Bay of Kotor • Europe’s Southern Fjord

Montenegro lives up to the name, Black Mountain, with its dramatic tall fjord like mountains surrounding the Bay of Kotor.

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Bay of Kotor History

The Bay of Kotor has been inhabited since antiquity with evidence of 3500 BC cave dwellings found along the bay.  The Illyrians ruled here under Queen Teuta until they battled it out with the Roman. The Slavs migrated here in the 6th century. Like the rest of the coastal region, this area saw regime changes and has remnants from Byzantine, Venetian, Ottoman rule, French Napoleon, and Yugoslavian rule.

The bay is about 17 miles km long from its opening into the Adriatic Sea to the harbor of the city of Kotor. With 67 miles of shoreline, it is surrounded by two mountains chains of the Dinaric Alps. The bay is called Europe’s southernmost fjord, but it is in fact a ria (River Valley) of the vanished Bokelj River which used to run from the high mountain plateaus of Mount Orjen.

The region, called Boka,  means “Mouth”.  The Bay of Kotor region including the city of Kotor are a UNESCO world heritage site.

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Top Sights on the Bay of Kotor

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1Verige Strait

The bottleneck of the Bay of Kotor is the secret to control in the Bay of Kotor. The strait is less than a quarter-mile wide but 130 feet deep. Large ships (and cruise liners today) can enter into the bay for protection, but the narrowness of the channel allowed for control of the entrance, enforcement of tax collection and defense of the Bay. In the 3rd century BC, the Illyrian Queen Teuta had a ship wrecking mechanism, 6th Century AD Slav Kings would string chains across to control the bay and the 13th-17th century Venetians had opposing cannons.  If you were not wanted, your ship would be sunk and many still lay on the bottom of the bay today.

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The Italianate looking town of 400 is called the “Pearl of Venetian Baroque”.   In addition to the cannons at the Verige Strait, the Venetians wanted cannons in the nearby town of Perast during its 350 year rule of the region. In exchange, Perast was given tax-free status by the Venetians and became very wealthy in the 17th and 18th centuries.  After Napoleon’s rule, it lost its strategic importance and very little development occurred leaving it a outdoor museum of Venetian Baroque including 19 palaces from the era.

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3St. George and Our Lady of the Rocks

There are two islands in the middle of the bay – one natural (with the trees) and one man-made.

Saint George Benedictine monastery sits on the natural island of St. George (also called Ostrvo Sveti Đorđe). The monastery dates back to the 12th century and contains an old graveyard for the old nobility from Perast. No tourists are allowed on this island.

Our Lady of the Rocks was built on a man-made island (called Gospa od Škrpjela). As legend is told, sailors from Perast saw a vision of the Virgin Mary and the Christ-child on the reef. After every successful voyage they would lay a rock in this very spot so that a church could be built on top of these rocks…. and the island was formed. The first church was built in 1452 and the current church dates to 1632. This tradition of throwing rocks into the sea continues in a sunset ceremony of July 22, called fašinada when local residents take their boats and throw rocks into the sea and widening the surface of the island, takes place.

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The city of Kotor dates back to the time of Christ. Over the centuries, layers of fortifications have been added by its inhabitants to withstand sieges.  Most of the walls today date to Byzantine & Venetian regimes in the 9-15th century.

Beyond the walled city is the Great Wall of Kotor which zipzags up the mountain in an arch above and around the city.  The walls are between 6 to 50 feet and up to 65 feet high. The great wall climbs 1,355 steps, 2.5 miles long in total with an elevation gain of 700 feet to the fortress of Saint Ivan at the top that protected the city.  The medieval fortress sits on foundations of 3rd century BC Illyrian fortifications.

The City of Kotor is a UNESCO world heritage site.

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