Walking Into Unbelievable, Medieval Kotor, Montenegro
Travels With Sheila fell in love with indescribably gorgeous Kotor. Perhaps because it was small enough to manage without being overwhelmed and felt more intimate than Dubrovnik. Kotor also had those amazing fortifications snaking up the hills and, fortunately, no big cruise ships in port. That was pure luck because we passed the large Thompson Spirit heading towards Kotor later in the afternoon. Try to miss visiting Kotor on Thursdays when one of the humungous 3,000 passenger cruise ships is usually scheduled to arrive. Walking this tiny city would have to be a nightmare.
You can enter Kotor by one of three gates. The Sea Gate, constructed in 1555, is the main gate and is surrounded by massive stone blocks and stone pillars. Above the Sea Gate is a memorial with the date the Nazis were defeated, November 21, 1944. Directly inside the shady entrance (deeply appreciated in the Balkan heat) is a relief of Madonna and Child flanked by St.Tryphon and St. Bernard on one wall. The opposite wall has a barely made out relief of St. Tryphon with a model of the city. St. Tryphon is the protector Saint of Kotor in Montenegro. I also discovered that St. Tryphon is the patron saint of gardeners and winegrowers. A saint after my own heart!
Guide Sinisa originally took us into Kotor by the less crowded but more dramatic Southern Gate (Gurdica Gate). The Southern Gate has an entire mechanism consisting of three belts of gateways, constructed at different periods. With a moat section in front of it and barred towers, this gate is very impressive.
The Northern Gate is smaller than the Southern Gate and was built as a memorial to Kotor’s victory over the Turks in 1539. Most of the green water in the moat originates in the Skurda River.
Kotor was once an independent city republic until threat of Ottoman attacks saw it throw its lot in with the Venetians. Under the Venetians, Kotor became one of the best fortified cities in the region with walls twice the length of Dubrovnik. These medieval city-walls extend all the way up to the St. Ivan Fortress in mountains ranging from 1,000-1,700 meters/3,200-5,500 feet.
This medieval city center with winding, narrow little streets, squares and small churches is a delight. The old town of Kotor is among the best preserved medieval towns not only in Montenegro but in this part of the Mediterranean. No wonder it appears on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The first Slavic tribes settled this area in the 7th century A.D. followed by the lllyrians, Romans, Byzanthians, Venetians until 1797. Then the Russians, French, and Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. We walked by a building that once housed the Austrian prison. For centuries, Kotor was one of the most significant maritime and trade centers in this part of the Adriatic.
A catastrophic earthquake in 1979 damaged much of Kotor, and it is remarkable that anything survived. With a Free Map from the Information Office, and pages torn out of my Lonely Planet Balkans in hand, Steve and I began walking the little streets of Kotor. (I know it’s sacrilegious to tear pages out of books but guide books are so darn heavy!
Time to park ourselves in the shade of the Sea Gate that also happened to be happened to be in the doorway of the Beskuca Palace, and people-watch before continuing on to find the oldest churches…