Dubrovnik’s long history with the arts, and in particular drama, can be traced back to 1682 when the first theatre was constructed in the Republic. In what today is the Arsenal restaurant, but through history, as the name suggests, was the shipyard for the city the first theatre was built. In fact, if it wasn’t for the catastrophic earthquake that destroyed most of the city in 1667 the playhouse of the city could well have been without a home.
After the earthquake it was decided that the important maritime industry, the Arsenal, would be moved to a new location in Gruz and a new purpose for the building was required. On the 12th of February the first performance was held to a select audience in the new theatre, the tragic comedy Vučistrah by an author from the island of Korčula.
First home of Dubrovnik theatre - the Arsenal building
In fact, theatre productions were held in Dubrovnik before 1682. Palaces throughout the city, including the Rector’s Palace, were often improvised into stages and amateur companies would put in various plays. According to the Dubrovnik Archives the first time that the well-known Dubrovnik writer, Marin Držić, had his comedy “Uncle Maroje” performed was in 1551 in the then City council.
But the history chapters of the theatre scene would take another twist and once again a disaster changed the location of plays in the city. During the time of the Austrian rule of the city a fire broke out in the City Council completely burning down the theatre. The theatre was then moved to a private villa in 1822 before work began on the construction of, what could be described as, the first purpose built theatre in Dubrovnik.
In 1860, under an order from the Austrians, work began on the construction of a theatre and in 1864 Verdi’s opera “Ernani” opened the new stage. Today this theatre still stands and host many performances every year, it is named after Marin Držić.