“Oh beautiful, oh precious, oh sweet Liberty,” echoes across the historic streets and squares of the Old City of Dubrovnik as the crowds cheer the Libertas flag being hoisted to mark the opening of the Dubrovnik Summer Festival. Every year on exactly the same day this emotive song, the Hymn to Freedom, rings around the city, a song that every citizen knows off by heart. For these are the words of one of Dubrovnik’s most famous sons, Ivan Gundulić.
Born on the 8th of January 1589 in Dubrovnik the young Ivan Gundulić had the good fortune to grow up in a wealthy and well-respected family. His father, Francesco di Francesco Gundulić, was a diplomat and even represented the Republic of Dubrovnik in the court of Pope Gregory VIII. Ivan’s future was laid out before him; he received a first class education studying law and philosophy. At the tender age of nineteen followed his father’s footsteps into politics when he became a member of the Great Council of Dubrovnik.
A career of politics and diplomacy followed however Ivan had another passion – poetry. This would be a passion that would enter Ivan’s name into the realms of Dubrovnik history. He began his writing career with short poems and melodramas. In 1621 his first publications were printed, “Tears of the Prodigal Son” through which he highlighted the three categories of Christian faith: sin, repentance and redemption. And after a few more successful poems Ivan penned one of his most important pieces, the pastoral play Dubravka, which contained one of the famous versus in Croatian literature, “Oh beautiful, oh precious, oh sweet Liberty.” In another of his great pieces, Osman, Gundulić presents the contrasts between Christianity and Islam, Europe and the Turks, West and East, and what he viewed as freedom and slavery.
On the 8th of December 1638, following a high fever brought on by an infection in his ribs, Ivan Gundulić passed away. But this great son of Dubrovnik was far from forgotten. In 1893 a statue of Gundulić was erected in the city’s largest square, a square that bears the great poet’s name - Gundulić Square. This was a great honour as the city erected very few statues to its famous citizens, but only goes to show the esteem in which he is held.