One of the greatest fears when living in a walled and self-contained city are fires. Blazing fires jumping from one building to the next and within minutes half of the city is alight. And these are in times before fire extinguishers, pressurized hoses or any kind of fire brigades. The Republic of Dubrovnik knew only too well the risk and the effects of fire and took its control extremely seriously.
In fact, the first recognised organised fire protection in Europe comes from Dubrovnik. In the Dubrovnik Statute, written back in 1272, chapter 57 of the sixth book lays out the laws for constructing homes in a relatively fire resistant manner. And house with straw roofs or straw used in the construction of walls are prohibited.
This is followed by a law in chapter 55 which interestingly states that shoemakers in the Old City aren’t allowed to make a fire under a steam boiler. Yes, the Rectors took fire protection in their city very seriously. One interesting, and very logical law, stated that kitchens in homes had to be located on the top floor. This law was made so that if a fire started in a kitchen the home would not be completely burnt down and only the roof would be affected. The after-effects of this law can still today with many homes still having the remnants of fireplaces on the upper floor.
And if a fire did break out it was all hands to the decks. In case of fire every citizen of the Old City was lawfully obliged to assist in putting it out. Shifting buckets of water, pulling wagons or wielding axes, everyone had to get involved in fire-fighting in some. However, the city council were also generous with their compensation, an indication of just how advanced they were in legal terms. If a neighbouring house had to be damaged or even destroyed to get to the fire the city council would refund the owner in full. And this form of insurance also included a provision for citizen’s tools that were used in fighting a blaze. If a tool gets damaged in any way it would be replaced.