To enter the first of the four bays that comprise the Gulf of Kotor is an awe-inspiring experience. This is one of the great natural features of any coastline in Europe and an unforgettable experience on any Adriatic adventure cruise with mountains rising dramatically on each side. Kotor itself lies at the head of the fjord, a delightfully preserved miniature of a mediaeval city overshadowed by towering mountain of Lovèen that rises sheer some six thousand feet as its backdrop. Not for the faint of heart, a narrow road twists and loops up its side to penetrate the mountain fastnesses of Montenegro. Nestling in its shadow, Kotor is a maze of narrow streets and alleys that have witnessed attack and pillage from Romans and Saracens from the ancient world followed by successive raids by Serbians, Tartars, Hungarians and Bosnians. There have been earthquakes too, yet despite all these human and natural afflictions a mediaeval city survives that bears witness to its twin strengths of religious faith and maritime enterprise.
The Roman and the orthodox traditions here meet and have lived in harmony for centuries. The cathedral of St Tryphon, a saint more venerated in the Orthodox than the Roman tradition, is a superb example of Romanesque architecture dating from the twelfth century. The Maritime Museum, housed in a former palace, speaks of the town’s commercial past, and tells the story of its celebrated Seamen’s Guild that enabled Kotor to hold its own in competition with Dubrovnik and even Venice.
But it is Kotor’s natural beauty that most beguiles the contemporary traveller, a heady mix of lemon and orange blossoms, aloes and oleander, cactus and palm trees. Bougainvilleas tumble across crumbling limestone walls to enliven the town squares and decorate its outdoor cafes. The first Slav to circumnavigate the globe was born here, Ivi Vizin, for Kotor is a city of famous sailors. Wandering its enchanting streets, one is tempted to ask how they could ever bring themselves to leave.
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