One of the most beautiful coastal towns in Montenegro, Kotor is a secluded historical haven boasting dramatic mountain scenery, mirror-like waters and quaint red-roofed homes dating back thousands of years. First mentioned in documentation in 168 BC, the town’s history is a compelling tale of battles, besiegement and occupation stretching from The First Bulgarian Empire to the Nemanjić dynasty. First fortified by the Byzantine emperor Justinian I, the Kampana Tower and citadel were built to protect the town from potential plunder. Here Kotor visitors can view a number of architectural wonders, including the Venetian walls and fortress and the beautiful Castle of San Giovanni. This tower and fortress were built over one thousand years by its various occupiers, from Byzantine to Venetian, and thus is an architectural mishmash of influences perfect for cultural exploring. The walk to the castle includes a whopping 1350 stairs, but the jaw-dropping views and historical intricacy are worth the trek.
A member of the royal Petrović family, Petar II Petrović-Njegos was not only a Prince-Bishop educated in Montenegro’s most secluded and celebrated monasteries, but was also a prominent poet and philosopher of his time. A cultural as well as a political leader, Petar II wrote a number of epic poems that have since become national literary treasures, including the cosmic-religious Luča Mikrokozma, in English, The Ray of the Microcosm. The prince died of tuberculosis in 1851, and was originally buried atop Mount Lovćen in a chapel he designed and built himself. After that, his remains were removed from the location twice during both world wars, and the original Mausoleum was destroyed before being rebuilt and reopened in 1974. Today, situated in Lovćen national park, visitors can visit the chapel and learn about this national icon’s complex history whilst enjoying stunning views over the surrounding greenery.
As the old royal capital of Montenegro and the country’s second capital, the town of Cetinje is today the official residence of the President of Montenegro. The town’s royal history began when it was first settled by the Zeta ruler Ivan Crnojević in the 15th century, when he was forced to move his court from Žabljak due to impending Turkish invasion. After the ruler’s move, the city soon became a thriving Zeta metropolis and the country’s religious and economic capital. King Nikolas’ palace is the former residence of Nikolas I Mirkov Petrovich-Nyegosh, a descendant of Ivan Crnojević, and the ruler of Montenegro from 1860-1918, reigning first as sovereign prince and then subsequently as king. As the last Montenegrin ruler before the monarchy was abolished by the Podgorica assembly in 1918, the building is a symbol of a political system of bygone times. Now a fascinating museum where guests can wander round the neoclassical interior and view significant items, including plaques, weapons and coat-of-arms, King Nikolas’ Palace provides a regal day out in one of the country’s most eminent historical cities.
In terms of contemporary allure, Ulcinj is known for its unique restaurant and bar scene, as well as being the home of the Southern Soul Festival, an intimate music festival taking place every year on the town’s sandy beachfront. For visitors wishing to explore they city’s interesting heritage as one of the oldest seaports in the Balkans, the best place to start is in Ulcinj Castle, also known as Ulcinj Old Town. This cozy and enclosed area of the city is tucked onto a small peninsula which was previously a fortified village inhabited during the Bronze Age. The ruined castle and surrounding area were once home to a number of civilizations, all of whom have again left their marks on the architecture. Demonstrating rustic examples of Cyclopean stonemasonry in its buildings, walls and citadels, a walk around the Old City is a captivating way to spend a day. Wander down the winding lanes and the narrow alleys to experience Montenegro’s past at its most picturesque.
Located on a manmade islet on the beautiful Bay of Kotor, Our Lady of the Rocks church is a picturesque sight to behold, surrounded by mountains and the sea. Though its exact history isn’t well documented, local legend has it that somewhere between the 14th and the 17th centuries a shipwreck caused a group of local fishermen to find an icon of the Virgin Mary with Child perched on a sea rock. Taking it as divine intervention, the fishermen pledged that every time they returned from a successful voyage they would add a rock to the island. Thus a tiny islet gradually took form, and eventually a small church was built upon it. Accessible only by boat, the church is today one of the country’s most whimsical and magical destinations where visitors can enjoy its magnificent interior and the small museum beside it. The church contains a number of artifacts including a finely ornamented marble alter, beautiful local embroidery work and paintings by the Venetian painter Tripo Kokolja.
Those with an interest in abandoned buildings will be captivated by the Mamula Fortress and its dark past. Located on the tiny, uninhabited island of Lastavica, just off the coast of Marista, the fortress was constructed by the Austrian Admiral Lazar Mamula in 1853 in order to protect against invading ships. Due to its secluded location surrounded by sea water, the fortress was used as a prison and concentration camp during World War II by Benito Mussolini’s fascist army. With over 2000 prisoners, the camp was packed full of men, woman and children from regions such as Dalmatia and Boka, said to be enemies of the Italian occupying forces. Accessible by rowing boat, kayak or by swimming, the island makes for a dark day of exploration and is a fascinating part of Montenegro’s recent history. During the summer months there are various guided tours to the island run from the nearby town of Luštica, or from Prevlaka in Croatia.