Traditional culture of Dubrovnik and its surroundings

The traditional culture of the wider Dubrovnik area was formed in the zones of overlap of two cultural areas, the Dinaric and the Mediterranean, i.e. the Dinaric and the Adriatic ethnographic zones. In this narrow strip of the former Republic of Ragusa, the coast and the hinterland harmoniously complement and interweave with each other. It is right in this area that the Mediterranean Sea pushes deep into the mainland, bringing it closer to the shore, just as the French historian Fernand Braudel or Croatian writer Predrag Matvejević described in their works.

Konavoka u narodnoj nošnji veze, Konavle, Agencija za fotodokumentaciju Zagreb, Duvstan, C5755, 1960-ih

Konavoka na magarcu, Duvstan - Dubrovnik, snimio I. Medar, Čilipi, Konavle, 1960-ih

Župka na povratku s place u Dubrovniku, Zadružna knjiga - Beograd, snimio M. Mrđanov, 2110, 1960-ih

Župke u narodnoj nošnji na povratku s place u Dubrovniku, Generalturist Zagreb - Fotoslužba, izdanje Atlas, Dubrovnik, 8148, 1960-ih

Župljani s magarcem na putu prema gradu, Zadružna knjiga - Beograd, snimio M. Mrđanov, 2113, 1960-ih

Povratak Župke s place u Dubrovniku, 1950-ih

Pastir iz Župe dubrovačke sa stadom ovaca iznad Dubrovnika, 1930-ih

Konavoska narodna nošnja, Dubrovnik, Turistkomerc, Zagreb, 1970-ih

Here, even the Dinaric sturdiness and wild beauty gives in to the swaying and soft southern shapes. On the other hand, the northern culture of the Slavs and the southern culture of the Romans (Byzantium) have been reconciled in the beauty of Dubrovnik. Even though, in the 6th and 7th century, the illiterate Slavic tribes settled in the hinterland observed with suspicion, from the slopes of the Srđ hill, the marvellous stone city which was the cradle of culture, religion and literacy, from the early Middle Ages, when former were Christianised, the two cultures became integrated with one another. The settlement of Laus in the rocky part of the peninsula got a counterpart in the settlement of Dubrava, across the sea strait, which would later be filled in and become the place of the consolidation, of origin, of a new city, as well as, later, the most beautiful street of the Adriatic coast – the Stradun.

It is assumed that the settled Slavs adopted some cultural elements from the Romanised Illyrians, Plereians and Ardiaei, primarily the stone or drystone construction of plot boundaries, underpinning walls, kućerica or kućarica stone huts, wells, reservoirs and other similar edifices. Up to then, the Slavs built their dwellings exclusively out of earth and wood and surrounded them with palisades. Interestingly, similar palisades also surrounded a part of Pustijerna before the construction of fortifications. For the Illyrians, the basic material for making clothes was wool, which was a distinguishing element of traditional Dinaric attire until the 20th century. In addition, one of the basic late-antiquity clothing items—the tunica dalmatica—led to the development of a long Dinaric women's shirt, while the headwear of the Iapydes led to the development of the crvenkapa girls' cap.

From the local population, the settlers also adopted seminomadic cattle-raising or transhumance, characterized by the seasonal movement of cattle between mountain and lowland pastures and the herders' stay in improvised settlements in the form of farms or barns. During the winter months, herders from the hinterland would take their cattle to winter in the warmer areas of Konavle, Župa and the Dubrovnik coastal region. After taking control over the area, the Republic of Ragusa limited the migrations of herders, primarily in order to secure its borders and supervise its territory. On the same grounds, immediately after purchasing the Dubrovnik coastal region and Konavle, the Republic prohibited the construction of fixed structures in the border area, allowing only drystone buildings covered with thatches or slabs. Plastering the houses was kept as a privilege of the Ragusans and the characteristic mission tiles (kupa kanalica) of the Dubrovnik area were made in Kupari in Župa dubrovačka and in Kuparice in Konavle.

Several examples of the organised settling of Vlach herders in the border areas of Konavle and Župa were also recorded, undertaken by the Republic of Ragusa, which would give them land and other benefits as payment for protecting the border. Evidence of herder life is still present in the village toponymy of these areas, along with certain Vlach and Illyrian toponyms. Cattle raising was most intensive in the mountain villages of the Konavle area and the Dubrovnik coastal region, but also on the island of Mljet. During the summer months, small animals grazed in mountain pastures, and in the winter, in the fields and valleys of the lowland. Inhabitants of the Župa area took their cattle to graze on the nearby hill slopes. During the summer, some villages took their cattle to Herzegovina under leasing, i.e. cattle-sharing, arrangements, according to which the cattle-keepers would get half of the milk produced and cattle lambed. During the summer season, in the north Konavle villages, especially those in the Konavle hills—Duba, Stravča, Kuna, Dunave, Vataje and Dubravka—the cattle was taken to the hills, while in southern villages, it would be grazed on the land plots surrounding them.

From St George's day to Assumption Day, the cattle would be taken to graze early in the morning and then returned to the pen – plandovište or avlija. The pens were usually in the form of wooden fences with compartments for particular types of cattle – stancije. In the first half of June, between the feast days of Saint Anthony of Padua and St Vitus, these villages took their cattle to mountain pens and barns—torovi, torci or torići—where the cattle would remain until the feast day of St Nicholas, when it would be taken back into the village stables. The oldest area of Ragusan rule—the djedovina—was called Astarea and covered the coastal area from Kantafiga to Višnjica. In the 10th century, this territory was expanded to the narrower area of the hinterland settled by Slavs and slavicized Romans – Rijeka dubrovačka with Šumet, the coastal area up to Zaton, the Elaphiti Islands and Župa dubrovačka with Cavtat. In the 14th and 15th century, territorial expansion led to, for example, the 1333 purchase of the Pelješac peninsula with Ston, the capital of the duchy of Zahumlje, and to the 1399 purchase of the Dubrovnik coastal region, also known as Terrae Nove.

The island of Mljet was taken as early as 1410, while the eastern part of Konavle was annexed in 1419 and the western in 1426. The lands purchased or annexed by the Republic of Ragusa had been ruled by small landowners, known as koljenovići, who had serfs. After their lands fell under Ragusan rule, they themselves, up to then free farmers, became serfs. The medieval houses of the farmers, later serfs, of the Republic of Ragusa, were small, with a hearth or fireplace, also known as a komin, popret or zoganj, in the middle, and mostly drystone, with a thatched or stone-slab roof. Families often shared the same building—a single-storey house—with their cattle, separated only by wooden partitions. Urban influences, as well as the annexation by the Republic of Ragusa of its surroundings, from the 14th century onwards, contributed to the building of more solid and divided structures, and later of summer houses, the residential and commercial complexes of the Dubrovnik landed gentry.

The servants and labourers on the estate lived in separate dwellings. As a consequence of the weakening of the Republic of Ragusa's economic power, the downfall of the landed gentry and the abolition of serfdom in the 19th century, the wealthier peasants, mostly heads of communal households, bought up summer houses and, along with other members of their households, adapted them to the needs of the household economy and life. Other wealthy peasants built their own houses, with the outbuildings often annexed to the nucleus, i.e. to the communal house, establishing in this way an organic spatial and architectural structure of the village. Communal houses were extended across several generations. Whether in the form of single-storey or two-storey communal houses with an avlija or pridkuća (enclosed yard), a terrace – taraca and several annexed commercial structures on the ground floor and in the yard, or in the form of summer houses, the vernacular architecture of the Dubrovnik area, preserved up to the 21st century, clearly shows an emulation of Ragusan rural architecture.

The centre of every residential and commercial complex was the house. On its ground floor—podpod—was a stable or košara, with room for cattle, and a kotac – a fenced in compartment for isolating the young animals from the rest of the cattle. Along with the stable, there were other separate rooms such as the vinica, where wine was kept, the kamara od uja and the mlinica, where olives were pressed and olive oil was kept in stone containers – kamenice and pila. The yard was enclosed with drystone wall and paved with cobblestone, creating a type of courtyard known as the avlija, dvor, obor or predkuća. It was used to herd cattle after its return from the pasture and guide it towards the stables. Inside the yard and around the house, there were also other lean-to structures, such as the coal cellar, which might be protected by a strevun or eaves, a pračarak or pračarica—pigsty—with troughs, a tor – stable with an open yard for small cattle, a kapunara – chicken coop, a viganj – forge, a rakidžinica – brandy distillery, a gnjojnik – pit for animal waste. In the yard or on the terrace, there was also a perilo – a stone vessel for doing the washing, and a rainwater tank (gustijerna) for collecting rainwater from the surrounding roofs. In some places in the village, there were also lokuže – ponds used to collect and divert rainwater into village rainwater tanks.

Stretching from the yard to the terrace, or on the terrace itself, there was often a pergola with vine, often of the krivaja variety. The first floor was accessed by stone stairs—skalini—through an arched doorway—volt or ćemer—or from ground level, if the house was built on cascading terrain. As an extension of the arched doorway, above the stables, some houses had a smaller or bigger terrace with pižuli – small stone benches. In the central part of the first floor, there was the sala or saloča (salon), surrounded on two sides by the kamare – rooms, which could also be on the top floor or on the attic (potkupijerta). The top floor could be accessed by wooden stairs, while the attic—podkupijerta or šufit—could also be accessed by a wooden ladder, the skale. Under the influence of urban roof-building, the abaini—small skylights—appear as elements of the house. Inside the house, there was also a small store room, known as the magazin. The house could have several terraces, since the ancillary facilities were attached to one another. The lean-to structure with an open hearth beside the house was called a kumin, popret or zoganj.

The fact that it was detached from the architectural unit ensured protection in case of fire. The komin was covered by a double-sloping roof made from mission tiles or by the kominata – a pyramid roof built by cantilevering, without a wooden retaining structure. A lean-to bread oven was built on one side of the komin. Other than as part of the komin, the bread oven could also be built as a detached small structure. The threshing floors were built from stone slabs next to the pljevnice or pojate – huts used to keep hay, on somewhat elevated surfaces below or above the house. On a plateau above the house, enclosed by a drystone wall, there would be an apiary—uljanik or janik—with several beehives. The older ones, made out of hollow trees, were called stubline or dub, and the new ones were called ulišta. Structures built on somewhat more remote arable lands and used to store hay were called brgli. Ever since the Middle Ages, Dubrovnik and its surroundings have been closely connected by commercial and other activities. The country was always the only food source capable of satisfying the insatiable hunger of the City. 

The main crops were grapevine, olives, figs, pulses and vegetables. From the 15th century on, the population of the city grew rapidly and the narrow strip of coast did not allow for the production of a sufficient amount of basic foodstuffs such as cereals. By purchasing the fertile lands of Konavle in the 15th century, the Republic of Ragusa wanted to ensure a sufficient amount of these basic foodstuffs, although the cultivation of cereals had not been as developed in Konavle. The majority of cereals were still import grain, mostly from Apulia, i.e. Italy. Mills for grinding grain existed in Mlini in Župa dubrovačka and on the Ljuta river in the eponymous village. Besides cereals, grapevine was also grown in Konavle, the best-known variety being malvasija, which was even mentioned in the prohibitions of the Grand and Small Council in the 15th century. This grapevine variety also connects the area with that of the wider Mediterranean. It is assumed that it spread through the Mediterranean from Greece, and its cultivars, under the name of Malvasia, are found today in Italy and Spain. The Pelješac peninsula, with its native grape variety Plavac Mali, is another splendid example of the viticulture of the Dubrovnik area. Apart from in the Dubrovnik coastal region, cattle, sheep and goat farming was particularly developed in the villages of the Konavle hills or Površi. Ever since the Renaissance, apart from the production of butter, cheese, milk and meat, the inhabitants of the Konavle hillside villages derived additional income from ice trade.

During the winter, snow would accumulate in natural or walled-in pits and was covered with a thick layer of hay, in order to be preserved until summer. In the summer months, large blocks of ice, carried by donkeys, were delivered to the landed gentry in Dubrovnik. Trading in ice obtained from the so-called ledenice (icicles), natural or walled-in pits, was also a characteristic of other Mediterranean countries situated under high mountains. According to Braudel, ice or snow trade was most prominent in Italy and Spain, where there were also icicles. The so-called snow water or melted snow was sold and drank as early as in the 16th century, and Italy is also known as the country of origin of ice-cream. Ice was brought to Egypt from Syria, to Constantinople from the mountains of Bursa by means of fast horses, to Lisbon from its surroundings, to the Algerian city of Oran from Spain and to Malta from Naples. Along with agriculture, the main industry branches in the coastal settlements of Cavtat and Slano were fishery and trade. Apart from the mentioned industries, Ston and its surroundings were highly dedicated to salt trade and the cultivation of shellfish, especially of the area's famous oysters and Noah's arks. Along with fishery, the Elaphiti Islands, especially the islands of Šipan and Mljet, had a long tradition of coral diving (the extraction of red coral) and sponging, which are, however, no longer practiced. Župa dubrovačka was the biggest producer of fruits and vegetables, and later, in the 20th century, of flowers as well.  

Throughout the entire Middle Ages and later, Dubrovnik had the role of an intermediary, a varat, through which numerous Mediterranean influences entered deep into the south-east European mainland. Through its highly developed maritime industry, skilful diplomacy and trade ties, Dubrovnik asserted itself as an important political factor. Apart from that, Dubrovnik was also the centre of the production of weapons and jewelry, as well as of the production and distribution of luxury fabrics and clothing used in European fashion at the time. This was the fashion of the court nobles, and particular elements of it were preserved in the form of rural attire, as traditional clothing or folk costumes. One of the oldest types of headwear in the Dubrovnik surroundings was the prijevoj or rogovi, made of silver, and a silver crown with corals or pearls – the zoja, with a headdress and brim ornaments known as cercelle, and special Dubrovnik earrings called verchelle, whose name reveals a possible similarity with the name vrećini or rećini. Folk costumes are certainly one of the most distinguishing elements of the traditional culture of an area.

Although small, the Dubrovnik area boasts a wide variety of folk costumes with both Dinaric and Mediterranean characteristics. Ever since the ancient times, the basic material for making clothes had been wool. Other materials used for making clothes, apart from wool, were hemp, flax, Spanish broom, which was used to make shirts, and silk, used to adorn specific elements of the attire, such as cuffs, bosoms, collars, caps, kerchiefs etc. The best-known weavers were women from the island of Lopud and Cavtat. Silkworm farming was once widespread in the entire Dubrovnik area, Konavle, the Dubrovnik coastal region and Mljet. As a family business, it persisted throughout the 19th century on Mljet and in Konavle. To this day, it survives only in Konavle, where it has become an integral part of the cultural offer and of the story about the Konavle embroidery, a protected intangible cultural heritage of the Republic of Croatia. The Konavle folk costume is a unique example of harmony, strict form and high-level aesthetics, as reflected in its Gothic and Renaissance components. The influences of different style periods are visible in many examples: there is the Medieval colourfulness of the embroidered bosom, collar and cuffs, along with the ornamented pinafore; then, there is the late-Gothic headwear hondelj which, together with the povezača kerchief, reflects the tendencies of late-Gothic shading.

Such a headwear was covered by the obijelica kerchief, if worn by widows, or the zlatnica kerchief, if worn by brides, decorated by elements of Dubrovnik lace—Point de Raguse—which had replaced the veil in its function. Already in the 19th century, young housewives wore pleated kerchiefs (naštipani ubručići), an element of apparel which revealed belated Baroque influences in traditional culture. Baroque influences were also visible in the lively colours, floral patterns and styles of the female jacket – kamižola and skirt – kotula, which were part of the Župa and coastal folk costume (laneta). Considering that the folk costumes of the Dubrovnik coastal region and Župa dubrovačka clearly indicate urban influences, we can conclude that these costumes preserve reminiscences of the garments of maids, the čupe or čupice, who came from these areas to serve in manors. The jewelry worn with these costumes also reflects predominantly Baroque influences. It is assumed that, in the Dubrovnik coastal region, these costumes were preceded by a garment of woollen fabric with suspenders, probably dark blue in colour and similar to the modrina dress. The dark blue dress with a narrow red-and-yellow contrasting hem, suspenders of the same colour and an attached reinforcement across the waist constitute an older form of the Pelješac folk costume.

The dress was straight-cut and made of woollen fabric. This type of costume was called pandil and belonged to the Adriatic type of Mediterranean folk costume, which developed from the pendula skirt worn in ancient times. At the onset of the Baroque period in the beginning of the 18th century, the kotula skirt was padded with reed and wire, which made it more rotund and increased its volume, later to be maintained by wearing a petticoat. As early as in the 18th and 19th century, imported fabrics such as velour, brocade etc. appeared in Pelješac. At the same time, long-sleeved kamižolica or župa jackets were adopted as part of the costume. Extending to the waist or across the hips, they were made from the mentioned luxury fabrics, with geometrical and floral ornaments, as a product of the Rococo style. The stylization of the dress which began in the Baroque period would be completed in the 19th century with the elimination of suspenders, so that the dress would be supported by plaiting in the waist area. This change was accompanied by replacing the woollen fabric with cloth, while wealthier city women significantly increased the red hem, transforming it into a wide red surface, which effectively made the garment a red and dark blue dress—kotula—with a narrow yellow band across the middle. Formal headwear in Pelješac most often included a wide-brimmed straw hat decorated with feathers, usually of ostrich, and decorative bands, which was the style in Europe at the end of the 18th century.

Like the Orebić dress from Pelješac—the pandil—the Lastovo pandilj was also a dress with suspenders, which places it within the Mediterranean dressing culture. Besides pandil or pandilj, other terms used for this type of dress were gunj or carza. Its two basic colours were red and blue, with a yellow belt and a long-sleeved jacket, with yellow bands, which were bought, sewn to its hem. The raised and elaborate shirt-collar reveals the influence of Spanish Baroque. Besides the two mentioned costumes, another type of Adriatic-coast female attire is the Mljet folk costume, the so-called suknja s prslučićem (skirt with a vest). The woollen dress—gunj s prslučićem—with a bosom and back part, was created by cutting the shirt into two parts, which occurred in the Renaissance. Another characteristic feature of the Mljet folk costume is the embroidered škufija cap with a padding – končijer and a covering kerchief (pokrivača krpa). The male costumes of the Dubrovnik area differ in certain minor details and belong to the Oriental-Levantine type of folk attire. The main parts of it are the wrap-around vest – premitača, presomitača, the long-sleeved jacket – koret, the vest—fermen, džamadan, jačerma, decorated with metal ornaments—toke—on formal occasions. The bottom of the costume consisted of wide trousers. A belt—trabolos—and a leather band with pockets—svilaj—were worn around the waist. The head attire consisted of a crvenkapa cap with a fez, wrapped up in a turban. Footwear included red decorative gaiters known as dokoljenice, overshoes, knitted slippers and peasant sandals. In formal occasions, a hooded burgundy cape would be donned, while a long scarf—struka—was worn as part of daily attire. 

In the 19th and 20th century, Dubrovnik goldsmiths were famous for their artistry and numerous designs of their jewelry became integral parts of traditional culture and symbols of regional identity. In Konavle, these include the verižice or vežilice earrings, whose origin dates back to Old Croatian jewelry, and the luxurious filigree wedding earrings known as fjočice or rećini. Earrings worn by men on one ear were called brnjice or rinčice. In Župa dubrovačka, Rijeka dubrovačka and the Dubrovnik coastal region, the most beautiful type of earring were the rećini, vrećini, vrenćini or orečini (from the Italian orecchini) earrings, with small or big natural pearls, decorated with white and pink enamel. Another type of earring popular in the Dubrovnik coastal region were the pucini round earrings, worn on their own or with pendants—pendini—as a feature of the Empire style. In the latter case, the earrings were called list duhana or listače (tobacco leaf) or šljivice or lis od masline (olive leaf). Also worn in Župa dubrovačka were stud earrings known as morete, with a half-spherical pendant and an oval-shaped depiction of a woman engraved in glass paste, earrings with a black-and-white depiction of a Moor called moro, and simple earrings known as žičice, also worn in other parts of the Dubrovnik region. The morete were also worn in the Dubrovnik coastal region. The Mljet gradaše earrings and the Pelješac samokovice and krastavice earrings are also worth mentioning. The most beautiful type of necklace was the kolarin, which usually consisted of small filigree balls known as peružine (12 or 18 of them) threaded on a silk ribbon and sometimes decorated with coral granules. It was worn in the Dubrovnik coastal region and in Rijeka dubrovačka and Župa dubrovačka, while in Mljet, instead of peružine and in between the coral grains, the kolarin could also have orasi—spliced balls made of brass and gilded. In the centre of the kolarin, on the bosom, was a filigree cross. The zmijar or vitica ring (in the shape of a snake with six coils and a glass dark-red or emerald eye) was worn in the wider area of Konavle, the Dubrovnik coastal region and Mljet. According to tradition, this ring was given to the bride. Other rings of the Dubrovnik area were the topač ring (named after the topaz stone), the krastavičar ring, the plava kariola (ring with a blue stone), the su dva oka ring (a ring with two stone centres) and the nada, ufanje i ljubav ring. Decorative pins worn in the hair were called mačice and trepetiljke (trepetljike or treperuše), while the heart-shaped brooch worn on the bosom was known as igla na srce or pontapet.

Along with material culture, an integral part of the culture of a community is the spiritual or non-material culture. The national list of intangible cultural heritage contains several entries which originate from the wider Dubrovnik area. Some of them, such as the Festivity of Saint Blaise, have also been inscribed in UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. National intangible cultural heritage also includes the Linđo couples' dance (a form of wheel dance called poskočica), the Konavle embroidery and the Konavle toast. Other customs worthy of mention are the christening celebration, wedding customs, Christmas carolling (kolendavanje), the Christmas Eve bonfire, jumping across the bonfire during the festivities of the fire saints – Saint John, Peter, Vitus and Elias, the Lenten custom of plaiting olive leaves – palme or pome, making dove figurines out of fig stem piths, the singing of the passion of the Lord and the staging of the bearing of the cross by a masked penitent known as Brkačić in Trpanj, and finally, Easter egg painting in the Dubrovnik coastal region and Konavle.

The area's rich tradition is also reflected in its cuisine. Amongst the numerous sweet and savoury dishes, several are worthy of mention: the sweetbreads and breads called pandišpanja, pandoleta, teharica, luk and prjesnac for village festivities, the macaroni cake from Ston, the kontonjata – quince cheese, the mantala – a dessert made of boiled must, boiled and flavored wine, the prikale – fritule cakes made for Easter and Christmas, the priganice fritters, egg-white dumplings called fabice or fave di morti, made for All Souls' Day, dried fruit such as figs, candied orange rinds, candied almonds, carob, walnuts, dishes such as šporki makaruli – macaroni with meat sauce made for Carnival and the Festivity of Saint Blaise, the Konavle zelena menestra stew, the Mljet and Žrnovo makaruni (macaroni), the dry-cured meat products slatke kujice, kujenovi, đevenice, prosciutto and pancetta, the salčica coastal sausage etc. In addition to quality wines such as white Malvasia and Plavac Mali, brandies such as herb brandy and brandy made from Arbutus fruits, liqueurs such as rozolina and Prošek dessert wine were also served.