Kotor of the HILL people!

In a very secluded part of the Mediterranean, on the coast of Montenegro, is an absolutely astonishing little place called Kotor. The name sounds more like a barbarian hero.. like Conan.. " I am KOTOR of the HILL people!" But in fact it’s a primeval town, first settled by ancient Romans in 168 BC. Over the centuries Kotor has been controlled by several different empires but the most significant was the Venetians who ruled Kotor from 1420 to 1797. It was the Venetians who built the amazing walled city that you see today. ( please click on pictures to enlarge)

The old town itself is completely surrounded by huge defensive walls, and as you look up the three hundred meter mountain that Kotor sits at the base of, you can see that the massive walls completely enclose not only the city but the mountain itself. At the very top, with a commanding view of the city and the bay, sits the fortress of San Giovanni, or St. John, which was the Venetian stronghold. The Venetian influence also extends into the old town architecture. All the buildings and narrow streets are very reminiscent of Venice… without the water.

The great thing about Kotor, is that even though it is a UNESCO world heritage site, you can still climb the one thousand steps to the top and go inside of the fortress and explore. Nothing is blocked off and nothing is barred from the public. Probably it should be in order to protect this amazing ruin, but right now, you can still climb it and explore it. You do have to pay two euro per person at the entrance to the climb up to the fortress, but that’s all.

Today I was lucky enough to make the climb with three beautiful girls (brilliant motivation if you’re a guy…); Amber, who you have met before, Claire and Linh. Here they are at the entrance gate to the climb up the fortress, kind of doing a Charlies Angels thing... I said kind of. Claire and Linh work in the Spa, and Claire is actually the onboard fitness instructor. Yea, I know what you’re thinking; pretty fearless move to go on a thousand step climb with a fitness instructor, but she was kind and didn’t take off sprinting up the steps like a gazelle leaving us all behind. Instead she maintained a moderate pace and let us all feel much more fit than we probably are. Of course on the way up, everyone we passed knew Claire. It seems almost all of the guests who have been frequenting the gym also wanted to make this climb, and they all made sure to let Claire know that after this climb they wouldn’t be making it to the gym. In fact, I think I’ll be skipping my evening gym session as well… don’t tell Claire.

The climb isn’t as punishing as it seems when you first look at it, but if you’re not fairly active you might find it a bit of a test. If you do ever get to Kotor and make the climb to the fortress my advice is try and take the little side paths and explore on your way up. Don’t just follow the normal path or the people in front of you. There is plenty to discover all the way up (or down). At one point where the normal path went right, we went left. We passed a man coming down this path who told us in three languages that there was no way through (he just kept trying until he saw understanding dawn on our faces), but we went anyway. It turns out there was a way through, you just had to climb up some very steep ancient stairs, pinch through a narrow remnant of a corridor and climb through what looked like an old fortress window. Most amazing of all was that while we were trying to find a way through we came across a huge chamber cut into the mountain. It was a little scary in fact. It was very dark inside and we had to actually enter the huge room so our eyes adjusted and we could see a little bit. I, of course, sent the girls in first to check for spooks and spiders. This is them entering the spooky room.

As you can see it was an amazing chamber, it kind of reminded me of a scene from Beowulf. This is the kind of room they gathered in; a huge fire roaring and torches alight along the walls. Everyone eating and drinking and partying… of course then Grendle came and killed everyone for making too much noise.

There is something eerie about standing in a room like this, with so much history. What was this huge room? Who entered here? How many centuries has it stood? What things went on inside these walls? There is also something eerie about standing in an ancient stone room with a 30 foot ceiling when it’s dark and you can’t see what’s looking down at you (yea, that’s right, I’m talkin’ about SPIDERS again…). If you ever do make this hike, take a flashlight with you. If you find the big scary room it will come in handy.

It took us about forty minutes to make it to the top and St. Johns fortress. If you’re going to make the climb give yourself two hours or a bit more to allow for side path exploration and all of the photo stops you will make. You might want to take some water along with you as well. It’s a bit strange to me but with all the little grassy areas along the climb not one local has thought to open a little refreshment stand! On a sunny hot day like today, after climbing all the way up, I would easily drop six euro on a cold beer. This is my third season visiting Kotor and not once has anyone thought to get a few fit high school teenagers to carry a couple coolers of ice, coke and beer to the top and sell it for 300% profit. It kills me that no one is doing this. If I lived here, I sure would.

All in all I would say Kotor is a must see, and St. Johns fortress is a must do, and when you get back to the bottom you can reward yourself with some of the best pizza and ice cream in the med, all available in the old town.
2 Responses
  1. John Says:

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