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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

9/11: Kotor, Montenegro: City Walls & Gates

Clearly, I had too much time on my hands waiting in the Dubrovnik bus station for the bus to Kotor in Montenegro!
Our bus from Dubrovnik to Kotor took a lot longer than we had anticipated but a driver from the studio apartment we had rented for three night luckily was still waiting for us. All we could think of when we saw how positively minute the place was, was how funny it was that our accommodations have gotten progressively smaller in the last week or so. How much smaller than this could we get, we asked ourselves? Surely, the odds must be in our favor and our room sizes would increase soon!
On a positive note, the wifi was good and there was a lovely communal terrace. The studio was located on one of the hills that surround picturesque Kotor which meant a fairly steep climb to and from the studio each time. Fortunately, it was only a 10 or so minute walk into the old town. 

The sturdy city walls that were started in the 9th century and tweaked through the 18th century, climbed steeply up the mountain slopes behind the town. They were the same dark gray color so, from a distance, they were barely discernible from the mountains behind.
A little bit of background on Kotor: It is thought that the town began as part of the Roman province of Dalmatia. Its current look owes much to nearly 400 years of Venetian rule when it was known as Cattaro. In 1813 it briefly joined with Montenegro for the first time but the great powers decided to hand it back to Austria, where it remained until after WWI. There’s a strong history of Catholic and Orthodox cooperation in the area, although the number of Catholics has dropped from 51% in 1900 to only about 12% today.
This mammoth cruise ship looked so out of place in the tiny harbor and just swamped everything around it. I have never seen something so out of whack before as this.
The main entrance to Kotor is through the Sea Gate which was constructed in 1555 when the town was under Venetian rule. If you look very closely above the gate, you can possibly see  the date of the city's liberation from the Nazis, a communist star and a quote from Tito, Yugoslavia's president. I should have taken a close up!
As we passed through the gate, there was a 15th century stone relief of the Madonna and Child, flanked by St. Tryphon and St. Bernard.
The passageway led us to a largish square called the Square of Arms. Dead ahead was a strange stone pyramid in front of the clock tower which was used as a pillory to shame wayward citizens.

We had read that the best thing to do in Kotor is just to wander the maze of streets and that we'd soon know every corner since the town is quite small! That sounded very appealing to us, so wander we did.

The first place we found was the Catholic St. Tryphon's Cathedral which was originally built in the 12th century but was reconstructed after several earthquakes. When the entire front was destroyed in 1667, the baroque bell towers were added but the left one was never finished.
We both found the Cathedral's pale colored interior quite intriguing as it was so different from other cathedrals we've seen over the years. The Corinthian columns alternated with pillars of pink stone to support a series of vaulted roofs.
It was easy to understand how the silver relief altar screen is considered as Kotor's most valuable treasure.

Upstairs was the interesting reliquary chapel.
There was a rather spooky wooden crucifix that dated from 1288 in front of the grille at the top of the stairs.

I was able to poke my camera lens through the grille and take these photos of assorted body parts of saints including St. Tryphon. Aren't you  glad I did! The early martyr's importance to both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches made him a fitting patron for the city.

Kotor seemed to be made up of square after square. In one was lovely St. Clare’s Church. 
I heard a tour guide there say it was operated by a strict order of nuns called the Clarisa Sisters. They observe rules of fasting each Wednesday and Friday. The church was mentioned for the first time in the 12th century but the church was built in the 14th century.
I said a few prayers here remembering the horrific events that took place on September 11th in NYC, Washington and Pennsylvania 15 years ago.

The latticework wooden ceiling was unusual. The head of the Virgin Mary (?) faced toward the altar.
It was so neat strolling from one small square to another equally small square via very narrow stone passageways.
On another square were two churches: One of them was St. Luke’s Orthodox Church. The small church speaks volumes about the history of Croat-Montenegrin relations in Kotor. It was constructed in 1195 as a Catholic church but from1657 until 1812 a Catholic and Orthodox altar stood side by side with each faith taking turns celebrating their faith here.
The church is now solely Orthodox. Fragments of 12th century frescoes still survive.

Just a stone's throw away across the square is another, but much larger Orthodox church, St. Nicholas Church. It was built in 1909.

It was interesting to find out that icons of the four apostles were just painted in 1998 with the blessing of the Patriarch of Moscow and assistance from members of the Russian Art Academy.

The scent of beeswax candles permeated the church.
View of tiny St. Luke’s Church from the doorway of St. Nicholas Church:
As we left the church by a side door and walked along a passage, we came across these men. I couldn't resist taking their photos. I don't know if they were political figures, army generals or actors! What a serious lot they were.

We walked next to St. Mary Kolodata Church located in Usana Square. Normally the church is closed so we felt very fortunate that it was open so we could its frescoes. 

We both admired the very detailed bas reliefs on the doors.
Oh yes, the frescoes inside were beautiful too!
The church was located very near to the North Gate so we walked over to see it. It was so cute seeing this mammoth stuffed toy atop the wall right there!
Steven and his 'girlfriend' at the wall!
Nearby was the passage to Kotor Fortress of St. John that Steven wanted to climb another time. I had had enough of climbing steep hills for a while and told him to go for it!
Having seen two of the gates, we decided that we might as well see the other one too even though it meant going back retracing our steps somewhat.
Kotor has a proud history as a naval power and that is celebrated in the Maritime Museum which is housed in an early 18th century palace.
The narrow lanes were so appealing that seeing some of them again was still special as we approached them from a different direction.

The many squares in the town center were generally jam packed with mobs of people in tour groups on offshore excursions from their cruise ships. 
Fewer tourists make it to the southern end of town so that was our goal. We knew we couldn't get lost as the town is so small but that didn't mean we always knew where we were either, mind you! That's just part of the adventure, though, in our minds.
The steps led to lovely views.

We left the city walls by the South Gate, parts of which date from the 12th century.
The gate's drawbridge over Gurdic Spring:

Having walked through the entire town, we only then realized we were both hungry so, back we walked from the South Gate all the way around outside the walls, and through the North Gate to find a place for dinner. 
I had a place in mind that was on one of the squares that I had remembered while walking earlier but, of course, I couldn't quite remember which square it was on! That would have been just too easy.

We got to know the many lanes inside the walls by this point in the day as we had traversed them all at least once and some of them several times! Steven was so 'thrilled' that we discovered a new one though that took us past the Cat Museum. I say thrilled in quotation marks as Steven is allergic to cats! There were cats roaming the streets everywhere, too, so we shouldn't have been surprised when we saw the museum.
Success at last as I finally remembered which square the restaurant had been on! It was right by St. Tryphon's Cathedral so we saw a steady stream of (other!) tourists streaming by. Great though for people watcing while enjoying our wine and dinner. The food was delicious and ridiculously cheap by American standards.
We had seen the 'sights' in the charming town but we had two more days in Kotor.  That meant we had two days to look forward to exploring other nearby areas on day trips.

Posted from Prisitna, Kosovo on September 20th, 2016.

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