St Tryphon's against the mountains

Kotor Town

We spent 3 days anchored off Kotor and found it to be a wonderfully ‘complete’ Venetian town with a rich and unique history.

Kotor Sea Gate
The site of the original Sea Gate. Much rebuilt after the liberation of the city in 1944 by the Partisans who objected to all the Venetian (Italian ) symbology.

The first settlement at the site of Kotor was probably Illyrian although the first records refer to the Roman town of Acruvium in 168BC. With the collapse of the Roman Empire Kotor became part of the Byzantine Empire and then changed hands on a fairly regular basis between the Bulgarians, the Serbs and the Venetians until 1391 when Kotor became fully independent. That lasted until the city sought the protection of Venice 1420.

Kotor remained under the protection of, rather than being ruled by, Venice until the end of the 18th century and the start of the Napoleonic Wars. During the Venetian period the city was besieged twice by the Ottoman Turks and was even briefly held by them at various times. With the Napoleonic Wars, Kotor became a part of the French Empire and in 1815 was liberated with help from the Royal Navy and was returned to the Hapsburg Empire. It remained part of the Austro Hungarian Empire until the end of WW1 when in 1918 it became part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.,

So far pretty standard. However, Kotor’s really unique place in history was the Boka Navy. Founded in 809 as a Seafarers Guild with links to the Catholic Church it evolved into a military force responsible for the protection of Kotor, primarily from North African Pirates. Under the Venetians the Boka Navy became a valued part of the Venetian fleet. The Boka Navy even sent ships to defend Venice against Napoleon although Venice surrendered without much of a fight. From then on the organisation was disbanded and reformed on a number of occasions. It gradually lost its military function but kept the military structure of Admirals, Captains, Lieutenats and so on, today being a purely ceremonial organisation. The Maritime Museum in Kotor is based heavily on this organisation.

By the mid 19th century, still recovering from the Napoleonic Wars, the Boka Navy numbered 130 ships with a total tonnage of 136,000 tons. Between 1852 and 1859 Capt Ivo Visin from Perast, in the 300 ton Splendido, undertook the first circumnavigation of the world by an Austro-Hungarian and was handsomely rewarded for his efforts. The Navy suffered with the advent of steam and the last Boka Navy sailing ship, the Nemirna, sank in the Bay of Biscay in 1902.

We also took a walking tour of the city which gave us a few interesting snippets of information.

The city is known for its cats. Originally the front line of defence against rats from the port they have gone the way of the Boka Navy and even have their own museum. The local population still feed them and apparently leave cardboard boxes out for them to sleep in.

In the main square, the Square of Weapons, is something called the Pillar of Shame. The wealthy merchants of the city depended on their good name in their business dealings. So if a merchant or even a member of their family committed some infraction they didn’t need a criminal trial. The accused was simply tied to the pillar in full view of everybody and the reputation of the entire family would be destroyed.

The Cathdral was built in 1166 to house the remains of St Tryphon. St Tryphon has no ties to Kotor other than that his remians were purchased by the townsfolk from passing Ventian merchants. He was then adopted as the town’s patron saint.

St Luke’s Church is an example of religious tolerance. Although now Orthodox it started life as a Catholic church. It then accepted Orthodox worshipers and had two altars, one for each religion and held separate masses for each too.

Kotor also suffers from earthquake which have caused major devastation over the years. The most recent one in 1979 prompted the involvement of UNESCO in the rebuilding and Kotor is now a World Heritage Site, and it shows. By comparison, Perast is like Kotor but without the walls, and without the funding. It is a quaint, but neglected place with many derelict or nearly derelict buildings with fancy signs identifying them as a ‘palace’ and more weeds growing on them. Back in the day it was home a multitude of rich merchants and seafaring families and numerous churches funded by them.

But back to Kotor.. The only downside for us was the continual influx of cruise ships disgorging thousands of tourists per day into the town. But with thousands of tourists per day, sometimes 3 cruise liners are in the bay at a time, the local economy must be booming during the summer. In winter the town is probably deserted with no visitors and the population all taking well earned holidays.

We really liked Kotor, and Montenegro in fact. Seriously worth the visit and we wish we’d spent a little longer here.

But tomorrow it is time to leave Montenegro, leave the Adriatic and go back to Greece and the Ionian Islands.

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