Kotor, Montenegro

Kotor is a fortified city of less than 1000 people and a World Heritage Site. It is nestled at the foot of a mountain at the end of the Bay of Kotor, a fjord of the Adriatic. Come explore one of the oldest cities in Europe’s youngest country.

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1 Our Lady of the Rocks Church Near Kotor, Montenegro

If you approach Montenegro by ship you enter the Mediterranean’s deepest natural fjord from the Adriatic Sea and float for about 17 miles before reaching Kotor at the southeast terminus. You first pass through the Verige Strait, which is the Bay of Kotor’s narrowest channel. There you will see Our Lady of the Rocks church. According to folklore, after sailors saw the Virgin Mary and Christ child here in 1452 they began throwing a stone into the water after each successful voyage. This small Catholic church was built on the Gospa od krpjela islet in 1632 and reconstructed in 1722. The tradition of adding rocks is celebrated annually on July 22 during the fašinada celebration.

Our Lady of the Rocks, Bay of Kotor, Montenegro
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2 Cruise Ship Docked at Bay of Kotor in Kotor, Montenegro

Kotor is a small, fortified city tucked into the base of Mount Lovćen along a submerged river valley called Boka Kotorska. Although its origin dates back to antiquity, the Old Town’s charm reflects when it was a Venetian Republic province from 1420 until 1797. It has become a popular port for cruise ships sailing through the Mediterranean and the Adriatic Sea.

23 Jadranska magistrala Kotor, Montenegro
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3 Winged Lion of St. Mark in Kotor, Montenegro

As you approach the Sea Gate, Kotor’s main arched entry that was built in 1555, look to your right to see this carved panel of the Winged Lion of Mark on the Valier Bastion. It represents Saint Mark the Evangelist and the open book is St. Mark’s Gospel. This image was the symbol for the Republic of Venice when they ruled over Kotor from 1420 until 1797. The San Marco Lion remains an iconic image in Venice, Italy.

Puerta Principal o Puerta del Mar Kotor, Montenegro
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4 Arms Square in Kotor, Montenegro

After passing through Kotor’s main gate you enter the Trg od Oružja or Arms Square. On the right in this photo is the Ducal Palace. This Renaissance building was designed as the residence for the Venetian Provost. It was a warehouse for munitions which is how the plaza got its name. Today the lower level is filled with shops, a restaurant and part of the Hotel Cattaro. On the left was the Tower of the City Guard from the 13th until the 20th century.

Trg od Oružja 366, Kotor, Montenegro
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5 Clock Tower in Kotor, Montenegro

A dominate feature of Trg od Oružja, which is Koto’s largest square, is the Clock Tower. It was built in 1602. The current two faces were added in 1810. In front is a pillory once used to tie up prisoners while they were abused and publically ridiculed. From this point roads lead in four directions through Stari Grad or the Old Town. Each path has its own visual rewards so just start wandering.

Trg od Oružja 366, Kotor, Montenegro
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Door With Cherubs Fresco and Knight Relief in Kotor, Montenegro

Ornate old doors have always fascinated me because of the mystery they conceal on the other side. But the front of this door was whispering another mystery I could not decipherer. I wondered about the eagle crest with the relief of a knight in armor. What was the significance of the two cherubs in the faded fresco? And who would deface such a wonderful entry with graffiti? Such are the unanswered questions of a curious travel photographer.

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6 St. Tryphon Cathedral in Kotor, Montenegro

St. Tryphon Cathedral is perhaps Kotor’s most recognizable landmark. This Roman Catholic church was built in 1166 on the site of a previous one from 809. Both were dedicated to Saint Tryphon, a 3rd century martyr and the protector of the city. Despite being partially destroyed during an earthquake in 1667 and again in 1979, the stark and imposing western façade of Katedrala Svetog Tripuna was faithfully restored in 2009. Its Korčula stone virtually glows with a golden hue just before sunset.

Pjaca Sv. Tripuna Kotor, Montenegro
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7 St. Tryphon Cathedral Side Altar in Kotor, Montenegro

This lovely silver and gold engraving on the side altar of the St. Tryphon Cathedral is one example of the treasures you will find inside the church. After admiring the frescos and silver altar screen, walk upstairs to enjoy more religious artifacts and relics. It also offers a baluster balcony with great views of the town below.

Pjaca Sv. Tripuna Kotor, Montenegro
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8 St. Tryphon Cathedral’s Tower Close Up in Kotor, Montenegro

On April 6, 1667, a devastating earthquake shook Cattaro, a time when the town was part of the Venetian Albania. Of its 1,200 residents about 25% of them were soldiers. The quake collapsed defensive walls, crumbled several noble palaces and devastated many of its churches. One of those severely damaged was the St. Tryphon Cathedral. It suffered again from an earthquake in 1979. The church’s façade still reflects these events. If you look closely, this tower is richly appointed with arches, Doric columns, a balustrade and a delicate frieze below the cornice. The other tower is plain. It was never finished because of lack of funds.

Pjaca Sv. Tripuna Kotor, Montenegro
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9 St. Peter of Cetinje Bell in Kotor, Montenegro

This humble silver bell with a double-crossed crucifix above its yoke is dated 2006. This is extremely new relative to the Medieval and Renaissance period churches in Kotor. It belongs to the Church of Saint Peter of Cetinje which is almost invisible except for a small flight of stairs. Their denomination is Montenegrin Orthodox, a small religious community founded in Montenegro in 1993 and recognized by the government in 1999. They believe they own all the property of the Serbian Orthodox Church in this country such as the neighboring St. Nicholas Church. But to date, their claims have not been substantiated nor have they been canonized.

Pjaca od zatvora Kotor, Montenegro
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10 Flowerboxes on Balcony Railing in Kotor, Montenegro

Kotor is built from stone … stone walls, facades and streets. I don’t recall seeing a single blade of grass in the town. So it was refreshing to see how one resident decorated their ornamental iron railing with flowerboxes. What a perfect spot for this tiny touch of nature! Notice how the afternoon sun perfectly conforms to the balcony.

Hippo Ulica 2 (sjever-jug), Kotor, Montenegro
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11 St. Francis Monastery Tower in Kotor, Montenegro

During the early 13th century, Saint Francis of Assisi established the Order of Friars Minor, better known as Franciscans. Shortly after his death in 1226, the friars began to establish missionaries across Albania. The first one in Kotor started in 1283 and five years later a monastery was built near the Gurdić or South Gate. It was destroyed in 1667. This empty bell tower stands near the monastery ruins.

Monastery of St. Francis Ulica 2 (sjever-jug), Kotor, Montenegro
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12 Passageway to Gurdić Gate in Kotor, Montenegro

This narrow and high stone passageway leads through the Gurdić Bastion which was built in 1470. Just beyond that archway is the Vrata od Gurdića or South Gate. It is the oldest of the three city’s portals. It was initially constructed in the 9th century. The current version is from the 13th century. From there you can take a wooden drawbridge over a small pool of water called the Gurdić spring. This will lead you outside of the fortified town and back to the harbor. But there is so much more of Stari Grad to see. So turn around and head back into Old Town.

Stari grad 283, Kotor 85330, Montenegro
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13 Maritime Museum in Kotor, Montenegro

The Maritime Museum of Montenegro opened at the turn of the 20th century at Boka Navy Square. It occupies a palace that was built by the Grgurina family in 1732. Within the rooms of the carefully restored mansion are tasteful displays of art, uniforms, model ships, weapons and photos. Collectively they tell the story of the country’s partnership with the Boka Kotorska Bay and the Adriatic Sea up to World War II.

Stari grad 422, Kotor, Montenegro
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Narrow Pedestrian Street in Kotor, Montenegro

Kotor is best described as a labyrinth. If you look at a map of Stari Grad or Old Town you will not detect a pattern to the maze. So don’t try taking an organized approach to sightseeing. Instead, meander through the narrow pedestrian-only streets, enjoy the boutique shops and historical sites and take a break in one of the small squares. And don’t worry about getting lost. You are never far from one of the fortified walls which will keep you contained.

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14 Saint Mary’s Collegiate Church in Kotor, Montenegro

A church from the early Middle Ages once stood on this site. Archeologists date it from the 6th century. Some of those ruins are visible within Saint Mary’s Collegiate Church. It was built in 1221, making it the second oldest church still standing in Kotor. Also inside is the glass coffin of Osanna of Cattaro, a 16th century woman who converted to Christianity and formed a convent in present day Kotor. She was beatified as a saint in 1934.

Trg od drva, Kotor, Montenegro
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15 Vida Matjan Music School in Kotor, Montenegro

When you walk passed this building you are bound to hear the sounds of music. This is Kotor’s music school named after its founder Slovenka Vida Matjan. Since 1947, the institution has been dedicated to teaching young people how to express themselves with instruments for a lifetime. Check to see if any concerts are scheduled during your visit to Kotor.

Ulica 1 (istok-zapad) Kotor, Montenegro
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16 St. Nicholas Church Domes in Kotor, Montenegro

While walking along the elevated city walls and admiring the orange roofs across the Old Town of Kotor, your eye quickly spots the large dome and smaller onion domes of St. Nicholas Church. This addition to the cityscape is relatively new for a medieval town. It was built in 1909. The water behind it is the Bay of Kotor.

Ulica 1 (istok-zapad) Kotor, Montenegro
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17 St. Nicholas Church in Kotor, Montenegro

St. Nicholas Church is Serbian Orthodox, a denomination founded in 1219. Most of its members are in Montenegro and the neighboring countries of Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina. This view of its façade and two bell towers is from St. Luke’s Square. Above the pediment is the Siberian flag and inside of it is a mosaic of Saint Nicholas. Nikolaos of Myra was born in the 4th century in modern Turkey. His propensity for helping others gave rise to the tradition of gift sharing on December 6, the anniversary of his death.

Ulica 1 (istok-zapad) Kotor, Montenegro
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18 Old Wooden Shutter in Kotor, Montenegro

In 1992, Serbia and Montenegro became a republic after the collapse of Yugoslavia. Then, in 2006, Montenegro became Europe’s youngest country when they separated from Serbia by declaring their independence. As a result of their relative youth, their economy has not reached the levels of most developed countries. For example, their GDP per capita is less than $5,000 USD. This ranks them at 38% of the world’s average. This low prosperity is reflected in their infrastructure and housing. But it also adds to the country’s picturesque and unspoiled charm.

Put do Svetog Ivana, Kotor, Montenegro
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19 Woman Hanging Laundry in Kotor, Montenegro

There is something charming about watching a matronly woman reach out her window to hang laundry. I love how the suspended clothes become animated in the breeze while the morning sun dries them. I fondly recall the fresh smell and soft feel of my clothes after my mother retrieved them from the clothesline. Such a simple yet wonderful memory.

Put do Svetog Ivana, Kotor, Montenegro
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20 Chapel of Our Lady of Health in Kotor, Montenegro

An exciting adventure for the physically fit is to climb the city walls from Kotor up to the Castle of St. John. The 1200 foot assent entails over 1350 steps through a winding series of switchbacks that stretch for over two miles. Some of these bastions from the 15th century reach a height of 50 feet. The shorter ones provide great views of the city and bay below. Half way up you reach the Chapel of Our Lady of Health which was built in 1518. It is a great place to pray you will survive the rest of the trek up the St. John Mountain to reach the fortress and the Chapel of St. Ivan.

Put do Svetog Ivana Kotor, Montenegro
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