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Argosy - the mighty Dubrovnik ships mentioned by Shakespeare

Dubrovnik has a rich and proud history, one which visitors can soak up as they walk its magnificent walls and old town, and the Republic of Ragusa, as it was called, was an important – and independent – beacon of trade, diplomacy and influence for many centuries. 

But while those impregnable walls made the city hard to conquer, it was also Ragusa's prowess on the high seas which helped make it such a formidable trading force for so long.

Dubrovnik has long had an enviable shipbuilding tradition, none more so than during Dubrovnik's Golden Age between the 15th and 17th centuries. Despite being sandwiched between the Ottoman and Venetian empires, the ships of Dubrovnik reigned supreme, and the trade they did helped elevate the importance of Dubrovnik the city, as well as the wealth of its inhabitants.

The city had a very impressive fleet of its own, which grew from some 200 ships in the 16th century to 300 by the 18th century. None was more striking or a bigger symbol of the nautical power of Dubrovnik than the Argosy ships, giant wooden constructions which were admired wherever they sailed. So admired were the Argosy ships that there was even a phrase used to describe a ship which could withstand the roughest seas – it was 'built in the Dubrovnik way'.

The name Argosy is a distortion of Ragusa, the republic these mighty ships served. Regular visitors to the British ports of Southampton, Margate and Portsmouth, locals referred to the Ragusa ships as Argosy, and the name stuck. Not only did the name stick, but it became widely used and an accepted part of the English language to describe large, wide, wooden ships which sail across the Mediterranean. Check out the Oxfoed English Dictionary, which today described as argosy as 'a large merchant ship, originally one from Ragusa (now Dubrovnik) or Venice.' The Argosy even got a mention by the greatest playwright of them all, William Shakespeare, who referred to the mighty Dubrovnik ships in Merchant of Venice, Taming of the Shrew and Henry VI.

And, as with so much of Dubrovnik's heritage, the good news for tourists today is that one can experience the majesty of the Argosy ships on your next holiday to Dubrovnik. Several replica ships have been constructed to the original specifications and they make for a great excursion out at sea.

Why not head for the high seas and back in time to the glorious era of the Republic of Ragusa, enjoying the historic old walls come into view, imagining a long and successful trade voyage bringing yet more prosperity to this remarkable republic, which managed to balance the powerful Ottoman and Venetian neighbours while remaining completely independent. The walls and old town are what makes Dubrovnik famous today, but it is the ships of Dubrovnik which helped to create the wealth and protect the city. Don't miss the Argosy maritime experience on your next visit.

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