KOTOR / Wall to Wall

On ancient history and methods of fortification.

At the moment of the creation of our planet, the most beautiful merging of land and sea occurred at the Montenegrin seaside… When the pearls of nature were sworn, an abundance of them were strewn all over this area.

-Lord Byron


We entered Montenegro via a winding two-lane road through the mountains on which a border crossing from Bosnia eventually emerged. When we put down the window to deliver our passports, the sharp smell of wild rosemary filled the air. A short distance later, the landscape had grown rocky, with scrubby bushes clinging to steep slopes.1We rounded a corner and there, ahead of us, was the Bay of Kotor, laid out like a postcard.

Montenegro is a small, new country2with an ancient history. Historians have not yet determined when Kotor was founded, though some data suggests at least two millenniums have passed. The city makes appearances in legends and Phoenician myths pre-dating Homer, and its first settlement was likely Greek. We can infer that it has probably existed nearly as long as trade in the neighboring Adriatic Sea.

The city’s strategic location — noted on ancient regional maps by name — has led to a series of important architectural features implemented for protection. Kotor’s old town is labyrinthine, constructed like a maze to ensure invaders (and today, locals and tourists alike) could not find their way around easily. Most iconically, extensive fortifications were constructed around the city and into the surrounding hills. Construction on these fortifications dates back to the 9th century, though a full loop around the city was only completed in the 14th century.

When you arrive in Kotor, the first thing you notice is the stunning scenery. But the more time you spend there, the more you become aware of the complex network of walls, ramparts, towers, citadels and gates that surround the city. Staring at the mountains one day, I saw a thin, brown line materialize suddenly into a wall. I realized that the initially camouflaged stone snaked all the way over the peak into the unseen distance, much larger than I’d ever imagined. At night, spotting the walls is easy; they are often lit up, tracing zig-zag lines across the darkness, a beacon for boats still entering the sheltered harbor.

Photo: City walls / June 2016

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