Being an ancient country with rich history, it is only natural for Montenegro to be thriving in ancient cities and forts, most of them highly inaccessible. Most Montenegro cities and towns are concentrated along the coastline, in the bay of Kotor, but there are so many of lesser known ancient Montenegrin cities scattered all across the country.
Montenegro country happens to be a home to some of the oldest and most secluded urban settlements on the Balkans, as well as the Adriatic coastline, providing visitors with a unique opportunity to discover and explore the rich past of this region.
This is a guide to those precise cities and towns, castles and forts, or whatever it is you’d like to call them. These ancient Montenegro cities, as well as the old town part of the famous coastal cities, are places you should definitely come to visit if you have chance while traveling our beautiful country, being that they are tactile reminders and living testimonies of Montenegro’s rich and tumultuous history.
The isolated and inaccessible Montenegro fortresses and castles
There are more than a few historical monuments in Montenegro, but some of them happen to be located off the beaten path, whether high up in the rocky mountains, or on the sea, either way considered to be greatly unapproachable, or, if not that, very hard to spot.
Some of these forts happen to be graced with more than just a dark past, or as products of multiple wars that raged through this area – today, they are corporeal witnesses of the times that have passed by.
Gorazda fortress – an isolated and well hidden Montenegro city
Gorazda fortress geographically belongs to the Bay of Kotor, even though it’s very hard to spot since its located on a small mountain between the towns Tivat and Kotor. This fort is epitomizing all the perfection of the military technology, and the latest advances of the warfare engineering that was implemented here in the past.
The camouflage of the fort is so perfect that thanks to it it succeeded at being virtually intact until today. This old Montenegro city use to be one of the 19th century Austrian strongholds in the bay, mainly for controlling the waters of the Bay near Tivat.
The architecture of this old fortress is quite unusual – when entering the fort, you first come across a bridge over a moat. It is a legacy of the 20. century, because it is estimated that it use to be a drawbridge before that. After crossing the bridge, you enter the fort through the gate hinges, with corridors to the left and right, with the rods remains still intact. The interesting fact that at the same time proves the fort’s military role are the gun ports and the scraps of barb wire.
The good news is, even though this ancient fortress is considered to be out of sight, if you happen to be staying in Porto Montenegro, all you need to do is to hop on old road leading to Cetinje and you’re there!
Mamula Fortress – dark and eary prison of the past
You’ve probably heard about the movie “Nymph” featuring Franco Nero that is taking place on the Montenegrin island of Mamula, but even if you hadn’t, this island is famous for its captivating dark past.
The fortress of the same name is located in the on a tiny, uninhabited island of Lastavica, the water boundary between Montenegro and Croatia, or more precise – between Prevlaka and Luštica peninsula. It was founded by Austrian Admiral Lazar Mamula in 1853., so it was only natural for the fort to gain his name.
At first it had a personal use of protection against the invading ships, but after that, during the WWII, it become a combination of prison and a concentration camp coordinated by a fascist leader – Benito Mussolini, which marked the beginning of its dark history.
The camp had over 2000 prisoners, packed with men, women and children , mostly from the regions of Dalmatia and Boka, and the Montenegrin patriots use to be cruelly tortured in this prison. Today, this Montenegro fortress stands as a reminder of the horrible atrocities of war, as well as a cultural monument protected by the government.
Bedem Fortress – at the brink of the old Montenegro city of Upper Niksic
Bedem fortress is located in the western part of today’s Niksic, or more precisely, on the site of one of the Montenegro old towns – Upper Onogosht. The fort was built by the Turks in the 18. century, after the conquest of the Slavic Onogosht. The upper town was fortified by walls, protecting the Ottoman administration that use to live here, while the artisans inhabited the lower town that had the defense system of its own.
The Bedem fortress wasn’t built at once, in fact, its oldest structures originate from the Roman era, built in 6. century. One such structure is the oldest part of the bastion, located in the middle – the Castel.
Today, ruins of the fortress Bedem are protected by the state as a national historical monument, and have even gone through the restoration process that furthermore revealed the surface of the fortress. The fortress is now one of the most favorite spots for organizing various types of cultural events.
Mogren fortress – one of the most famous Austro-Hungarian old Montenegro cities
Mogren fortress is located on a promontory between the beaches Jaz and Mogren, only a kilometer away from Budva. It was built by Austro-Hungarians in 1860. for the purpose of protecting the western borders of Budva, one of the most important Montenegro cities of today. It possesses a powerful fortification of almost rectangular shape, graced by tall towers at its corners.
This fortress is basically mainly responsible for the success of the Austro-Hungarian army when it comes to conquering the main approach to the city. The fortress continued to fulfill its purpose as part of the war machinery during the WWI and WWII – during the WWII it was used as a warehouse for weapons and ammunition.
To this day, only the walls and the bunkers of the fort are preserved, while the rest is hidden under the dense vegetation.
Haj Nehaj – Montenegro castle of a funny name
The name Haj Nehaj is translatable, and therefore – funny, to those of Slavic speaking languages. The infinitive form of the verb “hajati”, translates as “worry” or “fear”, and the second part of the name is a negative form of the first, so the rough, complete translation would be – “Worry – Don’t worry”.
The castle, or fortress, is located on the mountain of the same name, near towns of Sutomore and Bar, clearly visible from the Adriatic highway. It definitely falls under the “highly inaccessible” category.
It stands at the altitude of the whopping 2230 m above the sea level, surrounded by tall walls and high precipices. Haj Nehaj is belongs to the string of fortresses built by Venetians, whereby this one was built at the crossing of the 15. and 16. century. It was built to withstand the long sieges, while easily accommodating around 900 people.
Over its long history, the ancient Montenegro fortress of Haj Nehaj repeatedly passed from one overlord to the other – Venetians, Turks, and finally, Montenegrins, which is why you will witness various architectural and masonry styles when visiting the fort.
Ancient Montenegro towns and their older counterparts along the coastline
Cities in Montenegro, especially coastal, happen to be among the oldest on the Balkans, with their history telling a unique story about wars, trade, architecture, tradition and common human existence, whose spirit stays present to this day. Montenegro cities on the coast are ancient and unique, which is why we composed a list of their old town parts and the famous fortresses and towns within.
Kampana Tower – Old Town Kotor
When speaking of ancient cities in Montenegro, such story can never go by without mentioning Kotor, especially old town Kotor. Hidden among the dramatic mountain scenery, Kotor also hides a different kind of treasure – the Kampana tower.
First fortified by the Byzantine ruler Justinian I, the Kampana tower and the attached citadel were built for the similar purpose as any other fortress of that time – the protection from potential plunder or siege.
The fort exhibits a number of architectural wonders, such as thick Venetian walls and the Castle of San Giovanni. The Kampana Tower was repeatedly upgraded by its various occupants, from Byzantine to Venetian, putting on display a unique architectural mixture of styles, ideal for unraveling the complicated history of Montenegro itself.
If you happen to visit the Kampana Tower, brace yourselves for a difficult climb made of 1350 stairs, followed by stunning views and enchanting story – all more than worth the climb.
The Citadel of saint Mary in Budva
Among the ancient cities in Montenegro, Budva too holds a spot of its own. Situated on the southern top of the city, the famous Budva Citadel makes an impressive site built on the edge of the cliff, overlooking the blue waters of the Adriatic.
The Citadel represents one of the oldest such structures on the Balkans, first built by the Romans in the Middle Ages. The precision of the Roman craft is evident in the fortification itself, connected to the city walls by intricate system of stone walls.
In 1455., Budva came under the rule of the Venetian Republic, which meant that the Citadel came under necessary adaptations using Venetian architectural technique, most obvious in their stone masonry, making the Budva Citadel one of the prime examples, providing visitors with a true glimpse into the Montenegro’s past.
Ulcinj Castle originating from Bronze
Ulcinj Old Town or Ulcinj castle is another one of those interesting places to start discovering a unique heritage of this Montenegro city. This small but cozy area of the city is enclosed on a small peninsula, that once served as a fortified village during the Bronze Age.
Ulcinj Castle and its surrounding area use to be a home to a number of civilizations, all of whom have left their mark on the architecture of the city. The walk around the Old Town of Ulcinj is a truly captivating way to spend the day, basking in the picturesque views of the Cyclopean stone masonry of buildings, walls and citadels.
Kanli Kula – The Bloody Tower in Herceg Novi
One could say that among all Montenegro cities, speaking of the old ones, Kanli Kula in Herceg Novi is the one shrouded in dark and terrible secret, mysterious as much as cruel, much like its name – The Bloody Tower.
The the “bloody” name of the fortress is far from accidental, given by the Turks who have been the main occupants some 400 years ago. During their rule, the fort was established as a prison where many Montenegro locals and other opponents were tortured and killed when captured.
Kanli Kula has been reconstructed in the 60s, as a result of a large scale works, and opened to visitors as an open-air museum, with its courtyard being transformed into a summer amphitheater, making it the must original summer stage in Montenegro, definitely worth visiting during some of the Montenegro festivals taking place in Herceg Novi.
Catello fortress in Petrovac
Old Venetian Castello fortress located in Petrovac, is its symbol and main attraction at the same time. The castle is situated in a natural promontory, on a high cliff.
This enclosed fortress for centuries has represented a high-fence walls of large stone walls – an impregnable protection against possible attacks. Today, one side of the cliff the castle stands on is attached to an artificial pier, which performs as a small berthing place.
You can reach it by a boat and moor there, which allows you to get to the fort completely safely. Also, there is an option of local boatmen taking you on a trip along the coast, and in that way introducing you to other local sights Petrovac can offer.
There are many other ancient cities in Montenegro worth visiting, but we hope this short, but detailed guide can help you start planning or at least, give you an idea what to see first. Small but magical, Montenegro is a place of great adventure, whether you choose to start it charter from our Porto Montenegro marina, or on a road trip through the country.