Perast – Risan

Perast is an amazing UNESCO heritage site on the Montenegrin coast of the Adriatic with only 350 inhabitants, but 19 magnificent churches and 18 wonderful palaces ! Perast was once tiny sleepy fishermen village in the magic Kotor Bay with absolutely amazing history, but today makes one of the most beautiful examples of Baroque architecture in the Adriatic featuring subtle urban palaces and wonderfully rich Baroque structures which mostly date from the 17th and the 18th century. The historical city of Perast does not have a defensive wall, but instead it features nine defensive fortified towers, the most important of which is the fortification-tower of the Holy Cross. These were built by the Navy of the Venetian Republic in the 15th and 16th century…. “Above the present fortification there are remains of the Roman road which used to pass from Risan to Acruvium (Kotor), so probably on this point there was a small Roman fort – castrum. In this area was probably constructed the first Perast church from the 9th century, dedicated to the Holy Cross that was positioned in the yard of the present fortification. The preserved piece of preserved interwoven ornaments testify that this could be the first church of Perast, dating probably from the 9th century. The fortified points on the Saint George Island and especially the fortified complex next to the Church of the Holy Virgin Angel in Verige – opposite to Perast create the whole defensive complex of the town of Perast “.

Perast enjoys unbeatable location beneath the Saint Elijah Hill /873 meters/, on a cape that separates the Bay of Risan from the Bay of Kotor /two small bays within the Boka Kotorska Bay/ and overlooks the amazing Verige strait – the narrowest part of the Boka Bay. The Verige point is the straits named after huge chains that used to be risen from the both shore sides, so to prevent pirate and enemy boats and sailing ships enter the Boka Bay and plunder the rich inner settlements. So this Verige straits was of the great strategic importance for the last third area of the Boka bay, where several settlements greatly developed – Morinj, Risan, Perast and Kotor, guarding wealth and reputation of rich Boka merchants and sailors and their families, hidden and protected from unforeseen attacks.

Nowadays Perast is turned into important and popular Montenegrin tourist center of the Adriatic, undoubtedly one of the most enchanting tourist centers and coastal resorts of Montenegro. Perast is situated right in the center of the picturesque Bay of Kotor facing its entrance, exactly positioned so to get maximum sun both in winter and summer. From afar under the Montenegrin sun, the town of Perast glitters as if it is made of gold. This ancient town of Perast was built by Medieval rulers and wealthy Venetian sailors and is made up of stunning churches and palaces which have been well preserved. Perast is car-free so there is no real traffic along the waterfront, providing that it is really very pleasant to sit on the sea wall and watch the world go by, especially as the cruise boats pass on their way to the nearby town of Kotor.

Perast got its name after the Illyrian tribe of Pirusta. Near Perast and Risan in the Boka Bay there are two small islands : one is natural island called the Saint George island, connected to numerous Medieval legends and myths, surrounded with strong stone walls and hidden from outer view by high cypresses, and the other is later, at the end of the 15th century man-made island called the Gospa od Skrpjela /Our Lady of the Rock/, after the Mortesic brothers had discovered depiction of the Holy Virgin in the rocks of the Risan Bay. Both Kotor bay islands feature surreal picturesque appearance and worth-discovering attractions, stories and legends. Benedictine Monastery with the church dedicated to Saint George on the Saint George Island is first mentioned in the 12th century in some historical records, as this saint was the original patron of Kotor. The present day appearance of the Saint George Island dates from the end of the 17th century and today it houses the local grave yard where prominent locals are buried. In the wonderful Boka-Kotor Bay there are 7 islands – Saint Mark, Mamula, Gospa od Skrpjela, Saint George, Milosrda, Ostrvo cveca and Mala Gospa. From their strongholds of the island of Saint George and Our Lady on the Rocks inhabitants of Perast have guarded the strategically important Verige straits, where the maritime way to Kotor was most endangered.

Gospa od Škrpjela Island /originally called “Madonna dello Scarpello” in Venetian/ is particularly interesting being the only artificially built island in the Adriatic. The Gospa od Skrpjela Island covers the area of 3,030 m² and has been built in 1472 upon a rock /Škrpjel/ by two Venetian sailors from Perast who had found a picture of the Virgin Mary on it. The Cathedral built in 1630 contains rich collection of silver coins and 68 baroque paintings of the famous master Tripo Kokolja from Perast. The painting of Italian painter Tiepolo depicting Saint Roco covers the right part of the altar. At the back of the cathedral the ‘keeper’s lodge’ holds a small museum : two floors devoted to the turbulent history of Perast, a vivid assembly of wonderful paintings of stormy seas, dramatic exploits and heroic struggles; pieces of Greek and Roman amphora from the seabed : pottery shards and stone weapons from 3500 BC discovered in the Spila cave above Perast; an early hand-powered iron screw with two transmissions that served to propel the Saint George Monastery boat; and best of all a delicate, embroidered icon, the work of one Jacinta Kunic, in which she sewed her own golden hair on the heads of Madonna and child. It took here 20 years to complete, by which time those hairs were gray.

Fašinada is old custom of Boka population and traditional event which celebrates the Holy Virgin of Škrpjela and the artificial island where grateful seafarers had created the present island. The legend goes that fishermen of Perast had found an icon of the Virgin with Christ and decided to create an island with the church, from the wrecks and stones. Since then, there is an unwritten vow of the seafarers to sink new stones around the island, before every new sail, as their contribution to support of their protector shrine. Decorated rowing boats every 22 July, on sunset, start their sail towards the island, singing old bugarštica songs, and fulfill their promise to ancestors, by throwing stones around the Gospa od Skrpjela island. In the first boat there are the priest, the mayor and honorable inhabitants of Perast, as well as singers of the old Perast songs – bugarštica songs. Perast has the far most of the written bugarstica songs – the old Serbian songs of long lyrics whose name comes probably from the verb “bugariti” which means singing sad songs. The famous Serbian historian Valtazar Bogishic recorded in 1878 collection of old bugarstica songs called “Pjesme iz starijih, najvise primorskih zapisa”, from the second half of the 17th and the beginning of the 18th century.

Perast /called Perasto in the Venetian language, spoken officially here until the 19th century/ was part of the Venetian Albania Veneta province. Venice ruled and owned the city of Perast between 1420 and 1797 which was the last city of the Republic to lower the Venetian flag. Perast was developed under dramatic circumstances caused by conflicts between the Ottoman Empire and the Venetian Republic, which this area experienced especially strong. The sixteen Baroque palaces of Perast were mostly built in this period too, likewise were its seventeen Catholic churches and two Orthodox churches. The most significant churches of Perast which are preserved until present are the Saint Nicholas Church, the Chapel of the Virgin Mary, Saint John the Baptist Church, Saint Anne Church, Saint Mark Church, Saint Anthony Church and the Holy Virgin Church /Orthodox Cathedral/. Church of Saint Nicholas is situated at the main square of Perast set in direction east – west, and bears an inscription from 1654 at its entrance, dedicated to the victory of Perast inhabitants over the Ottomans. Its present appearance dates from 1616, though there is an earlier record about the church from 1564. Right next to the old Church of Saint Nicholas in Perast, on its back side is the part of the new unfinished church, with only the apse and the belfry completed. Foundation was put in 1740 and it was constructed until 1800, when works were suspended, because of Napoleon wars. The old and the new unfinished church of Saint Nicholas in Perast nowadays make an unique complex. Next to the church is the bell tower built in 1691, under the plans of the Venetian architect Giuseppe Beati. It is 55 meters high and 55000 golden ducats were paid for its construction. Although it was built during the Baroque period, it features Romanesque and Renaissance elements. The largest bell from 1713 was gift of the Bishop Andrija and Vicko Zmajevic while two smaller bells were added in 1797. Clock on the bell tower was brought from Venice and put in function in 1730. The Church of Saint Nicholas in Perast hosts a rich treasury with paintings of Tripo Kokolj and other precious artifacts from the 16th and the 17th century, of which are very interesting the silver cross of Bishop Zmajevic, Alexander Nevsky decoration to admiral Zmajevic from the Russian tsar Petar the Great and other. In front of the Saint Nicholas church are busts of three significant personailities of Perast – the admiral of the Russian Tsardom Navy Matija Zmajević /1680-1735/, the bust of Marko Martinović /1669-1716/, a colleague of Zmajević who tought cadets of Tsar Peter the Great of the maritime skills, and the bust of Tripo Kokolj /1661-1713/. In 1678 Andrija Zmajević founded in Perast the Chapel of Our Lady – Kapela Gospe od Rozarija. Special feature of this church is the elegant four-storey belfry which is regarded one of the most beautiful in the Adriatic.

The old city of Perast does not have a defensive wall, but instead it features nine defensive towers, the most important of which is the tower of the Holy Cross. These were built by the navy of the Venetian Republic in the 15th and 16th centuries. Perast was at its peak in the 18th century under the Republic of Venice, when it had as many as four active shipyards, a fleet of around one hundred ships, and 1643 residents. At that time the most beautiful buildings arose in this fortified town. Many ornate Baroque palaces and magnificent dwelling-houses decorated the town of Perast /Perasto/, full of typical Venetian architecture. The fleet was extinguished by the rise of the steam engine. Baroque Palaces of Perast built by the famous seafarers noble families : Smekja Palace – nowadays fully restored and turned into a luxury Heritage Grand Hotel Perast, Bujovic Family Palace, Balovic Family Palace, Zmajevic Palace – once one of the most wonderful palaces of the Kotor Bay…. Dabinović Palace, also known as the „Kokotova kula” /tower of Kokot/, was built in the middle of the 18th century, and makes one of the most beautiful baroque palaces of Dobrota village. Tripković Palace was built at the end of the 18th century, as one of the most imposing and beautiful baroque structures built by the seafarers of Boka Kotorska Bay. “The Bujovic Palace has been built in 1694 as the work of the Venetian architect Giovanni Battista Fonte. Construction of this palace was order of brothers Vicko and Ivan Bujović with the aim of enjoyment and comfort of them and their friends who were celebrated soldiers and heroes who fought on the side of the Venetian Republic. The legend has it that this palace was built from remains of the Herceg Novi city walls after the battle for liberation from the Turks in 1689 where Vicko Bujovic fought with his squad. The Bujovic Palace features minimalistic lines with ground floor and two floors and a hipped Roof – (or hip) roof slopes down to the eaves on all four sides. The monumental porch with five archades with the terrace of stone fence approachable from the main room is set in the ground floor which is turned towards the sea. In the middle of the balustrade of this large terrace on its outer side is coat of arms of the Stojšić family – kazada /representing two lions which hold a chair between them/. The Bujovic family belonged to the Stojsic Family tree /the kazada/. The Bujović Palace in Perast also includes five balconies, one of them located on the second floor of the main facade above the terrace, while the both sides contain two balconies each. This palace features Renaissance style with Baroque elements which are visible in rich stone decoration of arches and balustrades. The richness of facade decoration is also visible in groups of double stone portals positioned on all balconies. There are three Latin inscriptions on the Bujovic Palace. The Bujovic Palace was in the second half of the 19th century in possessions of the Viskovic Family on which testify then added lions on the large balcony. Those two lions hold a shield with initials CFV meaning Conte Frano Visković. After the princes of the Viskovic Family, the owner of this palace was Lale Zuber whose ancestors sold the palace to the Kotor Municipality in the second half of the 20th century. Since 1957 this palace in Perast hosts the Perast Museum”. Ranko Maraš

Perast keeps precious monuments, churches, chapels, tall and elegant belfries, the City Museum, the lavish palaces, balconies, coat of arms…….. that highly attract numerous visitors. The House of Smecchia is the name of an old aristocratic family of the Serbian origin from Perast that rose to power during the Republic of Venice. The earliest historical record of the Smecchia /Smekja/ family existing in Boka Kotorska is found in a written document from 1326. The area flourished during the 14th century under the rule of the Serbian Emperor – Tsar Dusan who thanks to his law enforcement made the Kotor Bay a particularly safe and prosperous place for doing business. Centuries later, when the Kotor Bay was part of the Republic of Venice, Vincenzo Vicko Smekja (1694-1762) brought about the economic prosperity of the family, following his famous merchant undertaking when he established a trading route between Venice, Genoa and the Mediterranean sea in his ship “Leon Koronato” in 1746. In 1748, Vicko and his brother Kristofor Krsto were awarded with the title of “Konte” – count by Pietro Grimani who was at that time Doge of Venice. The title was hereditary by all their legitimate male line descendants. Vicko’s son, Konte Petar (1724-1767) established a trading route between Venice the Baltic countries. The family also acquired the status of Kotor nobility in 1779. A branch of the noble Smecchia family was notable in Perast and Boka Kotorska and the Venetian Republic. The Smekja palace is the largest of all palaces in Perast. The three-story edifice with belvedere was entirely built of stone brought from the Korcula island. A terraced porch stretches along the whole length of the first floor, while the second and third floors are decorated with balustraded balconies. Above the entrance is the coat-of-arms of the casada Cizmaj – two crossed branches with five feathers on each one. The important Perast manuscript was discovered in the palace in Perast.

Bokeljska Noc is the festivity event which keeps the tradition with the aim to show the life of coastal towns and mentality of fishermen, sailors and citizens of Kotor Bay and its nearby fishermen villages from Morinj and Kostanjica to Stoliv. Task of the competitors of Bokeljska noć festivity is to decorate their boats in the best possible way, and in the most original way so that they are the most beautiful boats in the parade and to convey a specific message to the visitors.


Risan is one of the most ancient settlements in the world, the oldest settlement of Boka Kotorska – Bay of Kotor and one of the largest archaeological sites in Montenegro. Timulus – stone-earth hoards are concentrated on the edges of karts fields and on the top of hills surrounding the town of Risan. In some of those hoards are found graves with stone slabs and flexed human skeletons. There are also fragments of ceramics, metal decorations and weapons found, which belong the the Bronze and Stone ages. The stone grave tombs – tumuli are excavated in the villages of Grahovo, Trešnjevo, Ržišta, Grab, Ržani Dol, Izvori and Bati in Cuce. Earthen tumulus of the area of Risan are found in Tivat Field (Mala Gruda) and Rubež, near Nikšić. Two localities clearly prove the human presence of the pre-historical man on the very shore of the Risan Bay – the Cave of Spila and the stone cliff in Lipci village. Lying in the innermost portion of the Boka Kotorska bay, the settlement of Risan was from the earliest times protected from the interior by inaccessible limestone cliffs of the Orjen Mountain, the highest mountainous range of the eastern Adriatic, and through several following narrow straits in the Bay of Kotor from the open sea.

Risan was first mentioned in the 3rd century BC as the Illyrian fortification. According to the legend the Illyrian Queen Teuta found the shelter in Risan when was persecuted by Romans. In Roman times, Rhizinium is documented as an oppidum civium Romanorum. Two Roman routes led through the Bay of Kotor. The most prosperous time of development for the Roman settlement of Rhizinium came during the first and second centuries. Beautiful Roman mosaics dating from the end of the 2nd and the beginning of the 3rd century BC are found in Risan. Centrally located on the mosaic there is the scene of God Hypnosis which is the only depiction of this God on the eastern shore of the Adriatic. It was the famous English archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans who led the initial archaeological excavations in Risan. Ivelić Palace is situated in the central part of Risan, by the east side of Gabela Street. The Ivelić Palace in Risan was built in the 18th century and belonged to the Ivelić family. After liberation of Risan from the Turks, in 1687 were destroyed all four mosques of the town, and new churches had been erected on foundations and remains of earlier churches.

The Banja Monastery in Risan, located on the road to Perast, is endowment of the Nemanjic Dynasty mentioned in the Studenica Monastery Typikon. The Banja Monastery in Risan has been built as the metochion of the Saint Archangels Monastery in Mihojska Prevlaka. When in 1654 Turks tried to capture Perast they have passed by the Banja Monastery and set it in flame. At the beginning of the 18th century Petar Kordic from Risan erected a tiny altar on the remains of destroyed temple, and dedicated it to Saint George. The present church and a wing of the dormitory was added in 1720 by efforts and funds of archimandrite Atanasije Hilandarac and donations of the Risan families. In the 19th century were erected additional monastic structures by funding of the Risan seafarers and sailors. Parts of the Banja Monastery in Risan are organized in cascade layers due to restriction in space. The Church of Saint George Monastery in Risan is one nave church with semi circle apse and shallow choirs, constructed from finely carved stone, paid in horizontal rows. In front is positioned one piece belfry, above the entrance is the icon of Holy Martyr Saint George, and in the middle of the facade there is the beautiful eight-sided rosette. High three store belfry is positioned separately. The Banja Monastery is nunnery. 

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