Sunday, September 4, 2022


In the south of coastal Dalmatia there it is a city that has a history closely linked to Italy: Cattaro, the actual "Kotor" (former capital of Montenegro). Indeed Cattaro -after being under the Republic of Venice for many centuries- has been "italian" two times in the last two centuries: in the napoleonic kingdom of Italy (1805-1810) and during WW2 (1941-1943). The following is an essay I have written in 2018 and that has been published -partially- on the english, spanish & italian wikipedia:

HISTORY OF "CATTARO" (actual Kotor, the main city of Montenegro)

Cattaro (or Venetian Cattaro, called in Italian "Cattaro la Veneziana") was the historical city populated by autochtonous "romanised" Dalmatians since the fall of the Roman empire and that belonged to the Republic of Venice for nearly five centuries until Napoleon times (for further info, please read my

Later it was part of the Napoleonic kingdom of Italy until was added to the Austrian empire in the XIX century and started to lose the neolatin characteristics, while becoming a Montenegrin city called "Kotor" actually. However in 1941 the city was united for a few years to the Kingdom of Italy in the "Governorate of Dalmatia".


Ascrivium, or Ascruvium, the modern Cattaro, was first historically mentioned when submitted to Rome in 168 BC.

The "Dalmatian city-states", with own neolatin dialects (the main where in Veglia and Ragusa), showing Cattaro in southern Dalmatia

Roman emperor Justinian built a fortress above Ascrivium in AD 535, after expelling the Goths. The city had around 5000 inhabitants in that century.

A second town probably grew up on the heights around it, because Constantine Porphyrogenitus -in the 10th century- alluded to a "Lower Cattaro". The city suffered the barbarian invasions of the Avars and Slavs, but survived with the autochtonous romanised population greatly diminished to a few hundred inhabitants.

Cattaro was one of the more influential Dalmatian city-states of romanized Illyrians throughout the Middle Ages, and until the 11th century the Dalmatian language was spoken by the inhabitants of the city. Later, with the Venetian domination the inhabitants started to speak the "Veneto da mar" instead of the old Dalmatian language (until the XIX century, when the main language started to be the Montenegrin).

The city was plundered by the Saracens in 840 AD, and a few centuries later by the Bulgarians in 1102 AD. In the next year it was ceded to Serbia by the Bulgarian tsar Samuel, but revolted, in alliance with Ragusa, and only submitted in 1184 AD, as a protected state, preserving intact its republican institutions, and its right to conclude treaties and engage in war. It was already an "Episcopal See", and, in the 13th century, Dominican and Franciscan monasteries were established to check the spread of Bogomilism.

In the 14th century the commerce of Cattaro rivalled that of Ragusa, and provoked the jealousy of Venice. The downfall of Serbia in 1389 left the city without a guardian, and, after being seized and abandoned by Venice and Hungary in turn, it passed under Venetian rule in 1420. Since then, for nearly five centuries the city was called "Cattaro la Veneziana" (the venetian Cattaro), because it was a city fully Italian in architecture and literature and the majority of the inhabitants spoke the "Veneto da mar" Italian dialect (very similar to the one spoken in Istria). Cattaro in those centuries enjoyed a huge development and was the main city and capital of the "Albania Veneta".

Venetian Cattaro was a catholic city, with the territory of the Diocese that even today corresponds to that of the historical region Albania Veneta since 1571. Cattaro was the most eastern city of Catholicism in the Balkans dominated by the Ottomans: it was the symbol of western society successfully facing Muslim attacks in those centuries.

However it was besieged by the Turks in 1538 and 1657 but saved by the venetian fleet; visited by plague in 1572 and nearly destroyed by earthquakes in 1563 and 1667.

The Republic of Venice reconstructed Cattaro after the terrible earthquake of 1667 (

By the Treaty of Campoformio in 1797 it passed to Austria; but in 1805 -by the treaty of Pressburg- Cattaro was assigned to the kingdom of Italy (1) and later was united in 1810 with the first French Empire.

Venetian Maritime Gate in the Cattaro city-walls

Napoleon included Cattaro between 1805 and 1810 in his "Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy". and made a decree establishing the use of the Italian language in schools throughout Dalmatia.

Cattaro was nearly fully venetian speaking in those years

In 1814 the city was restored to Austria by the Congress of Vienna, but the Italian language remained the official language (with German). After that year some slavs started to settle in the city from the surrounding territories.

The Cattaro population in 1848 showed strong support toward Venice and the early Italian Risorgimento:

When was informed of the Austrian concession to a "free" Constitution, on March 23, 1848, the Cattaro population poured into the streets acclaiming to Italy while on the same day the municipality voted for union with Venice. The "Vladika" (ruler) of Montenegro, worried about these upheavals, spoke against the people of Cattaro ( and of the Ragusa people - even if Austrian citizens) stating that if any other exaltation for the Italian revolution had been demonstrated he would reduce "to ash" and sprinkle "blood" in the whole southern Dalmatia. At the same time he sent a battalion which, with arms, removed the possibility that the initial uprising was transformed into a real insurrection. The inhabitants of Cattaro, however, continued to follow the events of the Italian Risorgimento: among the original "Mille", who with Garibaldi sailed from Quarto to Sicily to unify southern Italy to the Kingdom of Italy , there was also Marco Cossovich, a native of Venice but from a Cattaro family .

During the XIX century, Cattaro was the chief town of an administrative district in austrian southern Dalmatia. Cattaro occupied a narrow ledge between the Montenegrin Mountains and the "Bocche di Cattaro", a winding and beautiful inlet of the Adriatic Sea. This inlet expands into five broad gulfs, united by narrower channels, and forms one of the finest natural harbours in Europe.

Teodo, on the outermost gulf, is a small naval port. In the first years of the 20th century, Cattaro was strongly fortified, and about 3000 troops were stationed in its neighborhood.

On the seaward side, the defensive works included Castelnuovo (actual Erceg Novi), which guarded the main entrance to the Bocche. On the landward side, the long walls running from the town to the castle of San Giovanni, far above, formed a striking feature in the landscape; and the heights of the "Crevoscia", a group of barren mountains between Montenegro, Herzegovina, and the sea, were crowned by small forts.

Venetian symbol on Cattaro's venetian walls

There were many interesting places on the shores of the Bocche. Castelnuovo was a picturesque town, with a dismantled 14th century citadel, which has, at various times, been occupied by Bosnians, Turks, Venetians, Spaniards, Russians, French, English and Austrians.

The orthodox convent of St. Sava, standing amid beautiful gardens, was founded in the 16th century, and contained many fine specimens of 17th century silversmith work. There was a Benedictine monastery on a small island opposite to Perasto (Perast), eight miles east of Castelnuovo. Perasto itself was for a time an independent state in the 14th century. Rhizon, the modern hamlet of Risano, close by, was a thriving Illyrian city as early as 229 BC, and gave its name to the Bocche, then known as Rhizonicus Sinus (2).

In the second half of the XIX century the slav nationalism erased nearly all the venetian-Italian presence in the city, that was called officially Kotor after WWI. However in the early 1900 census there were some hundreds of Italians still living in Austrian Cattaro: they were less than 2% of the inhabitants.

Italian irredentism of Cattaro was supported and promoted by Fascism in the late 1930s. As a consequence when Italy (with Germany) defeated Yugoslavia in 1941, between 1941 and 1943 the Kingdom of Italy annexed the area of Yugoslavian Kotor - which became one of three provinces (with the official name: "Regia Provincia di Cattaro") of the Italian "Governorate of Dalmatia" and that had an total area of 4801 km2 with a population of 380,100 (3).

It is noteworthy to pinpoint that the Queen of Italy in those years was Elena (daughter of the king Nicholas I of Montenegro): she supported the union of the Cattaro region to Italy and personally "protected" the city's citizens.

Under Italy, the province of Cattaro (subdivided in 15 "Comuni") had an area of 547 Km2 and a population of 39,800 inhabitants. Most of the province's inhabitants were Serbs (mostly Orthodox and some Roman Catholics), and there were 350 Dalmatian Italians, concentrated in Cattaro and Perasto (now Perast). The only official language in Cattaro was the Italian and all the schools were in Italian language. The Italian government did many works in these few years, like the improvement of sewage, roads and hospitals.

After September 1943 the Germans occupied the city and consequently started a continuous reduction of the Italian presence in Cattaro (that after 1945 was only called "Kotor" under Tito's communist rule)

Actually the Italian Community of Kotor (Comunità Italiana di Cattaro), in the city of Kotor is being registered officially (with the "Unione Italiana") as the Italian Community of Montenegro (Comunità degli Italiani del Montenegro) and is enjoying a huge success (4). In connection with this registration, the "Center for Dalmatian Cultural Research" (Centro di Ricerche Culturali Dalmate) has opened in 2007 the Venetian house in Cattaro to celebrate the Venetian heritage in coastal Montenegro (5).

Venetian Architecture

More than four centuries of Venetian domination have given the city of Cattaro the typical Venetian architecture, that contributed to make actual Kotor a UNESCO world heritage site (6).

Cattaro's Venetian Walls

These are the most important structures & buildings in venetian style:

1) The Republic of Venice left in Cattaro the magnificent "Venetian Walls" surrounding the historical section of the city. The Venetian fortification system, which protects the city from the sea, is actually a wall 4.5 km long, 20 m high and 15 m wide, and is preserved as one of the most important architectural masterpieces in Montenegro.

The construction of the ramparts were built and rebuilt up to the 18th century. The oldest town gate of Cattaro, of the three existing in the town, is the “South” gate which was partially constructed in the 9th century. The “North” and the “Main” gates were built in the Renaissance style by the first half of the 16th century.

2) The most representative monument of Roman architecture in the Adriatic Montenegro is the magnificent "Cathedral of Saint Tryphon", constructed in 1166 and built on the remains of a former Catholic temple from the 9th century. There are the remains of the frescos from the 14th century and the valuable treasury with domestic and Venetian golden works dating from the 14th to the 20th century.

3) Besides the Cathedral, in the heart of the old town, there are magnificent examples of sacral venetian architecture originating from 12th till 20th century:
A-The Romanic church of St. Lucas was built in 1195, while the Romanic church of St. Ana dates from the end of the 12th century and has frescos dating back from the 15th century.
B-The Romanic church of St. Mary dates from 1221. The church contains the remains of a monumental fresco painting as well as an early Christian baptistry.
C-The Gothic church of St. Mihovil was built on the remains of the Benediction monastery from the 7th century with frescos dating back from the 15th century.
D-St. Clara's church dates from the 14th century with the extremely beautiful marble altar, the work of Francesco Cabianca, from the 18th century.
E-The Church of Lady of Health originates from the 15th century.
The Orthodox Church of St. Nicolas was built by the beginning of the 20th century with a valuable collection of icons.

Old Cattaro's postcard, showing typical venetian architecture buildings and the famous "Clock Tower" built in the "Cinquecento" (XVI century).

4)There are also numerous palaces in venetian style in the actual "Kotor Stari Grad" (downtown Kotor). A few were built in the "Cinquecento" (XVI century) like the famous "Palazzo Pima", where was born the writer Bernardo Pima.

Pima Palace (XVI century)

Some of the most famous of these venetian-style palaces are:

The Drago palace with Gothic windows from the 15th century; the Bisanti palace from the 17th century; the Pima palace, with typical Venetian renaissance and baroque forms from the 16th century; the Pasquali palace from the 16th century; the Grubonia palace with the built-in emblem of the old Cattaro's pharmacy established in 1326; the Gregurina palace, from the 17th century, which today contains the Naval museum, and finally the Clock tower, from the 16th century, with the medieval pillory just beside it.

Additionally, in those centuries Italian Renaissance literature enjoyed a huge development in Cattaro: the most famous writers (often writing in Italian language) were Bernardo Pima, Nicola Chierlo, Luca Bisanti, Alberto de Gliricis, Domenico and Vincenzo Burchia, Vincenzo Ceci, Antonio Zambella and Francesco Morandi.

There have also been notable Italian-language writers in the 15th to the 18th century who originated from Venetian Albania and lived in the region capital Cattaro, notably Giovanni Bona Boliris, Cristoforo Ivanovich and Ludovico Pasquali.

The Cattaro area is home to numerous tourist sights in the surroundings: St George Island (Sveti Đorđe) and Our Lady of the Rocks islets off the coast of Perasto are also among the more popular destinations in the vicinity. The island of St. George contains the famous Saint George Benedictine monastery from the 12th century and an old graveyard for the old neolatin nobility from Perast and Cattaro.


1) Map showing Cattaro inside the Kingdom of Italy of Napoleon:
2) Rhizon submitted to Rome in 168 BC
3) Rodogno, Davide (2003). Il nuovo ordine mediterraneo. Turin: Bollati Boringhieri
4) Comunita' italiani di Cattaro/Montenegro:
5) Photos of Cattaro and other cities of Venetian Albania, with article "Il Veneto nel Cattaro" (in Italian):
6) UNESCO's historical and cultural Region of Cattaro (actual Kotor):