The first stop on our Summer 2011 Royal Caribbean cruise was Kotor, Montenegro. As dramatic as many of our port destinations were, Kotor might have been the most dramatic of all. Majestic, forbidding mountains surround the Bay of Kotor, with the town on a triangle of land jutting out into the water, surrounded by fortifications built by the Venetians during the centuries that Kotor was part of the Venetian Empire. Early on a sweltering morning we boarded our ship’s tender and made our way to the preserved old town.
A map from the tourist office helped us orient ourselves, and we struck out for the Cathedral of St. Tryphon, the patron saint of Kotor. The building is modest in size, but has its own quiet grandeur. The interior is mostly bare stone, but there are a few remnants of the colorful frescos that undoubtedly made it quite splendid when they covered the interior in the 14th century. St. Tryphon’s has had more than its share of calamity, with earthquakes and other natural disasters necessitating re-building and stylistic changes over the centuries.
I was pleasantly surprised that St. Tryphon’s has a Cathedral Labyrinth built into its floor in tile. Labyrinths appear in both sacred and secular settings all over the world, but this particular design is particular to European churches like Notre Dame in Chartres, France. Their function in a sacred setting is something of a mystery, but it is clear that walking them is a kind of meditation. Unfortunately, at St. Tryphon’s, the labyrinth is partly covered by chairs and thus is just an intriguing floor decoration at this point.
St. Tryphon’s has exhibition space in wings to the side and above the sanctuary, and there we saw pieces of stone carving saved from the most recent earthquake in 1979, as well as treasures like Medieval books of Gregorian Chant. The day was already growing quite hot, so we moved on, cutting west across the town toward the Maritime Museum.
The Maritime Museum is a charming building paying tribute to the great maritime heroes of Kotor’s history. It is filled with many paintings illustrating sea battles and other noteworthy maritime events. Wooden models of the boats and ships, some quite large, are also present throughout the galleries. My favorite piece of art was a bas relief sculpture of St. Tryphon, Kotor’s patron saint, with the St. Mark’s Lion, representing Venice, hearkening back to the time when Kotor was part of the Venetian Empire.
The museum had some air conditioning, which made our time there a bit of a respite from the heat. But it was time to move on in the direction of St. Luke’s Church, the last thing on our itinerary for the day. We were delighted to discover that Piazza Greca, where the church is located, also contains a couple of terrace restaurants. We chose Scorpio Restaurant as the place to stop for our midday meal.
We were delighted to sample local beer and wine at Scorpio, and found the food, grilled seafood and chicken and salads and French fries, to be more than adequate. It also helped that the terrace was well-shaded with large cloth umbrellas overhead. To say that we were happy to get out of the heat, even a little bit, is a gross understatement. The occasional breeze was icing on the cake.
Revived a bit by our lunch, we visited St. Luke’s Church. It is without a doubt the tiniest structure I have ever seen that is called a church. When I hear about its history as a school and a place of religious tolerance, it is very impressive to hear that such a small building has undertaken such weighty functions. Seriously, on Sunday mornings you’d be lucky fit more than 10 worshipers in there, and you’d have to shoehorn the priest in there as well! It is a further wonder that, of all the city’s buildings, this was the one to survive the latest earthquake, making it the one structure to be left standing from the 12th century to the present.
After St. Luke’s, we wandered the cobbled streets for a while, heading in the general direction of the port. While we enjoyed Kotor, we looked forward to getting back to the air-conditioned comfort of our cruise ship, where we would undoubtedly enjoy a very large and very cold drink.