There are many palaces in the settlements around the Bay of Kotor (Бока Которска, Boka Kotorska) in Montenegro. Most of these are, in their current form, from the time when these settlements were ruled by the Republic of Venice. The city of Kotor (Cattaro in Italian), which acted as the capital of the region, had accepted the suzerainty of the Venetian Republic in 1420, to find protection against the rising threat of the Ottoman Empire. The case was the same for the other towns in the southern and eastern parts of the bay, such as Dobrota, Prčanj and Perast. The northern parts of the bay, which included the city of Herceg Novi, belonged to the Ottomans for two centuries and were only captured by Venice in 1687.
These settlements, ruled as part of the province known as the Venetian Albania (Albania Veneta), were relatively prosperous, especially in the late 17th and 18th centuries. The great amount of the palaces built by the families of the local nobility, most of whom were of Slavic or Dalmatian origin, is evidence of this. In Kotor these palaces are almost all partial or total reconstructions of the older, often medieval structures that the great earthquake of 1667 had destroyed. In the other settlements of the Bay area, such as Perast, that older layer is much less visible, making them perhaps better suited to illustrate the specific type of a Baroque palace that was developed here at the time.
The palaces of the Bay of Kotor were designed by either professional architects or, more often, by their owners themselves. They found inspiration from the architecture of the local townhouses as well as from Italian (mostly Venetian) palaces. They used local materials, mostly limestone from the nearby quarries. Because that stone is not easily workable, all the elements that required finer modeling, like frames of portals and windows as well as balustrades of staircases, terraces and balconies, were made using stone from the Korčula Island in Croatia. Some palaces were entirely made of Korčula stone.
The palaces are generally symmetrical, with the emphasized vertical axis in the middle of the main façade, formed by the entrance portal, a balcony on an upper floor, and a narrow floor protruding from the roof in the form of a belvedere. The ground floor was generally used for commercial purposes, as a storage area or a granary. Guests were received and events were celebrated on the first floor, while the private rooms of the family members were usually on the second floor. The spaces on these floors were arranged following the Venetian model, with the central salon and four rooms on its sides. If the palace was built at the coast, the salon was always on the side facing it. The attic floor had a kitchen and utility rooms. There were more floors in larger palaces.
The palaces often had a paved courtyard on the back side, surrounded by storage spaces, enclosures for domestic animals, and a cistern. Sometimes the courtyards extended into gardens, which were often located on terraces and were enclosed by walls. The coastal palaces generally had their own quay known as a ponta, with stone seats and sometimes flowers and trees. Here were also enclosures for boats (mandrać) and a system to pull the boats on the land.
Below I will introduce ten major Venetian palaces in the Old City of Kotor as well as four beautiful palaces in Perast. I took the photos in April 2019. My portfolio is definitely not complete, as it does not include the palaces in the other towns of the Bay of Kotor. The most notable omission is the town of Dobrota, located north of Kotor, and especially the Tripković Palace here, often said to be the most beautiful Baroque palace in the entire area. It was also one of the last Venetian palaces here, built during the final years of the maritime republic or even slightly after its fall in 1797.
A lot of the information below is from the following publication: V. Gligorić, A. Kapetanović & T. Rajić, Palaces of Boka Kotorska, 2nd Edition, Kotor: EXPEDITIO Centre for Sustainable Spatial Development, 2019.
You will find the locations of the listed palaces on the map below.
Part One: Kotor
1. Proveditor’s Palace
Трг од Оружја (Arms Square)
The residence of the Venetian governors was initially located on the square in front of the Cathedral of Saint Tryphon. That building was destroyed in the 1667 earthquake, after which the proveditors temporarily resided in the Bizanti Palace. At some point they moved to the current building on the Arms Square, where it covers the entire west side. The proveditors resided here until 1788, after which the structure was turned into barracks.
The most notable feature of the palace is the second-floor balcony. It is supported by corbels in Renaissance style and covers almost the entire length of the façade. In the 19th century the balcony was wooden and was covered by a roof. Today’s balcony is a reconstruction in reinforced concrete.
Arms Square, with the Proveditor’s Palace on the right
2. Bizanti Palace
Between Трг од Оружја (Arms Square) & Трг од Брашна (Flour Square)
14th century; 1641; 1670s-1680s
The history of the Bizanti Palace goes back to the 14th century. The oldest part of the current structure is from the first half of the 17th century, most probably from around 1641. In 1674 an annex was added to it, followed by an inner courtyard with staircases and a terrace in around 1690. It was around that time that the palace temporarily served as the residence of the Venetian proveditors. On the first floor is a central salon with four side rooms, as was typical of the Baroque palaces of the Bay of Kotor. Among remarkable decorative elements are Baroque frames of the portals and carved wooden ceilings.
3. Beskuća Palace
Between Трг од Оружја (Arms Square) & Трг од Брашна (Flour Square)
15th century; 1776
The Beskuća Palace, built in 1776, stands on the site of older buildings, one of which belonged to the Bizanti family, whose main palace stands across the street. From that earlier building survives a richly decorated Gothic portal, showing the coat of arms of the Bizanti family. It is one of the best examples of Gothic art in the area. The rest of the palace is plain and simple.
The name Beskuća means ‘the one with no house’ in Serbo-Croatian, referring to the humble origins of the family. They rose to prominence in the second half of the 18th century and built many houses around the Bay of Kotor, in Dalmatia and in Venice. Jozo Beskuća wanted to build exactly 100 houses so he could change his name to Stokuća, meaning ‘the one who has 100 houses’. That goal, however, remained unattainable after the fall of the Venetian Republic and the subsequent loss of power of the family.
4. Buća Palace
Трг од Брашна (Flour Square)
Early 14th century; significantly modified after 1667; 19th century
The history of this palace, which belonged to the powerful Buća family, goes back to the beginning of the 14th century. It was a huge Gothic building, stretching along the entire west side of the Flour Square. The palace got severely damaged in the 1667 earthquake. By that time the Buća family had lost a lot of their power and income, which is why they split the palace in three and gave its parts to new owners.
The façades of the divided palace show almost no trace of the medieval building. The northern part was altered the least. Here we see the coat of arms of the Buća family, which depicts a lily. To the middle part the third floor was added. This part of the palace belonged to the Pasquali (Paskavali) family, as shown by their coat of arms, which shows a duck, above the portal. The southern part is from the 19th century.
5. Pima Palace
Трг од Брашна (Flour Square)
The Pima Palace was built on the site of a medieval structure most likely after the earthquake of 1667. It has both Renaissance and Baroque features. On the ground floor of the main façade is a porch with a portal and two large Renaissance arches. The porch supports a terrace with balustrades, which is accessible from the first floor. Above the portal is a composition of two putti holding a wreath with the coat of arms of the Pima family. The most notable feature of the Baroque style is the long balcony on twelve corbels on the second floor. The palace also has an inner courtyard with stairs and a gallery.
At the beginning of the 20th century the palace was used by the Nautical School of Kotor, who added two floors on top of the building. These were removed during the renovation following the 1979 Montenegro earthquake.
6. Drago Palace
Трг светог Трипуна (Saint Tryphon Square)
14th-15th centuries; late 17th century
The palace of the Drago family shows architectural elements from different periods. Its northern façade represents the Venetian Gothic style of the 14th and 15th centuries, as shown by the arches of the windows and the portal. These were reconstructed after the 1979 earthquake, from which time is also the reconstruction of the large Gothic hall of the building.
The south-western façade, which is on Saint Tryphon Square, is from the end of the 17th century.
A passage leads from the square to the entrance staircase on the northern façade. Here there are two interesting windows. The one on the first floor is in Renaissance style and shows the figure of an angel with outstretched wings. Above it, on the second floor, is an elaborate Gothic mullioned window.
A recurring motif in the exterior decoration of the palace is the dragon – the symbol of the Drago family. It can be seen on the portal, some windows and the corbels supporting the vault of the passage.
7. Vrachien (Vrakijen) Palace
Трг од Салате (Salad Square)
Second half of 18th century
It is known that the Vrachien family had a house on this spot already in the 14th century. The current palace is from the second half of the 18th century. Unusually for a palace in the Bay of Kotor area it is plastered. Its most remarkable decorative detail on the exterior can be found above the portal: the composition of angels in stucco carrying a Baroque frame with the coat of arms of the Vrachien family, which depicts a crow. Next to the portal is an arched street passage, above which is a room that originally functioned as the house chapel, but was later turned into a kitchen.
The palace has a well-preserved interior. The first floor is accessed via a staircase hall that is decorated with wall paintings and fake marbles in the al secco technique. These were made by the Italian master Napoleon d’Este in the second half of the 19th century. In the main salon survives a floor with mosaics and terrazzo. Access from the salon to the side rooms takes place through the original doors made up of several types of wood.
8. Grgurina Palace
Трг Бокeлjске Морнарице (Square of the Boka Fleet)
First decade of 18th century
This palace was built by Count Marko Grgurina, who is known to have invited to Kotor the famous Venetian sculptor Francesco Penso (‘Cabianca’). The latter created several valuable sculptural works in the Cathedral of Saint Tryphon in 1704-1708. It is known that the Grgurina Palace was built around the same time.
The palace is a three-storey structure in Baroque style. It has a symmetrical front façade and an irregular back façade, because of the remains of an older building there. The first and the second floors have the typical grand salon in the centre and four rooms on the sides. On the inside several original details survive, including wooden ceilings, stone-pattern and parquet floors, and Baroque portals made of Korčula stone.
Behind the palace is a spacious terrace with a pergola and a Baroque garden. On the terrace there is a built-in sink and the coat of arms of the Grgurina family, showing a goat.
The Maritime Museum of Montenegro now operates in the Grgurina Palace.
9. Lombardić Palace
Трг светог Луке (Saint Luke Square)
The palace of the Lombardić family stands on Saint Luke Square. It is a typical palace of the Baroque period, with the emphasised vertical axis in the centre of the main façade, made up of the entrance portal, the belvedere with volutes, and the small balcony under it.
10. Grubonja Palace
Opposite the Collegiate Church of Saint Mary
Late 16th century
This palace belonged to the Grubonja family, who came from Zadar and had properties in Kotor in the 15th century. The building is from the end of the 16th century, with Renaissance features. Notable elements include corbels decorated with lion heads under the second-floor windows.
Between the windows of the first floor at the northern end of the main façade there is a relief plaque with a Christogram (IHS). Under it there are crossed bones and a skull, with snakes crawling out from the eyes and a mouse, a lizard and a turtle around it. It was the emblem of the old city pharmacy of Kotor, mentioned already in 1326, making it one of the oldest in Europe.
Next to the palace is a Baroque arch made of bricks. It is decorated with a medallion showing the Lion of Saint Mark and a Latin inscription under it informing us that a way to the Kotor Fortress starts from here. It is from 1760.