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Orlando's Column

Built: 1418-1419
Type: Monument
Location: Stradun, Dubrovnik, Croatia
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F or centuries, the city of Dubrovnik has cherished one thing above all others – freedom. It was an independent state for much of its existence, and the defeat of the Venetians in 972 was a defining moment for the city. Orlando’s Column was erected to celebrate the city’s freedom. It is placed in the main square, for everyone to see. In 1419, the column was adorned with the flag of Saint Blasius, which symbolized the city’s liberty. It flew until the city was overrun by the Napoleonic forces of the French in 1808. After the French, it was the Hungarians, and the Austrians, and others. In 1990, a white flag bearing the word “Libertas” was hoisted over the column to celebrate the city’s independent spirit. Orlando’s Column is the psychological center of the city. It is here that public notices were posted, pubic rallies held, and public punishments meted out. The punishment part is, perhaps, particularly appropriate, considering the figure carved into the column is that of a knight dressed for battle. It is a depiction of the knight Roland (“Orlando” is the Italian form of the French name “Roland”), whose battles and deeds have been enshrined in the fables of history, poetry, and song. Roland is frequently described as the greatest knight of the Middle Ages, and was reputed to be the nephew of Charlemagne; though that royal lineage didn’t spare him from his fate. Through literature, his death became as well known as his life, and standard reading for schoolchildren in parts of Europe. Roland never visited Dubrovnik, in real life, or fantasy. It is believed that the column was brought to Dubrovnik by one of the foreign rulers of the city. But the people of the city were so taken with his tale that they saw parallels between his struggles and their own. To them, he became an adopted son, and a symbol of their own strength and endurance.

  • The standard unit of measure, the “ell,” is derived from the distance between the fingertips and elbow of the knight’s right arm.

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