Travel guide to Kotor Old Town in Montenegro

29 March 2023
Author - Jonathan Howe
The old town of Kotor in Montenegro is a complex of perfectly, yet unexpectedly, fitted small palaces and cathedrals within high stone walls. The sea, mountain, and two rivers surround it. The natural and cultural-historical area of Kotor is on the UNESCO World Heritage List, along with 1121 sites from around the world. It represents an exceptional universal value for all humankind.

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The best things to do in Kotor, Montenegro

A sketch of the town of Kotor

The mountain St. Ivan, which rises 260 meters above the sea, dominates the city with fortifications that climb along with it for four kilometers. The city walls are the largest and most prominent architectural complex in Kotor. The exceptional landscape value of the ramparts is their complete integration into the environment. In fact, the whole complex of the walls, houses, and streets exudes a desire to adapt to the terrain.

The old town can be entered through three gates: the sea gate, the southern city gate, and the northern city gate. Spontaneous routes of streets and squares form the final plan of the city surrounded by high walls. Buildings are similar to each other, small in height, and some of them are based on the rocks that rise above street level. Several dozen medieval houses are located in the old town with apparent elements of Romanesque and early Gothic. And each has its own unique story. These are mostly the palaces of prominent Kotor families, and their purpose has changed over time. 
Sacral buildings are among the most significant values of Kotor's heritage. Kotor's citizens built them over an extended period from the sixth to the beginning of the twentieth century. The cathedral of the patron saint of Kotor, St. Tripun, attracts particular attention with its asymmetry. Reconstructors have not rebuilt in parallel the two bell towers that form the church portal after the earthquake. One is 33 meters high and the other 35 meters.

The story of the development of Kotor

The town of Kotor, a symbol of the Bay of Kotor and Montenegro, has existed for sixteen centuries, and this fact is evident at first glance. 
In the prehistoric and Kotor's original matrix, skilled creators defined and built a solid and permanent city form. It was developing harmoniously through antiquity and the Middle Ages until today. Its geographical position was ideal for the formation of a prehistoric settlement. From its point could be seen land and sea, there was a possibility to build a large and safe harbor and sanctuary atop a mountain overlooking the town. Sharp rocks protected the port not only from storms but also from various invaders. The immediate surroundings included terrains suitable for agriculture and animal husbandry. 

Due to its geographical position and, at that time, enormous economic capacity, Kotor was always the target of various invaders. 

In addition to most of the Montenegrin coast, a terrible earthquake destroyed Kotor's old town in 1979. The devastated country's reconstruction lasted for a full ten years, and restorers' teams paid special attention to reconstructing the ancient cities.

Kotor - The town that lives on

In addition to the rich architectural heritage, another essential feature characterizes Kotor: the continuity of life.
Despite the large attendance and interest of tourists, this city has not become one colossal theater and souvenirs market, the souvenirs to what it once was. It still exists. 
A step away from the main gate, the old town market is open every morning. People sell vegetables, fresh fish, olive oil, cheese, and more. Here you can hear the specific coastal tone and slang of the locals. The scene of this place is entirely different from the rest of the atmosphere. Therefore, according to some opinions, it should be removed. We hope that this idea will evaporate and that this town will keep its spirit.

Within the walls, you have a wide selection of restaurants, pubs, cafes. Each of them reflects the atmosphere of the street or square on which it is located. The squares have the names of the facilities or activities that took place within them. The square of salad, of flour, of milk, of weapon, of the cathedral, each of them served its purpose. You can enjoy music, theater, and film on the ramparts' outdoor stage during the summer. This unique stage has mountain rocks as a background. It is bordered by the river Škurda, and on the third side, you can see the tops of the city churches. it’s hard to imagine a better place to spend a summer evening.

Walk to the fortress above the city. The view is priceless.
Cinema, small museums, and boutiques are bustling with life in summer. And, of course, cats. Cats are everywhere. They got their museum too.

Traffic has never been in the minds of the creators of this town. Only pedestrians and special tricycles that take away waste or supply shops pass through the streets.
In winter, however, everything is different. The town is most of the day in the shade of the surrounding mountains. It happens that rain in streams flows through the streets. The south wind, called "Jugo," is mentioned by the locals as if they talked about a person. The colors of Kotor's old town, the mountains above it, the winter sea, and the cloudy sky merge into one color, distinctly gray. Only pieces of pink stones from the sidewalk stand out from the scene. It sounds a bit sinister, but that gives the specificity it has.

People from Boka are famous for their outdoor parties, city festivals, and carnival. These events have a long tradition, and even today, they are expected as a holiday.

Countless steps echoed across the stone sidewalks of Kotor over the centuries. The beautiful streets reflect light like mirrors. Their pastel colors and smoothness encourage you to forget about fatigue, walk long and slowly, and not miss a single detail.

Come and explore the wonders of Kotor for yourself and find out why some of the best things to see and do in Montenegro are right here!  
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