The only ex-Yugoslavian country that I’ve never been to is, embarrassingly, our neighboring Montenegro. In my almost 30s, I finally decided to pay a short, but a nice visit to this country of sea and mountains.
Kotor – how to get there
Last year, we went on a one-day trip from Dubrovnik to Kotor. We chose an organized trip with the Croatian agency Elite (about 54€) because it’s a bit complicated to travel on your own. If you go with your car, you can expect long waiting hours at the border with Montenegro, as well as the bad roads in Montenegro.
The last Croatian public bus departs from Kotor at 1 p.m., so you won’t have enough time for sightseeing. You can catch a Montenegrin public bus at 6 p.m., but you never know if there will be free seats on it. It can also happen that there are only a few passengers interested in the ride, so the bus won’t even depart from Kotor. In any case, I would recommend you to choose an organized tour and travel without any stress.
Montenegrins are known for their laziness. Mom told me a story about how her cousin was in a café in Montenegro and she wanted to pay before leaving. She found a waiter sitting and playing with his mobile phone. He asked them what they had to drink. “A coffee and a Coca-Cola.” “It’s ok,” he responded and waved his hand as a sign that it’s on him. It was all just because he didn’t want to stand up. 😀
This is why we skipped lunch in Kotor. We weren’t sure if we would have time to get lunch, pay the bill and still do some sightseeing. 🙂
Perast and Our Lady of the Rocks
Our bus was leaving at 8 a.m. towards a small medieval town on the western part of the Bay of Kotor, Perast. It was our first stop on the way. We took a ferry from Perast to an artificial island called Our Lady of the Rocks. It’s one of the 9 islands in the bay. Two sailors, brothers Moršić, found a painting of Our Lady among the rocks after their shipwreck here in the 15th century. Inhabitants of Perast later built an island in the honor of two sailors and constructed a church dedicated to Our Lady of the Rocks, the protector of sailors and fishermen.
The island slowly expanded by filling rocks, wrecked old ships and Turkish enemy ships. Today has the surface of 3000 m2. With the expansion of the island is connected a traditional custom of setting sail small ships decorated in green and filled with rocks from Perast. Older men sail on those boats and the celebration ends on 22nd of July with the traditional throwing of the rocks around the island. The celebration is called fašinada. At the beginning of a procession organized during the fašinada stands a priest, the mayor and honorary citizens of Perast. Singers follow them singing traditional songs called bugarštice.
On the small island, you can find a Catholic Church dedicated to Our Lady of the Rocks. Venetians build it in 1630 and it’s one of the most important historical-cultural monuments in the bay. There is also a small stone “Atoning Hall”, where confronted sides of Catholic and Orthodox religion used to come to make peace and resolve their conflicts. The third building on the island is a toilet for visitors. 🙂
Inside the Church of Our Lady of the Rocks, there is an interesting marble altar by Italian sculptor Antonio Kapelan with an icon of Our Lady of the Rocks, a work of a famous painter Lovre Dobričević from the 15th century. A popular Baroque painter from Kotor Tripo Kokolj painted the inside of the church with scenes from the Old Testament and the life of Our Lady. There are numerous silver plates with the ships of Kotor sailors on the sidewalls. Before setting sail, the sailors left the plates of their ships in the church in the belief that Our Lady will protect them on their journey.
Our tour included a visit to the church’s attic with paintings of a local painter Tripo Kokolj, archeological remains, and artifacts and objects from everyday life of the citizens of Perast. Believers left their belongings here as a sign of gratitude for their fulfilled prayers. A special place in the attic belongs to a needlepoint made by a local woman Jacinta Kunić. She made the needlepoint in the 19th century from her own hair, waiting for her husband sailor to return from the sea. Unfortunately, she died before she could see him again.
Troubles on the road
The distance between Dubrovnik and Kotor is only around 90 km, but we rode for over 3h (with a shorter waiting at the border than we expected). After we passed Perast, there were queues all the way to Kotor. Serbs and Montenegrins were apparently traveling to the seacoast. In a one-lane road, we could not move anywhere so we had to wait.
However, Montenegrins came up with a way to move faster: they “glued” themselves to a police car, which has priority in traffic, and that way they managed to squeeze themselves between the cars, which were before us.
We arrived in Kotor, where we had an organized tour with a local guide. The Old Town of Kotor is a medieval town with only 1333 inhabitants. It’s located in the Bay of Kotor and under the mountain Lovćen. The city walls (long over 4,5 km), built from the 9th to the 19th century, surround the Old Town. On the top of the city walls is the Illyrian St. John Fort, where the troops that defended the city stood for centuries.
You can reach the fort only by foot, following 1426 steps. The way is long and demanding, but it’s worth your every step. When you’re standing on 260 m above sea level, you’ll have the whole city with the river Škurda underneath you. In the distance, you’ll see the beautiful blue Kotor Bay in contrast with green mountain tops. The view is simply stunning! If you get tired on the way up, you can stop half the way to the top near a small Church of Our Lady of Remedy from the 16th century with an equally impressive view. The entrance fee to the city walls is 8€.
The Old Town, along with its city walls, is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage sites from 1979. Our local guide Jelena showed us the most important sights in the Old Town:
1) The Main or Sea Gate
The Old Town of Kotor has a form of a triangle. You can enter the city from three sides: through the Main, North or South Gate. The Main Gate dates from the 16th century and it’s built in the Renaissance-Baroque architectonical style. It’s called the Sea Gate because the sea almost reached its entrance. There is a quotation from the Yugoslav leader Tito on the Main Gate that says “We don’t want anything foreign and we don’t give our own.” (“Tuđe nećemo svoje nedamo.”)
2) The Square of Arms
It’s the largest square in town located just behind the Sea Gate. During the Venetian Republic, the square served as a storage and place to repair weapons, thus the name. On the square, you’ll find the Clock Tower from the 17th century and the Pillar of Shame, to which the criminals were tied so that the whole city could see them and know their crimes, as well as their punishment. Other places of interest on the Square of Arms are the Duke’s palace, the Arsenal Building (storage of weapons), Napoleon Theater and the Tower of the city watch.
3) Squares and streets of the Old Town
All of the town squares have practical names after the most important building on the square or after the products that were sold here. For example, there were flour shops at the Square of Flour. Other squares with vivid names are Square of Army, Museum Square (where the City Museum is located), Square of Wood, Square of Milk and, our favorite, Square of Salad (where merchants from Kotor suburbs sold their agricultural products).
The Square of Salad is a charming square with small shops and cafés near the South Gate and a bastion Gurdić. When we were there, interesting giant clothes were hanging from the rope. On the Square of Flour, there is one of the 9 noble palaces in Kotor, Pima Palace from the 17th century.
Streets of the Old Town don’t have official names, but the locals gave them original nicknames. For example, a narrow street where barely two people can pass at the same time is called “Let me pass” (“Pusti me proć”). 🙂
4) Beskuća’s Palace from the 18th century
A count Jozo Beskuća (his surname literally means homeless) came from the poor family that lived in Kotor in the 18th century. He planned to build a hundred houses and change his surname to Stokuća (hundred houses), but his plans never came true. Nonetheless, he became a nobleman.
5) Tripun Cathedral
You can find St. Tripun Cathedral on the square with the same name. The cathedral was built in the 12th century in Romanesque style. It’s one of the two Roman-Catholic cathedrals in Montenegro. St. Tripun is a patron saint of Kotor. According to the legend, Venetian merchants looking for a shelter from bad weather brought the remains of St. Tripun to the cathedral. The church contains frescoes by Greek masters and the remains of St. Tripun, including his hand in a silver glove.
6) Lucas Square
There is a small Romanesque St. Lucas Church on the square, as well as the beautiful Orthodox St. Nicolas Church. We entered the Orthodox Church to buy a beaded bracelet for my friend. According to the tradition, the beaded bracelet (brojanica in Serbian) has to be given to somebody as a present.
7) Cats Museum
The idea to establish this museum came because the count Francesca di Montreale Mantica donated her collection of cats’ paintings to the Venetian cats’ shelter. The place to build a museum had to be Kotor since the town is “cats friendly”. The cats are wandering around the streets of the Old Town, relaxing and lying on the sun. Supposedly, the locals spoiled them by giving them food, water and taking care of them.
One foreign travel writer described the cats of Kotor as the most distinct memory of the city. We saw only one cat lying on the flowerpot next to the hairdresser salon. The cat had a plastic glass of water so that it wouldn’t be thirsty.
The entrance to the museum costs 1€ like everything else in Kotor (most of the souvenirs, magnets, etc.). The museum promotes love towards the cats and respect for nature, animals, and environment.
My boyfriend fell in love with Kotor. He said that it’s the most beautiful city that he has ever been to. Kotor reminds me of medieval towns in Italy with one exception: there are kind and amiable Montenegrins everywhere. We talked with them in souvenir shops and while we were buying coffee in a small “market” (with only about 20 products and a coffee machine) on the Square of Salad. It would be nice, for a change, to go on a summer vacation on the Montenegrin coast where everybody is relaxed and the prices of apartments are lower than in Croatia.