Kotor is a city in Montenegro, which combines the medieval architecture and amazingly beautiful views and atmosphere of the resort. The city was founded by the Romans in the province of Dalmatia, then it became one of the seaports of Montenegro. Kotor is located on the Adriatic Sea, about 22 km from the fashionable beach resort of Budva. These two cities attract tourists due to their good location on the shores of the Bay of Kotor.
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There are regular earthquakes here, the last time Kotor was partially destroyed in the 1970s, but the medieval city center has survived: there are at least six Romanesque churches dating from the 12th and 13th centuries, many wonderful old mansions, from palaces to small private houses, set in a maze of narrow cobbled streets and squares. Kotor and its surroundings were part of the Venetian Republic for over 400 years, and the influence of Venetian architecture is apparent in the town’s appearance.
Kotor’s city walls, some parts of which date back to the 9th century, are one of the best examples of fortification art in Europe. The walls are 20 meters high, more than 10 meters wide in some places and cover a territory of 5 kilometers. Walls reach the top of a precipitous cliff towards St. John Fortress, from where one can enjoy a breathtaking view of the town and the bay.
Behind the mighty walls there is a market place where vegetables and fish are sold and the harbor. This medieval city looks like a labyrinth, but you can’t get lost in it because of its small size – you just have to wander around a bit. The streets remain unnamed for the most part, although some have unofficial names stuck to them. For example, one of them is called “Let me pass” – the name speaks for itself. Irregularly shaped town squares are known by names reflecting their former purpose: Flour Square, Dairy Square, Wooden Square, and so on. Cats are everywhere, and their absolute monarch is Michun (“Big”) . He can be seen walking back and forth at St. Tryfon’s Cathedral. Do not try to speak to him; like all sentinels, he will ignore you.
Kotor has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Bay of Kotor Market
Entertainment and Recreation
Kotor and its surroundings have all the conditions for extreme and active recreation. This is a rock climbing, diving and hiking in the mountains. Above the town, at an altitude of 550 meters, rises the Vrmac massif, which is very convenient as a launching pad for paragliders.
The Bay of Kotor is very popular with professional divers and beginners alike.
Vrmac mountain massif Biking through the mountains
Every summer Kotor hosts festivals and celebrations, such as the Kotor International Summer Carnival. This is one of the most visited events in Montenegro.
KotorART festival is less famous, but is also of interest. And especially for children the Children’s Theatre Festival is held.
In the old town of Kotor there are many cafes, fish and meat restaurants, as well as stores. In the four-star hotel Cattaro there is a nightclub MAXIMUS and a casino.
History of Kotor
Kotor’s distinctive character stems from its history. The city has always been a place of intersection and mixing of styles, Western European and Byzantine. This is reflected even in the character of the stone of which Kotor is built, with its variety of textures and the palette of colors and veins. And Jovan Martinovic feels: “This stone speaks to you; touch it, run your hand over its history. With the same intuitive reverence one sometimes feels for the boulders that line the hills of Wales, or the crumbling bricks of Amsterdam’s beautiful old houses.
The Walls of the Old Town Square
There is no shortage of lore on how Kotor came to be: there’s the romantic tale of the nymph Alkimi (Alkimedes), mother of Jason in his search for the Golden Fleece, who led the unknown city founder to a plain where fresh water was plentiful. She is remembered here every month when a new hammock-like moon rises high above the rocks above the natural stone “bridge”. The locals say: ‘Look, there’s Alkimi admiring Kotor from his golden boat.
A tiny island off the coast of Perast in Kotor Bay
Anyway, in Byzantine times there was already a settlement here called Decadero. In the Middle Ages it was taken over by the Slavic rulers of Zeta and Raška, who had residences here. At that time it enjoyed considerable autonomy, from 1391 to 1420. Kotor (with adjoining lands) was an independent city-republic, with an elected prince, senate and councils of townspeople and even minted its own coin. Since the Turkish threat never diminished, Kotor came under the patronage of Venice. Generally speaking, new rulers and invaders appeared here 14 times (note also the British occupation in 1813, during the Napoleonic Wars). However, the Kotors say that their town has never been taken by force: “On November 21, 1944 the Germans simply left. But the town has suffered three major earthquakes – in 1563, 1667 and 1979, and there was an outbreak of plague in 1572.
Attractions of Kotor
Kotor is shaped like a triangle, and it has three gates. The main one, near the waterfront, is of Renaissance style (XVI c.); the northern one, with a suspension bridge across the rushing river Skurda, was built in 1540 to celebrate the victory against Hayr al-Din Barbarossa, who, having a fleet of 200 ships and 60,000 men, unsuccessfully sieged Kotor.
The third, the southern gate, was cleverly constructed in three parts; one of its elements was an elevating bridge under which, at high tide, a brackish pond is formed by the Grudich stream. This gate was of great importance because it opened the passage to the uplands of Montenegro and the interior of the country.
The old town, as before, is surrounded by walls. They are 4.5 km long, and are twice as long as the walls of Dubrovnik; they rise picturesquely up to the crest of the rocky hills behind the dark urban fabric and the harbor. The first fortifications were erected here in Byzantine times, but under the Venetians they were significantly strengthened, and Kotor became one of the most fortified cities in the Adriatic.
Fortress of St. Ivan
To get a glimpse of all the walls, leave the old town through the northern gate, leave the River Skurda on your left and climb the hills in an easterly direction, from the church of St. Mary. From here you will ascend, accompanied by butterflies, along a winding path with several flights of stairs carved into the rocks (1,350 steps may seem like a lot, but you will stop at every turn to look around) . After climbing to the highest point, 260 m, you’ll find yourself at St. Ivan’s Fortress, which is now silent. Halfway up the hill you will pass the 16th century chapel of Our Lady of Salvation (Gospe od Zdravlja), built by Kotorians who escaped the plague. It will most likely be locked, but you can peer through the door into its dark interior. When you ascend to the fortress, beautiful views and impressions abound: to the west, far below, you will see rows of red roofs; the barely audible noise of the small port and the hum of its marketplace can be heard. To the east the gorge is steep and centuries old, the bees are lazy among the wild cyclamen, and from under the rock you can hear the contented squeaking of invisible chickens.
Allow at least an hour and a half for the tour and bring your own drinks.
Immediately behind the main gate is Armory Square, the largest square in town; there are several cafes along its perimeter. To the left is the unfinished Renaissance princely palace, and next to it, in the far northern corner of the square, is one of the oldest theaters in Yugoslavia; it was built by the French in 1810, and is now part of the Hotel Cattaro. Opposite the gate is a medieval pillar of shame, and behind it is the clock tower, built in the early seventeenth century; the clock was built into it in 1810. Across from it, on the east side, stands the Hotel Vardar and the post office. The narrow street running south from the main gate is divided between two houses, the seventeenth-century Bizanti on the left and the eighteenth-century Bezucca, then a small square dominated by the Renaissance Pima Palace with its long baroque balustrade.
The narrow streets of the old town
From here begins another narrow street that leads to the square in front of St. Trifon’s Cathedral, which is Kotor’s most famous landmark. It was consecrated in 1166, five and a half centuries before St. Peter’s Cathedral in London, three centuries before the discovery of America and 254 years before the Venetians settled in Kotor. During excavations in 1987, it was proved that there was a church on this site. Its round hall is now part of the sacristy of the cathedral, and part of the structure overlooks the streets between the cathedral and the bishop’s house (XIV century) – in the yard of this house, Captain Martinovic used to steal oranges as a child. This ancient church dates back to the 9th century, the same time when the Guild of Sailors of Boka Kotorska Bay (Bokeska mornarica) was founded, a professional association of mutual aid, which still keeps its ancient traditions, its songs and its version of the kolo circle. In the first week of February, during a ceremony commemorating the martyrdom of St. Trifon, you can see all of this for yourself when the guilders put on their parade costumes. Or you can buy a CD of their live, rhythmic music (Bokeljski mornari) . The cheapest place to buy them is at the kiosk by the main gate.
St. Trifon’s Cathedral
Although it has been rebuilt several times over the centuries, St. Trifon’s Cathedral remains an outstanding monument of Romanesque architecture. After its western facade collapsed in a catastrophic earthquake in 1667, the bell towers, rebuilt with warm stone from Korcula, gave the structure a Baroque touch. They are connected by a wide arch with a balustrade that runs above the entrance to the temple, with its characteristic rose window. To the right of the main entrance is the tombstone of Andrea Saracenis, who built the earlier church here, and his wife Mary (with inscriptions from the 9th century). But the main element of the majestic interior of the temple is the quire of its high altar, a masterpiece of Romanesque architecture. The three-row octagonal structure, crowned with the figure of an angel, is supported by four columns made of red Camennari marble. On each of the rows are carved scenes from the life of St. Tryphon. In the chancel and on the vaults of the nave, traces of frescoes have recently been discovered. It has been proven that they were painted in the 14th century, but it is unclear whether their artists, whose work has Byzantine influences, were Serbs or Greeks. All the walls of the temple were once covered with frescoes.
A 16th century bas-relief on the southern gate of Kotor. Madonna and Child, with two saints on either side: St. Trifon and St. Bernard.
The relics of Saint Trifon were brought here from Constantinople in the 9th century. They are now preserved in the 14th-century reliquary chapel with a frieze of white Carrara marble; an exceptionally fine work by 18th-century Venetian sculptor Francesco Cabianchi – even the nails on the horses’ horseshoes are visible. (Another example of his work, a multicolored baroque altar, can be seen in the Franciscan Church of St. Clara, which stands to the west.) But most impressive of all is the large wooden crucifix with an image of Christ that is not easily forgotten; moreover, it is mystifying: its origins are another mystery.
According to tradition, St. Tryphon was a goose shepherd in Phrygia and as a boy he was martyred for refusing to offer sacrifices to the statue of the Roman emperor. In Britain, he is considered the heavenly patron saint of gardeners.
Other Places of Old Kotor
Nearby you’ll find the 16th-century Drago Palace, with its characteristic Gothic window details; it was formerly the site of a 12th-century private house, which was destroyed by the collapsing facade of the cathedral during the 1667 earthquake. Further along is the Baroque Grgurin Palace, which houses the Maritime Museum (082 325646; email@example.com; open: July-September, Mon-Sat 08:00-13:00, 18:00-23:00, Sundays 09:00-13:00; closed October-July 17:00-18:00) . The exhibition here is richer than in the Maritime Museum of Perast; it serves as a reminder of how inextricably linked the cities of the bay are with the sea, and tells the story of a maritime brotherhood that has existed from the 9th century to the present day. In the 18th century there were over 400 ships from the Bay of Kotor sailing the seas of the world, with a further 300 vessels sailing the waters nearby. There is a splendid collection of paintings dedicated to the great naval battles, maps, weapons, furniture and costumes as well as very curious maritime items. There are a number of local details of national costume in Kotor: for example, oddly enough, the black veil of brides. Also puzzling is the whole battery of painted bottles with inscriptions-dedications: “remember me” or “my beloved”; all of which makes one wonder if these bottles were meant to replace the absence of a photograph, served as floating talismans or keepsakes, or were they thrown into the sea at the loss of all hope? Surely someone here knows the answer.
Drago Palace St. Luke’s Church in Kotor St. Mary’s Church
But the list of sights doesn’t end there. In the winding, rose-stone paved streets of the city, many of the buildings are now being restored. Don’t miss the beautiful Church of St. Luke, built in 1195 – it faces the municipality. It was built as a Catholic church, but then, in 1657, it was transferred to the Orthodox Church, and it is now used by both denominations.
Near the northern gate is the Bastion Restaurant; from here the street that leads to the hills near the town and the Church of St. Mary stands. The pink and white stone church is a 14th-century legacy, but it is another example of a church built on the site of an older church (the first Episcopal church of Kotor is said to have stood here previously). During the last decade the remains of a sixth-century baptistery, from the time of the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, were discovered here. (Since the early Middle Ages, St. Mary was considered an intercessor, and in most medieval cities one can see temples dedicated to her.) Several seventeenth-century frescoes with Serbian-Byzantine influences were discovered here, as well as a crucifix, which was restored in the 1980s. In 1984, during its removal, three coins were found which are believed to date back to 1374. The origin of the crucifix remains a matter of dispute, but it is claimed that the work is characteristic of Austria and the cross is very reminiscent of crucifixes seen in Venice, Trieste and Split. The finest details of this sculpture are meticulously worked, as are the details of the horse hooves carved by Cabianca: the anguish on Christ’s face and the clenched toes are visible from every angle. In 1940, Rebecca West wrote about this crucifixion:
A Coastal Area on the outskirts of town.
“. a crucifixion with a suffering Christ, with a real crown of thorns and human hair, a scholarly monk of the seventeenth century – must have been a great liar – attributed to Michelangelo. “
In the last century, this church was dedicated to Bertha Hosanna, a nun (not many in the Serbian Orthodox Church’s holy books), who was canonized 75 years ago for her participation in the fight against the pirate Barbarossa (in the 16th century). Scenes from her life are carved in bas-relief above the large doors of the temple, and inside there is a sarcophagus of the nun.
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Getting around Kotor
Outside the city gates of Kotor, movement of any vehicles is forbidden. Keep this in mind when planning check-in, luggage delivery or travel. There is a safe and inexpensive parking lot near the bay, opposite the main, west gate; there is another one at the north entrance, on the other side of the River Škurda. Warning: when the marble sidewalks get wet, they are very slippery.
Cabs, public and private, are always ready to give their passengers a ride to their destination. You can always bargain with a private driver.
There are shuttle buses along the coast.
During the tourist season, big, beautiful cruise ships always come to the bay.
Cruise ship in Kotor Bay at night
How to get there
Tivat International Airport is 5 km from the city. From here there are daily flights to major European cities. During the season the number of flights increases sharply.
To Kotor several buses leave daily from Podgorica, Budva, Herceg Novi and Tivat. The trip from Podgorica takes about two hours (6 euros), from Budva – about one hour, and from Tivat – about 45 minutes. Bus traffic depends on the road situation, which on the coast during the holiday season can be very complicated. There is no direct connection to Cetinje (via Kattaro Stairs and Negushi) at the moment. To get to Kotor from Cetinje, you have to go through Budva.
The bus station (082 325809) is situated on the eastern, mountainous part of the town, where the roads to Tivat and Budva split, close to the main gate; the old town is a five minute walk away.
17 places to see in Kotor
Kotor is considered an important diplomatic center and a place of concentration of various civilizations, such as the Byzantine, ancient Roman, Ottoman Empire, etc. It is a small town built on the coast of God in the Bay of Kotor of the same name. About 13 thousand people live here, working hard to create a welcoming infrastructure.
Kotor is a city that loves active tourists interested in history, architecture and military affairs. The prices here are quite comfortable and the people are hospitable, so we sincerely advise you to visit it on your nearest vacation.
View of the Old Town.
The oldest and most historically valuable part of Kotor is given the laconic name “Old Town”. It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so it attracts crowds of tourists every year.
It is impossible to get here by car, as old Kotor is a blocked pedestrian area consisting of narrow alleys with weighty walls and powerful stone staircases. In addition to the typical Montenegrin houses there is a fortress wall, as the city was originally built for defense. The city vaults are triangular in shape and have three entrances and exits, respectively.
The southern entrance is represented by the sea gate – previously you could get here only by boat, but now there is a modern embankment with a passageway for cars. The northern entrance is accessed by a lifting bridge that spans the waters of the Shkudra River. The strong mountains of Lovceni form the western entrance. The walls of the fortress are 2.5 kilometers long, up to 6 meters thick and 25 meters high. Due to the well coordinated work of architects and engineers, as well as masters of military science, Kotor was able to keep the defense for centuries.
Location: 42°25’30.1″N 18°46’11.3″E.
St. Trifon’s Cathedral
St. Trifon’s Cathedral.
This local landmark (also the city’s main cathedral) is a majestic cathedral where Catholic services are held. It was built back in 1166, so it is considered one of the oldest religious buildings in Montenegro.
In the XVII century the facade of the building and both bell towers were almost destroyed by a strong earthquake. The authorities took care to carry out the necessary restoration work, and thanks to that the monument was preserved and functions properly to this day.
The relics of St. Trifon are kept here, and the facade bears the date of their arrival in the city. Inside the temple the tourist sees ancient frescos and arches, and on the second floor there is a beautiful sacristy. Guide will tell an interesting story about how the cathedral was built and why there are the relics of the saint. By the way, the entrance costs only 2.5 euros per person, which is quite affordable for such a pleasure.
Address: Cathedral of St. Trifon, Kotor, Montenegro.
Church of Saint Nicholas
Church of St. Nicholas.| Photo: JD Lasica / Flickr.
The attraction is located in the north of old Kotor, attracting the attention of not only tourists but also pilgrims. Until the 19th century, the Benedictine Church adorned the site, but it was destroyed by fire.
On its foundations at the beginning of the next century (more precisely in 1902) built the church of St. Nicholas, which is an important Orthodox center, where today services are held. The construction was completed seven years later, which is marked on the facade of the temple. The architecture of the building successfully combines elements of Renaissance and late Gothic. The temple preserves old icons.
Address: Temple of St. Nicholas, Kotor, Via 1 (source-west), Stari Grad, Kotor, Montenegro.
The Church of St. Luke
Church of St. Luke. | Photo: Neill Taylor / Flickr.
The sights of Kotor often attract pilgrims, as the city has many notable churches and churches. The Church of St. Luke, for example, was founded in 1195 by Prince Maur Kacefarangi and for several centuries only opened its doors to Orthodox and Catholics. Surprisingly, the building has survived to our time in its original form. Until the XVII century there were two altars, but the authorities left only the Orthodox, made in the Greek style. The floor is decorated with stone slabs with Roman numerals.
Hundreds of people are buried here, as well as the relics of St. Luke himself. Nearby is an annex, the small church of St. Spiridon.
The church is located in the center of the city on the famous Grez square.
Address: St. Luke’s Church, Trg Sv. Luke, Kotor 85330, Montenegro.
Armory Square. | Photo: Naval S / Flickr.
This square is considered to be not only one of the most famous in the city, but also the largest. It was here in 1602 that the decision was made to erect the famous Clock Tower, near which to this day there is a table of shame. In ancient times, it was used to punish malefactors.
Now the square is a meeting place for business partners and couples in love. And for the tourists there are welcoming rows of shops with souvenirs and household items, food courts and cozy Montenegrin-style restaurants. There is the first theater in the country, opened in 1806, the house of guards and other key attractions of the city.
Address: Square of the Arms, Kotor, Montenegro.
Fortress of St. John
According to local lore, the fortress was built as early as the 6th century by Justinian and was later rebuilt several times. It acquired its final appearance only in the 16th century. It consists of a number of forts and small towers.
It is interesting that the fortress is the highest point of Kotor. One can reach it by serpentine stairs, which consist of no less than 1400 steps. If you pass this climb, you can take great panoramic pictures of the Bay of Kotor and the magnificent old part of town. The ascent takes on average about an hour. There is an entrance fee of 3 euros per person in the summer. Inside the fortress is the church of St. John which cannot be overlooked.
Address: St John Fortress, Road to the Fort of St. Ivan, Montenegro.
Church of St. Mary of the River
Church of St. Mary of the River. | Photo: Jocelyn Erskine-Kellie / Flickr.
This majestic structure was erected in the early 13th century (previously it had an old basilica from the 6th century). The temple was destroyed many times by earthquakes (especially the northern part), so it was constantly rebuilt and restored.
Locals call it the Church of Blessed Oksana, because her relics are still preserved in the walls (to the left of the entrance). The woman was a famous prophet and healer of all ills. Also of interest are the embossed gates of the temple, which tell the story of the life of the holy martyr and the city of Kotor.
Visitors can also admire fragments of incredible ancient frescoes. The church is open to visitors only on holidays and weekends.
Address: Church of St. Mary Collegiate, Kotor, Montenegro.
Church of the Virgin Mary
The church was built in the 15th century on a picturesque hillside in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was believed that at one time she was the one who saved the city from a deadly plague invasion.
Near the church, halfway to the fortress of St. John, there is an observation deck for tourists with a gorgeous view. The church houses ancient icons and the massive marble altar impresses the eye.
Address: Church of Our Lady of Good Health, Road to the Fort of St. Ivan, Kotor, Montenegro
Boka Kotor Bay
Boka Kotor Bay.
Tourists who just want to enjoy a quiet vacation without fussy hikes and long excursions are advised to visit Boka Kotor Bay. A boat trip around it will cost you 25 Euros per person, but the journey is well worth it. Within an hour you can see the old town from the shore and learn a lot from the guide.
You can also walk around the pier, admiring the yachts and cruise ships, sail on a rented boat or catamaran in the bay.
But it is not recommended to swim in the bay, because the port facilities strongly pollute the water.
Address: Bay of Kotor, Montenegro
Citadel. | Photo: jbdodane / Flickr.
The city’s main fortress is a unique landmark of which the local population is proud. Its walls encircle the old part of the city, rising up to the rocky hill. The height of the citadel is no less than 20 meters. The walls are 16 meters thick – just think about these figures! The length of the fortress is also considerable – 4.5 km.
Address: Kampana Tower 420, Kotor 85330, Montenegro.
National park Lovcen
Alpine beauty with rocky Dinaric uplands opens up to tourists who have decided to visit Lovcen National Park. It extends over 6.22 thousand acres, the southern borders of which coincide with the Budva-Cetinje freeway and the northern borders with the old city road.
The wildlife with its flora and fauna will not leave anyone indifferent. And it is also an occasion to get out on a hike with a guide away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Address: National Park Lovcen, Montenegro.
The Beskuca Palace from the side of the Old Town.
Tourists who are fond of Montenegrin history can safely go to Kotor to see the palaces, of which there are 17 in the city. These beautiful “palaces” once belonged to the city’s distinguished families. In the old part of town, in a narrow alley that connects the Liberation (Muki) and Arms squares, there is the famous Beskuca palace.
As the name suggests, it belonged to the Beskuca family, which in a short period of time mastered the maritime trade and achieved significant financial success. As a result, in 1776, this architectural masterpiece was built, which is now a tourist attraction.
The Princely Palace
The Princely Palace.
This majestic structure was built in the 18th century and it is a harmonious complex, which includes the facade of the eastern part of Kotor and the city guard tower.
The palace used to be the residence of the Venetian “cream of society” and was also used for military strategies.
Now it is simply a beautiful historical object, open to all comers.
Address: Optika Kotor, Square of the Arms, Kotor, Montenegro.
Maritime Museum of Montenegro
Maritime Museum of Montenegro. | Photo: wikimedia.
It would be strange to visit Kotor and not visit its real pride – the Maritime Museum. It regularly hosts interesting exhibitions and expositions, as well as a wealth of information about maritime expeditions in the Gulf of Kotor and the Black Sea.
The museum is located in an ancient building from the 18th century, which is itself a monument of architecture of that epoch. It is noteworthy that before this building was the Grgurin’s Palace, about which we will tell further on.
Address: Maritime Museum of Montenegro, Kotor, Montenegro.
Buca Palace (center).| Photo: jbdodane / Flickr.
Unfortunately, this building is not so remarkable externally at first sight. Thus, tourists during a festive walk through the historic center of the city can simply pass by without paying attention to the four-story building located on Flour Square.
But experienced guides know the value of the Bucha Palace and make sure to stop the group in front of its facade, telling about the fascinating history of the building. It was originally a Gothic building, but was rebuilt and restored more than once in the centuries that followed. For those who know a thing or two about architecture, it is a mixture of Renaissance, Gothic, and Baroque.
Address: Square of the Arms, Kotor, Montenegro.
Grgurina Palace.| Photo: wikimedia.
It is located in the old part of the city a little north of the aforementioned Cathedral of St. Trifon.
It is an architectural monument of the Old Kotor, which is based on the old baroque style of the eighteenth century. The palace belonged to the famous Grgurin family, which, like Beskuca, became rich on the sea trade (not surprising for a port town).
Address: Pomorski muzej, Trg Bokeljske mornarice 391, Kotor 85330, Montenegro.
At the end we left the Arsenal building which is located, of course, on the Arms Square to the north-east of the city. It was built in this part for several reasons. Thus, on one side it was protected by the power of the ancient bastion of the fortress and its tall Campanian tower. On the other hand it was also protected by the shipyard of the local waterfront, located directly in front of the bastion.
Address: Arsenal of the Venetian fleet, Kotor, Montenegro.