A STORY OF BEAUTY, CHURCHES AND CATS
The Bay of Kotor is an encyclopedia of the contradictions of post-Yugoslavia.
Glimpses of dazzling beauty, carcasses of the Yugoslav navy, ancient Habsburg forts, and wrecks of fishing boats. Venetian villages with unchanged grace but polluted and sometimes smelly waters. The charm and the white stones of Kotor are dominated by the huge cruise ships that moor and throw up hasty and distracted excursionists.
Perast: churches and old Venetian lanes that descend rapidly from the mountainside to the edge of the sea. Fishermen’s houses, and restaurant terraces. You can sit on a bench by the roadside to drink a beer twenty centimetres from the water. Those Yugoslav roads built right on the sea, without protections, have always fascinated and intrigued me. Does a 50 cm wave ever come here?
Few notice it because good rulers are elusive and do not impose their presence, but cats are in command at Perast. They are everywhere, pampered by the locals, refreshed, hosted on winter nights. They are the ones who allow access to an alley or, looking sideways, check that you leave a church without having touched anything; cats disdainfully accept some cuddles in exchange for the favour they do to you by eating the food you offer them.
After all, Perast is a village of churches and cats. Cats are the majority, but still, there are dozens of churches, large and small, restored and in ruins.
The feline kingdom also extends to the sea, up to the two islands a few hundred meters from the coast. Humans can only visit one, the other is kept reserved by the clergy.
Our Lady of the Rocks
Our Lady of the Rocks is a church with a sky blue dome that occupies half of an artificial island. Dalmatian white stone everywhere, a surprising view of the mouths, and too many tourists walking around in too narrow a space. Peace and mysticism seekers please go elsewhere. For example, to the St. George church, on the other island, that is unfortunately off-limits. For humans. Sovereigns don’t care about bans.
Kotor has little to envy to the charm of Zadar or Split except for its size and a certain air of decadence that arises from history, a relative lack of resources, and the absence of European contributions.
UNESCO protects but does not finance.
Cream-coloured alleys, steps, and secluded corners everywhere, a tree-lined square where cats reign (also here!). And they don’t do it with the haughty understatement of Perast. Here the felids reign clearly, take possession of the spaces, invade the benches, waiting for the tribute of food by the human bipeds.
There is even a square that’s practically only for them. They sit on the benches, lie on the ground in the shadow of the trees and plants. They hunt or wait for humans to feed them. Some people take special care of them also with medical and prevention aims. Cats are neutered and spayed. But stille they are the lords of the town!
Why so many cats?
But why so many cats along these coasts? A theory told by the locals traces the presence of cats to the mercantile and maritime traditions of these places.
In past centuries, the calm waters of the bay, protected from any tide, were the perfect landing place for the merchant ships that shuttled between the Adriatic and the East. And on the ships there were cats, to hunt mice, they say here. And, a few of these cats remained on the ground after the departure of their vessel. This is the version of the locals, you’re free to believe it. Maybe you will find yourself mulling over it by facing the steep climb to the walls of the old city. Do not fear the fatigue, which is harsh: you will be rewarded with a spectacular view of Kotor and the bay!
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