Thursday, 3 August 2017

Kotor, Montenegro (Cattaro in Italian)

Kotor, Montenegro

A while ago, accusations flew around that Russia had tried to engineer a coup in Montenegro to prevent it joining NATO. If so, the object of the exercise was probably the port of Kotor, which would have given Russia an Adriatic foothold.

In their day, the Venetians, who held the place almost 400 years, the French and the Austrians all thought the same. The natural harbour was relatively easy to defend and its sheltered waters could hold an entire fleet without difficulty.

Castle of St John, Cattaro
During the Napoleonic Wars Cattaro was the scene of a little known but brilliant campaign. In 1813 the French garrison under Gauthier was besieged by a Montenegrin force but able to hold out because it could be supplied by sea.

Captain John Harper’s 18-gun Royal Navy brig Saracen arrived in November to assist the besiegers. Unable to sail up the long dog-leg, mountain-girt fjord to the fortress, Harper rigged tow ropes and had local people physically drag his ship into the huge inner harbour, where she made re-supply impossible.

However the French could still withstand a siege as long as they held the Castle of St John, whose guns commanded the port from its site half way up the mountainside.

Harper dismounted an 18 pounder cannon from his ship and set his crew to haul it to the top of the mountain, later assisted by The frigate Bacchante’s arrival with a substantially larger crew. The operation took a month, but finally succeeded. With his fortress under bombardment from above, the French general was obliged to surrender.

I contemplated the climb up to the castle but decided it was too much in the heat. The view Gauthier enjoyed is said to be spectacular and an assault against the Venetian defences would have been costly.

There is much to enjoy in the little town itself, which abounds with merchant palaces, interesting churches and fortifications.  

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