Much as with Valletta, cruising into Kotor is half the trip, so get up early for the 17-mile journey up the bay and into the port. Wander the red and white streets of Old Town, or book a taxi tour to the nearby towns of Budva and Perast.
Kotor’s small Old Town is surrounded by massive defensive walls; within the walls is a well-preserved medieval city. The town, which was first settled in ancient Roman times, was not fortified until the early Middle Ages, when the Emperor Justinian built a fortress on the heights above the settlement. Kotor was sacked by the Saracens in the 9th century, occupied by the Bulgarians in the 11th century, and submitted to Serbian authority in the 12th century, though it remained autonomous. Finally, in the 15th century, it became another Venetian possession after appealing for aid in fending off the Ottomans. Kotor changed hands many more times after the Venetian capitulation to Napoleon in 1797, and is today the most important seaport in Montenegro.
An earthquake in 1979 destroyed half of Old Town. What remains shows the stamp of four centuries of Venetian rule, although earlier buildings also remain. Chief among them is the Romanesque Cathedral of St. Tryphon, built in 1166. The façade was damaged in the 1667 earthquake and rebuilt in the Baroque style; supposedly, the town ran out of money before the rebuilding was complete, which accounts for the difference between the church’s two towers. The building was damaged again in 1979, and only recently fully restored. Also of note is the Church of St. Luke, another 12th century Romanesque building which still has its original frescoes as well as two altars – one Catholic, the other Orthodox. Next to St. Luke’s is the Orthodox St. Nicholas Church, with its black domes topped by golden crosses that were a gift from Russia.
For € 3, you can walk the 3-mile circuit of Old Town’s walls. The walls meander up the mountain, and views from the top are said to be spectacular. Halfway up is the Church of Our Lady of Health, a 17th century church built by the grateful survivors of the plague that followed the 1667 earthquake. At the top are the ruins of St. John’s Fortress, built by the Emperor Justinian in the 6th century. Be advised that the walk up the mountain zigzags some 1350 steps; sections of the protective wall have crumbled over time, exposing walkers to a steep drop. Evidently, there’s a mule path as well (see below). Or, maybe it’s better to take a taxi to the top?
This info is from a review on cruisecritic:
“… I had read that it made sense to go up using the (harder to find and lesser known) mule path as it is not only free, but a long yet easier climb to the top, so that’s what we did. Fantastic advice! To find the path, walk through the front walls of the town and head straight to the back, left corner (old town is compact). Exit out the gate (it’s called the North Gate) and cross the small bridge. Continue walking across a second small bridge and then turn immediately right and walk toward the mountain. The base of the path starts there and is marked the entire way with red and white painted circles. It was such a pleasant climb and we had it all to ourselves. About 2/3 of the way up, we found the ancient chapel and then were able to see the “hole in the wall” where others climbed through from the traditional steep stairs route to the top. We joined up with the stairs and went to the top and then took the stairs back down for a change of scenery. The mule track was so much nicer and easier. The stairs were crowded and would have been treacherous in inclement weather …”
A Little Further Afield
Budva is the center of Montenegrin tourism thanks to its sandy Adriatic beaches and bustling nightlife. There is a small walled Old Town area, but most of the city consists of modern holiday high-rises and resorts.
Perast, just a few kilometers northwest of Kotor, is noted for its proximity to the Islands of St. George and Our Lady of the Rocks. Perast was yet another Venetian possession; its importance peaked in the 17th century, when it had 4 active shipyards: the town’s 16 Baroque palaces and 17 Catholic churches date from this period.
The Island of St. George holds a 12th century Benedictine monastery. This island is open only to clergy during the months of July and August. The Island of Our Lady of the Rocks is an artificial island built over the years by the faithful. Legend has it that on July 22, 1452, some sailors found an icon of the Madonna and Child on a rock in the bay. Thereafter, sailors added rocks after every successful voyage; old boats were also filled with rocks and sunk there. In 1632 a Catholic church was built on the island to replace the small Orthodox chapel that had been erected there; the current church dates from 1722. Every July 22, the locals row out to the island to add more rocks to the island. Our Lady of the Rocks is a 3-minute boat ride from Perast – € 5/PP