LifestyleUnearthing Montenegro's rich history: From Ottoman rule to postcard-perfect cities

Unearthing Montenegro's rich history: From Ottoman rule to postcard-perfect cities

Remnants of old times can be found in almost every city in Montenegro.
Remnants of old times can be found in almost every city in Montenegro.
Images source: © Adobe Stock | Andrey Shevchenko
3:57 PM EST, January 22, 2024

Modern-day Montenegro was part of the Roman Empire. It was not until the sixth century that the Slavs, known as the Dukljans, settled in this region. Their country was then called Duklja, and later renamed the Kingdom of Zeta. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the region came under Byzantine rule. From the twelfth century, Serbian rule prevailed, followed by the Ottoman Turks later. Only the hard-to-reach mountainous parts of the country were able to maintain their independence. Here, the rule was taken over by the Orthodox bishops of the Petrović-Njegoš family. The architecture of Montenegro's historical cities reflects these influences, showcasing a fascinating blend of different cultures.

Kotor - a City Captured in Postcards

Kotor is a beautiful city crafted in Venetian style and situated at the end of the Bay of Kotor. With mountains on one side and waters on the other, it takes on the appearance of a fairytale fortress. Exploring Kotor feels like delving into a dream: with defensive walls, a fortress, churches, and chapels, visitors are drawn into its charm. Taking a walk along the walls provides stunning views of the ancient center and Boka Kotorska - the Montenegrin name for the Bay of Kotor. Each snapshot from this place is like a picture-postcard. At sunset, the city's creamy walls take on hues of yellow, orange, red, and light green, making Kotor a splendid sight.

Often compared with Dubrovnik, Kotor certainly holds its own unique charm, notably a more intimate atmosphere.

Kotor is one of the most picturesque and "photogenic" places in the world.
Kotor is one of the most picturesque and "photogenic" places in the world.© Adobe Stock | Elena Zarubina

Herceg Novi - the City of Flowers

At the very entrance to the Bay of Kotor lies Herceg Novi, considered by many as the most beautiful place in Montenegro. Known locally as the City of Flowers, a unique microclimate fosters lush vegetation unlike other parts of the coastline. Compared to other cities in the Bay of Kotor, Herceg Novi is relatively young. The first Bosnian king, Tvrtko I Kotromanić, established a fortress there in 1382 with a settlement called Sveti Stefan. The popularity of St. Stefan in Montenegro is acknowledged by the gigantic statue erected in the locality's square by the marina.

Blood Tower

The city's turbulent history is evident in the three surviving fortresses. While these host few events, stepping outside the walls rewards visitors with panoramic views of the bay and surrounding mountains.

The Kanli kula, a 16th-century fortress built by the Turks, deserves special attention. Its Turkish name, Kanli kula, translates to "blood tower", a reference to its history as a prison. Built from coarsely hewn stone atop a limestone rock, the fortress stands 279 ft above sea level. While severely damaged during the 1979 earthquake, the fortress now serves as an open-air summer theatre.

Steps, Steps, and More Steps..

The most iconic symbol of Herceg Novi is the clock tower, erected in 1667 by Sultan Mahmud's orders . Reaching the tower requires ascending various high steps, leading to the city's higher terrace.

When visiting Herceg Novi, one must be ready to climb numerous stairs, as the city is essentially hinged onto the slope of Mount Orien. The city features Romanesque, Baroque, and Byzantine structures, all worth spending a few hours to appreciate their diversity and uniqueness.

Bar - a city imprinted with Roman traces

During the Roman era, Bar was a significant center known as Antibarium due to its location opposite the city of Bari on the Adriatic's far side. It was the site of an important battle in 1042 between the Byzantine armies and Prince Stefan Dobrosław's warriors. The victory marked the start of the Slavic State of Zeta. Throughout the ensuing centuries, the city frequently changed political affiliations, transitioning between the Duchy of Zeta, Byzantium, and Venice. Despite these changes, the residents retained considerable autonomy, such as local governance, minting a local currency, and employing a duke as the head of state.

A hint of those times and their tales can be discovered by visiting Stari Bar, the city's historic ruins located about 3.1 miles away from the New Bar. This place, despite extensive damage from the 1979 earthquake, retains a unique architectural style, location, and atmosphere.

Unique Cities

The Bar is full of remnants from the times of Roman rule.
The Bar is full of remnants from the times of Roman rule.© Adobe Stock | malewitch

The cities of Montenegro briefly described here are just a glimpse of what one can explore in this quaint country on the Adriatic. Other spots worth a visit include: the old town of Budva with its eighth-century churches, the tiny Baroque town of Perast renowned for its bright and almost entirely white buildings,Risan - probably the oldest city in the Bay of Kotor, which houses second-century mosaics, Petrovac na Moru, Tivat, Ulcinj, and numerous others.

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