Venice was quite the operation back in the day. They had ships and everything. Here’s a brief history to get you up to speed if you’re not up to snuff on your Medieval powerhouses. The Venetians started out as a profitable little part of the Byzantine Empire, then the alpha dog in the region, but thanks to maritime operations and prime real estate (location, location, location) grew in strength and influence and only a few centuries in they sacked Constantinople, decimating their former masters, a blow from which the Byzantines would never really recover. The Venetians also stole these fine fellows four from the future Istanbul and put them on display in the finest drawing room in Europe, as Napoleon was wont to say.
The Venetian Empire lasted approximately a millennium. It was, by any stretch of the imagination, a good run. Lots of highs, plenty of lows. They fought in the Crusades. They ruled the seas. They battled the Ottomans for centuries, slowly declining in military influence as the years wore on, ultimately succumbing to the advances of Napoleon just before the dawn of the 19th century. And now it’s reduced to an irresistible tourist trap with great gelato that slowly sinks into the lagoon from whence it came. This feels like a metaphor for something, but maybe I’m reading too much into it.
Anyway, part of the empire’s conquests included the Dalmatian City-States, which includes the Bay of Kotor in modern Montenegro. The impressive fortifications the Venetians established are a sight to behold, but they don’t deserve all the credit. There were previous versions of the defensive line high above the bay stretching all the way back to the Illyrians in classical antiquity. The walls, which stretch about 3 miles in length, are still in visible if not quite working order high upon the cliffs gazing down upon the old walled city, which bears a striking resemblance to the old walled fortress of Dubrovnik, which is no big surprise, but with notably better food inside.
Kotor is gorgeous. If you get away from Old Town it starts to become more the sort of small city you might expect to find in Montenegro, but still, just stepping off the plane it was a panorama of mountains and mist as far as the eye can see.
We stayed in Old Town, which made for a fun/easy trip since the walled city is the tourist highlight. The narrow passages, open courtyards, impressive architecture and historical sites all make for excellent wandering. It’s super touristy, yes, no question at all about that, but like Venice, it’s so good even the visitors can’t screw it up.
The San Giovanni castel is at the very top of the upper town walls, way up high, and it would have been cool to set foot in it and take in the view. We gave it a go, despite the steep climb and intermittent but heavy rain that day. There is a long, winding path up to the top. We hiked up to the Church of our Lady of Health, which marks the halfway point, but made it no further. There was an intense downpour, and all us tourists on the way up and down huddled together in what little shelter the exterior of the church offered. The English speaking portion of the group exchanged a few stories and Ferda spent the time playing with a stray dog, which made me very nervous and the puppy very happy. The stone/rock/dirt/imaginary path leading to the very top was literally flooded and it was borderline impassable. We might have been able to make it, but this way there’s an easy excuse to come back and visit again. Ferda took a couple photos when the rain momentarily abated before we hiked back down.
We had a few days to roam around before catching a bus to Podgorica. Kotor is the perfect place for idle tourism, virtually everything is interesting and/or beautiful to look at. Stunning views and a great meal here, impressive architecture and a cappuccino there.