Miljenko and Dobrila – the Croatian Romeo and Juliet

Miljenko and Dobrila – the Croatian Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet are probably the most famous and tragic couple in literary history. Their pure and sincere love has inspired millions of people in love around the world for centuries, but a little-known fact is that the tragic romance from Verona had its Croatian version in the characters of Miljenko and Dobrila.

Kaštel Lukšić, a small town where the saddest love story originated, is one of the seven towns by the name of “Kaštel” that were built by noblemen from Split and Trogir in the 15th and 16th centuries to defend themselves from enemies.

The Vitturi and Rušinac family castles still stand in this small town near Split, and their faded walls battered by wind and the sea hold the secret of a forbidden love between two young people who lived in the second half of the 17th century.

Denis Peroš

Miljenko Rušinić and Dobrila Vitturi fell in love at first sight. The conflict that existed between their fathers who were noblemen meant that they could only see each other in secret. But their romantic bliss was short-lived.

As soon as their parents found out they had been meeting, Dobrila was placed under strict supervision by her mother, Countess Marija, while Miljenko was sent away to Venice, to work for the Doge. While the young man daydreamed about his sweetheart in Italy, Dobrila’s father, Count Radoslav, arranged for his daughter to be married to a much older nobleman, determined to put an end to her romance with his rival’s son once and for all.

 

However, once again, love proved to be an unstoppable force. News of her marriage reached Miljenko, who rushed over from Venice just as the bride and groom were saying their vows. Dobrila’s father turned red from anger and punished Dobrila by confining her to the Trogir monastery, while Miljenko got into trouble with the law while he was trying to free her, resulting in him being banished to prison on the island of Visovac on the river Krka. While there, he met a peasant woman named Božica, who was Dobrila’s wet nurse when she was little. He asked her to relay a message to Dobrila to escape the monastery and wait for him near Trogir. Dobrila managed to escape the monastery walls, but her loved one wasn’t there to meet her at the agreed spot. This is where the story turns into a thriller.

A Tragedy That Would Bring to Tears Even Shakespeare Himself

The young woman wandered around alone and desolate while a storm raged around her. Just before dawn, she was taken by some armed peasants (known locally as hajduks) who were hired by her father to kill Miljenko. When he found out about their plan, the young man tricked the bandits by disguising himself as a friar, but in doing so, he also confused his ladylove, who believed that he really became ordained and gave up on their secret wedding at Visovac. Dobrila’s father became enraged when he learned of his daughter’s escape, so he used deceit to bring her back to their family home. He and Miljenko’s father agreed to send a delegation to announce to the young couple that the two families had decided to bury the hatchet and organise a wedding for them.

Mario Alajbeg

The lovers from Kaštel accepted the offer, and exchanged their vows with joy in their hearts, but the happiness was soon cut short.

Dobrila’s father, full of hatred and out for revenge for the shame his daughter brought on him, shot his son-in-law the day after the wedding. Word of Miljenko’s death devastated Dobrila and she died from the immense grief a few months later. On her deathbed, she requested to be buried next to Miljenko so they could be together for all eternity in the afterlife.

 

The church of St. John in Rušinac still has a gravestone with the inscription Pokoj ljubovnikom (“May God Rest the Lovers’ Souls”). Moreover, at the end of July and beginning of August of each year, the town of Kaštel Lukšić holds the Days of Miljenko and Dobrila ( Dani Miljenka i Dobrile) in honour of the forbidden love that would bring to tears even Shakespeare himself.