Everyone who comes into the Bay of Kotor need to visit the fabulous city of Perast!
With its rear against the steep and barren hills of the mainland, it opens the sea and plunges itself towards the two islets, Sveti Djordje with the Benedictine abbey shadowed by cypress trees and main-made Gospa od Škrpjela, product of Perast's indomitable residents.
The silence of its deserted houses and the aged stone streets speaks loudly of its passing greatness: the town grew quickly in the 16th century becoming a remarkable place of famous seafronts and baroque artists but degraded even faster already at the end of 18th century.
As a result, Perast seems to be stuck in time, endowed with a curiously homogeneous architectural legacy and an air of faded glory.
Though numerous archaeological findings from Neolith and its name’s association with the Illyrian tribe of Pirusti indicate a settlement of great antiquity, Perast is mentioned for the first time in only in the 14th century.
In those days the township was formally still a possession of the Benedictine abbey on the islet of St George, but nevertheless operated a shipyard challenging the monopoly proscribed by Kotor, whose primate Perast disputed with growing strength.
Men such as these were what Venice needed most and after brave defense of Kotor in 1539 the town’s twelve noble families (called casadas) obtained and honor of guarding the standard of the Venetian Republic in times of war.Finally, after its men fought in the battle of Lepanto in 1571, Perast was awarded a status of an autonomous municipality in 1584 beginning the era of prosperity.
As it relied on its craggy hillside and maritime valour Perast never built town walls but only a fort Sveti Križ above it.Using the absence of men, North Africans corsairs struck in 1624 looting the town taking women, children and elders as prisoners to be later dearly ransomed to their families.
Because in those days Perast had a fleet of about a hundred trading and war ships it was able to start anew, building in the following years its palaces and almost all of its 17 churches.In 1654 the town was attacked again by a 6,000 strong Turkish army but in this time not only did it flight the enemy off entirely on its own, but also managed to kill the Turkish commander.
By a twist of faith, the Venetian victories over the Turks, supported by Perast as well, were to lead to the town’s doom: after the entire Gulf of Kotor passed to Venetian hands, other towns developed their own fleets and Perast lost its importance.Already in 19th century it retained only a shadow of its former glory, witnessed on its palaces, resounding names and titles and old traditions.
In recent times the subtle charms of Perast were noted by many who brought old houses and refurbishing them in luxurious fashion bringing new life to the town’s streets.
The view of Perast is embellished with its two tiny islands. To the left is one bearing the name of St George (Sveti Djordje), hosting a Benedictine abbey and the old town cemetery shadowed by tall cypress trees.Though the abbey’s history can be traced as far back as the 12th century little remains of its earliest existence as it has been destroyed many times since, most ruinously in the 1669 earthquake.
The present day church was built after that event in a simple style with some details (such as the renaissance capitols) reused from older edifice. On the tombstones of the cemetery one can see the coat-of-arms of the Perast casadas and other notable families.
They abbey is surrounded by the walls with loopholes testifying to the times when it was used as a stronghold. During the French occupation here resisted a small garrison and amongst them Ante Slović, a sailor from Dalmatia.
During his stay Slović fell in love with local girl Katarina who lived next to the fort of the hill. In the fighting around it in 1813 Slović had to fire a gun and by mistake hit the house of his lover killing her inside it. The unfortunate sailor took the monastic vows, spending the rest of his life in this monastery and was in the end buried beside his loved one.
The islet of Gospa od Škrpjela (“Our Lady of the Rocks”) is the most important catholic sanctuary in the Gulf of Kotor and the most important one dedicated to Virgin Mary who was highly praised by the local populace, especially by seamen. However impossible it might sound, the islet is completely man-made: generations of Perastians have piled rocks and sunk their old ships or captured Turkish vessels to form it and by now the island has grown to 3000 square meters.
The islet still grows once a year when on 22nd July, the festive day of Lady, a decorated procession of boats arrives from Perast followed by traditional songs and beeping of boat sirens as each of the Perastians throws a stone in the water.
The legend holds that the icon of Mother of God was found by two fishermen on a small reef; the pious men took it ashore and placed it in the church but during the night it returned to the reef. As this was repeated three times it was presumed that the miraculous icon prefers being there and so people started the building of a stony islet around the reef; the pious men took it ashore and placed in the church but during the night it returned to the reef.
As this was repeated three times it was presumed that the miraculous icon prefers being there and so people started the building of stony islet around the reef. The temple was consecrated in 1452 but destroyed in the raid of 1624. The legend has it that the icon participated in fighting off the Turkish attack of 1654 scaring off the infidels. Present day church dates from 1630, with the octagonal cupola in a restrained baroque style and the atypical round belfry added in 1722.
In contrast to its austere stone exterior, the interior is richly decorated. The walls and the ceiling of the nave are covered with 68 masterful oil paintings, the lifelong work to Tripo Kokolja (1661-1713), a native Perast, considered to be the best baroque artist not only in Boka Kotorska but of the entire Adriatic coast.
The painting in lower areas represents the prophets of the Old Testament with the sibyls, foretelling the arrival of the Savior and his mother, and his lesser quality.In the upper zone there are fourth large canvases depicting scenes from the life of Jesus and of the Virgin Mary.
The whole ensemble culminates with the ceiling paintings with scenes from the New Testament, surrounded ( in the smaller frames) by angels and still life’s and painting of the Ascension of the Virgin in the centre. Between the first and the second zone there are more than 2,500 silver votive plaques of all shapes and sizes testifying to the piety surrounding the church.
Many of the plaques are donations by sailors representing their rescue from the stormy seas with the help of the Lady. The marvelous high altar of Carraran marble ( made in Genoa in 1796) is all baroque except for its center piece, the icon of the Lady of the Rock itself, work of late Gothic master Lovro Dobričinović of Kotor, made for the old 15th century church. On the side walls you will notice details of the bridal dress left over for good luck by the couples married in the church. The smaller altar to the right has an 18th century icon of St Rocco attributed to Tiepolo.
The house adjoining the church is home to the small museum which displays many items related to the history of Perast such as archaeological findings, paintings of ships in battle, old weaponry and peculiar items such as the silk needlework representing the main altar of the church, work of Hijacinta Kunić which took her 20 years to finish and during which almost lost her eyesight.
Contrary to the Sveti Djordje which is off the tourist perimeter, Gospa od Škrpjela is visited by many.The highway goes around the town while the most important street in the Perast itself is one by the sea also frequented by cars and smaller buses. There is no obvious solution for parking and you should grab the first place you spot. Our tour starts from the northern side of the town and the large Bojovića Palace, the finest piece of architecture in Perast,enjoying nice views of the coastline and the rest of the town.
The palace was designed by Venetian Giovanni Battista Fontana in 1694 for Vicko Bujović (1660-1709), the commander of the town’s fleet known for his hot-headed temper and heroic deeds who died in a street duel with a local judge not far from his home. The stately palace has an open loggia on the ground floor and a vast balcony which runs along the whole length of the front decorated with two stone lions holding the family coats-of arms. Today the palace houses the Town Museum.
On the ground floor you will see a small collection of Roman and Greek tombstone from the vicinity and the town of Risan. On the two upper floors are displayed many documents, gravures and objects illustrating the rich history of the town and its seafarers, with items such as the maritime banners crowned by the Venetian gonfalon ( state standard) and the flag presented to Matija Zmajević by the Russian Tsar Peter the Great, the portraits of Zmajević and Vicko Bujović by Trip Kokolja and many other prominent Perastians, as well painting ( from 1711) depicting Marko Martinović teaching to the Russian seamen, many models of the ships, a 15th century sword with a Cyrillic inscription heavy with gold and gems and finally a small cannon used by local youths to practice firing.
On the second floor one can see the self- portrait of Kokolja, icons from Dimitrijević-Rafailović school of painting and some paintings of the “Gallery of Solidarity” donated by Yugoslav artists to Kotor after the 1979 earthquake. A few steps to the north of the museum is a residential building marked with a plaque explaining that here at the beginning on the 18th century operated “Nautika”, the school of Marko Martinović where the first Russian captains received a part of their training in naval skills. This was the first naval school in all of the Slavic countries.
In the highest row of houses one can clearly notice that ruins of “Biskupija” ( “the Bishropic”), the grand palace built in 1678 by Archbishop Andrija Zmajević (1624-1694) an erudite, writer and a collector of folk songs. On its facades are proverbs and morals written in Latin while the inside was once covered in Kokolja’s murals.
Next to the palace stands his chapel dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosaries where the archbishop was buried. The harmonious small chapel has a portal with the Zmajević coat-of-arms (displaying a dragon-zmaj) and a gracious eight-sided-tower.
Back on the shoreline lies the massive Smekja Palace from 1760 with a vaulted boathouse facing the sea. To its right the palace is adjoined by the Church of the Mark (1740)with a sculptures of Jesus, St Petar and St Paul on the top its gable.
Passing a small square lined with a rare modern building in Perast we reach the centrer of the town marked by the parish Church of St Nicholas and its high belfry. The church was built in 1616 while the 55 m high belfry-the highest in Boka Kotorska-was added in 1691 by the plans of the Venetian architect Giuseppe Beati in the style of late renaissance. The climb to its top is awarded with excellent views of Perast and the islets in front of it.
After the building of belfry, works were started on a construction of a grandiose new church. However, only a lot of apse and part of the nave were constructed to the west of the older church when around 1800 the works were stopped due to a lack of funds and let jutting above the old church.
On the outer walls of the church you will see several Roman inscriptions as well as one in the local dialect celebrating a victory over the Turks in 1654. The rich interior of the church with several altars is crowned by an old organ. You could gain entrance to the church’s rich treasury hosted in the apse of the never finished church. Here one can see liturgical objects, church utensils and vestments from the 17th and 18th of century archbishop Zmajević’s renaissance silver cross, a depiction of the 1654 battle on a silver tablet and an oriental baldachin brought from a battle with the Turks in the 18th century.
On a small square by the church are three busts by Croatian sculptor Vanja Radauš, representing Matija Zmajević, admiral of the Russian Baltic fleet, Marko Martinović, seafarer and a teacher of nautical sciences, and Tripo Kokolja, a baroque painter.
From this square starts the main town street; it stretches parallel with the waterfront road which was constructed in the 19th century cutting through the gardens and docks of the palaces. Both streets today offer views of many houses of bright white stone. On the right side you will see the ruins of Visković Palace built around a defensive tower from 15th century with nice ornaments around its portals.
A bit further is the Balović Palace a typical example of baroque mansions of the 18th century with two floors and belvedere. It was here that Njegoš spent the summer of 1844 and wrote his only love song “A Night Worth More Than a Century” (Noć skuplja vijeka). At the end of the lane, next to the small marina are places Šestokrilović and Bronze.
Directly above the highway stands the Fort of Sveti Križ (“Holly Cross”) built at the start of the 17th century as the main defence point against Turkish attacks from the land. It stands of the site on the old church bearing the same name of dating from the 9th century which stood by the Roman road and below which Perast developed gradually. The simple square edifice of the forth housed the small Venetian garrison commanded by a castellan elected by Perastians.
On the other side of the highway is the modest Franciscan monastery with the church of St Anthony ( Sveti Antun) in which can be see some more paintings by Kokolja.
Distance from Kotor to Perast is 11 km.
Local bus "Blue Line" departures to Perast every hour.
Bus ticket costs 1,5 euro.
Entrance fee in Museum is 3 euros.
Boat ride to the islet Lady of the Rocks cost 1-2 euros.
Entrance fee in church Lady of The Rocks cost 1 euro.
Perast has only one small beach made by concrete.
Price for food and drinks are little upper then in Kotor.
Perast is quiet town even in the top season.
No traffic in the town from 1st of June till 1st of October.
The most important manifestation in Perast is Fašinada on 22nd of July:the line of boats sets out from Perast accompained by song and music and goes to the Lady of the Rock Island where each participiants delivers a ston, growing the island slighty.
Welcome to Perast!
Montenegro Hostel Team