Posted Sunday, October 15, 2017 at 11:16am by Zen Recreations
Soaking Up Kotor -A Walk Around the Old Town
“Lost, but not Really” ……………….. ;-)
The Old Town in Kotor is a sightseer’s paradise jammed into the old fortified area of town, meaning an hour’s walk will take you to several neato spots if that’s all you want to do. And it’s all pretty good stuff! A little calm meandering will fulfill your tourist needs with regard to all things historical, certainly, and along the way there are opportunities aplenty for shopping, snapping photos, grabbing snacks or taking in a full meal.
But you will absolutely hit the scenic jackpot if you can stand to put a half a day into it, or hit the city on more than one day; there is a LOT to see, shop, eat and drink along the way!
Low season can be a great time to visit if you don’t a little bit mind cooler weather. You might enjoy walking around without getting drippy, you’ll certainly save cash and there just won’t ever be any crowds at all after summer winds down.
Experienced area travelers say that a walking tour of Kotor is a great excuse to get lost—and that works quite well here!—but we have a better plan in mind. The best sites around the Old Town are literally “around the Old Town”, so if you were to walk in a circle around the outer areas of town you’d hit most of the best!
(As a side note, the Old Town was deliberately built as a meandering sort of place so that invaders would get lost. Getting lost is actually enjoyable here, and people come here specifically to get pleasantly lost. But we think of getting lost in Kotor as completely optional, and our tour will keep you on track!)
Easy Longer or Shorter Options
With our self-guided walking tour you can just set out for a hike and decide along the way how much you’re ready to do. Think of it as an a la carte experience that will absolutely fit your plans, as you can control how much you commit for along the way. You can zip around in an hour or two or meander and hike all day. It’s totally up to you!
We’ve set up a couple of optional routes with simple “go/no-go” decision points. Just be aware that tackling the Whole Monty will take some energy, as there is a whopper of a hike available if you are up for it. (The views are spectacular!) If you are in the mood for shorter wanderings you can simply leave off the options. In every version of this tour you will always end up where you started; we’ve set it up as a loop.
A Quick GPS Note
A note about selfie tours in the age of GPS phones, by the way: First, if you’re bringing a North American phone, you might not get a good GPS signal, or it might not work at all. US phones in Europe have various issues depending on your carrier, etc., so that is worth a little investigation! Second, you actually don’t need a GPS. We’ve got a map in this post and you can save it to your phone, or you can download a walking tour from GPSmycity and save it in your phone.
The Walking Tour of Kotor
We presume that you start at the Main Gate (the “Sea Gate”) just by default. You can start anywhere on the loop, of course, since by following the tour you’ll end up back where you start. There are a couple of big options, too, so you can adjust the tour to your energy level. There are very few public restrooms anywhere, but if you schedule your tour close to mealtime you’ll be able to take a break at a restaurant. There are cafés all over town as well.
1) Main Gate (also known as the “Sea Gate”)
Kotor’s Main Gate is the largest and probably the most beautiful of the city’s three gates. Dating from the 16th Century, this gate was erected during the time of
Bernardo Renier. Its style combines Renaissance and Baroque elements.
Entering through the Sea Gate you come smack into the Piazza of the Arms, which expands off to the left. But first…If you are a die-hard fan of really old architectural detail, start with a little detour; zip straight across the square and turn right to the front of the second building, which houses Beskuca’s Palace.
2) Beskuca’s Palace
This quick stop is interesting primarily for the Gothic floral relief over the entrance. The palace dates from the mid-1700s. The Beskuca family earned nobility before 1300 A.D., but the family died out by 1800. The palace is now owned by the City of Kotor.—
Head north, back to the piazza…
First Street (also “Istok Zapad,” or “East West Street”) opens into the northern half of the Square of Arms. Heading east on this street about 3-400 feet will bring you to the Piazza Greca, an open square. But along the way, turn right at the first open square and cross the little park heading south. This will you run you directly into the Cat Museum.
3) To the Cat Museum
Yes, absolutely, there is a museum about cats. Kotor is a well-known haven for cats and one might say cats are the official representatives of the city, or the city mascot. There is, naturally, an entire shop dedicated to cat souvenirs and you can find it between #8 and 9 on the east side of Zanatska Street. Cats are often thought of as the “caretakers” of public places, as they keep other critters under control. Cats have been highly valued by the citizenry for centuries.
Head, back to the piazza…
4) Square of Arms and the Clock Tower
Entering the Old Town through the Sea Gate you come smack into the Piazza, which expands off to your left. From Beskuca’s Palace the Piazza expands to the north. The square features a hotel, the town hall, the Rector’s Palace and a 17th-century clock tower—all interesting—but the main attraction may be shops, cafés and a little nod to historical punishment. Seriously, get your perspective on the comforts of modern life by looking a few centuries back in time! There is a small pyramid at the base of the clock tower called “the pyramid of shame” where punishments and tortures were meted out as Middle Age justice back in the day. (Way back!) The clock tower leans a little bit, by the way, due to an old earthquake. “Leaning Clock Tower of Kotor” indeed! Snap some photos, tip your hat to old time justice and pick up your snacks and souvenirs. By the way, the name doesn’t mean “your left and right arms,” but “arms” as in “armaments.”
Some Enticing Finds
If you do nothing else, walk through the tour hotspots throughout the western waterfront side of town (#1 – 4, 10, 11, 12). This area is densely packed with deeply historic spots and even a short walkabout will get you completely hooked. The southern trek between St. Tryphon’s and the Southern Gate is jammed with little shops and superb street scenery. Here are some little teasers to get you to journey a little closer (like, “book a trip” closer!), although you’re certainly welcome to follow the map for the full tour!
St. Tryphon Cathedral
#11 on the map
Art History 101, anyone? St. Tryphon’s Cathedral is a spectacular architectural find, but the adventure gets much better because the church is filled with a collection of priceless artifacts and art. The church is the largest building in town and has quite a history. The church was built 850+ years ago (the underlying original is much older), and the bell towers were rebuilt in Baroque style after an earthquake in the 1600s. The basic architecture is Romanesque. Among the most spectacular finds are frescos from the 1300s, some of the few remaining of such an age. Even more spectacular to the eye, there is a silver and gold screen covering the main altar depicting several saints. The screen is considered the country’s most precious religious artifact and it’s topped with a stone carving depicting the life of St. Tryphon. The church preserved Saint Tryphon’s hand encased in silver and it is on display. The church also houses a wooden crucifix dating from 1288 and other deeply historical fascinations.
Head back across the square and turn right to continue east.
5) Church of St. Nikola
This Orthodox church was built in 1909 (on the ruins of the previous church) and is “Pseudo-Byzantine” architecture. This little church is considered a “must see” and has been voted to #7 on a “top 100” list for Kotor sites by tourists. A wall of icons and beautiful silverworks set this church apart from the ordinary.
Take a quick detour across the square to see St. Luke’s on the south side of the piazza.
6) St. Luke’s Church
The church of Sveti Luka (St. Luke) has both Roman and Byzantine architecture, but there are plenty of interesting points about the church besides the architecture. For one, this church is the only one that didn’t have significant damage from the 1979 earthquake.
Of particular interest is the presence of both Catholic and Orthodox altars, a sign of the harmonious co-existence of different Christian faiths. Until the 1930’s burials took place within the church itself and as a result the floor of the church is made of tomb panels. The floor of the church consists of 17 numbered tombs from the 17th. century when the inhabitants were buried here during a long siege. It is assumed 3000 people were buried here.
Saint Apostle Luke’s relics and Five Holy Martyrrs’ relics are kept here. Priests were buried in the tomb with an epitap. The samll chapel added on to Saint Luke’s church in the 18th. century was dedicated to Saint Spyridon the wonder worker, Unusual church services are still served in both churches.
Sweet little Saint Luke’s speaks volumes about the history of Croat-Serb relations in Kotor. It was constructed in 1195 as a Catholic church during the period of the ruler Nemanja and his son Vukan, inscribed on the on the stone slab. The founder of the church was Mavros Kacafrangi from Apulia. The whole church once had frescos painted in the in a mixture of Byzantine and Romanesque style as seen from the fragments that survived by famous icon-painting school of Boka Kotoroska-Dimitrijevic-rafailovic. Interested restoration artists are welcome to inspect the frescoes for restoration. The surviving fresco on the south wall depicts Saint Sylvester of Rome, 4th century saint who baptized the Byzantine emperor Constantine the Great. Flanked by two two saint martyrs according to tradition are likely Saint Babara and Saint Catherine.
Under Venetian rule it was roman Catholic and returned to orthodox in the mid 17th, century. From 1657 until 1812 Catholic and Orthodox altars stood side by side, with each faith taking turns to hold services here. It was then gifted to the Orthodox Church. Latin alters were removed from all Orthodox churches in 1820 during Napoleon’s reign
__Head back to the East-West Street and go right (east). The road from the Church of St Nikola and St Luka leading to the City Walls and the Northern Gate.
7 and 8) City Walls and the Northern Gate – Optional add on hike
This area is a great spot to get photos of the massive walls. Explore the fortress to the west then cross the park for some scenic snapshots. Take a short walk north through the gate to get a great view back along the river and the wall. The park is a great place to take a break.
The gate was built to commemorate Kotor’s victory over Hajrudin Barbarosa, a famous Turkish admiral.The entranceway represents a fine example of Renaissance architecture.
An important note about Ivan’s Fortress and Our Lady of Health.
The optional add-on hike to Ivan’s Fortress and the votive church of Our Lady of Health starts from this area and it is described at the end of the tour. The add-on hike is a Big Deal; you should be in good health and have good shoes for it! If you are at all unsure, you may wish to preserve your energy to take in the southern stretch of the tour along the Craft Street, as the shopping and sightseeing there is intense!
Head straight south out of the sqaure on Zanatska Street.
9) Grgurina Palace and the Maritime Museum
Kotor’s history is closely tied to the sea, even though the city is naturally isolated from the Adriatic by mountains. This beautiful Baroque edifice dates from the 18th Century. Located in Boka Fleet Square, it is now the home of the Maritime Museum. Next to its entrance you will see two cannons which symbolize the endless battle between seamen and pirates.
Here you will find unique exhibits and numerous stores logbooks, marine equipment, sailor’s household items, old navigation equipment, ship furniture, nautical flags and portraits of the captains of ships. At the front door of the Maritime Museum you can see the two 18th. century cannons that were used to defend the city from the pirates. Six bronze engravings on display in the museum illustrate the great historical military events.
10) Drago Palace
This palace was first erected in the 14th Century, but had to be renovated twice after earthquakes in 1667 and 1979. Decorated with dragons, the palace remains a good example of Gothic architecture. Nowadays, it houses the Regional Institute for Protection of Cultural Monuments.
This is the place to check your time and tolerance. If you want to see more and have any energy left, you should certainly push on for this next little jaunt!
“Zanatska Ulica” means “Craft Street”, and the street is well named for the large number of shops on this street and in the area. This street runs all the way through town, but for now it forms your route from the city center to the Southern Gate. If you need to cut your tour short you could chop off this “out and back” walk, but you will miss a lot! This stretch is toward the end of the tour (if you start at #1), so you can make a judgment call now about your energy level.
The walk between St. Tryphon’s and the Southern Gate is awash with shops and eye candy. If you enter from the Southern Gate to start your tour, you might feel like you are entering through a shop-and-scenery brigade and coming out you could easily get the “exit through gift shop” fun park feeling. This area is worth wandering about, especially a block to the east. Many wonderful “hidden find” shops are located just off the main thoroughfare.
12) Southern Gate
Historically, the city could be entered through three gates. The Southern Gate (also known as Gurdic Gate) had a mechanical three-way entrance that made it one of the most important access points in the city. The Northern and Main gates are larger but had only one gateway.
The fantastic views of an ancient route with an excellent excuse to stop and rest the legs as you make your way to the south gate.
St. Ivan Fortress, Our Lady of Health
Optional Five-Star add-on
This add-on hike is truly a work-out and not for the faint of heart! There are 1350 steps going up and the same number coming back down! This hike will take both time and energy, but if you are up for it the views are very worth the work.
To get there starting from the park at the Northern Gate, go the south-eastern corner of the park and head east away from the city. Look for signs that say “Entrance to the Fortress”, and if you don’t see the signs you are very possibly on the wrong path! The path winds upward and the right along the eastern ridges above the city, and the steps are in very good shape. The path is usually wide enough for people to pass.
The St. Ivan Fortress and city walls were gradually built up over the course of centuries. The fortifications you can see today have been well preserved, dating all the way back to the 16th Century.
The votive church Our Lady of Health is located about halfway up. The church was built in response to a number of plagues in the mid-15th century and you can get a fantastic photo of the city including the church from the path above; this is the “iconic” shot of the city.
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