Kotor is one of those amazing places so unique in its setting and history that there is nothing like it anywhere in the world. The town lies huddled underneath the rocks of Mt. Lovćen at the farthest end of the Gulf of Kotor. Though palms and olives surround it, the high mountains casting their shadows give it a cruel and cold feel. The educated Byzantine Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus (10th c.AD) wrote: “ Around the town are high hills so that the sun can be seen only in midday during the summer and never in winter.”
Though overstated, his vision of the town’s setting is also true today and you will be surprised how late the sun comes up above Lovćen and how early it sets behind Mt Vrmac, especially during the winter. The town core, enclosed by walls, is a muddle of constricted streets bordered with tall stone edifices and paved with multicoloured slabs which only reveal their true beauty after the rain.
The narrow lanes spread out in all directions connecting the small squares in such a bewildering fashion that no map will help the inexperienced visitor. One of the nicest things to do here is to go “lost” in Kotor’s Old Town, finding your own way through layers of its history and discovering interesting details.
The beginnings of Kotor are covered in darkness. The earliest settlement was probably in Špiljari in a well sheltered gap behind the Fortress, where the remains of a prehistoric settlement are and from where the remains of a prehistoric settlement are and from where men could descent to the sea to fish or to hunt in a woods above.
Their hideout in case of an attack at the top of the hill ( today occupied by the Forst of Sveti Ivan) was later fortified by the Illyrians. In Roman times a settlement called Acruvium is mentioned and traditional claims it to be the predecessor of Kotor, but this town probably lay on a more fertile area to the south.
The present day location of the town is in consequence to the era of instability, during the time of barbaric onslaughts when good protection was the most important prerogative for survival: the residents of Roman Acruvium took shelter on a small patch of land, hidden at the end of the deep Gulf , protected on one side by the sea, on the older by an inaccessible hill, from the north by river Škriuda and from the south by the Gurdić spring. These four natural barriers amongst which the town developed were to remains its limits until the 19th century, the turtle’s shell to which it would retreat in times of danger during its turbulent history.
Kotor was mentioned first as Dekaderon in 670 when it was already a bishop’s seat. In this early phase the town was sacked by the Saracens in 867 and by the Bulgarians 1002 but it managed to rise and become again an important administrative and trading spot on the Adriatic under Byzantine protection. In 1186 it become a part of the Serbian state of Nemanjićs and thus its most prosperous era begun.
The town’s aristocracy which was of Roman decent continued to rule over all of the town’s internal matters while its merchants received a guaranteed market with Kotor becoming the most important trading port of Serbia. From Kotor Romanesque and Ghotic art spread into Serbia but the town also absorbed influences from the east and its art remained a blend of Byzantine and western influences.The 14th century was the golden age of Kotor when its merchants stood shoulder to shoulder with those of its largest competitor- Dubrovnik.The aristocracy secured all the power in its hands and built gothic palaces , becoming the treasures of the Serbian state and financiers of mines while its educated Franciscan monks built the most magnificent royal monasteries for the Nemanjićs.
When in 1371 the dynasty ended and barons started quarreling Kotor was faced with a crisis: trade was crippled by many internal borders, the Dubrovnik fleet threatened the town and the armies of local barons stood in front of its walls demanding taxes and pledges off allegiance. The town tried to find protection and changing several masters util in 1420 it agreed to accept Venetian rule.
This arrangement had a mutual benefit and as neighboring lands fell into the hands of the Ottomans, Kotor stood sheltered by its thoroughly long walls. In the 16th and 17th centuries its walls gave home to a number of renaissance artists while successfully fighting off Turkish attacks from land and the sea. Much more damage to the town was made by the earthquakes of the 1563 and 1667 which tore down its old palaces, and by several plagues that wiped out many noble families.
When all of Boka Kotorska was freed from Turkish danger at the end of the 17th century Kotor was faced with much fiercer competition of other communes and lost its trading importance remaining only and administrative and religious centre for the Gulf. It was also the closest town to Montenegro, the place from where Venetians communicated with the inland, sending money to spread their influence and spies to gather information.
By now Latin become reduced to the language of administration and science and when the Venetian republic was abolished by Napoleon the local Catholic and Orthodox felt the moment was right to unite with their brethren in Montenegro, as was decided in 1813 in Dobrota, today a suburb of Kotor. In the 20th century the antiquities of Kotor attracted more and more attention from scientists and tourists alike.
When the devastating earthquake hit the town in 1979 this only cleared the road for a through reconstruction of its Old Town which now enjoys all the amenities of the modern age while not loosing its ancient looks. The town tripled is populace which spilled outside its walls, forming new suburbs and embracing the neighboring communes.
Today visitors see the most common entrance to Kotor’s Old Town but only two hundred years ago this gate could be approached only on a ship as the whole of the waterfront didn’t exist. The current gate was opened to the north of the old one which sank into the sea in the 537 earthquake. After the successful defense against Hayredthedin Barbarossa the Sea Gate got its renaissance decoration in 1555 under the provost Bernardo Reiner ( note the initials BR and year in Roman numerals). The gate was vandalized after the communists took over in 1945 when the Venetian lion of St Mark was replaced with a five-pointed star and the date of the liberation of Kotor, furthermore the Habsburg coat-of-arms was replaced with the one of socialist Yugoslavia.
Inside the gate is a late 15th relief of the Virgin Mary flanked with the town’s patron –St Tryphon (always shown with a model of Kotor in his hands) and St Bernardino of Siena. Facing it is an inspiration in Latin celebrating the Turkish defeat of 1657.
On the other side of the fortifications, to the left of the gate is small park with a cafe and to the right the town’s picturesque green market, with a variety of fresh products brought in every day.
The largest of Kotor’s squares is also social centrer where most events happen. Its size and an unusual L-shape are due to the clearing of several old buildings and a church during the Fresh occupation. The focal point of the square is the Clock Tower built in 1602 on the site of the medieval torture tower, while the clock was added in the late 18th century. The ornate obelisk in front of it served as a pillory. The whole west side of the square is taken by the Prvost’s Palace built after the 1667 earthquake in which the old one crumbled. The main decorative element of its 60 m long facade is balcony of almost the same length.
The palace is adjoined by the Guards Tower. On its other side is the so-called Old Town Hall given this name due to its function in late 19th and early 20th century when its neo-renaissance facade was constructed. It is also known as napoleon’s Theatre, as it was adapted by the French in 1810 to become the first theatre hall in Kotor. Across the small passage is the building of the old Arsenal where weapons for the town’s garrison and fleet were kept and after which the square was named. Later on it housed the military bakery. The edifice got its present day look after the 1979 earthquake. The passage between the Theatre and the Arsenal gives way to the Citadel, the strongest part of Kotor’s ramparts, and to the round Kampana Tower.
In the street starting at the south side of the square and leading Flour Square at your right you will notice the splendid stone portal in the late Venetian gothic style. The portal features the arms on the Bizanti family, one of the most important patrician families in Kotor from 14th to 18th century.
The small square takes its name from the flour storehouse that stood here. Its main sight is the Pima Palace, built after the 1667 earthquake. Though baroque in conception and with a 16 m long balcony on the stylish consoles, it also has renaissance features such as the first floor terrace standing on two archivolts and decorated with family coat-of-arms.
The Pima family was one of the oldest and most notable in Kotor producing several poets during the renaissance and baroque ages. However, the most important family in the city for two centuries were Bućas, who gave several treasures of state to 14th century. Serbia and whose gothic palace stood facing the Pima Palace. In time the Bućas became poorer and after the 1667 earthquake could not rebuild their home and instead had to split it into three separate homes, the way it still stands today.
st tryphon's chatedral
The cathedral church of Kotor is the most important monument in the whole of Boka Kotorska and one of the most important cathedrals in the East Adriatic. The first church dedicated to St Tryphon, a 3rd century martyr from Phrygia in Asia Minor, was built here in 809 to host his relics, obtained by Kotor merchants from Constantinople. In time, the cult of the saint grew has become the patron saint of the town and his church the seat of the bishop.
The old church was replaced in 1224-66 by the current one. It was built in a mix of byzantine and Romanesque styles, with a dome, two high bell towers and terrace between them, inspired by similar edifices in Puglia (Italy) where the seat of the archbishop was. After the damage inflicted to it in the 1563 earthquake, the shaken dome was torn down. The large earthquake of 1667 destroyed completely the Romanesque bell towers and the west face which was consequently rebuilt in a baroque style, but following the old design. This was the last major modification of the church as the last earthquake of 1979 provided an opportunity for detailed restoration of the cathedral, uncovering many of the features buried in oblivion during the eight and half centuries of its existence.
The west face from the late 17th century is unique in its architectural mix of renaissance and baroque, with reminiscences of the Romanesque in details such as the rose window. Another notable feature of its exterior is a three-bay window on the cathedral’s apse, work of local masons in a Romanesque-Gothic style from the mid 14th century. Almost identically designed windows are to be found on the apses of the Studenica and Dečani monasteries ( in Serbia) that were built by some masters. The south door is a neo-Romanesque addition from late 19th century. The interior of the church reveals the origin three-nave disposition. The columns between the nave and the aisles are on different origin and built of the different materials, some with Corinthian capitols taken from Roman ruins. On some of the columns as well as in the apse you can see the remnants of frescoes done in the mid 14th century in the Serbian-Byzantine fashion. The prime feature of the interior is the altar canopy (ciborium) from 1362 again in a transitional Romanesque-Ghotic style. The four columns of red stone bear the architrave on which are carved scenes from the life of St Tryphon. Above it rises a crown on three levels each of which is held by small columns and figures of angels, Roman soldiers and citizens. Behind the canopy is the gilded silver polyptych from 1440 representing Christ, St Tryphon and 16 other saints, the work of local goldsmiths under the guidance of master Johannes of Basel. Around the high altar are four smaller ones from the baroque era decorated lavishly with marble, silver and gold. In the south aisle is the tomb of Bishop Tripun Bizanti (died 1532) with his effigy. To the left of the high altar is a door leading to the sacristy with chalices pastoral crosses, monstrances and pre-romanesque reliefs from the ciborium of the 9th century church. Above this is reliquarium all in white marble, built in 1704-08 from the designs of Francesco Cabianca in Venice. Its main feature is the marble sarcophagus held by kneeling angels and topped by the praying figure of St Tryphon. In the sarcophagus is in the silver casket containing the relics of the saint with the scenes of his martyrdom, a Venetian work from 17th century. Beside the casket the sarcophagus contains the golden reliquary in Gothic style with the saint’s head and a crystal cross ( 16th century).
The other 50 reliquaries here are placed in closets around the room. In the middle of the room hangs a large wooden crucifix in Gothic style. The paintings here include works of local artist such as the Gothic master Lovro Dobričević ( “Mary and Jesus”) and Tripo Kokolja ( “ Ecstasy of St Francis”) as well as of the Italians Girolamo Santacroce (“St Bartholomew”), Bassano (“Crucifixion”), Giusepe Diamanti, Sassoferatto and two works of Tician’s school (“Three Kings” and the “Finding of the Holy Cross”) and Michael Nordlinger. In the end you will also see a cross used to bless the army of Jan Sobieski before its decisive victory over the Turks at the gates of Vienna in 1683.
Adjoining the cathedral to the left is the Bishop’s Palace with its airy courtyard. This edifice was endowned in 1327 by Jelena Drago to the bishop of Kotor . To its left is Drago Palace which is of an “L” shape. The façade facing the square is narrow and has modest renaissance baroque decoration from the end of the 17th century. To the right of this protruding wing is the passage through the palace decorated with family coats-of-arms displaying a dragon, an early renaissance window with an angel and a splendid two-bay window. The north face of the palace remains the best preserved with its several gothic windows. Today the palace houses the regional institute for the protection of monuments.
On the north, Kotor town walls are additionally strengthened by river Škudra, which springs from the rocks and after a few hundred meters flows into the sea. It branches in two streams forming a river island previously known as the Montenegrin Market, where the highlanders would come to trade their cheese, skins and meat for gunpowder, textiles or simply grain. This was the furthest point to which they could bear arms, their most valuable possession, to enter Kotor they had to turn them over to the guards of the gate.
The stone bridge and the gate to which it leads where built in 1540 in memory of the previous year’s victory over the Turkish admiral Hayreddin Barbarossa came to Kotor, sailed up the Škurda, and attacked the northern walls which were successfully defended after a fierce fight. The bridge, once covered and with numerous loopholes , blocked the approach to the gate from the river, Its last part was wooden and could be lifted in case of attack. The renaissance decoration of the gate displays the winged lion of St Mark, initials of Venetian provosts and dodges from the time of its construction and a short inscription of the 1539 victory.
st mary of the river
This church sits in a square just by the River Gate. Its beginnings are to be found in the 6th century basilica that served as the original seat of the Kotor bishop. The old, dilapidated church was replaced by the present day edifice in 1221 which is much smaller than the old basilica but with the apse in the same place. The single-nave church was built with alternating rows of reddish and white stone. Its octagonal dome, blind arches and the round apse with a pretty two-light window are all features of the local blend of Romanesque and byzantine styles developing at the time in Kotor. The north side of the church was extended with an aisle in 1434 while the bell tower was added in 1771. The church is roofed with thin stone tiles, the usual method from the 13th century repeated in restoration after 1979.
The main western door is work of modern artist Vasko Lipovac presenting scenes from the life of Blessed Ossana who’s richly decorated coffin lies in the church and has reliefs by Croatian sculptor Antun Augustinčić ( 1939). Osanna, a shepherdess who come to Kotor and become Dominican nun, played a crucial role in the strengthening of spirits during Barbarossa’s attack of 1549.
Inside the church one can also see the 14th century stone pieta , a 15th century wooden crucifix, several baroque paintings and early 14th century frescoes by paintings from Kotor who were mentioned in documents as “pictores graeci” (Greek painters) for their byzantine style.
To the back of the church starts the street leading to the Fort of St John. Above the street is an arch with a stylized winged lion in a medallion, a Latin inspiration explaining that is also once led to the town granary and the date of its construction (1760). The building to the right of the arch is the Grubonja Palace from the late 16th century. On the façade of the first floor is a small relief, depicting the Monogram of Christ (IHS), a skull with snakes, lizard and tortoise beneath it. This is the emblem of the pharmacy that opened here in 1326, amongst the first in south-eastern Europe.
On the other side of the square are stairs leading to the town walls. To the right is the Bembo Bastion (1539-40) adapted as an open-air stage, while to the left you pass above the backyards to the Citadel from where you can descend to the Arms Square.
ST LUKE'S SQUARE
This square in the north part of the city takes its name from the old church dedicated to St Luka which can be seen in its center. The church was built in 1995 by tradesman Andrea Caccafrangi and his wife Bona “during the reign of Grand Župan Nemanja and his son Vukan” as it stated on the plaque above the west entrance. The church was used by Chatolich until the mid 17th century, when it was handed over for use by the orthodox population from the vicinity who found refuge in the town during the war with the Turks. However, the Catholich retained an altar in the church where once a year their service would follow the Orthodox one.
This duality lasted until the French occupation (1807-14) when the church was turned over entirely to the Orthodox, who by the time formed the majority of the citizenry but could use only this church. The church draws on Byzantine inspiration (cupola) but is Romanesque in details (two-light windows on the west facade and the apes). The chapel of St Spyridon was adjoined to the north side of the church in 1747 and at about the same time the church also received the baroque bell gable ”on distaff”. Inside stands the gilded iconostasis topped by a splendid crucifix, the work finished 1710 by Dimitrije Rafailović , the father of Rafailović-Dimirijević school of icon painting.
In a niche to the right of the iconostasis is the only surviving fragment of the frescoes painted around the year 1200. The artist painted around western saints- St Catherine, St Clement the Pope and St Marina-yet in the manner of Orthodox iconography. The floor of the church is made out of gravestone above the collective graves of Kotor citizens, since the church and its yard served as a cemetery until the 1830's. The iconostasis standing in the chapel in the chapel is a master work of Italo-Cretan painting from the mid 18th century with a standing figure of “Chris the High Priest”.
To the right of the church stands the Lombardić Palace. Built in the mid 18th century , it is a fine edifice with baroque details and a belvedere on the top. It was here that during his many visits to Kotor Njegoš stayed with his friend the parish priest Ilija Lombardić. Njegoš’s window was the left one of the first floor and it was underneath in that Municipal Orchestra, founded one year earlier, played to him in 1843.
The largest edifice on the square is the orthodox church of St Nicholas. Built in 1909 according to the plans of Ćiril Iveković the church has byzantine dispositions and a large cupola which rises above the rooftops, while the details were done in a Romanesque style. Until it disappeared in an 1896 fire, the Dominican church dedicated to the same saint stood here. The unpainted interior is uninteresting except for its iconostasis done by the Czech painter František Ziegler in 1908.
CHURCH OF ST CLAIR
The first church in this palace was run by the Benedictine nuns. When in the mid 14th century their order faded, the site was donated to the Clarissa nuns and the current church edifice was built. In the 16th century this order was dissolved and the church was taken over by the Franciscan friars. The front face of the church got its present day shape in 1708.
Inside there are several altars of which the most beautiful is the high altar, work of Francesco Cabianca from around 1700. Its centerpiece is the byzantine icon of Virgin Mary with Jesus all clad in silver and gold. In front of it are figures of St Francis and St Clare while to its rear stands the “canopy” modeled from yellow marble. On its top are figures of God the Father John the Baptist and st Vincent. All around are small angels and cherubs, signifying both divine love and the love of the patrons Ivan Balica and Vincencija Buća who donated the altar in honor on their happy marriage. To the left of the church are convent’s quarters together with a small cloister and the large library with over 10,000 rare volumes, including tens of incunabula. The belfry is essentially Romanesque with is bell cast in 1512.
CHURCH OF ST MICHEL
The church stands on a small square easily recognizable for the huge population tree, which is thought to be over 300 years old. The square is new origin, having been converted from the year of a closed down church. Its name “Pjaca od kina” was formed in the same way as the names of the old squares, according to their most important feature, in this case cinema (kino).
The first church standing here, even before 12th century, was a pre-Romanesque three nave basilica, considerably larger than the present day edifice. It was probably destroyed in some unrecorded 14th century tremor after which it was reduced to its present day size. Another earthquake, that of 1979, helped to revive its looks since before this date is served as a one storey house, not very different from the neighboring ones. Today on its west façade one can see several medieval reliefs and an inscription; the interior of the church is left without a floor in order to observe the foundations of its predecessor. In and around the apse there fine 15th century frescoes by Lovro Dobričević.
The museum is situated in the Grgurina Palace on the Boka Navy Square (Trg bokeljske mornarice). The palace built in 1732 closes its north side with its wide and well proportioned façade decorated with large stone balconies. The last descendant of the Grgurina family, Bishop Marko Antonije, left his palace for the use of the town council in 1813 and it has served as the seat of the town administration since then. The museum was founded on the second floor in 1938 and was expanded to the whole building after WWII. The interior of the palace has been preserved, with wooden ceiling, floors in red and white stone and a small garden of the first floor terrace.
The museum is focused on the development of the seafaring in the Gulf of Kotor and to the cultural progress of the region. The oldest items are Greek and Roman inscriptions and sculptures such as the head of Emperor Dioclectian, followed by the stone reliefs from the early Middle Ages and the Romanesque period, models of old ships, nautical instruments and equipment, historical paintings, weaponry, traditional costumes of Boka as well as the portraits and period furniture of Kotor citizens. Special attention is devoted to the Boka Navy and the mutiny of sailors abroad the Austro-Hungarian ships in 1918.
defenders of the gulf
The Boka Navy (Bokeljska mornarica) is an association of seamen dating from the Middle Age. Today you will see its members of festive days in Kotor and the other towns in the Gulf parading in their traditional black costumes and armed with historical weaponry.
Though on most of these occasions you will hear that the Boka Navy will be 1200 years old in 2009, this is an exaggeration since there is no record of it until the 14th century when it appears as a guild of seafarers formed the mutual aid but also prepared to go to war on their ships. In times of Turkish attacks this warlike aspect become predominant while later the Navy lost its initial purpose and become a patriotic association. It was abolished by Austria in 1848 because of its Yugoslav nationalism while in communist days its religious aspect was deliberately disregarded. Everything connected with the Navy is soaked in ritual- starting from its 1463 statue ( though, understandably, much revised since), to its Admiral who is always accompanied by a “young admiral”, a boy destined to become the feature commander, and to the kolo (circular dance) performed by its members linked by holding handkerchiefs.
The southern approach to Kotor, from the vanished suburb of Šuranj is closed by the Gurdić spring. This undersea spring is fed by the waters draining trough the limestone hills above Kotor and erupts here from the depths of the abyss. Gurdić has a beautiful deep blue color and is most amazing after rain when it gushes up from its depths, sometimes very forcefully. Above it stands the mighty Bon Tower the fine piece of fortification from the 15th century with several reliefs into it.
The Šuranj Gate is actually a system of three gateways from various epochs. The outer one is the youngest and dates from 18th century. O it you can see metal wheels by which the drawbridge above Gurdić was once lifted. The middle gateway is part of the medieval town wall and probably dates from 13th century. The third and the strongest is the inner gate, added in the 6th century to reinforce the protection of this important position. To the left of the gate there is stairway to the top of the Bon Tower.
This is the longest street in the Old Town running from the Šuranj Gate in the south almost all way to the River Gate in the north. Amidst the web of small snaking streets this is the only one that was long enough to earn a name. Starting from the Šuranj Gate the first building on the right is sturdy barracks of the Fort’s artillery.
Next we reach the ruins of the St Francis Monastery. This monastery was originally situated outside of the walls, in front of Šuranj Gate, but had to be torn down in 1656 on the others of the town authorities in order not to be used by the approaching monastery still boasts a cloister and a tall belfry with a Romanesque crucifix on it. A bit further away, on left side is the Town Hospital built in 1769, after the battle with the rebellious clans who joined Šćepan the Little, a mysterious Montenegrin ruler. Today the building is used as the seat of the Cultural Centre and is connected to the sea promenade trough a small gate made in the walls.
Continuing past the small Salad Square (Pjaca od salate), from which the alternative climb to the Fort of St John starts, and further behind the back of the cathedral the path reaches the large building of the former Town Prison. Built in the mid 19th century in place of two old churches it served its grim purpose all the way to the beginnings of the 1990s and still stands completely unchanged fromDom that time.
Except for the imprisonment of criminals, the prison served on many occasions for the jailing of political adversaries: firstly of the rebels in Krivošije Uprising, then in 1914 as a temporary concentration camp of the Orthodox population who were then sent to camps in Hungary ; in 1918 here were imprisoned the sailors who motioned against Austria-Hungary in 1918 here were imprisoned the sailors who mutinied against Austria Hungary including the four ringleaders who were shot , while in 1948 the jail was filed with those who took the wrong side in the Tito-Stalin conflict.
To the right of the prison building, hidden behind a tall stone wall with only its Romanesque portal visible is the Church of St Paul from 1263. Used for centuries by the Dominicans it was turned into a barracks during the French occupation and then in 1948 into a women’s prison when the high wall towards the street was added. The old Romanesque church is closed for visitors and experts to be reconstructed into a conference hall. To the left of the large prison building is the Church of St Joseph built in 1631 and used until the beginning of the 19th century as a Franciscan nunnery. A staircase leads to the southern entrance and the bell tower in which a 15th century bell still hangs. Inside the church is the high altar by Cabianca and a side altar a painting by the Flemish painter Peter Coster ( 17th century).
Continue along the street and take first alley left to reach the small but incredibly appealing Church of St Ann (crkva Svete Ane). The church was originally dedicated to St Martin and later, when it was maintained by the butchers’ guild, to St Veneranda, and got its present day saint-protector only at the beginning of the 19th century. Built probably in the 12th century it has features similar to those of the churches of St Luke or Mary of the River with alternative rows of red and gray stone and Romanesque two-light windows. Inside of the church are fragments of frescoes done by Lovro Dobičević in the mid 15th century with the oldest inscription in Serbian in the Boka Kotorska.
fort of st john
The completely preserved town walls of Kotor, 4,5 km in length, are one of the chief reasons that helped Kotor reach UNESCO’s list of the world heritage sights. This extensive fortification system is even more impressive considering that it climbs up the fearsome hill behind the town surmounting its many cliffs to reach the top of 260m above sea level where the Fort of St John stands. Here formerly stood the Illyrian and Roman strongholds even before the “lower town” ( present-day Kotor) developed and in a later era the hilltop was dominated by a Byzantine castle. The walls encircling the town and the hill where finished in the 14th century except for some sections which were unassailable to such and extent that they needed no protection. The medieval walls got their present day appearance in the 16th and 17th centuries when they were reinforced and strengthened by the Venetians to withstand cannon fire. The fort was used by the army until the end of Second War. One of the fort’s peculiarities is an endemic species of slug almost blank in color Clausilia catharenisis which lives only amongst its walls. Climbing to the top of St John’s is a must for each and every visitor of Kotor. This 45 minute climb up its stone stairways with a total of 1,350 steps opens aerial views on to Kotor and dramatic vistas along its bay.
There are two places to start the ascent: one leads from St Mary of the River and the other from the Salad Square along the so called Scala Santa (Holy Stairway). As many sections of this fortress are in bad condition you are advised to keep to the beaten path. Twisting in tight curves between the last houses nested on the steep slopes, both roads have two widening ( once used by gunmen) just above the the rooftops before they meet at St Joseph point ( all the bastions, sections of the walls and forts bear names of their patron saints or of the Venetian commanders who built them). Past the scenic cypresses and five little chapels you will reach the church “Gospa od zdravlja” (Lady of Health).
Lying half way to the top it was first mentioned in 518 as the Lady of the Rest but was renamed after one of the many plague epidemic that hit the town. Through the wrought iron railings you can see a baroque altar with a silver clad icon of the Madonna and statues of St Tryphon and St Jerome. Hence several more serpentines lead to the north side of the walls and the “Small Fort”, a series of strong points. From here a small gate leads to the village Špiljari ( špilja-cave)with its small church and just one family living off their goats. Well hidden, the village existed long before Kotor was established . In recent centuries it was known for its flocks and supplies Kotor with meat. A few minutes more and you reach the Fort of St John, the highest point above Kotor with panoramic prospects of the deepest part of the bay. On the other side is a deep gap from which starts the climb up to the mountains of Old Montenegro.
Just to the north of the Old Town starts Dobrota, once separate township and today fully joined with Kotor. For a long time this was a village in the shadow of the might of Kotor but when its brave captains, who distinguished themselves in skirmishes with the Turks, managed in 1705 to win the status of a separate commune Dobrota quickly prospered from sea trade and maintained the largest fleet in Boka Kotorska, numbering more than 400 ships. Since Dobrota lived from the sea it’s no surprise to learn that it spreads for 7,5 km to the north, with seven hamlets and with almost every house taking a portion of the coast.
Above it looms a daunting rock called Pestingrad, where stories tell a fairies living in its caves. The gardens and olive groves of Dobrota are now covered with buildings and houses but the walk along the coast is one of the most romantic things to do in Kotor. The walk starts by the town’s open air swimming pool. Here the coast is lined with 19th century houses and several fine restaurants. Passing two small beaches you will reach the promontory with an old edifice housing the Institute of Sea Biology, in front of which stands a miniature chapel.Behind it are several places including the one of the Ivanović family, in which Njegoš once stayed.
Passing a number of stately edifices and among them the grand Milošević palace (early 19th century) you will reach the Church of St Mathew standing on a small rise above the sea and enjoying grand views. It was build in 1670 after its predecessor tumbled down in the 1667 earthquake. Inside one can see the paintings “Madonna and the Child” by Giovanni Bellini and “St Nicholas “of Pietro Novelli. In one of the chapels is the bas-relief depicting the Annunciation by Venetian sculptor Giovanni Bonazza. Next to the church is the Institute for Tourism located in the house in which in 1813 the “Natioanl Commision” met. Comprised of 9 men from Boka and 9 from Montenegro and presided over by metropolitan Petar I this body reached a decision on the short-lived unification of the two provinces.
Some 2km to the north pas the Tripković Palace with is rococo gable you will reach the large Church of the St Eustace ( crkva svetog Stasija) dating from 1773, the time of the greatest flourishing of Dobrota. Inside you will see seven marble altars, each endowed by one or more local families, the paintings “ The Finding of the Holy Cross” attributed to Veronese, ”Madonna” by Karlo Dolci and several more works of Alojzije Soliman, the Dalmatian pupil of Tiepolo. On the ceiling are paintings on the life of St Eustace from 1938 and the modernist mosaic on the high altar is by Croatian painter Edo Murtić. The church also possesses a collection of Dobrota needle laces, specific in their style and made by the views of absent mariners. In the treasury are kept a flag and a turban-trophies captured by the Ivanović brothers in their famous clash with Turkish corsairs in front of Athens in 1756.
The walk along the coast on other side of the Old Town leads past the suburb of Škaljari and then winds north along the coast which now faces Kotor. One kilometer from the Old Town you will reach the village of Muo. This village is one of the oldest in Boka and interestingly, has never seen a major change of populace. The inhabitants have from times immemorial been fishermen and have ever preserved some Greek and Latin words in their fishing terminology.
Even today most of the fish on Kotor’s market comes from Muo. The row of modest stone houses is overtopped by the parish church dedicated to the Virgin Mary, Saviour of the Christians. It was built in a mix of neo-byzantine and neo-romanesque styles in 1864. In it lie the relics of beatified Gracija (1438-1508) who from his native Muo went to Venice as a sailor but then joined the Augustine monks there, spending the rest of his life and sanctity, feeding the poor and helping the needy. His body was bought back to Muo in 1810.
Kotor was always the starting point for the climb into the hills of Montenegro. Here the travelers and diplomats would stack up on supplies of necessities not found further inland, find a good guide who also served as a guard and begin up the small dirt path starting from the River Gate and the Montenegrin Market. As the” road” was nothing more than track used by men and cattle, the Montenegrin price-bishop Njegoš took on the building of the better road. Though better than the last one, the road could also be covered only on foot or by donkey and was so steep that it was named the “Ladder of Kotor”. This historic road is shamefully neglected and therefore dangerous in some section but can still be covered by experienced hikers. In 1879 Austria-Hungary started the construction of new cart-road to Montenegro. Most of Montenegrins were against this fearing that the road might bring cannons and troops more easily up into the mountains but were convincted by Prince Nikola, to whom transport of any kind ( even of furniture or a piano was pain staking effort. The construction of a road on such harsh terrain, a great engineering accomplishment, was completed up to the Montenegrin border in 1884. The road still serves as the only connection between Kotor and Cetinje. It climbs up to the Trojice point marked with a small Austrian fort and a couple of curves later reaches the steep slopes of Lovćen which is surmounts with 25 serpentines, looming one above the other, each with a view a little better than the last. This road is a fascinating experience weather you cover it by car, bicycle or foot. It is also the place where car and bicycle races take place every summer.
Distance from Kotor to Budva is 25 km.
Distance from Kotor to Podgorica is 80 km.
Buses departures every 30 minutes to Budva and every hour to Podgorica.
Bus ticket costs 3,5 euro to Budva, and 8 euros to Podgorica.
Airport Tivat is 4 km far from Kotor. Taxi costs 10 euros from airport to Kotor ( Old Town).
Entrance fee for Museum is 3 euros.
Entrance fee for city walls is 3 euros.
Entrance fee in chatedral of St.Tryphonis 1,5 euros.
Prices of the food and drinks are: 2 euros for slice of pizza, 5-7 euros for pizza or spaghetti, 5-7 euros for grill meat, 10-20 euros for portion of fish or calamari, 2-3 euro for beer, juice or coke, 1,5 euro is esspresso or tea, 2-3 euros are cakes.
The most important manifestation in Kotor are:
St. Tryphon's day Festivities (2nd and 3rd of February). This high mass is followed by the carrying of St Tryphon's relics through the city, while on the second day there are concerts and performance by the Boka Navy.
Carnival (from 13th to 24th of February).This traditional event is a time of year when barriers between people are removed and when all enjoy having fun in streets parades, masquerades and concerts.
The Boka Navy Day on 26th of June. The feast day of this historic organization is marked by a march through Kotor's streets, the receiving of the town keys from the town mayor and dancing of the ceremonial "kolo".
International Summer Carnival ( the first week of August). A larger and better attended twin of the February carnival in the same city.
Boka Night ( third week of August). Boats from all over Boka bring merry crowds to the party on the streets of the Kotor's Old Town which last till late in the night.
Festival of Fashion ( the last week of July). Runways of haute couture fashion designed by the world famous fashion designers located in front of St.Tryphon's chatedral.
Refresh Music Festival (the first week of August). Refresh is organized in the biggest discoteque in Kotor named Maximus. This festival presents the best DJ-s of the world.
Kotor Art Festival (July and August). Theater performances, concetrs of jazz and classical music in varous open spaces and indoor venues.
Welcome in Kotor!
Montenegro Hostel Team