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Kotor city guide

Our series of city sound guides takes us to Kotor, Montenegro, courtesy of guest contributor Rafael Diogo, who takes us on his own sonic tour of the city – this is the Kotor city guide, so take a listen to hear the best sounds of this city.

On my adventure through the Balkans, the Montenegrin town of Kotor became a very satisfying surprise. I knew very little about the medieval town of Kotor or the country itself but it felt like love at first sight.

The best way to experience Kotor’s sonic heritage is by losing yourself through one of the three main gates and exploring the Old City’s ancient cobblestone streets, walking along the Old City walls, and stepping into its stone churches.

The Kotor city guide is an aural reminder that recounts an important aspect of the historical sonic narrative of the town.

1. Clock Tower

As soon as I enter the city the memorable clock tower greets me as I walk into the old city. This old clock tower is beautifully kept as the focal point of the lower town area and rings every hour as you get a feel on this soundscape.

The tower is one of the first things that strikes you as you enter the old town through the main gate and curiously, was carved with the same stone as the city walls in a combination of Baroque and Gothic styles. You’ll see two clock faces on the tower and a small stone pyramid stands in front of it. Apparently, local criminals were tied to the pyramid as a mark of shame.

Everything about the town is fairytale-like, even when I was sipping a small cafe cup in one of these picturesque small coffee shops.

2. Farmers’ market

Ussually as soon as I arrive in new destinations, fresh street markets are the first thing I seek out. I enjoy all the colours, tastes and smells of the fruit, fish and cheeses.

Here in Montenegro I just love the popular coastal recipes made with sun-dried figs, olives, cheese, and huge pink tomatoes slow-cooked down to sauce. My favourite daily veggie treat is “Sir iz ulja”, soft cheese preserved in olive oil and mixed with distinct herb flavours such as rosemary or marjoram.

Lined up along the coast of the Bay of Kotor and under its Medieval walls, this tiny and picturesque market brought me the authentic local favour I was hoping to capture.

The resulting binaural field recording is a dynamic and lively soundscape, in which you can hear the vendors ​engaging the customers by inviting them in with cheerful greetings.

3. San Giovanni Fortress

After the hustle and bustle from the market, there is nothing better than a great hike rambling up the hillside over the old town. Up the mountain, stone walls zig-zag their way up to the crumbling ruins of a castle which lead up to San Giovanni Fortress.

Visiting the fortress allows you to see the beautiful Old Town from above as well as the imposing mountains surrounding it. The walls are truly a breathtaking example of how nature and man can intersect harmoniously.

The ruins of Kotor Fortress are located 280 metres above the sea level and have served as an impenetrable shield for centuries. The hike can be quite challenging especially for a climb in the sweltering heat, however it is extremely rewarding once you get to the top and are able to enjoy the panoramic view of the surrounding area and Kotor Bay below.

Climbing up the rough cobblestones on my way to the highest viewpoint, I was able to hear the beautiful song of birds in the background with the panoramic sounds of the old town at large.

The best way to fully appreciate the 1350 steps later and I was at the top, feeling the beauty and intersecting harmony of the sun setting over the whole bay. It was very romantic, a great moment to share with someone.

4. Bay of Kotor

If you are not wandering lost in the labyrinth of the old town, you might just be exploring the vast stunning Bay of Kotor, or Boka for the locals. As you travel its length, the Montenegrin coastline had a great impact on me as it gave me that feeling of the stillness and peace that I was craving.

Along the walk alongside the Adriatic Sea, I had the privilege of enjoying the well-preserved medieval towns including Perast, Risan and Tivat.

All these tiny little towns rest in between a breathtaking scenery of giant limestone mountains dramatically falling down on to the blue bay. This recording captures a serene moment in which I was sitting on a bench near the port, mindful to hear the still waters of the bay at night.

5. Perast

We all have our dreams about special places and it feels like my past self had the dream to visit the little seaside town of ​Perast​, an abandoned renaissance by the sea with the most beautiful retreat in Kotor Bay.

Perast is the right place to sneak away from the crowds at the marina where dozens of cruise ships arrive every day. Today, Perast is mostly an abandoned town, with barely 350 people inhabiting the narrow streets and numerous, mostly, baroque palaces that form the richness aesthetics along the liminal Kotor Bay.

In this binaural recording, the listener can naturally feel the gentle swell in the late hours of the afternoon as the waves splash on the shore and blend naturally to the sunset fading out on the mountain silhouettes. This beach is covered by dark sand and is approximately 1 km long and approximately 25 meters wide and generally has a moderate tidal surge. Perast seems to be this liminal place, a magical place, a jewel of a natural tradition that we should not miss.

The quiet and the serene sound of the sea creates this atmosphere that keeps reminding you that there is no better way to cool off than a swim.

6. Old Town

Surrounded by fortress walls, the old city area of Kotor was the cultural and trade centre of Kotor Bay throughout the centuries. Any walking route will lead you past palaces dating from between the 15th and 18th centuries.

Curiously all these paths also lead me to find the unfamous rakija (the local firewater of choice) in one of these many cafes which line the square inside the city wall.

Indeed, the Old Town’s a place where every time you turn a corner you’ll find something new to absorb your curiosities. Take your time because it’s not a place to be hurried through. In a cobbled side street in Kotor’s fortified Old Town, I sit in one of these traditional bars with a rakija glass on my side, and a sonic story to tell.