Sponza Palace - History and Facts | History Hit

Sponza Palace

Dubrovnik, Dubrovnik-Neretva, Croatia

Sponza Palace, once the centre of Dubrovnik’s trading culture, is now home to its archives and a memorial exhibit.

Peta Stamper

11 May 2021

About Sponza Palace

Sponza Palace may have originally been intended as Dubrovnik’s custom’s house, but this opulent building took on a variety of roles. Completed in 1522, Sponza Palace formed a vital part of the city’s identity as a vibrant trading centre within what is today known as Croatia.

That the Sponza Palace survived the 1667 earthquake is a testament to the strength of its engineering. Today, the palace is a fitting home for Dubrovnik’s archives and is the setting for the Memorial of the Defenders of Dubrovnik, a powerful commemoration of those who were killed in the early 1990s during the siege of Dubrovnik.

Sponza Palace history

The Sponza Palace was built between 1516 and 1522 by Paskoje Miličević Mihov. The rectangular-shaped building was designed in the Gothic and Renaissance styles featuring an impressive arched atrium or central courtyard and an external loggia (a covered gallery or corridor on the upper floor). The palace was adorned with sculptures by the Andrijić brothers, both master stoneworkers.

Sponza Palace was initially designed as a customs office and bonded warehouse, however, it later took on the functions as mint, armoury, treasury, bank and school. The palace was often referred to as ‘Divona’ from the Croatian for customs, ‘dogana’.

With the establishment of the Academia dei Concordi, a literary academy of the 16th century, the palace became the cultural heart of the Republic of Ragusa. Members of the academy, founded by a group of poets, met in the large hall on the first floor. At the same time the palace atrium served as a trading centre where businessmen met.

The palace survived the 1667 earthquake that devastated much of the old city of Dubrovnik. This allowed state affairs to continue within their offices, potentially saving the republic from crisis.

Sponza Palace today

Today, Sponza Palace is home to the city’s archives, holding documents that date back to the 12th century. The collection houses some 7,000 volume manuscripts and around 100,000 individual manuscripts. Luža Square in front of the palace is used to open the Dubrovnik Summer Festival with Sponza Palace acting as a performance venue.

Visitors will find the palace’s historical commercial function literally written on the wall, as an inscription over an arch in the atrium says in Latin, “Our weights do not permit cheating. When I measure goods, God measures with me”.

The Sponza Palace also holds the Memorial of the Defenders of Dubrovnik, a room dedicated to those who were killed when Croatia succeeded from former Yugoslavia between 1991 and 1995. Many young people died during the clashes between the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) and Croatian forces, their photographs lining the walls of the memorial room. Visitors to Dubrovnik will still find bullet holes in the walls of the palace and the cathedral from the conflict.

Getting to Sponza Palace

Located by the coast within Dubrovnik’s historic centre, Sponza Palace is easily found on foot within Luža Square when exploring the pedestrianised streets. You can reach the Old Town via public transport on bus lines 1A, 1B, 3 or 8 from the main bus station and port. While cars are not allowed within the Old Town, there are parking bays nearby at Ploce gate in Petra Kresimira street.

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