, while the rest of the Jews lived outside of Dubrovnik's fortifications. By the mid-17th century, this situation led to the establishment of the synagogue on the second floor of one of the 14th-century buildings, at Ulica Zudioska 3.
The synagogue is a highlight of any visit to Dubrovnik. To get there, pass through Pile Gate and head east down the main street of Placa (also known as Stradun), an impressive pedestrian promenade, which extends to the Clock Tower and Small Onofrio Fountain at the other end of town. Next, make a left at Ulica Zudioska, just a couple of blocks before the Gothic and Renaissance-styled Sponza Palace. There, just a short walk up the narrow stair-lined road, stands the small but ornate synagogue (and Jewish museum) on the left side. Not only is this Europe's oldest functioning Sephardi synagogue, but it is Europe's second oldest synagogue (after Prague) in continuous use. The Jewish community was also able to purchase land for a cemetery just outside the city fortifications. In the 19th century, during Napoleon's rule, a new site was established for the cemetery in nearby Boninovo, where it remains to this day.
The Dubrovnik synagogue, carefully constructed in 1652 in the Italian baroque style, retains the elegance of the original workmanship. The main sanctuary, featuring an elaborate chandelier, colorful fabrics and gold work, is divided by three arches. The bimah (podium) is located under the central arch, while the aron ha-kodesh (holy ark), surrounded by two large wooden arches, stands along the eastern wall facing Jerusalem. Although the synagogue survived the major earthquake of 1667, it suffered serious damage to its roof after being hit twice during the (Serbian led) Yugoslav shelling of Dubrovnik in 1991. Repairs were completed by 1997, and the synagogue was again fit for use.
In 2003, the first floor was converted into a museum by Dubrovnik's small but determined Jewish community. It became the first Jewish museum in Croatia. To preserve the memory of the many centuries of Jewish presence there, the museum contains a number of small exhibits: archival documents, a Holocaust memorial and a collection of religious objects, including several elaborate Spanish, Italian and French Torah scrolls, each created between the 13th and 17th centuries. Also on exhibit are various Torah covers made from silk and decorated with 17th-century golden embroidery.
Exiting the walled city, just outside the Pile Gate entrance to Dubrovnik, remains a little-known but unique Jewish site – a modest water fountain that serves the local population. Before Napoleon's arrival to fortified Dubrovnik, Jews were not allowed to drink water from the other two fountains in the city. They were restricted to the "Jewish Fountain," as it is still called today. When Napoleon granted Jews equal rights, all fountains were then accessible to them, and the Jewish Fountain was removed from within the Old City's walls – but not from the area. It was kept in Pile as a permanent monument.
Today, just like the other fountains – and the rest of the public spaces of contemporary Dubrovnik and its suburbs – the Jewish Fountain is accessible to everyone. Indeed, the pearl of the Adriatic- Dubrovnik, and its many sites of interest, should not be missed by any adventurous traveller.
Arthur Wolak is a freelance writer in Vancouver.
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Blog je posvečen Zajednicama Dubrovačkih, Bokeljskih, Zahumskih i Trebinskih Židova, koji na ovim prostorima žive več dugih 500 godina.
Cilj bloga je vratit Dubrovniku autentičnost povjesti Republike i Istočne Hercegovine, iz perspektive jedne ugledne bogate manjine, koja i dan danas ostavlja otiske našim krajolikom.
Blog če biti po naj više na Engleskom (meni drugi jezik), i bit če u korist mnogo brojnim turistima.
Često se dogodi da se povjest lako stvara u mjestu novčanih događaja.
Bez neke sumje, provat čemo razotkrit neke legende, i možda (uz pomoč mnogo brojnim Povjesničara na Balkanu), "stvorit nove" :))