The esteemed Proto Fish Restaurant in the Široka Street within the historical city centre of Dubrovnik, is located inside a building which used to belong to a well-known aristocratic line Zamagna Cerva. The building was built after the disastrous earthquake of 1667, in which most existing houses had been destroyed. The renovation of residential architecture within the City Walls of Dubrovnik at the time is primarily baroque and most houses are given baroque features, to a smaller or a greater extent, or are fully renovated in the baroque style. And the house in question is no exception. Receiving a complete baroque-style renovation, it is situated on the lot which came to existence through the consolidation of several different lots. What makes the house interesting is the fact that its baroque appearance includes a terrace at the first-floor level alongside the southern lateral façade. This is what makes the palace one of the most special and prominent monuments of Dubrovnik baroque construction. The ground floor of the palace includes the typical barrel-vaulted rooms, which are a common occurrence in Dubrovnik construction. Situated in the middle section of the ground floor, the single-flight staircase leads to a hall- stairwell landing and continues throughout the floors of the palace with a larger room in the front and a smaller room in the back; an architectural solution adapted to the spatial opportunities provided by the new baroque construction. The interior baroque features are best observed by looking at the baroque stairwell landings which open towards the foyer and the halls with stone moulded arches, supported by Tuscan columns. In the foyer one can see a beautiful rosette-decorated wellhead. The layout of the façade entrances is symmetrical; the middle one as a rectangular portal and an arched entrance with a knee-shaped section (“na koljeno”) on each side, on the ground floor level – a common feature in Dubrovnik.
The detailed information on the ownership of this baroque palace is known, according to the research by Ivana Lazarevic, in the work titled “Vlasteoske kuce u Gradu Dubrovniku 1817” (Aristocratic Houses in the Town of Dubrovnik in 1817). Indeed, there is information in the Dubrovnik Archive that in 1817 the house belonged to and was inhabited by a former Jesuit Bernard Zamagna. The Zamagna line is an old noble line from Dubrovnik, already mentioned in the 12th century. In the sources of the Slavic Chancery, they are mentioned under their Slavicized name Zamanovic, and later under their Croatised name Dzamanjic. Until the beginning of the 14th century they had not had any greater influence. That said, they were not great in numbers at the time. In the 15th century their number suddenly increased which meant that, even after the losses due to the plague epidemic at the beginning of the 16th century, they remained the line with the most members. They had 11 houses. It was a line which gave to the Republic of Ragusa (Dubrovnik) rectors, theologists, philosophers, linguists, mathematicians, physicists, Franciscans, merchants, diplomats, ambassadors. In the second half of the 19th century some branches of the family tree died out, while others moved away (Croatian Encyclopaedia, online publication, “Miroslav Krleža” Institute of Lexicography). With the death of the Jesuit Bernardo Zamagna in the year 1920, this particular line ceased to exist, and the house was divided between Ivan Vlaho Bosdari and Pijerko Sorgo Cerva; the sons of abbot Bernardo. The estimated value of the house at the time was 2000 fjorins (the currency at the time).
Ivan Vlaho Bosdari, one of the two heirs of abbot Bernardo, waived his right to the property in exchange for a part of the estate on Brgat and in Konavle and the cash compensation of 1100 fjorins. The second heir, Pjerko Sorgo Cerva, as the sole proprietor, likely sold the house sometime later to a Stjepan Bozov Petrovic who was, together with his son, registered as the owner in 1884/85. In 1886 Vicko Nikolin Savinovic became the owner of half of the property, while in 1894 the owner of the other half was the jeweller Mato Petrov Delali. At the end of 1894 we find that the owner of the entire property is Bozo Matov Gracic, who was later succeeded by his son Melko.
The 1920 information on the use of the palace is particularly interesting. Indeed, during that year the Dubrovnik City Council authorized, based on the previously approved work concession, the categorisation of a hospitality establishment on the ground floor of the house. By virtue of a saved document, it is visible that during that year Luka Saric owns a rented space on the ground floor of the building, used as a tavern. In the said document it is also visible that the owner of the said space in that year is Rajmund Negrini. Luka Saric’s establishment is categorised as a Class II Restaurant – based on the decorations and the service, as well as the quality and the variety of the materials as the subject of work.
With time the Saric Restaurant became well-known far and wide for its excellent cuisine, and both locals and visitors to Dubrovnik enjoyed frequenting it. The restaurant was expanded onto the second floor and the terrace, which was visible from the advertisements Saric used to promote the restaurant in various publications which highlight, apart from local and foreign cuisine and fish specialities, the existence of a comfortable terrace. The Restaurant was active until the period right before World War II, when the owner Saric closed it.
An interesting visit to the restaurant happened in 1936. Edward VIII, the King of England, was at the time cruising alongside the Dalmatian coast, which was covered by the British press (The Daily Mail under the name “The beautiful coast”, Daily Telegraph under the name “The white cities and the blue sea of Dalmatia”). He stayed in Dubrovnik between the 17th and the 19th of August, accompanying his then-friend, later his wife Mrs Wallis Simpson. He arrived on the yacht named “Nahlin” which was anchored between the Town and Lokrum. During the three days he spent in Dubrovnik, His Majesty left the yacht several times. The local press covered these trips extensively. Apart from going to the beach, the couple was seen sightseeing, visiting an exhibition at the Sponza Palace and going out. Indeed, a local weekly newspaper wrote in their article titled “The evening outing of King Edward”: “Last night His Majesty King Edward VIII, accompanied by his entourage, went out at 21:30 and went to the Saric Restaurant due to its most distinguished cuisine.As soon as he arrived, his dinner was served, including the following courses:
He was waited on by Dubrovnik waiters. During dinner he asked for our local folk songs to be played, and his wish was granted. The songs were played on a guitar and a violin. The King was very pleased. Being quite jubilant at the time, he expressed his satisfaction with the excellent dinner experience. We would like to take this opportunity to highlight the capabilities of Mr Saric because he managed to prepare everything splendidly in a very short period of time. Mr Saric was only notified of the King’s wish to dine at his establishment at 19:30. He should be proud of himself. At 1:30 AM His Majesty left the restaurant.” – end of quote.
Luka Saric decided to commemorate the stay of the King of England at his establishment, and a table at which Mrs Simpson and King Edward VIII had sat, was permanently put on display, naturally their names included. This led to numerous visitors, primarily from Great Britain, buying plates, glasses, and the rest of the utensils that the English ruler and Mrs Simpson used.