One of my favorite places of our entire jaunt through the Balkans, the Kotor Fortress on top of the Mountain of St. John in Montenegro, deserves a post of its own.
These walls and buildings have a history that would tie anyone's brain in knots. The original fortification was built by the ancient Illyrians, perhaps as early as 100 B.C. Then the Byzantine Emperor Justinian reconstructed the fortress in the 6th century. Venetians took over in the 15th century for the next 377 years and added many of the present-day fortifications, but during their rule the Ottomans managed to steal it twice for short periods of time. In 1797 the area passed to the Habsburgs as part of a treaty, was assigned to the Napoleonic State of Italy for governance, and was occupied by Russian troops until it became part of the French Illyrian Provinces in 1807. Britain conquered Kotor in 1814 and returned the region to the Austrian Empire in 1815 at the Congress of Vienna. After their defeat in World War I, Austria withdrew from the fortress and it was left unmanned until Axis forces moved in during World War II. Finally, the fortress was liberated on November 21, 1944, and has been controlled by its own people since that time.
|The date of liberation is inscribed above the Sea Gate, the main entrance into the walled city. A quote from Marshal Tito is chiseled into the stone above the lintel: "We do not need other people's things, and we do not give our own." Photo from here.|
As a result of changing hands so many times, the fortifications are a delightfully jumbled mishmash of building styles--no master plan here--and recent improvements to the path up the mountain have made all of it accessible.
|View from below. Photo taken with a telephoto lens.|
|The zig-zagging walls creep back and forth along the craggy mountain spine for almost three miles.|
On the day of our climb to the castle on top of the mountain, we got an early start, hoping to beat the crowds that would disembark from the large cruise ship that we could see pulling into the harbor.
Part-way up the mountain, we were treated to a bell concert, the tintinnabulations ringing in a new day and inviting everyone to come join us on the mountaintop.
Some of the meter-thick protective walls along the way have openings once used for cannon fire but now providing a souvenir view of a peaceful, hardly moving vista.
A gasp-worthy photo, don't you think? No photoshopping here--all natural. The Bay of Kotor reaches its silky fingers 17 miles from the open sea to this harbor, the glassy turquoise surface providing a wonderful backdrop for the red, white, and green of the city.
|Dozens (hundreds?) of metal brads have been pounded into old stones to keep the halves from parting ways.|
A large Montenegrin flag waves proudly from the ramparts:
Looking over the top of the mountain to the backside, we could see the more ruins of what might have once been a village.
It was hard to miss this rather obvious reminder not to litter:
When we arrived on top, there were just a few people there ahead of us, but we knew the crowds were gathering below. After spending some time taking photos, we started on our descent.
If you have bad knees, this little walk may not be for you:here.