Old Town of Kotor

The Old Town of Kotor

This charming medieval town is situated on the Bay of Kotor, on the Adriatic coast. From the land side, the city is surrounded by rocky hills reaching over 1000 m above sea level. Despite time laps and several earthquakes, Kotor has not changed much since its greatest glory. Its heart is the Old Town, defensive walls and the citadel. Within the Old Town of Kotor, you can admire wide squares, narrow cobbled streets, historic churches, and tenement houses covered with red tiles. When visiting the Old Town, you get the impression that you are walking in an Italian town. That is because the Venetians left a strong mark on the local architecture here.

Old Town of Kotor – a pearl of the Middle Ages

Already in the ancient period, Kotor was the dream of many rulers. At that time, the city’s advantages were not only natural values and picturesque views but also its strategic location and mild climate. On one side city was closed by high mountains. On the other side, Kotor had a port and convenient access to the sea. Even in the mid-nineteenth century, the only land road to the city led through winding paths high in the mountains. Nevertheless, Kotor was frequently passing from hand to hand, 14 times. Among the others, Romans, Serbs, Venetians, Austrians, Russians, British and Montenegrins were ruling the city.

In 1979 Kotor was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. On the UNESCO.pl website, we can read the following description: “Kotor – a natural, cultural and historical region. The natural port of Montenegro, on the Adriatic coast, was an important commercial and artistic centre in the Middle Ages. It was famous for its construction school and icon painting. Although some monuments, including four Romanesque churches and the ramparts, were severely damaged in the 1979 earthquake, the city was restored, mainly with the help of UNESCO. “

The Kotor region is a unique testimony to the extremely important role it has played over the centuries in the spread of Mediterranean cultures in the Balkans.

Practical information – what is worth knowing before the visit

When to come?

Kotor is in the climatic Mediterranean subtropics. It is characterized by hot summers and mild winters. This makes Kotor eagerly visited by tourists all year round. During the summer months, the weather is always good, and rainfall is practically non-existent here. In summer, the average temperature is 30 degrees C. In winter, it does not snow, and the temperature does not drop below 0 degrees C. But between October and April, it often rains.

How to get to the city?

Plane

Although there are two international airports in Montenegro, many people combine their stay in Croatia with a short visit to Montenegro. The airport in Dubrovnik (Croatia) is only 70 km from Kotor. Just wort to remember – when crossing Croatia – Montenegro border, there are all controls taken, required at the European Union border, which may take a long time.

The airport in Podgorica is 87 km away from Kotor, and the journey by car takes about 1.5 hours. Indeed, it is most convenient to rent a car at the airman or take a taxi, as there is no direct connection between the airman and Kotor. To use a bus in Podgorica, you must take a taxi from the airport (approx. 12 km) to the city centre, where there is a bus station. Unfortunately, however, it is not a fast or economically attractive connection compared to the costs of renting a car or a taxi.

From the Tivat airport to Kotor is the closest. It is only 8 km away, about 10 minutes by car. Therefore, it is a value for money to take a taxi. Similarly, it is wise to order a transfer from the airport if you do not plan to rent a car on site.

Bus

The small bus station is just outside Kotor, about 10 mins walk from the Old Town walls. Buses from all major towns in Montenegro go there. There are also international buses running from Albania thru Montenegro to Croatia, Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Boat

Boko Kotor Bay is a popular stop for many cruise lines. Many tourists visiting Kotor come to it by sea, as the port is open all year round.

Accommodation

It is worth spending some time in Kotor and visiting it peacefully, therefore, you should plan two days to stay there. That is the reason why many tourists decide to stay short in this city. The accommodation base is very varied and available all year round. The Old Town of Kotor, itself offers stays in many apartments, small boutique hotels and hostels. However, outside the city walls, you can also book guest houses and large apartments. The complete list of available accommodation facilities in Kotor is available on the website kotor.travel.

Old Town of Kotor – a top-rated tourist attractions

At the outset, it is worth noting that the streets in the Old Town of Kotor have no names. Therefore, it is worth getting a map available at a large tourist information kiosk in front of the Sea Gate. Maps are free of charge. They have a short description of the most important attractions and are available in several languages. Do not forget to ask about a map with a specific language on the spot.

St. John fortress, defensive walls and city gates

The city of Kotor is on a triangular plan. From the Southern side, the city border is marked by the Gurdic River, on the North by the Skurda River, and on the West by a sea bay. The coastline is over 670 meters long. On the northern side of the bay, there is a historic 7-meter-high lighthouse.

The construction of the defensive walls began in the 9th century and continued over the following centuries. However, the defensive walls, as well as all gates, have been well preserved to this day. In total, the walls are 4.5 km long, 2 to 15 meters wide, and the height is up to 20 meters in some places.

The city divides into three parts. Two of them are in the historic Old Town of Kotor – the lower city (from the bayside) and the upper one, where the fortress of St. John is. The third part of the city has a modern face. It is modern architecture, with a shopping centre, a yacht marina and a seaport.

St. John fortress

The crowning glory of the defence system is the St. Jan fortress, located at an altitude of 260 m above sea level. The access is thru 1,350 serpentine-shaped steps leading high up into the mountains. The stairs lead along a trail with a length of 1,200 meters. On the way, you will pass the church of Gospa od Zdravlja (Our Lady of Health), situated at an altitude of 110 meters, and the tower of Sveti Ivan.

From the top of the fortress, there is a beautiful view of the entire bay and houses covered with red tiles.

St. John can be visited from Mon. until Friday, from 8.00 a.m. to 8.00 p.m. Entrance ticket is 8 Euro (about 8,5$).

The hike to the top and back takes about 1.5 hours, but in the summer months, it is best to do this early in the morning. Due to the southern location of the road, the sun is all day long operating there, and in the heat – climbing the mountain is difficult.

There are roads of varying difficulty and risk levels along the route. The blue trail only leads to the lower parts of the wall, but this part of the road is in the best condition and relatively easy to walk. The yellow and red routes are hard to cross. Therefore, better to enter the higher parts of the wall with caution and be aware of the risks involved.

Kotor Fortress - main entrance map
map of the Kotor Fortress

There are two entrances to the trail, and both start from the Old Town of Kotor. Below are photos of Gate A (see the marking on the map), located near the church of St. Mary of the River.

Arms Square (Trg od Orużja)

Visiting the Old Town usually starts from the main square – the Arms Square, where the Sea Gate leads. This square is the heart of the Old Town. Cobbled streets, tall tenement houses, green-coloured wooden shutters, a clock tower and lots of gardens where you can hide under an umbrella and experience a bit of shade. It is a place that is vibrant with life all year round. All trips start here, and they end here as well.

Kotor Arms Square -Trg od Orużja
Kotor Arms Square

There are also several souvenir shops, exchange offices, banks and jewellery stores within a short distance from each other. There are also benches, a large openwork lamp, ice cream carts, colourful balloons, and street musicians. In general, it is bustling here, and in the summer season, crowds of people try to push through the gate in both directions.

Trg od Orużja is the largest square in the city. Although in the past, it was the main commercial market of the city and a primary meeting point for residents, its central function has remained until today.

The name of the square (Arms Square) comes from the arsenal building that stood here during the reign of the Venetian Republic. Weapons were also stored and repaired in the square market. In the nineteenth century, the arsenal turned into a large bakery that worked for the army.

Clock tower and medieval ridge

After passing the Sea Gate, you directly enter the clock tower, which dates from 1602. The clock tower is considered the symbol of the city.

Right in front of the tower, there is a medieval pyramid-shaped pillory. It is believed that a “pillar of shame” used to be on this site during the Middle Ages. In the past, criminals were tied to that pillory and exposed to public ridicule, which was a severe punishment.

Duke’s Palace

It is worth paying attention to the Duke’s Palace, the largest building in the square. It is easy to recognize because, from the outer side of the walls, it has a balcony which is over 50 meters long. Consoles in the Renaissance style supported the balcony. During the times of the Venetian Republic, the palace was the seat of the Venetian providers. In the 19th century, it was used for military purposes.

Former theatre

There is an impressive building on the square – the former French Theatre. The building was built in the 18th century. During the French occupation (in 1810), authorities converted it into one of the first theatres in this region. During reconstruction works, the northern facade had to be torn down so the building could serve its purpose. Due to an earthquake in 1979, the building has been partially destroyed. After reconstruction works, it became the seat of the luxurious Hotel Catarro.

Flour Square (Trg od Braśna)

The square’s name comes from the traders of flour who occupied that place in the old days. There were warehouses for flour and a market around it.

There are two fascinating palaces of the noble families on this square.

Buca Palace (Palata Buća)

In former Kotor, each influential family had its palace that testified to the family wealth. One of the Buca family members, Mihailo Buca, was the wealthiest inhabitant of the city. The other family member – Trifun Buća, was an emissary at the papal court in Avignon.

The spacious palace was built in the 14th century but has not survived in its original form to the present day. In the 17th century, after a large earthquake, the Buca family did not have sufficient financial resources to rebuild the palace. Due to this reason, after many years, the building underwent further damage and reconstruction. Over time, the building has lost its valuable decorations and luxurious character.

Today, the palace consists of three different buildings, each of various heights, with different facades and diverse architectural styles. Therefore, it is hard to believe that it used to be one building in the past. Currently, the palace houses a boutique hotel.

Pima Palace (Palata Pima)

Just across the street from the Buca Palace stays the Pima Palace.

The Pima family was a noble family from which came, among others, poets and writers (Bernard Pima, Jeronim Pima, Ljudevit Pima). Family members also included a law doctor and vice-chancellor at the University of Padua in the 17th century.

The Pima Palace was built in 1667 and combined several architectural styles. It was built in the Renaissance style, but the window frames and the supports of the long balcony are in the baroque style. The black balustrades were made of steel by local blacksmiths. The coat of arms of the Pima family held by two angels is above the front doorways. There is an arcaded portico at the front of the building, with a terrace upstairs.

Although during the last earthquake in 1979, the palace was damaged, it was rebuilt in line with the original layout.

St. Tryphon Square

The most important municipal institutions of Kotor are located in St.Tryphon Square. There is, among others The City Hall, the seat of the Bishops, the seat of the Regional Institute for Monument Protection, the City Archives, and the Cathedral of St. Tryphon.

St. Tryphon Square with the Drago Palace and the Kotor Cathedral
St. Tryphon Square

Cathedral of St. Tryphon

St. Tryfon is the finest example of Romanesque architecture in Montenegro. It has the form of a three-nave basilica, ended with a semicircular apse. The church was built in 1166 on the remains of a Romanesque temple from 809.

Part of the cathedral was destroyed during an earthquake in the 17th century. At that time, one of the church’s walls and two bell towers had to be completely rebuilt. The reconstruction was carried out in a combination of Gothic and Renaissance styles. Unfortunately, for financial reasons, the reconstruction of one of the bell towers was not completed. Only after the last earthquake in which the cathedral again was destroyed, the church was rebuilt, as well as its bell towers, but keeping the original character from the 17th century.

The cathedral is very austere inside but has some valuable relics. It is worth paying attention, among others, to a gilded altar from the 14th century, a Romanesque-Gothic ciborium (liturgical vessel), fragments of 14th-century frescoes or a baptismal font from the 9th century.

Kotor - Cathedral of St. Tryphon
St. Tryphon Cathedral

St. Tryphon

In front of the entrance to the cathedral, there is a statue of St. Tryphon – the Kotor’s patron.

Kotor - statue of St. Tryphon
St. Tryphon

St. Tryphon came from Phrygia, in Asia Minor. As a Christian, he travelled to countries where he spread the faith and converted pagans to Catholicism. In the 3rd century, during the reign of Emperor Decius, Tryphon was arrested, tortured, and beheaded. His relics came to Kotor thanks to one of the town’s inhabitants.

Saint Tryphon became the patron of the city. The annual celebrations in his honour are on February 3. Residents pray to the saint, among other things, to protect the fields and orchards from pests.

Drago Palace

The members of the Drago family were famous for their activities in the field of culture, art, political and economic life. Among them were princes, bishops and judges. The Drago family also established important international contacts, among the others, with Dubrovnik, the Principality of Zeta (Principality of Montenegro), Bosnia and Dalmatia.

The Drago family’s residence was built at the turn of the 14th and 15th centuries and consisted of two wings. One wing was in the Gothic style and the other in the Renaissance style. The last earthquake caused a lot of damage to the residence building. After a thorough reconstruction in the early 1980s, the palace became the seat of bishops and the Regional Institute for Monument Protection.

Museum Square

On this square, in the Grgurin Palace, there is the Montenegrin Maritime Museum. In the old days, Kotor was considered a “breeding ground” for excellent sailors and captains who used to sail in all waters in the world. At its peak, the local navy numbered over 300 ships. At the time, one of the most famous sea fleets in Europe – called the Bokotorska Fleet (Bokeljska mornarica), was created.

The sailors from Kotor became famous, among others, for their participation in major sea battles, fights with pirates and Turks, and for setting new trade routes.

Boka Navy

Boka Navy is a traditional non-governmental maritime organization founded in Kotor in 809. Its origin is related to the arrival of the relics of St. Tryphon. Comprising a community of seafarers with military, economic, educational and humanitarian functions, the Boka Navy has played a commemorative role for two centuries. During that time, was mainly focused on preserving and promoting maritime history and tradition. Membership is voluntary and open to men, women and children.

The organization’s principles are respect for human rights and religious, national and cultural diversity. During ceremonial celebrations, members of the organization wear colourful, traditional uniforms and historical weapons and perform traditional dances. These celebrations combine with celebrations in honour of St. Tryphon. Between January 13 and February 3, a solemn procession and liturgical rituals happen in the cathedral. The outside festivities begin with the traditional naval dance of Boka, followed by a solemn procession through the streets of Old Town of Kotor, carrying the relics of St. Tryphon. A significant part of the city’s inhabitants participates in the preparations. Thousands of spectators attend processions in the historic centre and watch the festive events.

Worth adding that in 2019, the Boka Navy organization was submitted as a candidate for inclusion on the UNESCO list as the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, and was finally listed there in 2021 – UNESCO Boka Navy Kotor.

Maritime Museum of Montenegro

The museum is in a baroque palace from the 18th century. The collection of six bronze reliefs depicts the most important events and characters related to the city. There is also an exhibition dedicated to Kotor seamen and rooms dedicated to famous families from the Bay of Kotor. you can find there also an ethnographic exhibition and a collection of weapons.

You can read more about the museum, opening hours and ticket prices on the Maritime Museum of Montenegro website.

Grgurin Palace (Maritime Museum of Montenegro)
Grgurin Palace (Maritime Museum of Montenegro)

At the back of the museum, the Karampana Well can be found, another symbol of the city. In old times, it used to be the only source of clean water in Kotor. This baroque style well was built in the 17th century.

St. Luke’s Square

In St. Luke’s Square, there are two Orthodox churches, hence the colloquial name of the square “Church Square”.

St. Luke’s Church

St. Luke’s Church is in the central part of the square. It was built in 1195 in the Romanesque-Byzantine style. It is a tiny temple with a single nave, covered with a dome and finished with a small, semi-circular apse. The small size of the building stands up to the passage of time. It was the only building in the Old Town that had not suffered any damage from the last earthquake.

Until the 17th century, the temple used to be a Catholic, but then it was taken over by the Orthodox Christians. For this reason, there are two altars in the church, one for Catholic and one for Orthodox rites.

Small fragments of frescoes from the 12th century and iconostasis from the 17th century have been preserved in the church. The floor consists of gravestones with the tombs shared by people of Kotor who were buried here until the 1930s.

Saint Luke is the patron of, among others, doctors, surgeons, painters, sculptors, graphic artists, historians, notaries, and goldsmiths.

The Old Town of Kotor - St. Luke's Church
St. Luke’s Church

St. Nicholas Church

St. Nicholas Church is relatively “young”, as dates from the beginning of the 20th century, and finished in 1909. It was constructed in the pseudo-Byzantine style. The church was built on the site of the Dominican Monastery, abandoned at the end of the 18th century, and destroyed by fire in 1896.

Inside, the most valuable work is the iconostasis from 1908. It is also worth paying attention to the silver candlesticks and giant chandeliers.

St. Nicholas is an important patron for Montenegrins. It takes care of travellers, sailors, shipwrecked people, fishermen and craftsmen. The faithful believe that it has the power to tame storms, lightning, storm winds and dangerous sea waves.

Kotor,, St. Nicholas Church
St. Nicholas Church

It is also worth looking at the church from the side of the defensive walls.

The monastery and the church of St. Clara

This Catholic church was built between the 14th and 17th centuries. It is located near the Church of St. Nicholas. St. Klara Church is a quiet place to visit. Particularly noteworthy in the church is the baroque altar of the Cabianca sculptor. It is also worth going out to its inner courtyard. The church also looks impressive from the side of the defensive walls.

Old Town of Kotor with three gates

Around the Old Town of Kotor, there are three city gates, but the Western Gate (Sea Gate) is the largest one. Although there are triple gates in the Northern and Southern Gates, each of them was built at different times. The oldest one is the Central Gate, which dates from the turn of the 12th and 13th centuries.

Western Gate (Sea Gate)

The history of the Western Gate construction (Main Gate) dates to the Middle Ages. Its construction was in 1555, during the reign of the Venetians. In the past, the sea line ran much closer to the city walls than today. Waves often hit the gate, and access to it was only possible directly from the ship deck. Hence its common name – is the Sea Gate (Morska Vrata).

Above the entrance, there is a plaque showing the date 21.11.1944. That date indicates the day of the city’s liberation from Nazi occupation. There is also an inscription above the gate: “Tuđe nećemo, svoje ne damo“, which means “Theirs we don’t want, ours we don’t give“. At the top, there is a coat of arms belonging to the anti-fascist organization NOVJ – the National Liberation Army of Yugoslavia.

Northern Gate

The Northern Gate (the River Gate) is much smaller than the Sea Gate. It was erected in 1539 as a memorial to the victorious defence of the city against attacks by Turkish troops.

From the side of the Skurde river, the city walls were fortified with the Citadel and the Bembo Bastion, dating from 1540. Currently, there is a summer theatre stage in the bastion.

Citadel

The citadel dates to the 13th century but has been rebuilt many times. Its final architectural character comes from the 19th century. Currently, it houses a restaurant and a disco.

It is worth visiting the citadel without any special occasion because you can easily relax here. From the terrace, there is a view of the city walls, the former theatre, the Prince’s Palace, and the seaport.

Kotor - view from the Citadel
View from the Kotor’s Citadel

St. Maria of River

Nearby the City Gate, there is the Church of St. Maria of River, whose patron is Ozana Kotorska. Today’s church was built in 1221, but it was rebuilt and extended several times over the centuries. Few fragments of frescoes from the 14th-century have been preserved in the church. Inside, it is undoubtedly worth paying attention to the 14th-century crucifix. Also, two baroque altars covered with coloured marble and a dozen or so paintings from the times of the Venetian Republic, are valuable assets here.

The double entrance door, made of bronze, deserves special attention and has bas-reliefs depicting scenes from the life of Ozana Kotorska (Blessed Catherine of Montenegro) – a Serbian blessed Catholic church.

Southern Gate

The triple Gurdic Gate (Vrata od Gurdića) is in the southern part of the Old Town of Kotor. Its name comes from a small river that flows nearby. However, the Southern Gate did not have only one gate (like other gates in Kotor), but a mechanism of three gates constructed in different periods of time and of different styles. The inner gate is the oldest one and dates to the 16th century. The middle one dates to the 17th century. However, the outer gate and a tiny wooden drawbridge over the spring of the river Gurdic was made in the 18th century. Behind the outer gate, there is a narrow passage. One can imagine that in the past, breaking into the city by force was difficult, not to say almost impossible.

It is the Southern Gate where the road towards Budva and Cetinje begins. It is also at the foot of the steep eastern wall that leads to Fort Giovanni and the bastion.

For those who come to the city by bus, the Southern Gate is the first gate to cross.  It is also a perfect place to start exploring the Old Town of Kotor. The bus station is approximately 300 meters away. It is also worth noting that the entrance to the Old Town from this side is less crowded.  In other words, it may be a wise choice during the high season.

Near the gate, there are narrow, steep stairs that lead up to the city walls. From here, there is a fantastic view of the marina.

Kotor, what else is worth seeing?

Kotor Bay

Bay of Kotor (Boka Kotorska) is in the southern part of the Adriatic Sea in Montenegro. The word Boka comes from Italian (bocca) and means Mouth. That is the shape of the bay that was seen in the Middle Ages by Venetians visiting these regions.

Montenegro Bay of Kotor (Boka Kotorska)

Above the bay, there are, among others – medieval cities of Kotor and Perast, as well as Risan – a city that still remembers ancient times. There are resorts such as Tivat and Herceg Novi on the bay. In 1979, the entire landscape of the Bay of Kotor, resembling the fjords of the north, was inscribed on the UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage List.

Montenegro Bay of Kotor (Boka Kotorska)
Montenegro Bay of Kotor (Boka Kotorska)

The bay is the most important tourist region in Montenegro thanks to its geography, coastal towns, and numerous monuments.

Kotor’s great advantage is its location at the end of the Bay of Kotor. That means that all possible vessels come here. The port in Kotor is open 24/7 all year round. Above all, large cruise ships dock here. The marina is only 100 meters from the Old City walls.

There are high-class restaurants and bars near the port. The port’s capacity is 80 berths for yachts from 8 to 300 m in length. Often, large, multi-story cruise ships dock at the seaport, the size of which is a tourist attraction.

The Nautica Yacht Club is located on-site and provides services to private yacht owners. There is also a water police station and a small beach.

Kotor Ladder

Even in the last century, the only land route from Cetinje to Kotor ran through the steep peaks of the mountains. The road dates to 1822, and Austrians built it. It was the shortest route leading to the Krstac Pass. This mountain pass was at an altitude of 940m above sea level, from where the road continued to Cetinje. In the past times, to get to the pass from Kotor, it was necessary to overcome 70 turns at an angle of 180 degrees and a height difference of 900 meters.

Currently, this route is popular only with those tourists who are tempted by the promise of stunning views. The entire trail is 6.4 km long and has good markings prepared for tourists. The tour starts near the city’s Southern Gate (there is a road sign showing the direction). Due to the big difference in altitude, this route may take up to 3 hours one way.

Old Town of Kotor – the pearl in the crown of Montenegro

Kotor is a town to which people willingly come back. There is a perfect blend of natural, cultural and historical beauty. In that small area, there is an unusual concentration of historic buildings, churches, palaces, and tenement houses covered with red tiles. There are cats everywhere, roaming the cobbled, winding streets of the Old Town of Kotor. Wide squares, narrow streets, small restaurant gardens, cafes hiding in small squares, and a large variety of culinary offers create a pleasant atmosphere here.

The Old Town of Kotor - the pearl of Montenegro
The Old Town of Kotor – the pearl of Montenegro

It can be often heard that there is fairy-tale scenery there. You can also hear that the Kotor city is a tourist Mecca and the pearl of Montenegro. Undoubtedly, it is a place worth visiting and checking for yourself what its charm is.

Montenegro, my other posts

I encourage you as well to read my other posts about Montenegro