The Kotor Region

The Kotor Region

Nature, Culture and History

The Kotor Region, Montenegro

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    The Natural and Culturo-Historical Region of Kotor is part of the impressive bay of the Boka Kotorska, a unique natural harbour on the eastern Adriatic coast in Montenegro. Due to its exceptional and universal value, the region was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1979, using the title above. In 2011, the region’s buffer zone was defined as encompassing the whole Bay. The Natural and Culturo-Historical Region of Kotor is a harmonious combination of diverse natural phenomena and man-made heritage. In addition to Bays of Kotor and Risan, comprising the protected area, the Bay of Boka Kotorska also includes the Bays of Tivat and Herceg Novi. With its varied and unique natural, geographic, historical and cultural features, the Bay of Boka Kotorska is a cultural landscape of outstanding universal value.
Town of Kotor with Sveti Ivan hill    

Natural Features of Boka Kotorska

The Boka was created as a river valley, sunk and submerged by tectonic activity. Its morphological features, especially the distinctive, vertical jaggedness, make it a unique bay in the Mediterranean. The Boka is 105 km long and cuts 29km inland. It is surrounded by steep, limestone mountains of the Dinaric Alps, with the highest points at Mt. Orjen (1,895m) and Mt. Lovćen (1,749m), one of the five National Parks in Montenegro. The deepest part of the Bay is 52m. The region, with its hinterland, is a typical karst area with distinctive morphology and hydrology. The surrounding mountains are of predominantly limestone composition, with numerous karst forms such as caves, sinkholes, pits, etc.; while the coastal part is composed of flysch and sedimentary rock. The karst character of the area has also influenced its hydrology. Numerous karst springs appear at sea level (Škurda, Gurdić, Ljuta), as well as hidden springs above sea level (Sopot, 33 m) and spring holes on the sea bed. One part of the hinterland of Kotor (Crkvice, 1,097 m) receives the highest amount of rainfall (5,155 mm) in Europe. However, because of the karst relief, much of that water sinks underground, creating subterranean water courses that emerge at sea level or below, lowering the salinity of the sea water as well as raising the aridity of the land. Due to its pronounced, vertical jaggedness, the area has a diversity of climates, ranging from Mediterranean to Sub-Alpine, resulting in the diversity of its vegetation.

History of Boka Kotorska

Exceptional natural characteristics, a favourable geographic location and turbulent historical developments, combined with man’s continuous influence, has created a remarkable cultural landscape. Extensive influence from all parts of the Mediterranean, both East and West, has made the



  Boka Kotorska a meeting place of various cultures. These were assimilated into its own indigenous culture and infused with the spirit of the local people, which has created a unique, cultural identity. The industry of man has been incorporated with great sensitivity into the natural environment of the Boka’s coastline – thus creating a perfect union in this fascinating landscape. Life in the Kotor area, dating back to prehistoric times, is marked by great historic transformations caused by different rules and administrations. Artefacts from the Neolithic period have been found in a cave above Perast and paintings of deer dating back to the Middle Bronze Age in a cave at Lipci, near Morinj. From the 4thcentury BC onwards, the area was dominated by Illyrian tribes. During the Illyrian period, two towns were foundedin the Boka. Risan, the main town and a residence of the Illyrian Queen Teuta, after which the whole bay was called Sinus Rhisonicus (the Bay of Risan); and the town of Acruvium, mentioned in the 1st century AD by Pliny the Elder, thought to have been on the site of  
present-day Kotor. The Romans conquered Illyria in 168 BC, reigning over the Boka for more than five hundred years. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire (AD 476), the Boka became part of the Eastern Roman Empire also known as the Byzantine Empire. Towards the end of the 6th and beginning of the 7th centuries, Slavic tribes settled the region, leading to the slavicization of Kotor during the 10th century. The Byzantine reign lasted until 1185, with short periods of rule by the Vojislavljević family, rulers of the Slavic state of Duklja (Doclea). Despite frequent changes of rule – up until the 19th century, the region was subjected to eight political transformations brought about by different foreign and local rules – the town of Kotor and the Boka region continued to flourish. This was because the town had a strong local municipal authority, established in Roman times and with subsequent Mediterranean influences, that regulated all aspects of the economic, political and ecclesiastical system.

The development of Kotor and its region depended on navigation and trade. A first great expansion took place during the rule of the mediaeval Serbian State of Raška, from 1185 to 1371, when Kotor became the main port of the Serbian kings and a prosperous transit port and trading link between the Balkans and the rest of the Mediterranean. From 1371 to 1384, the region came under the rule of the Hungarian-Croatian king, Ludovik I. From 1384 to 1391, it was ruled by the Bosnian king, Tvrtko I. And from then until 1420, it was an independent city-state. In 1420, endangered by the Ottoman Turks who had conquered the neighbouring territories, Kotor sought the protection of the Venetian Republic and remained under Venetian rule until 1797. This period saw a second rise in power of the region’s maritime trade, with the settlements of Perast, Prčanj and Dobrota becoming prominent centres of navigation and trade. During this period, the Boka Kotorska boasted up to 300 ocean-going sailing ships, and as many smaller ones for coastal navigation. In the period 1482–1687, alongside Venetian rule, the north-west part of the Bay, from Herceg Novi to Risan, was held
by the Turks. Boka Kotorska was ruled by Austro-Hungary from 1797 until 1918, as the southernmost part of the empire, with short periods of rule by Russia (1806–1807), France (1807–1813) and a temporary government of a unified Montenegro and Boka Kotorska, known as the Central Commission (1813–1814). In 1918, after World War I, it became part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians – later known as the Kingdom of Yugoslavia – and post-World War II part of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Following the breakup of SFR Yugoslavia, Boka Kotorska remained within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, then the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro, until finally in 2006 it became part of the independent State of Montenegro. 

The Kotor Region

Naturally very complex, the coast of Boka is lined by numerous settlements separated by areas of cultivated land or ancient rocky landscape. The area of Kotor encompasses more than ten towns and smaller or larger settlements of distinctive character. 

Island of Our Lady of the Rock   Risan, the former centre of Illyrian and Hellenistic culture in this region, has preserved remains of the Illyrian-Hellenistic hill-fort of Gradina; remains of the Roman town of Rhizon, including a Roman villa with mosaics from the 2nd century A.D.; and traces of the former Turkish town in the centre, outskirts and quay. From the 6th century A.D. onwards, Kotor replaced Risan as the leading town and the main administrative and political centre of the Bay of Boka. Kotor is remarkable for its long continuity of history. The original, urban area is encircled by walls, a unique example of urban fortification in the Adriatic. The walls, 4.5 km long, between 2 and 15 m wide, and up to 20 m high, follow the natural line of the steep mountain massif of Sveti Ivan (San Giovanni), at the top of which the fortress was built in the 16th century. The old town of Kotor is a network of narrow, winding streets connecting squares of different size and usually irregular shape, but of a distinctive character.    More than thirty churches have been preserved or recorded to have existed in the old town. Six of them, belonging to the Romanesque period, are of particular historical value: the Cathedral of St. Tryphon (1166), St. Luke’s (1195), St. Anne’s (12th-13th C.), St. Mary Collegiate (1221), St. Paul’s (1263) and St. Michael’s (6th-14th C.). In addition, the town boasts numerous palaces of old noble families (Pima, Bizanti, Buća, Drago, Grgurina, Vrakijen, etc.) and public buildings. The town had its Statute, dating back to 1301 and printed in Venice in 1616. Once a famous medieval centre of craftsmanship, Kotor has numerous picturesque, vaulted shops with typical jointed doorways and windows. Especially during the Middle Ages, artistic and other trades flourished, each featuring many workshops. They were organised in confraternities and relied on resources from the interior, especially metals (goldsmiths and blacksmiths), leather and wood. The fraternities were both religious organisations and economic guilds.



Kotor had a powerful Confraternity of Seamen (Boka Navy) since the 9th century. It contributed significantly to its social life, providing assistance to its members and continuously nurturing and preserving national dances and costumes. Fides et Honor, the motto of the Boka Navy, is but one indication of the cultural identity of Boka Kotorska and its long traditions and development. Kotor had a grammar school since the Middle Ages, opened at the end of the 13th century, a pharmacy first attested in 1326, and a health service. Architects, poets and painters from this area played an important role locally and in the wider European context, particularly from the Middle Ages onwards. In the 15th and 16th centuries, printers A. Paltašić and J. Zagurović were active. Renowned nautical experts taught navigation in Perast from 1698 onwards. The town of Kotor itself is a treasury of art and culture: intricately designed marble altars, icons, valuable paintings, artistically shaped silver, silver-gilt and ornamental items and relics, priests’ garments and embroideries, fragments of frescoes – all testify to the interwoven, cultural influences and historical eras. Valuable artefacts and documents, including the oldest books of Kotor’s notaries from 1326, are kept in the museums, churches and archives, notably the Maritime Museum of Montenegro and the Historical Archive of Kotor. 

Other Centres

During the 17th and 18th centuries, the neighbouring coastal settlements of Perast, Dobrota, Prčanj and Stoliv came to prominence, remaining nevertheless strongly linked to Kotor. The secular architecture of palaces constructed in the baroque style is prevalent in these settlements. Perast – a picturesque coastal town, distinctive for its baroque churches and 
  palaces. The town is dominated by the bell tower of St. Nicholas’ church (17th c.) and the palaces of renowned seamen, merchants, civic and church dignitaries that are lined along the shore. Probably the most distinctive landmarks of Perast are the two beautiful islands situated off its seafront: the natural island of St. George, with a Benedictine abbey (9th c.); and Our Lady of the Rock (Gospa od Škrpjela), a man-made island, built by depositing stones and scuttling old ships filled with stones around a small crag (škrpjel). A traditional custom called the “Fašinada” is still practised by the people of Perast: every year on the July 22 they bring stones in their boats and drop them into the sea around the island to reinforce it. The church (15th–18th c.) bearing the same name stands on the island, adorned with extraordinary paintings by Tripo Kokolja, a famous baroque painter from Perast. Dobrota and Prčanj – former settlements of seamen, warriors and merchants, famous for their baroque palaces (17th–19th c.) and churches: St. Matthew’s (13th–17th c.) and St. Eustace’s (18th c.) in Dobrota, with valuable collections of paintings, embroideries and silver items; St. Thomas’ in Prčanj, dating back to the 9th century, and the magnificent Church of Our Lady (18th c.). The area of Kotor also includes the fishermen’s villages of Muo and Orahovac and a network of rural settlements in the upper areas of the Bay (Gornji Stoliv, Morinj, Kostanjica, Škaljari). Some of these settlements, like Gornji Stoliv, preceded the development of coastal settlements. In addition to its exceptional natural setting, architectural treasures and moveable heritage, the Bay of Boka Kotorska has rich layers of immaterial heritage (the Boka Navy dance, the “Fašinada”, folk legends, etc.), which all together make it a cultural landscape of outstanding and universal value.