Founded in 1235, the Franciscan monastery in Dubrovnik was an essential visit for pilgrims traveling between Europe and the Holy Land. Its collection of over 70,000 manuscripts and books covers all fields of scientific study including mathematics, astrology, and music. The monastery continues to serve the scholarly and religious communities and the library is utilized by more than 1,000 visiting researchers annually. The library was severely damaged by earthquakes and the bombardment of 51 direct hits during the civil war of 1991-92. Firemen were able to save the building from total destruction, but its structural integrity was compromised and the library was closed, rendered unusable by the damage from the bombings and the fires that ensued. The collection was moved to temporary storage facilities.
1998 World Monuments Watch
Due to the sweeping effects of the war and overwhelming reconstruction priorities, the Croatian government was unable immediately to address all demands required to rebuild the country and its infrastructure. WMF became involved with the Franciscan Monastic Library in 1996 and participated in rehabilitation efforts. WMF secured funding from American Express, Rebuild Dubrovnik Fund, the Robert W. Wilson Challenge to Conserve Our Heritage, and the Headley Trust. The restoration project focused on the repair of the roof and restoration of the entire second floor library. The project allowed the Monastery to incorporate modern library needs into the restoration program, improving conditions for researchers as well as the collections. Archival quality fire suppression and HVAC systems were installed. Several roof beams and timber frames were replaced and damage from rainwater and fungal infestations was mitigated. While WMF’s engagement ended in 2003, when the projects in which it was involved were completed, the work was catalytic and other projects were undertaken at the Monastery in subsequent years.
For centuries, the Franciscan Monastic Library was a site of international study. In addition to its large collection of volumes in the sciences, the library also housed the most important musical archive in Croatia, consisting of 7,422 compositions, 320 pieces of early music, and 22 choral volumes dating from the 15th to 18th centuries. The collection is also renowned for 206 printed pamphlets and parchment pieces dating from the 11th century. The library is an important repository of the intellectual and cultural history of the region and, notably, is used by scholars today.