In the depths of the Bay of Kotor, between the sea and the mountain range, on a small triangle surrounded by a short but violent river Skurda and to the west by an underwater spring Gurdic, St. John’s Hill and the Adriatic Sea there is wonderful city of Kotor. Kotor is famous not only for its centuries-old, dramatic history, but also as capital of Boka Kotorska Bay which was included in the list of world’s most beautiful bays in July 2000. The rest of them are located mostly in Scandinavia…
Kotor is a city of merchants and famous seafarers, with its fabulously unique history testifying to the freedom-loving nature of the city and its inhabitants. Hemmed in by staunch walls snaking improbably up the surrounding slopes, the town is a medieval maze of museums, churches, cafe-strewn squares and Venetian palaces and pillories. It’s a dramatic and delightful place where the past coexists with the present. Its cobblestones ring with the sound of children racing to school in centuries-old buildings, lines of laundry flutter from wrought-iron balconies, and hundreds of cats – the descendants of seafaring felines – loll in marble laneways.
Come nightfall, Kotor’s spectacularly lit-up walls glow as serenely, behind the bulwarks, the streets buzz with bars, live music – from soul to serenades – and castle-top clubbing.
Here, history follows in continuity from ancient times. In surrounding caves, traces have been found of human existence from Neolithic times in the form of various tools, accessories and drawings on the walls of the caves. One of them is Lipci near Risan.
The history of the city is rich as its culture. Many conquerors wanted to conquer it: the Illyrians, the Venetians, the Austrians, the French. On the one hand, it is believed that the city was under the rule of the Illyrians in the second and third centuries BC.
On the other hand, it is believed that the Romans were the founders of Kotor from 168 BC to 476 AD. Kotor was under their reign until the collapse of the Roman Empire in 476 AD. After the Romans, until 1185, Kotor was under the rule of Byzantium. At this time Kotor is known as Dekaderon.
In the period from 1185 to 1371 Kotor remains one of the coastal cities that are part of the medieval Serb state, under the control of the Nemanjic dynasty. The dynasty of Nemanic gave the city the modern name of Kotor and made it a seaport. Through this port, communication with the West was maintained. During the reign of the Serbian dynasty Nemanjic in Kotor, there was a significant economic and cultural upsurge.
After the dynasty of Nemanjic, Kotor passed under the administration of Hungary. In 1420 came the Venetian Republic, which remained until its fall in 1797, when Europe was shaken by the Napoleon’s wars. Following the tumultuous period from 1797 to 1814, this area was alternately ruled by Russians, French, Austro‐Hungarians and Montenegrins.
At the Vienna Congress of 1814, Kotor came under the authority of the Austro‐Hungarian Monarchy. In 1918, this area became a part of the newlyestablished state of the South Slavs and has shared the destiny of its peoples until the present‐day. After World War II, Kotor tried to continue its tradition of maritime affairs, trade and of course, tourism.
However, on 15th April 1979, there was a catastrophic earthquake hich disrupted plans for the further progress of Kotor. More than 600 monuments of culture were damaged, and about 110,000 objects of movable heritage were endangered, which meant more than a third of the monument heritage of Montenegro.
Places like Kotor with preserved traces of past epochs are rare. Due to the unique mixture of various cultural influences, in 1979 Kotor was added to the UNESCO list of World Cultural Heritage sites.
Kotor is a town of rich cultural tradition, and one of the best preserved mediaeval urban areas of of this part of the Mediterranean. Kotor is also unique because it is the only town on the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea to be located by name in historic and strategic maps.
Kotor was attractive to tourists in all ages. At every step, walking around the city, you can in the imagination go back many centuries ago, when the pirates conquered the coast, and adventures were waiting for the arriving at every step.
Regardless of which side to enter the city, churches and cathedrals, numerous medieval monuments and beautiful architectural structures will meet the tourist. Even ordinary residential houses of local residents carry traces of past eras. These are Roman signs, lions, dragons, Baroque windows and walls decorated with arches.
The layers of history prove that construction of palaces and dwellings was not the only skill in this town. Seafaring, as well as artistry, weaponry and goldsmithing were equally popular trades in Kotor.
Today, Kotor is on UNESCO’s list of world heritage sights due to its yield of historic figures including Fra Vito – the architect of the Monastery Decani, Lovro Marinov Dobricevic – icon painter, as well as countless sea captains, diplomats, publishers and poets.
In addition, this town preserves another unique feature – it is the only town where the tradition of seafaring unity prevailed and continues on!
The Bokeljska mornarica (Navy of Boka Kotorska Bay) has been active for more than twelve centuries and still uses its original traditional admiral, clothing, dance and ceremonies.
Carnivals and holidays, which are held here annually, give an additional charm to the beautiful city on the coast of Montenegro. Its amazing beauty begins with the blue sea.
Conquers its stony mountain slopes and greenery, which in combination with the rock over the old Kotor creates unusual natural colors.
On the mountain serpentine you can reach the fortress of St. John, which stands on the hill of the same name directly above Kotor.
The Old Town of Kotor lay in the shadows of the fearsome St. John’s Hill and the walls protecting this town are a fortification masterpiece at up to 15 meters wide and 20 meters high each.
These walls are skillfully crafted into the natural steep slopes of the hill and the view of this town on approach is one of the amazing sights, not only of the Mediterranean, but of the world.
Kotor town ramparts were built gradually from the 9th to the 19th century. At 260 m above sea level, there is St. John’s Hill (San Giovanni) with the fortress of the same name.
The Fortress of St. John occupies a location that has been fortified in some manner for centuries. These fortress walls date back to medieval times, built on and off between the 9th and 19th centuries, and built by everyone from the Byzantines to the Venetians. The fortress is only one part of the fortification of Kotor. The walls travel down the mountain of St. John and surround the city, where towers and other defense structures have historically provided protection for residents and buildings.
The fortress St. John (San Giovanni) can be accessed through one of two entrances. The first is located near St. Mary’s Church, and the second one is on “Pjaca od Salate” (Salad Square).
Salad Square south of St. Tryphon’s Cathedral is named because there the inhabitans of Kotor suburbs Skaljari sold the salad and other vegetables.
Vrachien Palace is located on Salad Square. It dates back to the 18th century, and it was built in the Baroque style. The Baroque interior of the palace has been completely preserved.
Both routes meet and lead to the 15th century Church of Our Lady of Health (Madonna della Salute). From here, the path leads to the smaller fortress, from where it is possible to continue all the way up to St. John’s Fortress.
Our Lady of Health Church dates back from the 15th century. It was built half way up St. John’s Hill. Following numerous plague epidemics, this church became a votive church.
St. Mary’s Church was built in 1221 on the site of an earlier pre‐Romanesque church. In its interior, there are the remains of fresco paintings from the end of the 14th century, as well as an Early Christian baptistery. Just behind this church you find the oldest pharmacy in the Balkans, erected in the 14th century, and the steps leading up to the fortification walls.
St. Joseph’s Church is located next to the very slope of St. John’s Hill. In the church there is an interesting altar from the 18th century, a work of art of a famous master, Cabianca. On the floor of the church there are several tombstones, with the coats of arms of famous families from Kotor. Nearby is also located St. Paul’s Church.
St. Paul’s Church was originally a Romanesque church, only to be considerably reconstructed at a later stage. The fragments of the frescoes date back from the 15th century.
Kotor is famous by numerous palaces, which are characteristic by the Romanic and baroque ornaments, wall decorations and a great number of the heraldry of the families by whom the palaces got their names or to whom they belonged to. Among numerous palaces we have some that stand out.
In the vicinity of the town, or more precisely in Dobrota, the palaces of the naval families of Dobrota were built: Tripkovic palace, Ivanovic palace, Radimir‐Dabinovic palace, Milosevic palace, Radimir brotherhood houses, and at Prcanj there still is a gorgeous palace called “Tre Sorelle” with the old legend about three sisters who were in love with the same sailor.
Grubonja Palace is located near the Northern Gate. The palace dates back from the 16th century. It was built in the Renaissance style with the carved coat of arms of the old town pharmacy.
The most useful way to get to know this town on limited time is to walk through its squares and visit its baroque stone palaces. When you first enter the town through the main gate, you will notice a late 15th century relief of the Virgin Mary flanked with the town’s patron saint, St. Typhoon, who is always shown with a model of Kotor in his hands, and St. Bernardo of Siena, standing as protector of sailors and all in contact with the sea.
Main town gate. Today, one can enter the town through three gates. The biggest one is the Morska Vrata or Sea Gate, which once could be accessed only from the sea.
It was built during the time of the Venetian prince Bernardo Renier, in the Renaissance‐Baroque style which is testified to by the column and the arch made according to the “Bugnato” technique. The gate is surrounded with massive stone blocks, next to which are stone columns also consisting of massive stone blocks.
Arms Square (Main town square) is at the same time the largest town’s square. This name was given to it because in Venetian period it was the place where arms were repaired and stored. It is ringed with the beautiful Prince’s (Duke’s) Palace, Napoleon Theatre, the Clock Tower, Arsenal building and Tower of town guard.
The focal point of the town is the Clock Tower. To the far left of the Clock Tower you will find the Citadel Bastion. The passage along the fortification walls lead to the South Gate, built in the 12th century. From here, the views of the town and the harbor are both breathtaking and ideal for photography.
For tourists, Kotor should be more than simply a one-day visit. However, if you’re pressed for time, the best way to see as much of the town as possible is to start at the main gate and work clockwise.
From the main Arms Square, you will go right across the Flour Square to the Cathedral, then left to the Maritime Museum, straight on to the square housing the Churches of St. Luka and St. Nikola and then left, which will lead you back to where you started from.
The Clock Tower is one of the symbols of Kotor. It occupies the central place in the square opposite the main gate.
It was built in 1602 but it is supposed not to have been finished at the time of the 1667 earthquake, as on that occasion the Tower considerably inclined towards the west i.e. to the sea. Later there had been some attempts to put it back in upright position but after the 1979 catastrophic earthquake it returned to the same position.
The Clock Tower was partly built in the Baroque style while the northern and eastern façade is in the Gothic style. Below the Clock Tower there is the Pillar of Shame which was used for punishment of an accused person by placing him/her in front of the Pillar so that all the citizens of Kotor would know for his/her offence.
The Prince’s (Duke’s) Palace is a lengthy edifice, which together with the guard tower makes almost the whole western façade of Arms Square, the main town square. It was built in the 18th century. In the past, it was the official residence of the Venetian provosts. It served various military purposes. Although deprived of all architectural decorations, apart from the Renaissance consoles which support the balcony, it still represents one of more significant monuments of architecture of the town of Kotor.
Tower of Town Guards – The Tower of Town Guards, the lean-to the Duke’s Palace, is an evident example of military architecture – built to serve the military purpose only. It was built of high-quality stone against the interior side of western wall. The Tower was without of any architectonic ornaments. In the 1979 earthquake it was destroyed to such extent that it had to be break down up to the level of the first floor and then restored in stone in original size.
Arsenal building is situated in the north-east corner of the Square of Arms, which was named by it. Its locality was determinated by the terms of that place , and also there was a very powerful bastion Citadela with the castle called Kampana, situated in the north-west corner of the town gates. In this part of town was a huge shipyard on the seaside, in front of the bastion Citadela. At the Square of Arms, in front of Arsenal, was a meeting for people who protected the old town afore the invasion of war danger, for example, we can mention one of the most famous battle whose leader was Hajrudin Barbarosa, in 1539. and who intended to overmaster Kotor, but after three days, his army had to give up.
Napoleon Theatre building – It was built in the eighteenth century. In 1810 the French occupying authorities reconstructed this building to establish regular theatre, one of the first in this country. To turn it into the theatre, they had to break down the northern façade. This building was considerably damaged in the 1979 earthquake when its southern façade was almost completely destroyed. The restoration of the façade was carried out in all details by academic sculptors and builders from Macedonia. The interior of the object was entirely adapted for an exclusive restaurant and entertainment object.
Bizanti Palace, is located on Arms Square, the main town square. One facade faces the square and the other the street leading to Flour Square. It was built in the 14th century, but following the 1667 earthquake it changed considerably its looks. The northern wing of the palace was added, which is testified to by the coat of arms with the initials of Nikola Bizanti and the year of construction 1674 on the eastern wall of the palace. Both wings are connected by means of the internal courtyard and the staircase which gives a Renaissance form to the palace. The windows, portals, the staircase and the crown of the well with the family coat of arms have characteristics of the Baroque style.
From the main Arms Square four streets lead into the urban maze of Old Kotor. If you fare right from the Arms Square, you can follow a short street between the Bizanti and Beskuca palaces, both erected in the 17th century, to reach the Flour Square.
Beskuca Palace is located in the street which leads from the main town square to Flour Square. It was built in the mid‐18th century. It is adorned by a beautiful Gothic portal, one of the most beautiful masterpieces of the Florid‐Gothic on the whole eastern Adriatic coast. The palace belonged to the now non‐existent Beskuca family which saw its moments of glory at the end of the 18th century, when the family received aristocratic status. After the disappearance of the Beskuca family, at the beginning of the 19th century the palace became the property of the Kotor municipality.
Flour Square – The square is located south of the Sqare of arms where are disposed the bakeries and flour-shops. This picturesque square is surrounded by splendid buildings and two palaces, beginning on your right with Pima Palace, which belonged to a family of noblemen and poets, and has a vaulted loggia, and above it a terrace and balcony. Beside it is Buca Palace, more modest than it once was, as most of its Gothic features were damaged in the 1667 earthquake. Once one of Kotor’s most powerful families, the Buca were court officials, ambassadors, and brave soldiers.
Bucchia Palace is located on Flour Square, opposite Pima Palace. The present‐day appearance does not reflect the historical importance of the Bucchia family, one of the most significant families of Kotor. The original Gothic palace was built at the beginning of the 14th century, but it was considerably damaged in one of the subsequent earthquakes. It was restored after the 1667 earthquake, when it acquired approximately its present‐day form. The only thing that has remained of the luxurious Gothic palace is a biforium on the western side, visible only from the town walls. On the palace there is the coat of arms of the Pasquali family which died out.
Pima Palace is located on Flour Square. It dominates the square with its beauty. It was built in the Renaissance‐Baroque style in the 17th century. Its most valuable detail is the magnificent balcony supported by 12 stone consoles The railings of the balcony are the work of Kotor blacksmiths. Above the main portal there is the coat of arms of the Pima family supported by two angels. The palace was restored following the 1979 earthquake.
On the right of the beautiful Pima palace and just around the corner you will find the Square of St Tryphon, named for the Cathedral dedicated to the patron saint of Kotor, St. Tryphoon, which was erected here in 1166.
St. Tryphon’s Square – In this square there are the most significant institutions of the town: the building of Municipality, Bishopric, Historical Achieves, the Institution for Protection for Protection of Cultural Monuments and Cathedral of St. Tryphon.
St. Tryphon’s Cathedral is certainly the most beautiful and the most significant church monument in the town. It was built and consecrated in 1166. The earthquakes considerably changed the original looks of the cathedral. The Romanesque bell towers were replaced with the new ones made in Baroque style, as well as the dome, and pilasters were covered in Korcula stone tiles. Which attracts special attention are the rosettes on the facade which used to be of Romanesque style, but today they are profiled with Gothic‐Renaissanc motifs. Inside the Cathedral are relics brought to Kotor from Constantinople by Venetian traders in 809, along with a 15th century alterpiece made by Kotor’s goldsmiths.
Bishopric is the oldest institution in Kotor. Today’s building of Bishopric is located next to the Cathedral of St. Tryphon and also belonged to the family Drago.
Drago Palace is located on St.Tryphon Square. It was being built in the 14th and the 15th century with all the elements of Gothic style. The palace consists of two wings, the south‐western and the northern ones. As a decorative element, very often dragons can be seen, which in fact represents an element from the coat of arms of the Drago family. The windows and portals are profiled in the Gothic style and very nicely finished. The palace was damaged in the earthquakes of the years 1667 and 1979. Today it houses the Regional Institute for the Protection of Cultural Heritage.
From here, tourists rarely venture further into the maze, but instead turn left next to the Church of St. Anne towards Museum Square and baroque palace Grgurina, home to the Maritime Museum.
Santa Anna’s Church dates back to the end of the 12th century. In the interior of the church frescoes were discovered which are the work of art of Lovro Marinov Dobricevic from the 15th century.
Museum Square – Just before the square, you’ll see a small courtyard on your right that is home to the Karampana, Kotor’s only public well, dating to the 17th century. Next to the street leading from the Karampana Fountain is located St. Michael’s Church.
St. Michael’s Church was erected at the end of the 14th century. The Interior of the church was partly fresco painted. Today, this church houses the town’s lapidarium (collection of rocks and minerals).
Karampana fountain – Just outside the museum, have a look out for the Karampana Well and its gorgeously ornate wrought-iron fence. Karampana fountain in the past was the only source of fresh drinking water in the town. In present form the fountain derives from the Baroque Epoch, from the end of the seventeenth or the beginning of the eighteenth century. The forged rail is the work of an unknown master blacksmith.
Once at the Museum Square, the elegant building with green shutters on your left is Grgurina Palace, which houses the Maritime Museum, which is worth a look considering Kotor’s rich maritime history and close connection to the sea.
Grgurina Palace is located on Museum Square. It was constructed in the 18th century and it belonged to the Grgurina noble family. It was built in the Baroque style, with stone balconies with balustrades dominating the facade. Particularly interesting is the original preserved distribution of rooms, according to the Venetian principle, which states: A master’s house has four rooms and a lounge. Today, it houses the Maritime Museum, whose collection demonstrates the development of maritime affairs and cultural level of the inhabitants of the Montenegrin coast and the Boka Kotorska Bay.
The Maritime Museum of Montenegro in Kotor has grown out of the collection founded by the “Boka Marine” Fraternity, around the year 1880 and opened to public in 1900. It gradually enlarged and in 1938, it was re-arranged and opened to visitors on the first floor of the present Museum building. It was only after the end of World War II, in the period 1949-1952, that the whole building, Baroque palace of the noble Grgurina family from the beginning of the 18th century, was completely restored and adaptet to meet the needs of the Museum. In the central exhibition hall are kept memories of the legendary period from the 16’h to the 18th centuries, when our seamen developed domestic shipping and maritime trade, took active part in building of naval and merchant marines in foreign countries, established new routes of maritime trade and fought against pirates and Turks on the Adriatic and Mediterranean seas.
On the left side of the Museum square, you will find turn in the streets leading out from the square and this street leads into the core of Old Kotor, to the Orthodox Square of St. Luke, where you will find a 12th century church dedicated to the same saint. Standing as St. Luke’s backdrop is the larger, but younger church of St. Nikola, also Orthodox.
St. Lucas’s square – Dominating St Lucas’ Square is the Orthodox Church of St Nicholas, dating to 1902, built on the site of a church and monastery destroyed by fire. Inside, fragrant with frankincense, is a huge dome and elaborate gilt iconstasis. Diagonally opposite is the diminutive St Lucas’ Church, built in 1195. This little Romanesque-Byzantine church has a pretty bell tower and above, more beautiful castle views. Opposite St Lucas’ is the music school. Behind the café tables is the Lombardic Palace.
St. Lucas’s Church is situated in the centre of the urban core of Kotor. The church was built in 1195. Up to the mid‐17th century this had been a Catholic church, when it was handed over to the Orthodox inhabitants of Kotor. However, the Catholics retained the right to have one altar for their own use. The iconostas of the church is the work of art of Dimitrije Daskal, the founder of the Boka KotorskaRafailovic iconographic school, from the 17th century. This is the only edifice in the town that did not suffer significant destruction during the earthquake. The floor in the church consists of tombstones on the joint tombs of the citizens of Kotor, since until the 1830’s burials were being carried out in the church itself.
St. Nicholas’s Church is of a more recent date. The building of the church started in 1902 and according to the inscriptions on the façade it was finished in 1909. It was built in the Serbian‐Byzantine style as one-nave church. The main facade is framed with two bell towers.It possesses a rich collection of icons and a beautiful iconostasis made by Cigler, a Czech artist.
From the square, the street to the right continues to another, smaller square dominated by the Church of St. Mary of the River. Just behind this church you find the oldest pharmacy in the Balkans, erected in the 14th century, and the steps leading up to the fortification walls.
When you turn left from St. Lucas’s square to the starting position of your walking tour on Arms Square, you will find on the right side have the chance to see Franciscan Monastery of Santa Clara.
Santa Clara’s Church attracts many visitors to see its beautiful Baroque altar. This amazing marble piece was sculpted by Francesco Cabianca. The 14th Century complex also boasts a rich library full of wonderful old books.
Near the monastery on the right there is Holy Spirit Church.
Holy Spirit Church was built in the 15th century. Today, it is the concert hall of the Music School.
You’re finishing our Kotor old town walk at the point where most people start.
That’s because you probably want you to sit down and take in the surrounding sights – the splendid clock tower, Venetian Arsenal, the Town Hall, Bizanti Palace, and Prince’s Palace – from a some of the many caffe terraces.
Order a cup of tea and a slice of the traditional lemon and almond Dobrotska Cake, the local specialty, along with all delicious cakes here.