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Castle of San Giovanni in Kotor

The Castle of San Giovanni is a historical landmark located in the beautiful town of Kotor in Montenegro. The castle is situated on a hill overlooking the picturesque town and provides visitors with breathtaking views of the surrounding area. The castle has a rich history dating back to the 9th century and is a testament to Montenegro’s cultural heritage.

Kotor’s fortifications, which are part of its UNESCO classification, are built on and into the steep limestone Lovcen Mountains. From below, they look more delicate than formidable. From above, you’ll be fortified by the spectacular views of the city walls, medieval Kotor, and the fjord-like Bay of Kotor, which the locals call Boka.

Castle of San Giovanni – Credit Robin Dawes

History of the Castle of San Giovanni

The fortress was built in 531 by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian. Then it was invaded, attacked, and rebuilt by a succession of Venetians and Illyrians. It wasn’t until the 13th or 14th century that the fortification’s walls made a continuous loop around the old town.

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The fortifications that can be seen today date mostly from the Venetian period, which began in the late 15th century and continued until the late 18th century. The Venetians fortified the city to protect it from Ottoman invasions. During their rule, the walls were extended up the slope of St. John (San Giovanni) mountain, creating an impressive 4.5 km long system of walls, ramparts, towers, and gates. This system enclosed both the town and the slopes of St. John Mountain.

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The Climb to the top

The climb itself should take just over an hour to reach the Castle of San Giovanni. However, when they designed the hike to Kotor’s amazing castles and churches, they didn’t make it easy. In total, the hike has 1355 stairs and over 70 switchbacks, making it incredibly exhausting. Fortunately, hikers will be passing numerous viewpoints and historical sites on the way up to the Kotor Castle. Don’t hesitate to stop for a breather at one of the many picturesque spots along the way.

As a local, I can guide you to the picture-perfect spots of the Castle of San Giovanni that will ensure you capture the soul of Kotor. First, frame a shot at the Castle Gates, where the journey begins, and the old stone welcomes you. As you ascend, take a moment to capture the winding stone steps that contrast beautifully with the verdant greenery and the azure bay.

Don’t miss the tranquil St. John’s Chapel halfway up, where the charm of the small chapel melds with the majestic landscape in the backdrop. It’s a composition you don’t want to miss. As you venture further, seize every opportunity at the lookout points, each providing a unique angle over the timeless beauty of Kotor.

St Johns, Kotor

At the top, the Castle’s weathered stones tell stories of a bygone era. Snap a few close-ups here to capture the character of the old fortress. Of course, the panoramic view of Kotor from the top is unparalleled; it’s the moment you’ve been waiting for. Frame the red-roofed houses, the glittering bay, and the serpentine walls snaking up the mountain in a single shot. It’s an image that truly encapsulates the magic of our town.

But, for the pièce de résistance, time your visit for sunset. The soft, golden light bathes the town and the bay, painting a picture so stunning that it feels surreal. Capture it, for this is Kotor at its finest, as we, the locals, see it every day.

Tips for the walk to the Castle of San Giovanni

Here are some tips to help you make the most of your hike to the Castle of San Giovanni:

Wear comfortable and sturdy shoes: The hike can be steep and slippery, so it’s essential to wear comfortable shoes with good grip. Hiking shoes or sneakers are ideal.

Bring plenty of water: Staying hydrated is crucial, especially during the summer months. Make sure to bring enough water for the entire hike.

Wear sunscreen and a hat: The sun can be intense, even on cloudy days, so it’s essential to protect your skin from harmful UV rays.

Take breaks: Don’t hesitate to take a break when you need to catch your breath or enjoy the stunning views along the way. There are many benches and lookout points that make for great resting spots.

Start early: The hike can be challenging, so it’s best to start early in the morning when it’s cooler and less crowded.

What is at the top?

At the top of the hill, visitors will find the remains of the castle’s fortifications, including the walls, gates, and watchtowers. The castle’s main tower, which is the highest point in Kotor, provides visitors with stunning panoramic views of the town, the Bay of Kotor, and the surrounding mountains.

Visitors can also explore the small museum located within the castle. The museum features artifacts and exhibits related to the castle’s history and the history of Kotor. It is a great way to learn more about Montenegro’s rich cultural heritage.

The Castle of San Giovanni in Kotor is not only a historical landmark but also an adventure for hiking enthusiasts. The climb to the castle can be challenging, but the stunning views and historical sites along the way make it a worthwhile journey. By following these tips, you can make the most of your hike and enjoy the beauty of Montenegro’s cultural heritage. At the top, visitors can explore the castle’s fortifications, learn more about Kotor’s history at the museum, and take in the panoramic views of the surrounding area.

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