A visit to the medieval Old Town of Kotor means being surrounded by architecture that reflects Kotor’s history.
Kotor was a city of marine trade located in the Dinaric Alps on the south-western shore of the stunningly beautiful Kotor Bay. The styles of the Old Town’s architecture varied due to its history of invasions and foreign occupations. But the most significant changes to Kotor’s architecture were due to the impacts of numerous, devastating earthquakes that forced major restorations.
Kotor Old Town has a variety of historical churches, palaces, civic and residential buildings which vary in architectural style from the Byzantine and Romanesque, through the Gothic and Renaissance, to the Baroque. Sometimes, however, the facades are no longer truly characteristic of their original periods due to extensive restorations.
This post explores the history and architecture of Kotor Old Town – what lies within its walls. You can read about the fortifications of Kotor, including the city walls and fortress in a separate post.
Menu for Exploring the History and Architecture of Kotor
- A Map of Kotor Old Town
- History and Architecture of Kotor Old Town
- Final Thoughts on Exploring the History and Architecture of Kotor
Map of Kotor Old Town
Tap or mouse over an icon. The icons that identify the Old Town’s fortifications have been used in the previous post and are inactive.
The River Gate (North Gate)
c.1540 and the entrance to the Old Town through the north wall
Church of Lady of Remedy
Castel St. John was Illyrian and was later strengthened by the Venetians
Entrance to Ascent to Castel St Johnand</br
The Valier Bastion was constructed on the West wall in the 16th-17th Century
c.16-17th Century and the Korner bastion protected the alternate West Gate
The Gurdic Bastion and Gurdic Gate (South Gate)
c.1250 for the Gurdic Gate and then c.1470 for the Gurdic Bastion which were located on the junction of the western and southern wall
The Bembo Bastion
c.1540 and the Bembo Bastion was an important defensive element if the north wall
The North Wall
The North Wall ascends up to the Fort of St John and includes the North Gate c.1540, and Riva (1516) and Bembo (1540) bastions
The West Wall
The Western Wall faces the port and hosts the Kampana Tower, Valier Bastion, Korner Bastion and Gurdic Bastion
The South Wall
The South Wall ascends from the Gurdic Bastion to the Fort of St John
c.1420 The Arsenal was used for arms storage and dates contemporaneously with the beginning of Venetian occupation
c.1810 The restored Napoleonic Theatre was originally built under French occupation
c.17-18th Century, Duke’s Palace is a longitudinal building with Renaissance balcony consoles and extends along the western side of the Square of Arms
The Renaissance Bizanti Palace (14th Century-1667 AD)
Square of Flour
Originated in the early Byzantine and was a space for the flour market
The major historical market in the cathedral square with The Town Command Building, St Tryphons and Drago Palace
An historical market place
St Paul’s Church
c.1263 Late Medieval church built under Serbian rule
Restored prison but originally thought to be Romanesque
Franciscan Monastery of St Clair
c.13th Century Franciscan Monastery of St Clair adjacent to the Remains of Dominican Monastery
St Luke’s Church in St Luke’s Square
c.1176 Serbo-Byzantine church with semi-circular arches and dome
Church of St Mary
c.1221 Serbo-Byzantine Church built on an earlier pre-Romanesque basilica
The River Gate (North Gate)
c.1540 and the entrance to the Old Town through the north wall
Church of Lady of Remedy
Castel St. John was Illyrian and was later strengthened by the Venetians
Entrance to Ascent to Castel St Johnand</br
The Monastery of St Francis
Built in 1288 but destroyed by the Venetians in 1656. Replaced in 1695
The Buca Palace
c.14th Century Gothic palace built under Serbian rule but no longer an example of Gothic style following restoration
The Grgurina Palace
c.1732 The Baroque Grgurina Palace was built under Venetian rule and is now the Maritime Museum
The Grubonja Palace
c.17th Century Renaissance Palace and Coat of Arms
The Lombardec Palace
c.18th Century Baroque palace of the Lombardić familiy on Saint Luke Square
St Nicholas Church
c.1909 Serbo-Byzantine church built under Austrian rule
St Michaels Church
c.13th-14th Century a small single nave Romanesque church started early in the Gothic years
The History and Architecture of Kotor
Kotor Old Town was occupied during the Classical and Early Medieval periods by the Illryians, Romans, Byzantines and Serbians, but it was not until the Late Middle Age that many of the churches and other buildings that we recognise today were constructed under Venetian rule.
The History of Earthquakes and Their Impact on the Architecture of Kotor
Kotor is located on the shores of a bay which is open to the sea on the Montenegrin coast. This stretch of coast is very much more susceptible to seismic acitivity than further inland. A large tectonic trench runs inland of Kotor in the direction of the Dinarides, and a microplate is situated seaward of Kotor under the Adriatic. The Gulf of Kotor is just one seismic zone, others being nearby Budva and Skadar Lake. Kotor has therefore experienced literally thousands of strong and lesser earthquakes, but it was the Kotor zone that generated the catastrophic earthquakes that devastated Kotor in June, 1563 and July, 1608. Serious damage also resulted from the 1667 earthquake which was centred near Dubrovnik, and the May, 1979 earthquake (Richter 7.0) that devastated the length of the Montenegrin coastline had its epicentre in the Adriatic just 15 kilometres off the coast of Albania.
The 1979 earthquake destroyed Kotor, along with many of the towns in Montenegro now visited by tourists. Also destroyed was much of the original architecture of the towns.
Byzantine-Romanesque-Serbian Architecture in Kotor
The Byzantine period dates from 330 AD until 1453 AD. Romanesque architecture was contemporaneous with Byzantine architecture from approximately 800 AD through to the introduction of the Gothic style circa 1150 AD.
Byzantine and Romanesque architecture both carried forward Roman influences and so share common style elements. The relationship between Byzantine and Romanesque architecture and their arbitrary separation is explained in our post describing St Luke’s Church in Kotor.
The principal element of Roman architecture common to both styles was the arch, along with domes and vaults.
Byzantine architecture became strongly associated with the round, central dome, which was typically placed centrally over the church which was built on a square. Smaller domes were arranged around the periphery of the church. The configuration was both functional and symbolic. The dome increased the internal space and light inside Byzantine buildings as well as reinforcing the elevated position of God over terrestrial creation.
Romanesque architecture became characterised by the semi-circular arch, to which were added flat buttresses, square architraves with circular mouldings, paired windows within an arch, arched windows in multiples, wheel windows, blind arcades, arcades under the roofline, figured capitals, masonry piers, and vaults. Mature Romanesque buildings also became characterised by their increased length and thick, featureless walls.
In Kotor, the Romanesque period until 1150 AD coincided with the Middle Byzantium period which terminated in 1204 AD. The Romanesque architecture of the region was borrowed initially from the Romanesque styles of Dalmatia.
Examples of Byzantine Architecture in Kotor to 1143 AD
Byzantium prospered during the early Middle Byzantium years, and was also able to successfully retrieve previously lost territories. Kotor found itself located at the northern extremity of the Serbian coastal territory of Zeta, under the direct influence of either Byzantium or a Byzantium vassal.
St Tryphons Church
It was during this period, at the beginning of the 9th Century, that the original version of St Tryphon’s Church was constructed in Kotor. It was one of the earliest churches within the Byzantine Empire to be built as a single nave, cruciform church with a central dome erected on pillars. The design became a model for the expansion of similarly built churches throughout the Empire.
Examples of Byzantine and Romanesque Architecture in Kotor 1143-1185 AD
Kotor’s period of relative autonomy ceased in 1143 AD when Byzantium subdued Kotor’s vassal state. Byzantium’s resumption of its rule of Kotor only lasted for 42 years, from 1143 to 1185. Several churches based on the Byzantine model were built in Kotor during those years.
St Anne’s Church
St. Anne’s Church (1150 AD) was Byzantine-Romanesque with single nave and dome. Regrettably, St Anne’s was extensively damaged by earthquakes and has undergone considerable reconstruction and repair. It is more convenient to assume an original similarity with St Luke’s Church, which escaped earthquake damage, in preference to describing St Anne’s altered detail.
St Tryphon’s Cathedral
The period also saw the completion of the Romanesque Cathedral, St Tryphon’s.St. Tryphon’s Cathedral (1166 AD) St Tryphon’s Cathedral, Kotor is the largest church in the Old Town and is situated in the Square of the Market of St Tripuna (Market Square), replacing the former 9th Century Church of St Tryphon.
It is generally thought that western craftsmen contributed to St Tryphon’s Cathedral and influenced its construction. We take a closer look at the modifications of the architecture of the Romanesque St Tryphon’s Cathedral in a separate post.
St Michael’s Church
The building work early in the Gothic years also included St Michael’s Church (13th-14th Century), a small single nave Romanesque church that was built over an earlier Christian basilica. It was situated in the heart of the Old Town and dates from the late 13th Century.
The windows and portal of St Michael’s display the semi-circular arch. The portal as shown in the following image was enclosed by a rectangular architrave and the arched moulding extended above the lintel to define a tympanum which is now undecorated. (Image Credit: Bernard Gagnon, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
Examples of Byzantine and Serbian Architecture in Kotor 1185-1371 AD
Kotor was freed from Byzantium rule in 1185 AD through the emergence of the Serbian Nemanjic dynasty. This period coincided with the Late Byzantium and for the next 186 years Kotor prospered with relative independence.
The Romanesque period in the west was in transition to the Gothic and in the east the Byzantine Empire was on the threshold of its Late Byzantium period. Several churches were built in similar style in Kotor Old Town soon after 1185 AD due to the eastern influence of Serbia. A strategy of the Nemanjic Dynasty was to stabilise its influence and unify its territories by funding them as important regional partners. Much of the funding was invested in construction, and the design of the churches that resulted again merged early Christian church design with traditional Slavic architecture. The influence of the Dalmatian Romanesque was reduced and architecture settled into a Byzantine style. The design of the typical Serbo-Byzantine church was repeated in a number of churches – a rectangular foundation with a centrally located major dome surrounded by smaller domes. The full expression of the style was not built in Kotor. The style can be understood as an expression of Byzantine-Romanesque or more accurately, Serbo-Byzantine.
St Luke’s ChurchSt Luke’s Church (1195 AD) is an example of a Serbo-Byzantine church built within a decade of the advent of Serbian rule. St Luke’s Church
St Luke’s Church in Kotoris located in a square that bears its own name within the north-eastern urban quarter of Kotor Old Town. St Luke’s Church gives us an insight into the architecture of the period because it is the only church in Montenegro that has escaped damage from earthquakes.
You will find a more complete description of St Luke’s Church in its own post.
St Mary’s Church
St Mary’s Church (1221 AD) was built on the site of a pre‐Romanesque early 6th Century Christian basilica. An historical pharmacy (1326 AD) is located just behind the church.
The characteristics of St Mary’s Serbo-Byzantine design are still evident in the segmental dome which is supported by pendentives, the latter distributing the load of the dome across the central square. Segmental domes were introduced to limit the amount of contact between the base of the dome and its support. This design reduced the tensile stress on the dome. The dome’s round arched windows are each recessed within a larger arch. The increased number of windows in the dome significantly increased the light inside the nave and apse.
The exterior of St Mary’s Church as it appears now demonstrates some Romanesque features. The Lombard band, a sequence of blind arcades, is visible under the roof line. Also, the round arched windows are recessed in larger round arches and a wheel window sits above the western door.
Romanesque portals traditionally had doors set in rectangular architraves surrounded by moulding, with circular moulding above the door defining the area of the tympanum. These features can be seen in the image even though they may have been included in restoration. What can’t be seen is the bronze door that opens into the church which is decorated with Kotor themes.
Finally, flat buttresses support the wall and polychromatic masonry is used for external decoration. A wheel window sits under the Lombard band over the western portal. The bell tower is Romanesque with substantive buttressing at its base, is constructed in stages, and has semi-circular arch windows that increase in size up the tower. These elements are all significant in identifying a Romanesque church (Image Credit: Litany, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons).
The altar under the dome inside the church is adorned with the remnants of period frescoes, and semi-circular arches define the boundaries of barrel vaults and blind arches.
Ruins of Franciscan Monastery
The Serbians established Romanesque Dominican and Franciscan monasteries during the 13th century to oppose the expansion of a dualist religious sect that emanated out of Bulgaria.The ruins of the Franciscan Monastery (1288-1656 AD) are located on the city side of the south-western Gurdic Gate. The monastery was occupied by the Franciscan nuns in the 14th Century. The Venetians destroyed the monastery in 1656 during their occupation of Kotor to prevent the invading Ottomans from using it to their advantage. Another monastery was built in 1695.
Gothic Architecture in Kotor
The Gothic period (1150 AD – 1450 AD) was contemporaneous with the Late Byzantium period (to 1453 AD) during which the architecture in Kotor was influenced by the Nemanjic Dynasty until its defeat in 1371 AD.
Gothic Architecture in Kotor 1150-1450 AD
Kotor entered a period of mixed dominion following the decline of Serbia which included rule by Hungary (1371-1384 AD), Bosnia (1384-1391 AD) and its own independence (1391-1420 AD). Consequently, Gothic architecture of its period, identified by its pointed arch, flying buttresses, ribbed vaults, large stained glass windows and ornate and intricate tracery is not highly visible in Kotor. Some aspects are not visible at all. But examples of the Gothic style can be found in Kotor Old Town.
Examples of Gothic Architecture in Kotor 1150- AD
Windows of Gothic Style in Entrance to Former Dominican Monastery
The following image shows arched windows of the Gothic style that were originally part of a 16th Century Dominican Monastery near the Grubonja Palace.
The window exists as a pair which is recessed within a larger semi-circular arch. Each separate window of the pair features the pointed arch associated with the Gothic period and each side of the arch rests on a colonette, the top of which is decorated with a floriated capital.
The Gothic Portal of the Beskuca Palace
The Beskuca Palace was not constructed during the Gothic period but rather during the Baroque years in 1776 AD. The palace now has a very plain façade but a very lovely anachronistic Gothic portal (Image Credit: Sailko, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)
The most obvious Gothic features are the pointed arch under which is a sculptured tympanum with a prominent lion relief. Religious symbols in the form of angels or saints are enclosed by floral moulding in the form of grape leaves bordering the arch. The lions on the capitals are still relatively well preserved.
Bucchia (Buca) Palace
The Bucchia Palace was constructed during the 14th Century opposite the Pima Palace in Flour Square. Whereas the Gothic architecture of this palace is no longer in evidence following its restoration in 1667 AD after the earthquake, an arcade paired window characteristic of the Romanesque and Gothic can be seen on its western side.
The Drago Palace
The Drago Palace is located on the Square of the Market of St Tripuna and was originally built in the 16th Century.
The 16th Century Drago Palace was constructed with adjoining wings that produced an irregular profile. This palace is the one and only example of a partially Gothic palace in Kotor. After the 1667 earthquake the south-western wing of the palace was damaged and it was renewed using both Renaissance and Baroque elements.
The south-west façade is Gothic. The elongated top window bears paired gothic arches separated by a mullion or twin colonette. Each arch is embellished. The rectangular lower window is capped with a pointed pediment and a humanistic relief is set into the tympanum – this type of relief characteristic of the Gothic period.
The absence of arches on the north-western façade (the façade closest in the image) suggests a different period of build. The façade is primarily Baroque with vertical, centralised features aligned above the broad portal giving a sense of integration and continuity. The decorated segmental (curved) pediment above the top window also suggests Baroque and was included when this wing of the palace was restored following the C17th earthquake. The balustrade appears, based on the symmetrical design of the balusters, to be Renaissance in style, much like those on the lower balcony on the Pima Palace. The humanistic relief in the niche above the drip moulding of the lower window is a Gothic feature. Look for sculptured dragons across the building, the element being representative of the Drago coat of arms.
Renaissance Architecture in Kotor 1400-1600 AD
The Venetian Republic during the Medieval became one of the foremost political, cultural and naval influences across and beyond the Adriatic. Venice had a navy of 3,000 ships at its peak and so if they appeared at your port then so did an inevitable realisation. The Venetian republic was wealthy. The warehouses that lined the length of its Grand Canal bulged with the goods and products that had been purchased or otherwise procured during Venice’s conquests. Kotor could only prosper from becoming a protectorate of Venice and was certainly not disadvantaged by being on the Venetian trade route. This occurred in 1420 AD when Kotor subjected themselves to the Venetians to secure defence against the Ottomans. The Venetians improved the city’s fortifications and increased the number of buildings and monuments which included churches, palaces and civic buildings. Nevertheless, Kotor was not insulated from the damage caused by subsequent Ottoman invasions, and the earthquakes that occurred in the 16th and 17th Centuries. Consequently, many of the structures that were damaged within the Old Town were restored out of period to their original build and incorporated features mixed from the Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque.
Examples of Renaissance Architecture in Kotor 1400-1600 AD
The Sea Gate at KotorEntry into the Old Town is through one of three gates. The Sea Gate (1555), or West Gate, is the largest of the gates and provides access through the western wall. It is now opposite the Riva.
Features of the Sea Gate are reminiscent of the classicism of the Romans and Greeks which was adopted within Renaissance architecture, particularly the use of semi-circular arches, columns, vaults and symmetry. The gate at Kotor has engaged columns with capitals that support the weight of the entablature. The capitals appear to be Corinthian, probably of type ‘foliate’. The architrave is the horizontal member that is seen running across the top of the arch between the columns. This horizontal memeber forms the base of the entablature. The top of the entablature, parallel to the architrave, is the cornice. The frieze is between the architrave and the cornice. Above the cornice is the suggestion of a triangular pediment. The ashlar masonry within the entablature has been covered with stucco, which could have been applied during the Renaissance or later.
The date recorded on the plaque in the frieze, November, 1944, is the date of Kotor’s liberation from the Nazis. It is also associated with Montenegro’s movement, having been liberated from Italy during WWII, towards membership of an independent communist Yugoslavia.
Above the cornice is an inscription of the same date by the former President of Yugoslavia, Josip Broz Tito (‘We will not give our own to others’). Finally, within the tympanum of the pediment above the inscription is the Baroque symbol of Kotor, the winged lion.
Groin vaulting was based on the barrel vault and was used in BC Roman times, and like many other classical elements, was integrated into Renaissance architecture. The groin vaulted ceiling under the western wall upon entry through the Sea Gate distributes the load of the overhead structure diagonally to a position in the wall where the load is supported.
The Sea Gate at Kotor opens immediately onto the rectangular Square of Arms, or Trg Od Oruzja, the largest open public space within the old town. The name of the space is derived from its former purpose of arms storage and maintenance.
The Arsenal (from 1420 AD) is situated in the north-west corner of the Square of Arms (green banner in image) and its construction was contemporaneous with the arrival of the Venetians into Kotor Old Town. The position of the Arsenal was strategic in that it was close to the Kampana Tower of the Citadel Bastion, both of which were important to the defence of the city. Those who were to engage in Kotor’s defence would collect arms from the Arsenal and assemble to defend against invasion at the most likely point of assault – opposite the port. The façade is very plain, perhaps rebuilt as a result of the earthquakes, and provides little external architectural detail to discuss.
The image above shows from left to right the Tower of Town Guards which is adjoined to the elongated Duke’s Palace. The French Theatre is at the other (northern) end of the palace and the Arsenal is opposite the Duke’s Palace.
The Duke’s Palace
The Duke’s Palace (17th-18th Century) is the longitudinal building which extends along the western side of the Square of Arms and was formerly occupied by the Venetian administrator, the Proveditor. The palace was also used by other military and civilian functionaries when in 1788 it was transferred to serve as a barracks and warehouse.
Images of the palace at the time of the 1979 earthquake show the remnants of its Renaissance-style corbels that supported the former rooved timber balcony that ran the length of the eastern side. The corbels have been restored and the balustrade replaced.
About the Buildings Opposite the Duke’s Palace
Our attention was drawn to the building immediately opposite the Duke’s Palace.
The facade is plain but compares favourably with images taken prior to the earthquake of 1979. The actual classification of this building, if it has one, may be determined by its interior. Pressed, we would say the exterior has Renaissance elements without saying the building was deliberately styled to be an example of Renaissance architecture. Some might argue it is Baroque on the basis that most of the palaces in Kotor are Baroque and most have a centrally located balcony. They may also know something about its interior that we don’t.
Our reasons for thinking this building has Renaissance elements are that the building has a distinctive ground floor separated from the stories above. In contrast, the stories of the facade of a Baroque building are usually integrated and prominent central elements align vertically above the portal. We also thought the balusters of this building are really very simple and symmetrical. They conform in style with original Renaissance balusters which were either vertically symmetrical with two symmetrical parts connected in the middle, or with only one swollen upper section or belly forming a bulbous vase form. The balusters also sit under a thick masonry hand rail. The balcony sits on corbels which could be thought to be scrolled but the corbels under the balcony of the smaller adjacent building, which we assume to have been contemporaneous, are certainly more in keeping with the Renaissance style.
The pointed pediment above the balcony was used in both Renaissance and Baroque periods but we can’t help but think that if the building was to be Baroque then the pediment would have been open if not curved. The rectangular window architraves were also common to both periods. The moulding above the windows was first used in the Romanesque, then Gothic. It was then popularised with the advent of rectangular windows which were used in domestic buildings. A line of windows with projecting hood moulding was not uncommon during the Renaissance.
We do not know about the interior decoration and structure of this building. It may very well have been constructed according to Baroque styles.
Before leaving the Square of Arms we should acknowledge the Clock Tower even though it doesn’t have any Renaissance features.
The Clock Tower
The Town Clock Tower is the first structure seen upon entering the square. The Town Clock Tower was constructed at the end of the Renaissance (1602 AD) and serves as a popular meeting point for visitors and residents alike.
This structure has been described on various pages as Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque. The Clock Tower does have a staged structure that resembles Romanesque, and perhaps Renaissance, but the key element that is missing is the arch on the windows and doors. The simplicity of the tower’s façades lacks any compelling Gothic features. The classical elements associated with the Renaissance are not present. The belfry is certainly a later addition because of restoration as indicated by the change in style and masonry, but lacks essential Baroque features. The Pillar of Shame that can be seen at the foot of the tower was used to identify a citizen and the crime he was accused of committing. Once again, does a structure without definitive elements have to be categorised.
The Pima Palace
The Pima Palace is located just off the Square of Arms on the Square of Flour. The origin of the name of the Square of Flour is not very challenging. It was here that flour was sold as were its products. The two palaces that occupy the square are the 17th Century Pima Palace and the 14th Century Buca Palace.
The Pima Palace has some identifiable Renaissance architecture and apparently inherited its Renaissance design during restoration. The palace is geometrically symmetrical and proportioned about its portal with lateral loggiae positioned beneath its balcony. The classical semi-circular arches sweep across the façade of each of the loggiae. The ceilings of each porch reveal the return to the groin vaults suspended across a square space.
The entablature returns in the form of a classical door architrave bordered by pilasters or square columns. The frieze between the architrave and the cornice is decorated with a stone relief of angels around the family crest. A rectangular pediment of sorts is located above the cornice.
Above the level of the entrance and loggiae are the balconies and windows. The lower balcony consists of a broad, moulded handrail supported by a series of symmetrically produced balusters.
Each Renaissance element listed is autonomous and stands alone as significant. Put them together and the Renaissance façade emerges. The Renaissance theme is interrupted by the Baroque style of the upper balcony and consoles.
The Entrance to the Dominican Monastery
The image below this time shows the lower windows of the entrance to the 16th Century Dominican Monastery.
The lower window is similarly supported by square columns and the tympanum is highly sculptured. The entire assembly rests over a semi-circular arch which is mounted on Tuscan capitals above solid columns. The entrance leads to the remains of the monastery and is used as a bazaar. The area of the bazaar has an arcade of semi-circular arches and both barrel and groin vaulting. Hence, we can’t help but see a Renaissance influence.
The Grubonja Palace
The 17th Century Grubonja Palace is located near the River Gate and is said to have been constructed with Renaissance style. The palace, if Renaissance, lends support to the building in Arms Square as also having Renaissance elements.
Notable elements include corbels decorated with lion heads under the second-floor windows.
Above the plaque on the wall is the emblem of the pharmacy of Kotor old town, dated to 1376 and one of the oldest in Europe.
The Bizanti Palace (14th Century-1667 AD) is located on Arms Square, the main town square. One façade of the palace faces the Square of Arms and the other faces the entrance to Flour Square.
Much of the original 14th Century architecture of the building has been lost following restorations after the 1667 earthquake although its original structure has survived. The two wings of the palace share a Renaissance structure in the form of a common internal courtyard from which a staircase provides access to the different levels of the palace.
Baroque Architecture in Kotor
Most of the years of the Baroque period coincided with the Venetian occupation and so it could be expected that the Venetian influence on architecture would continue. Certainly, the flamboyant Baroque buildings seen further west were not in evidence in Kotor. The decline of the Venetians in Kotor in 1797 transferred rule to the Habsburg Monarchy who then fell to the French between 1807 and 1814.
Whereas the Renaissance facade could be considered as an integration of separate autonomous parts, the Baroque façade was an element that belonged to the whole, and was considered a façade simply by virtue of the direction it faced. The emphasis of the Renaissance façade was also on horizontal division and structure, whereas the Baroque accentuated the centre of its façade in terms of how elements were organised vertically in relation to it. The use of curves, even on small elements, emphasised movement and reflections or shadows formed from prominent projections and surface treatments varied light.
Examples of Baroque Architecture in Kotor 1600-1830 AD
Much could be anticipated in respect of Kotor’s Baroque architecture, but much of what could be anticipated is unidentifiable on many of the plain, flat facades of the Kotor buildings, particularly the palaces. This is unusual because palaces were one of the major subjects of the Baroque style. However, the anticipated columns, pilasters, cornices and pediments are not there.
The Medallion of the Lion of St Mark
Adjacent to and connected to the Grubonja Palace is a masonry Baroque arch dated from 1760 AD. The arch is decorated with a medallion of the Lion of Saint Mark. A Latin inscription directs to the Kotor Fortress.
Palaces that were constructed during the period included the Grgurina Palace (1732 AD) which is located in the heart of the Old Town, and the 18th Century Vrakjcn and Lombardic Palaces. The facades of these palaces are very similar in respect of their Baroque characteristics and so it shouldn’t be necessary to describe each.
The Grgurina Palace (1732 AD) is located on Museum Square and now houses the Maritime Museum. The palace is an excellent example of the principles of Baroque architecture outlined previously as applied to palaces in Kotor (Image Credit: Montegorn, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons).
The dominant features of this Baroque façade are the stone balconies which are vertically aligned to the span of the portal, made up of its entrance and side windows. The eye cannot help but be drawn by the vertical symmetry to the centre of the facade. The balcony doors align to the entrance and the Baroque windows either side of the entrance align with the windows either side of the balcony doors. The eye does not want to wander along the horizontal to the façade’s edges which it is inclined to do when viewing a Renaissance façade.
The building was constructed from the dominant rock in the Balkans, limestone. Limestone has a number of varieties and in this case it was probably travertine and/or alabaster, two very white varieties amenable to construction and facing, mined from Korkula. Both the blocks that make up the building and the polished, ornamental architraves and sills are clearly visible.
The balustrades on the balconies that anchor the stone top rail to the base have post Renaissance-style balusters. The balustrades are supported by scrolled corbels which in the Baroque were small scale curved elements to increase the perception of movement.
The floor plan conformed to the Venetian principle of providing four rooms and a lounge. The timber ceilings sit over a stone tiled floor.
The palace of the Lombardić family (18th Century AD) stands on Saint Luke Square. It is a typical palace of the Baroque period, with the emphasised vertical axis in the centre of the main façade, made up of the entrance portal, the belvedere with volutes, and the small balcony under it. The architectural style of the palace can be understood in terms of the Baroque principles applied to the Grgurina Palace.
Post Baroque Years Architecture in Kotor
The Napoleon Theatre Building
The French occupied Kotor since 1807 following the departure of Austria-Hungary and built the Napoleonic Theatre in 1810 to formally introduce theatre. The theatre underwent broad extensive restoration due to significant damage as the result of the 1979 earthquake.
The Town Command Building
The Town Command Building is listed as being constructed at some time during the 19th Century (Image Credit: http://www.all-free-photos.com/en/main-en.php)
St. Nicholas’ Church
St. Nicholas’ Church was completed in 1909 AD having started in 1902 AD and is a single nave church built in the Serbo-Byzantine style, the style that introduced our spotting of Kotor’s historical architecture.
Final Thoughts on Exploring the History and Architecture of Kotor
The modern city of Kotor has held on to its history and architectural heritage through thoughtful and skillful restoration. Deciphering the architecture of Kotor is hard work for visitors and is often interpretative, particularly in the absence of archival information. That means not everyone agrees. Firstly, the extent of the damage caused by several earthquakes has meant rebuilding has lost original features. Secondly, most of the buildings have not been heavily influenced by the trends of their period, particularly those that were built during the Renaissance and Baroque years. Thirdly, distinguishing the architecture of a building over the transition years can be quite difficult, particularly as many elements are common to more than one period. And finally, styles become differentiated by region. But irrespective, take the chance to explore the architecture at Kotor.