Boka Kotorska by night

The Boka Kotorska by night

Illyrian tribes, guided by Queen Teuta remained hidden in this place for decades, managing to put on a serious trial the Roman Empire in process of being born. Queen Teuta, leader of what was left of the experienced naval Illyrian people, set her headquarters under the protecting mountains around what is now called Risan.

Few meters far from the shore, enclosed among high trees, stands one of the many footprints left by the Romans, able to conquer the region: a domus, the pearl of which is represented by a mosaic, unique in its subject. The glorious beauty of this place, however, stands fenced in cement walls, covered with asbestos plates, humiliated, blocked, closed, denigrated.
Few meters far from the shore, deep in the water, someone could swear to have seen the rest of the Roman Risan. Legends says that, after thunderstorms, golden coins emerge from the sea, riding the turmoiled sweet waters’ currents running under the mountain and coming out from the seabed. The prison of this unknown town it is not a cement wall, but a dock.

The line dividing Catholicism from Orthodoxy was, on paper, the only human artifact able to cross unharmed the fierce mountains protecting the Boka. In reality, orthodoxy managed to enter the town in relatively recent times. In fact this ephemeral border was as immaterial as ineffective: the waves of the calm Adriatic Sea were easier to face for the Roman Catholic saints as Sveti Trifun, then the mountain passes for the adepts of Cyril and Methodius.

Catholicism-Orthodoxy border

Catholicism-Orthodoxy border

Cause/effect of this was the Saint Marc Lion of Venice, the force of which cubed after the conquest of Kotor. The wisdom and the gifts of Venetians are evident in the immense beauty and culture left to the peoples after. It does not really matter with which spirit of conquer the Venetians built up Perast. It does not count at all, when you find yourself in the lucky moment when the ray of the sun splashes in the impossibly calm water of the bay, exactly in the middle of the Turks rt, the Turkish Cape, the last maritime stronghold before Kotor, the pearl of the Bay. Many Turkish ships tried to overcome the huge iron chain installed by the Venetians from one side to the other of the cape, crashing their hope to conquer the inner part of the bay together with the fore of their ships. As a matter of fact, even the mighty Muslims had several problems in conquering what the Venetians made a luxurious port on the Adriatic. The links were so close that even during the Ottoman rule, Kotor maintained its wealth and its role in the Adriatic.

The Kotor Fraternity ruled the commercial network of the town, which did not knew any dark era until the creation of the Italian and Habsbourg vapor fleet. The calm water of the Adriatic became the highways of those ships, while the skills of Montenegrin sailors weren’t enough.

Like a summer storm, Napoleon‘s army arrived till here to secure this strategic port, and quickly went away, clearing the way to the definitive Habsbourg rule.

The town survived to two World Wars, four kingdoms[1], many invasions in the last century. But people living in the Stari Grad kept on perceiving themselves as Cattarini (from Cattaro the Italian name of Kotor), before any other identity, build or effective, past or new. Even today, now that the town has enlarged its economical and administrative borders, the real “Cattarini” are few, hidden like cats in an old town, the only real lords of stone-wall houses, in a way different from the people coming from outside the walls of the Stari Grad.

Tito himself liberated the town, the 21/11/44, leaving his mark on the white marble of the Stari Grad main entrance, close to the town market, inherited by modern Kotor from the Venetians. Today, the farmers outside the Boka give life to the old Venetian market, carrying the fruits of the fertile Grbalj, the land right outside the Boka, still facing the Adriatic, but far from the Venetian influence. Krvena osveta (blood feud) was still the rule there, few years ago. The fruits of that land arrive in Kotor in old vans, together with the farmers, their dialect (different form the fairly Italian-influenced Kotor one), their homemade products: olive oil, rakija, kajmak, Njegusi sir i prsut. I am not providing any description of those, you just have to go there yourself and taste, as it is usual, before buying some. The white marble of the tables, build by the Venetians, hosts also some local fishermen, coming mostly from Tivat.

Map of Boka Kotorska

Teodo is the Roman – then Italian – name of Tivat. The town with the longest coastline of the bay, paired to a humble but characteristic touristic dock. The Zupa cape dominates its landscape. You can have a bath there, right in front of the Sveti Marko ostrvo, Saint Mark Island, also known as “Flower Island” or “French Island”, along with legends I lost the memory of…

All this just to say that for how small and hidden it might appear, this bay enchanted thousands of men, enclosed stories, events, the influence of which goes beyond the insurmountable rocks of the Boka Kotorska.

All this before 2005.
Now, with the EU approaching, the Russian capitals already landed using the incredibly dangerous Tivat airport, the  politicians from Podgorica, the pljeskavice which substituted the far tastier Dalmatian fish cooking tradition, all this aforementioned poetry is in decline.

Poetry, like beauty, is in our interpretation of places, experiences and people. Maybe I’ve lost this poetry together with a part of myself, left somewhere on the breath-taking coast of the Bay, in places far more beautiful then those I had the humble intention to describe you. Places, where my love for the Balkans was born.

Don’t go looking for those places. You won’t find them, if they still exist. Better stay home, trying to find your Kotor somewhere closer to you.


[1] Habsbourg, Nikola I Montenegrin Kingdom, Italy, Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes.

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