St. Johns Fortress is the name of the fortifications surrounding the walled town of Kotor, Montenegro. Since 1979 they have been a world heritage site and are, as such, the only such site of cultural significance in Montenegro. St Johns mountain, from where the fortress garners its name, has been fortified in some manner since the 6th century. Since that time there have been a multitude of modifications made to the walls in order to strengthen their defensive possibilities. Unfortunately this is the extent of my practical knowledge of the walls and have no more facts to hand that can’t just as easily be gleaned from a quick scan of the relevant Wikipedia article.
The fortress, having long lost its practical purpose as a purely defensive structure, now affords the small town of Kotor a very valuable tourist attraction. A great reason to travel into Kotor is to walk the stunning walls for the views offered. As the walls had been largely untended since the 1920’s they still make for a difficult trek up the mountain side. With much loose rubble and mismatched steps on your path to the summit. For the intrepid explorer there are many treats in store on the slow march up.
If you manage to make it on a cloudless sunny day, then you’re in luck. Having not seen it on a rain swept day I’m hard pushed to make a judgement call but can see the already slick steps to become somewhat of a problem in even the lightest of rainfall. The views from every point in the walk are breathtaking as the swift ascension leads you above the rooftops of the houses below almost instantly. Being positioned at the end of a bay within a bay also gives a great opportunity to take this view in from the elevated position.
Once you see the flag at the summit you know that you have to get there. There isn’t any reasoning left for just turning around no matter how tiring the walk to get there was. This is also an ideal opportunity to look back and see just how far you’ve walked without realising it because of the winding nature that the steps take. Again, I can’t state enough just how breathtaking the views are with a lot of natural vegetation taking up your view. The state of disrepair of some parts of the walls, while sometimes a bit worrying when trying to keep your footing, give a beautiful character to the proceedings. Oddly enough, the provision of bins is heavily dealt with but in a discreet manner. It may also be a case of human decency winning out and not wanting to spoil what is such a beautiful walk for other people.
Once you reach the summit you can give yourself a well deserved pat on the back. And swig from the water bottle. Take a deep breath and scan the panorama that you wouldn’t have even imagined was here before you started walking. From the summit you can finally see down the mountainside to the east and watch the valley spread far an wide in front of you. Looking down to the little port you can also see just how large the cruise liners are. Somehow even bigger from the top of a mountain. Funny how that works. Make sure to drink in this view for as long as you can before turning around and seeing just how far you have to go back.
It’s worth appreciating the long walk back to the foot of the fortress, obviously. You’ve got all the time in the world. And if you can time it so the sun is setting then this is a plus. The views are equally as stunning on the descent as they are on the ascent. Sometimes even more so as you may not have noticed certain things as you strode confidently up the mountain. With your much slower ambling descent you have time to stop at the archers loops and get a striking view of the city and feel yourself slip back in time. Remember to nod and smile at all the other tourists making their way up and make encouraging sounds. Remember, once you’re back in the town you can enjoy a nice cheap beer and a well earned sit down.