Conquering Kotor town walls

Standing in front of the old town, you can’t resist imagining Kotor invaders looking at its amazing fortification system, feeling impressed by its grandiosity and wondering “how the hell they build it and what could be a secret of destroying it”? But no secret recipe could help, nothing worked so far. I will also try to conquer town walls, but my only weapon will be my smile. Am I really going to laugh at the end?

Photo by montenegro.com

Let’s look briefly some facts I faced: Town walls completely surround the territory of the old town, making it one of the best fortified towns along Adriatic and definitely unique one. They rise from a sea level and climb uphill, all the way to the top. My goal was Venetian fortress San Giovanni placed on 260m above sea level. It means I’ll have to cross 1350 steps along the walls and walk more than one kilometer uphill to have a spectacular view. Fortress will definitely take my breath away. In every sense!

Map of the Old Town with surrounding walls

I started with optimism. This journey begins from the square of cats in the Old town. Yes, this is where cats rule and, as being a cat person, I interpreted it as a good sign. I entered the town walls under the lively Venetian arch with lion, cross and Latin inscription meaning: “Royal way to the fortified hill, year of our Lord 1740”. Ok, said to myself, let’s make time journey and go back into the Venetian period; it is when the most of the walls were built anyway.

After few meters, you realize you have to pay for climbing. Probably not Venetian practice, but at least it is relatively cheap – 3 €, especially compared to Dubrovnik town walls (20 €). You also get a small brochure to help you understand configuration of terrain, trails and spots on the way. At the very beginning two choices appear: to walk by the steps or along the path made up of rough cobbles. The path was probably used for hauling supplies up the mountain a by cart as big iron rings were fastened in the rocks at regular distances. Since I am not a supplying material, at least not a good one, logically I went up by steps.

Climbing uphill, you realize it is difficult to say which view is more impressive: view on the town walls while in the town or vice versa! From here you have another, even more colorful picture of Kotor with its red roofs giving a perfect contrast to different shades of green and blue all around. It definitely gives you a perspective you can’t have while being down there.

As I kept walking, I found a man selling water which I just needed the most. (To tell you a secret, looking at the sea water can’t make you less thirsty). It was 1 €, but later, as you go higher, price of water also went higher. No wonder, sales men carry packs of water by foot from the old town and higher you are, they invest more efforts in bringing the water to you. Thanks God the hill is not 1000 m high. Also, the view was changing as I was getting higher and higher up: Kotor was becoming smaller and its Bay was getting bigger, more dominating and even more fascinating.

Sometimes, looking from the town, it is difficult to recognize town walls, made from the same stone as a hill they were built on. But, where ever you are you can’t miss a beautiful medieval church along the walls which supplements magnificent architecture of nature and humans. After 520 steps I got there. Don’t think I counted, it would spoil my impressions, I have stolen this information but I did it for you.  This is a Church “Our Lady of Remedy” from 1518, built by survivors of plaque which devastated town in few occasions. It became a place to make pilgrimages to, a place of prays to St. Mary for this illness not to repeat while also serving an army situated in the fortress. Four small chapels on the way to the Church were housing 4 paintings representing blessings in Virgin Mary’s life: Annunciation, Meeting of St. Mary and Elizabeth, Nativity of Jesus and Assumption. These paintings are now placed in the church, together with marble Venetian altar done in 1700 by Venetian sculptor. He decorated it with figures of two Saints: patron Saint of Kotor-  St. Triphon and St. Jeronim-protector of Dalmatia.

The Church is not in a perfect shape, but having in mind all turbulences it survived, miracle is that it still exists. In 1730 lightning hit straight into powder store, damaging both church and the town, killing 30 people and injuring 300 of them. On the other occasion, in 1943, church was robbed by Italian occupiers, who have stolen even 143 silver votive plates (gifts to the church by local people as a sign of gratitude to Virgin Mary for protecting them). And of course, not to forget frequent earthquakes Kotor was exposed to or Turkish invaders who unsuccessfully tried to occupy the place. Church still stands here as a reminder:  for the protection of town not only strong walls and brave defenders are needed, but also a God’s love and protection.

After a while I had to catch a breath and let go for few moments. My attention was caught by the town walls once again and I couldn’t stop admiring it. Being 4.5 km long, these walls are up to 20m high and from 2-16m wide. Of course, this amazing system wasn’t built at once-every ruler would fortify it further, but we know for sure that some parts of the walls date back to 9th century. Even though impressive, they would mean nothing without good military organization. Unfortunately, bastions, towers, as well as fortress on the top are neglected. One can explore abandoned facilities along the way, wondering what was happening there, who might have used it, or what was kept there. No weapons to illustrate the atmosphere, no curiosities to bring you back in the past centuries when people were getting killed to defend the town.

It leaves a lot to your imagination, and maybe it is the charm of this place – to make you use your imagination and create a fortification system as if you were in charge. Or it might make you think about your personal battles in everyday life and possible winning strategies. Or, it might give you an inspiration showing you how man can do everything if he is just armed with his strong will.

Getting to the top of the fortress you will figure out why this fortification system was built like this – on the hard and only possible way, all along the hill. Looking at what is situated behind you realize that threat could come not only from the sea, but also from the mountains. They had to keep their eye on every possible direction of attack if they wanted to be sure they were completely safe. Walls are not safe anymore from the only occupiers we have at the moment-tourists, but at least these occupiers we love to have!!

Well, I made it to the top, hardly, but I did it J. The best things in life don’t come easy. Just keep your smile along the way, no matter how difficult it is.

Enjoy your walks and conquer the world!

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