Discovering the rich cultural inheritance of medieval Kotor

The city of Kotor, overlooking the  Boka Bay, one of the most beautiful bays in the world, is the best-preserved urban area from the Middle Ages, founded in the 12th- century. Medieval architecture and numerous monuments of cultural heritage made Kotor a UNESCO  listed “World Natural and Cultural Heritage” in 1979. Surrounded by the beautiful Adriatic Sea and high mountain peaks of Lovcen it is considered the most beautiful town of Montenegro.

During many times I was here I enjoyed landscapes of unsurpassed beauty that represent the wonder of nature rarely seen in the world.  The beautiful environment of Kotor is famous for its long sandy beaches, and the diversity of plants whose pleasant smell remains in memory for a long time.

Kotor is a typical coastal town with a specific Mediterranean architecture and many narrow cobblestone streets that cherish rich cultural heritage influenced by various artistic styles coming primarily from the Venetian Republic and Byzantine Empire.

Outstanding examples of medieval architecture in the form of stone towers and thick walls also found their special place here. They represent its defense establishment against numerous enemies who have tried to conquer Kotor throughout its turbulent history.

Entering the town through three gates, one can experience a fairy-tale atmosphere, right from the start. The most exceptional one,  through which one can enter the town from the sea is the Main or Sea Gate built in the 16th century, during the Venetian governor Bernard Renier’s administration.   It is decorated with large and massive stone pillars and arch in the “Bugnato” technique. The two other gates, much smaller in size are the North gate, built-in 1450 and the South gate or otherwise known as Grudić Gate, is supported by three bands of gates, built at different times.

sea gate
Sea Gate, Kotor

One can also see well-preserved Orthodox and Catholic churches, located in the cute little squares, whose beauty contributes to the rich Balkan culture that keeps an enormous artistic treasure that has been carefully collected and nurtured for centuries. You don’t need to be an architectural connoisseur to be aware of their immense uniqueness and beauty. Every time I visited this city I always admired its beautiful facades of buildings created in the different architectural styles, which are a kind of testimony to many nations, who have left the magnificent architectural masterpieces to the future generations.

Wandering the cobblestone streets of  Kotor, I encountered many picturesque squares full of pulsating life energy, which dominate the irresistible Mediterranean atmosphere. The largest and most architecturally shaped square is the Square of Arms located at the main city gate with a number of significant buildings. The Clock Tower from 1602, a symbol of the city, built in the Baroque and Gothic styles, occupies the central part of the square opposite the main city gate.

clock tower kotor
 Clock Tower in  the Square of Arms 

In the Middle Ages below the Clock Tower, there was the Pillar of Shame ( Turris torturae) used for the punishment of an accused person.  In the Square of Arms, one can see the magnificent 18th-century Prince’s Palace the exceptional construction built in the Renaissance architecture style. With its unique architectural design without too much detail, except for the brackets that support the long balcony, it is classified into one of the most exquisite Renaissance architecture examples of the city. The building eventually changed its purpose. For the first time, it was used as the residence of the Venetian Governor then in 1788, the building was converted into barracks with military warehouses.  The Prince’s Palace with its elongated shape is very sensitive to shocks. During the 1979 earthquake it was almost destroyed, but today the building is renovated and restored to its former glory.

princevska palata
Prince’s Palace, Kotor

Right next to the Prince’s Palace there is the city guard tower, built of high-quality stone and used exclusively for military purposes. Together with the Palace, it completes the eastern façade of the city. The main square of Kotor also hosts the 18th-century Napoleon Theater building, restored for the first time during the French occupation in 1812.  It was also converted into one of the first theaters in the Balkans and functioned until the late 19th century. To the 20th century, the edifice was the City Council seat and nowadays renovated and transformed into the luxurious hotel “Astoria” in 2010.

napoleonov teatar
Napoleon Theater building

Here, in the principal city square, there is the Arsenal building, once upon a time the gathering place of city defenders who fight against enemies who persistently tried to conquer this city.  One of them was the famous pirate Hajrudin Barbarosa, who sailed Kotor in 1539, but after three days, resigned due to their resistance. One can see there the fully equipped war galley called Saint Triphon.

arsenal building
Arsenal Building

Admire also Byzantine palace façades, one facing the  Square of Arms and the other overlooking the street which leads to the Square of Flour. The building belonged to the noble Bizanti family, whose prominent members have lived in this area for centuries and contributed a lot to the field of art, culture, and education.  The exterior of the palace features the elements from the 14th century Romanesque as well as from the 17th century Renaissance period when last alterations occurred both in the external appearance of the facade, as well as its internal layout. Some parts of the Byzantine palace such as windows, portals, stairs and the Bizanti family Coat of Arms have characteristics of Baroque.

byyantine palace
Bizanti Palace 

Many members of aristocratic families of the city have left their legacy, beautiful palaces of exceptional cultural and artistic importance. On the Square of Flour, named after the warehouses of flour that there once stood, today there are palaces of noble Pima and Buca families.

Pima Palace dominates the square with its beauty. Its construction began just after the 1667 earthquake. The palace portal with the terrace was built in the Renaissance style while the windows and upper balcony, which lies on 12 consoles, were designed in the Baroque style. Above the main portal, there is the coat of arms of the Pima family supported by two angels. It was rebuilt after the 1979 earthquake.  Pima’s family, the legal owner of the palace, lived in Kotor from the 14th to the 18th centuries. The current appearance of the Palace was given at the end of the 17th century. According to many, the most beautiful Kotor palace is exactly Pima palace.

prima palace
Prima Palace 

In the same square, just opposite to magnificent Prima palace, its place found the gothic style  Buca palace built at the beginning of the 15th century. It was rebuilt after the 1667 earthquake when regained its original shape. Of the former lavish Gothic Palace,  remained only one bifora, a window with two arches,  located on the west side, visible only from the city walls.

buca palace
Buca Palace

One of the most beautiful architectural masterpieces of Kotor which belonged to the Beskuca Family is a same-named palace, dating from the mid-18th century. The only decorative element remained on the facade is the Gothic portal that belonged to the Bizanti family. It’s a real treasure of the Gothic architecture embellished with gorgeous floral ornaments that attract everyone’s attention.

beskuca palata
Beskuca Palace

After disappearing the family Beskuca successors in the early 19th century, the palace became the property of Kotor, displaying a simple form of construction without any decorative elements.

Continuing the walk to the Old town of Kotor, there is one of the busiest pedestrian zones, which hosts Saint Tryphon Cathedral, the religious site built in the pre-Romanesque style. This medieval church, located in the same-named square, dating back to 809, abounds with magnificent artworks of high artistic values carefully collected and kept between the thick walls for centuries.

st triphun cathedral
Saint Tryphon Cathedral

 Ancient Saint Tryphon square is framed by elegant style palaces and civic buildings of the 17th to the 19th centuries. Next, to Saint Tryphon Cathedral, the oldest 12th -century ancestral palace of Drago Family found its place. The impressive facade of this lavish palace decorated with Gothic floral elements, images of angels as well as the family coat of arms with the representation of a dragon, makes this Gothic-style building worth attention.

The prominent members of the Drago family have contributed to a much better everyday life in Kotor, achieving great success in the field of art, culture, economics, and politics. Today, the premises of gothic Drago palace host The Institute for the Protection of Cultural Monuments.

drago palace
Drago Palace, Kotor

If you need places like Municipality, Bishopric, which is the oldest institution in Kotor, as well as Historical Archives, refer to the eponymous square.  After the Saint Tryphon square, I continued walking and came to a place vital for the history and culture of this city. It’s a large Square of Museum or the Boka Naval Square, with the 18th– century Gurgurina palace, marbleless construction dominated by baroque style decorations. This palace belonged to the aristocratic Grgurina Family and nowadays is the Maritime Museum seat. The museum contains a collection of model ships,  instruments, weapons, maps, charters and documents of the great scientific and historical importance.

grgurina palace
          Grgurina palace- Maritime Museum, Kotor

Art admirers can enjoy many churches that represent the extraordinary architectural masterpieces of the high artistic values. Among many landmarks that this Mediterranean town is famous for, religious buildings from the Middle Ages especially attract tourists’ attention. There are,  the 12th- century Church of Saint Ana, Churches of Saint Mary, and Saint Luka from the 13th century are particularly beautiful, each in its own way.  The Church of the Healing Mother of God built in the 15th -century stands out with their mysterious and calm atmosphere. In hidden places of beautiful Kotor, particularly in its churches, you can experience peace and serenity.

For me the most charming ones are  St. Luke’s Church and St Nicolas church both located on St Luke’s square. St. Luke’s Church was constructed during the reign of the Serbian  Nemanjic dynasty in 1195 and represents one of the five surviving Kotor religious buildings built in the Romanesque style. According to the founder’s inscription preserved on the western facade of the church, St. Luke’s Church was erected by Mauro Kazafrangi with his wife, Bono. Shortly after the construction of St. Luke’s church, it was decorated with frescoes of which only fragments remain on the south wall. The iconostasis is the work of Dimitrije Daskal, the founder of the Rafailovic school of painting from the 17th-century.

Along the northern facade of the church the chapel of St. Spyridon was added in the 18th -century. The specificity of St. LukeChurch is in the fact that it housed together Catholic and Orthodox altars. In 1657, the Orthodox population of Grbalj took shelter from the Turkish invasion in Kotor and Venetian city administration allowed them to use the Catholic Church of St. Luke for the Orthodox rite. For this reason, the church had two altars, used until the French occupation of Kotor 1807-1814.

The church floor consists of tombstones of common tombs citizens of Kotor because burials were performed in the church until the 1930s of the 20th-century.

st luka
St. Luke’s Church, Kotor

On the same square, placed on the right side there is St Nicholas church, recently re-built on the place of a former old 16th-century Dominican church of St. Nicholas that represents a great example of Serbian- Byzantine architectural construction style. It hosts an impressive collection of icons.

st niki 2
St Nicholas Church, Kotor

Whether you are a believer or not, you can enter these churches to explore what their interiors hide and you might be pleasantly surprised. Bear in mind that these are very ancient churches and therefore worthy of respect and admiration.

If you decide to visit this city certainly will not regret it,  because Kotor has so much to offer. Discover its picturesque streets, squares, churches, and magnificent palaces. Kotor is a perfect place for art lovers, adventurers eager for something new and completely different, lovers of natural beauty that’ll leave you breathless.

kotorski zaliv
Bay of Kotor

Take a look at its beautiful landscapes, enjoy the beautiful view of the Bay of Kotor and its unforgettable sunsets. Visiting Kotor is a unique opportunity for food fans to try the Mediterranean specialties and rich Balkan cuisine, as well as to taste great wines from this region.

Here you will never be bored because this city lives day and night. So, pack your bags and come to feel its magic.  Kotor is eagerly expected you!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s