kotor: montenegro’s old town gem on the adriatic

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On Montenegro’s Adriatic coast, tucked deep in a bay, is a second century C.E. gem that should be visited now before all of the major trappings of western tourism make their way through the Venice-like streets of the old town. Kotor, located in the Gulf of Kotor, is a small old town city with a population of less than 14,000 surrounded by fortifications built when the Venetians were at the height of their power.

The city was first referenced in literature dating to the late second century C.E., when it was settled by Roman colonists as part of the province of the Dalmatia. Seeing Kotor’s old town is an instant reminder of it’s glory days during the middle ages and it’s Venetian heritage. In the sixth century C.E., Emperor Justinian built fortifications just above the city, the vestiges of which can still be seen today, if you don’t mind the climb.

After being ruled by the Dalmation city states and the Ostrogoths, in the early eleventh century C.E. Kotor saw waves of occupation from both the Bulgarians and the Serbs. By the fifteenth century C.E., the Venetians gained defacto control over the city and region, which lasted for a total of over four hundred years. During that period, the city briefly fell under Ottoman rule for a few decades in the sixteenth century and again for a few decades in the late seventeenth century. The many centuries of Venetian influence can clearly be seen in the architecture of the old town, architecture that was nearly destroyed two times by earthquakes in both 1563 and 1667.

By the eighteenth century the Hapsburgs ruled Kotor, and by the nineteenth it was ruled by many factions including the Italians, French, and British until it was restored to the Hapsburgs at the end of World War I. During the war Kotor was one of the most important ports for the Austro-Hungarian Navy and the home base for the Austrian Fifth Fleet. After a turbulent World War II and Italian annexation, Kotor was subsumed into the Socialist Republic of Montenegro within the new Yugoslavia. In 1979, a major earthquake hit the Montenegro’s Adriatic coast and nearly half of Kotor’s Old Town was destroyed.

Today, Kotor is a coastal gem, UNESCO World Heritage site and increasingly popular tourist destination for a newly independent Montenegro, having gained its independence on June 3, 2006.

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