By Elizabeth Halliburton-Grave
Instagram: @and_a_bottle _of_rum_
KOTOR HAS BEEN DRAWING PEOPLE INTO HER CITY WALLS FOR 1000 OF YEARS
It is no wonder. Even in our brief visit to this little city at the end of the bay with the same name, we had no trouble falling in love with this beautiful town. Kotor exhibits the landscape of a Norwegian Fjord, the architecture of the alps, and clay-baked Tuscan rooftops, all placed in the welcoming climate of the Mediterranean. In the last few years, the cat, so to speak, is out of the bag.
Montenegro is one of the top five fastest-growing tourist destinations, with the beautiful medieval town of Kotor a prime draw. Lying only five kilometers from the mouth of the Adriatic, by sea, and easily accessible by land, Kotor comes to life, bustling with tourists and a variety of stained glass, jewelry and tourist shops, open-air restaurants, and cats. Yes, you read that correctly, cats. Kotor is famous for its city cats. They are like royalty here.
Within the robust city walls of Old Town Kotor, you will find cats strolling about the town as though they own the place, and from the looks of the tourist merchandise, some may think they do.Storefronts overflow with “Cats of Kotor” bags, mugs, pins, shirts, and pottery. These souvenirs give homage to the beloved mascot of this classically medieval town.
Not only are live cats and cat collectibles all around, but with a careful eye, you are sure to see cat-themed sculptures and murals around nearly every corner. Watch your step walking into the most high-end of stores, as you will likely find a beautiful grey and white tabby curled up on the front doorstep basking in the soft sunlight. Trust me, you do not want to be the tourist who shoos a Kotor Cat from his peaceful throne.
Not only are the cats on top in Kotor, but the architecture is supreme here as well. Kotor is tucked tightly between the sea and the beautiful Montenegrin mountainside of San Giovanni. The ancient old town, Stari Grad, is protected on three sides by well-preserved city walls and gates. What will catch your eye when you first approach Kotor, is the majestic fortifications that stretch up and into the cliffside. These fortifications protected this important naval, trading, and economic center of the Balkan region.
The view from the city fortifications is unmatched. If you are feeling fit, you can walk the entire wall in a long morning. Be sure to wear good hiking shoes and bring a water bottle, and always start before sunrise. The hike can be grueling in the warm summer months.As you make your way up, you can stop for a respite at Our Lady of Remedy, a Roman Catholic Basilica dating back to the 6th century. Turn and look north from the doors of this church wall to see the whole of Kotor Bay and take in the most breathtaking view, a real Balkan highlight.
As you are catching your breath from the hike, be warned you are not even halfway there! Keep climbing, and you will come to a window where you can slip through to visit the church of St. George. Located just beyond the city fortifications and on the backside of San Giovanni, St. George offers a unique view of what the simplicity of religion looked like more than a thousand years ago. The exposed arches and charmingly simple chapel bring images of how a typical family living in a rugged mountainside would have worshipped. This site is in comparison to the elaborate cathedrals of the city below.
Kotor has more than its fair share of churches to visit. In the old town alone, there are more than nine places of worship. The majority of the churches are Catholic. However, the main religion in this Balkan city is Serbian Orthodox. Today, peaceful coexistence between the religions creates a welcoming environment for visitors and locals alike. Most Catholics and Orthodox neighbors recognize multiple religious celebrations through their Religious calendars. Many believers from both faiths celebrate with one another for both Religious events.
One church, St. Luke’s in Old Town has even been used as both a Catholic and an Orthodox house of prayer to symbolize the continued friendship between the two! As you walk through the serpentine streets, the town that seems etched from stone and time, you will not wonder why it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is rich in history and well preserved. The walkways have been rubbed smooth by millions of visitors who have passed through these city walls.
You walk amongst the memories of knights and monks, soldiers, artists and radicals, and tourists from every country imaginable. Few can resist the charm of Stari Grad. Many tourists come to Kotor on day trips via buses or cruises. The cruisers tend to travel in groups of twenty or more huddled around an interpreter who tells them of the rich history as they walk the busy streets.
Others enjoy Kotor from the luxury of chartered yachts and sailboats. Regardless of how you get here, take the time to visit Kotor and if you are able, give yourself several days to experience Kotor and all it has to offer. Stay inside the city walls in one of the many available Stari Grad apartments. Shuffle past the group tours and get lost in the narrow streets of Kotor. You won’t regret it. If you are lucky, you might make a cat friend or two who lets you pet their head while they bask in the Balkan sunlight on the stoop of a centuries-old Orthodox Church. Hope to see you there.