Mihoje Brajkov of Bar (original monastery and cloisters)
Around 1234, the first Franciscan order arrived in Dubrovnik and the first Franciscan monastery was built in the city shortly thereafter. However, in the early 14th century, this monastery was destroyed to prevent its use by enemies in the event of a siege during the then-upcoming war. Later that century, work began on a new Franciscan monastery within the city’s walls, this time belonging to the Order of the Friars Minor.
The monastery, featuring two cloisters, was built in Romanesque style, characterized by semi-circular arches, thick walls, sturdy pillars and decorative arcading.1At that time, a pharmacy was also added to the monastery, which is currently the third-oldest still-functioning pharmacy in the world. Though Franciscans were tasked with taking care of their own sick brothers, this pharmacy was also open to the public, as evidenced by its location on the ground floor of the monastery.2 Elements of the monastery have been continually rebuilt and added to throughout the centuries, particularly following a destructive earthquake in 1667 and damage to the library and bell tower during the Balkan Wars of the 1990s.
I run into the monastery, breathless, close to closing time. I’m holding out a few kuna – the small entrance fee – but the man staffing the table by the door just waves me in. “Enjoy,” he says, and perhaps he’s bestowing this gift on me because it’s late, but maybe it’s because he thinks I need to just go experience this place without any delay. Inside, as designed, the cloisters are quiet and peaceful, and the arcades on all sides catch slices of errant sunlight. The pharmacy is a veritable treasure trove – perfectly preserved, as it must have looked centuries ago, like an ancient candy-shop. Painted jars of varying sizes line the shelves, each meticulously and mysteriously labelled, inviting an endless guessing game about their contents.
Photo: Franciscan Monastery, Dubrovnik, Croatia / June 2016