Caravan Route Dubrovnik – Istanbul

Dubrovnik’s trade with Ottomans

In the 15th century, the Dubrovnik Republic had significant trade links with the hinterland, the Bosnian and Serbian territories. Dubrovnik retailers sell salt, fish, spices, jewelry, textiles, weapons, and buy ore, wax, and wood there. Over 80% of silver supplies of the entire Mediterranean came from Bosnia and Serbia’s mines, across the Dubrovnik harbor. For that reason, Dubrovnik had its colonies there.

After the occupation of Balkan by Ottomans, they extended the caravan route from Dubrovnik, all the way down to Istanbul. Thus, Dubrovnik became the important hub for travelers, which in uncertain times, traveled from Europe to the Ottoman capital. Mostly they would arrive at Dubrovnik, by sea, and stayed in the city until a caravan arrived. Then, the hardest part of their voyage would start: a two months-long travel on a horseback across mountain ranges and river valleys of Balkan. There was no actual road there, just a beaten track, sometimes so narrow that just one horse or man could pass by.

Not just traders traveled. Many adventurers wanted to explore the exotic Ottoman land. European diplomats were regularly visiting Istanbul, as well as religious pilgrims that traveled over this road.

VIP B&B: a stack of hay, coarse woolen sheets, and polenta for breakfast

One caravan consisted of several dozens of loaded horses and mules, led by paid guides. Mercenaries were taking care of the cargo and passengers safety, to prevent possible attacks of robbers. Important guests and women, which rarely traveled, were carried in special litters, fixed between two horses. They traveled during daylights, spending nights in lodgings and improvised shelters along the way. Most of the time, they slept on dirty blankets in the hay, bitten by fleas and bedbugs.

Besides possible robberies, there were other dangers on the way, like contagious diseases, rebellions, food poisoning. Even nature was against travelers. Some parts of this road went over high mountains where snow remains till the beginning of May. Imagine this travel in wintertime: snow and ice, strong and cold wind, rocky terrain, hostile surrounding.

The caravans were often extremely numerous, and thus in 1590, a Dubrovnik merchant brought 10500 pieces of cow skin from Sofia to Dubrovnik. Such a cargo required around one thousand horses and 200 people.

Over time, modern roads have replaced the former caravan trail. Traveling by them, even today, you can feel the thrill of a dangerous journey over rocky crossings and threatening abysses. At the same time, you’ll discover breathtaking river canyons and small ancient villages.

Join me on a tour of Croatia and Bosnia, and we will travel the sections of the former caravan route.

Caravan Route

A portable altar carried by Dubrovnik ambassadors on their travels to the Ottomans territories, exhibited in the Rector’s Palace

Caravan Route Dubrovnik – Istanbul

Dubrovnik’s trade with Ottomans

In the 15th century, the Dubrovnik Republic had significant trade links with the hinterland, the Bosnian and Serbian territories. Dubrovnik retailers sell salt, fish, spices, jewelry, textiles, weapons, and buy ore, wax, and wood there. Over 80% of silver supplies of the entire Mediterranean came from Bosnia and Serbia’s mines, across the Dubrovnik harbor. For that reason, Dubrovnik had its colonies there.

After the occupation of Balkan by Ottomans, they extended the caravan route from Dubrovnik, all the way down to Istanbul. Thus, Dubrovnik became the important hub for travelers, which in uncertain times, traveled from Europe to the Ottoman capital. Mostly they would arrive at Dubrovnik, by sea, and stayed in the city until a caravan arrived. Then, the hardest part of their voyage would start: a two months-long travel on a horseback across mountain ranges and river valleys of Balkan. There was no actual road there, just a beaten track, sometimes so narrow that just one horse or man could pass by.

Not just traders traveled. Many adventurers wanted to explore the exotic Ottoman land. European diplomats were regularly visiting Istanbul, as well as religious pilgrims that traveled over this road.

VIP B&B: a stack of hay, coarse woolen sheets, and polenta for breakfast

One caravan consisted of several dozens of loaded horses and mules, led by paid guides. Mercenaries were taking care of the cargo and passengers safety, to prevent possible attacks of robbers. Important guests and women, which rarely traveled, were carried in special litters, fixed between two horses. They traveled during daylights, spending nights in lodgings and improvised shelters along the way. Most of the time, they slept on dirty blankets in the hay, bitten by fleas and bedbugs.

Besides possible robberies, there were other dangers on the way, like contagious diseases, rebellions, food poisoning. Even nature was against travelers. Some parts of this road went over high mountains where snow remains till the beginning of May. Imagine this travel in wintertime: snow and ice, strong and cold wind, rocky terrain, hostile surrounding.

The caravans were often extremely numerous, and thus in 1590, a Dubrovnik merchant brought 10500 pieces of cow skin from Sofia to Dubrovnik. Such a cargo required around one thousand horses and 200 people.

Over time, modern roads have replaced the former caravan trail. Traveling by them, even today, you can feel the thrill of a dangerous journey over rocky crossings and threatening abysses. At the same time, you’ll discover breathtaking river canyons and small ancient villages.

Join me on a tour of Croatia and Bosnia, and we will travel the sections of the former caravan route.

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