About the medieval towns in Montenegro


Structure of the plan and details of the defensive architecture

Seen generally, all medieval towns had a similar ground plan and function. There was a wall encompassing certain space and a gate in the wall. In case of attack, the gate was closed and from the upper parts of the wall, the defenders shot the attackers, trying to prevent their advance. For the purpose of efficient protection of the outer part of the wall curtain, towers were built from its level, and in the towns of Montenegro, they had different shapes and dimensions. The inner space, depending on the character and size of the fortification, had a corresponding differing structure. However, some objects related to basic life needs, or at least indications that they had existed, are found in almost all town plans. These are, first of all, residential buildings, water cisterns, wells or fountains. A church is also an object present in the majority of towns or in their immediate vicinity. If a town was bigger, with more residential, public, commercial or church objects, it used to have traffic arteries streets and squares. In the plan of such a town, a citadel usually separated and strongly fortified military part, occupying the most vantage position, is noticed.

A ground plan is usually irregular, slightly elongated, obviously adjusted to the terrain. Most usually, gates were placed beside the towers or at the sites where they could be easily controlled and defended, together with a part of an access road immediately in front of them. In the ground plans of bigger towns, several gates, placed on different sides, are noticed. In some towns, moats were constructed in front of the walls, on naturally accessible sides.

A massive wall, as the basic defensive element of a town in the time of side arms use, was not usually very tick; however, from the preserved remains, we can conclude that it was relatively high and vertical. Although only few merlons from the medieval period have been preserved on the walls, we can positively conclude that they existed everywhere. The function of a merlon on the battlement was to protect a defender from the arrows or stones thrown by attackers. An opening between two merlons, protecting a man to certain height with its parapet, made it possible for defenders to shot their arrows or stones to attackers. In order to make it possible for defenders to approach and stand behind the merlons, the paths i.e. walkways were constructed along the inner side of the walls. There are many preserved examples of such paths. At some places, walkways were narrow because the battlements were not extended and had to accommodate merlon walls, while at others they were wide enough and even had a fence towards the inner side of the fortification. The extension of the battlements for such purposes was usually done with the help of consoles. It seems that in some cases, at a shorter distance from the main wall, a lower crenellated wall existed, with an obstacle moat or water (the sea in Budva) in front of it.

Town gates, being vulnerable spots in walls, were usually placed at sites providing for their efficient control and defense. Their wings were usually wooden, bound in iron on the outside, and they were closed from inside with a massive beam bolt. A few examples of machicolations small protruding balconies with an opening in the floor through which it was possible to shot attackers if they tried to approach, have been preserved, usually above the gate (Bar, Budva). A whole line of these balconies next to each other a gallery of machicolations, has only been preserved in one tower (Žabljak).

Towers were of differed size and ground plans. They were round, rectangular, and polygonal. Some of them were filled inside, and some opened towards an inner space of the fortification. The most numerous are the ones completely closing one volume and having an entrance gate. We notice that only few real massive towers from the time of side arms use have been preserved. The preserved ones are situated at considerable distances from one another, and in most cases, they were alredy built at the time of advent and use of firearms. If they were not filled inside, they were divided into storeys, usually with wooden constructions, and their battlements were crenellated, as well. One of the towers of a fortification usually had a more suitable position for defense than other towers. Such a tower was usually higher and more massive; therefore, it was certainly used both as a watchtower and for the last defense. The skyline of a town is always dominated by such a tower, so that it can be called the main tower .

The majority of better preserved walls and towers in the towns of Montenegro date from the period of firearms use, which can be concluded from the lower round bastions, lower and ticker walls with escarpments, numerous loopholes and cannon posts.

 Types (classification) of medieval towns

Judging by historical sources and remains of their architecture, medieval towns on the territory of Montenegro represented entities considerably differing in time of construction, position, purpose, size, plan structure, manner of construction, etc. According to their purpose and character, the towns could generally be divided into fortified coastal towns, minor fortifications and fortified monastic complexes.

Fortified coastal towns stand out owing to their special position by the sea, their size and purpose. They defended bigger groups of people from an external enemy, providing, at the same time, relatively good conditions for life. This group of towns has preserved these characteristics from the antique times, as the majority of them rest on foundations of antique towns or contain elements of this earlier period in their urban complex. Having been demolished, reinforced and reconstructed over centuries, used for defence both from the land and the sea, they have not preserved much defensive architecture from the time before the advent of gunpowder. Medieval remains of these towns share some common characteristics. Their walls are relatively thin and high, with crenellated battlements, without escarpments and divisions, while the entrance gates are usually of modest dimensions. Towers are of semi-circular or square ground plans, with thinner walls and crenellated battlements, as well. Beside merlons, along the inner side of battlements there used to run a parapet walkway connecting towers. Citadels, representing better fortified, solely military objects, occupy the most prominent and less accessible positions. The greatest part of inner space is usually occupied by densely arranged residential buildings, churches and other objects.

The introduction of gunpowder and increasingly powerful cannons in the 15th and especially 16th century conditioned changes in defensive architecture of these towns, changing considerably their appearance. Lower and thicker massive towers, mostly of circular foundations, with nails, and lower thicker walls with escarpments, replaced the old constructions or they were built directly in front or over them. The inner structures of coastal towns of Montenegro remained almost intact at that turning point for defensive architecture. However, the architecture of majority of buildings was changing all the time depending on object dilapidation, fires or earthquakes.

Inland towns, minor fortifications, approximately of equal size but considerably smaller than the coastal towns, were often built for the needs of medieval gentry, as well as important commercial and trading posts. Mostly, they are built on less accessible secluded hills, in the centres of districts, by roads, at a day-walk distance from each other. Judging by their size and ground plans, in majority of cases, they served for the personal defense of feudal lords, defense of property and possible travelers from an external enemy and one's own people. All of them, but Oblun and Onogost, have irregular ground plans obviously adjusted to the terrain.

We notice that majority of them were not built by a gradual expansion of one fortified entity a donjon tower as was case in the Western Europe . It can be explained, on one hand, by the original smaller wooden fortifications at the same sites, considering the Slavic tradition of building in wood, and on the other hand, by the discontinuity of development of the towns caused by changes in military and economic conditions, and the arrival of the Turks. However, almost all of these entities have one stronger and bigger tower, placed at a vantage position, built at the same time as other parts of the fortification. This leads to the conclusion that masons applied, completely and at one go, one already seen, in basic forms established medieval structure.

In majority of cases, the towns from this group were designed for defense by side arms; therefore, they were built before the advent and use of gunpowder. Many of them lost their significance already in the first period of firearms use, which is clearly seen from the remains of their architecture that do not contain traces of any reconstructions and alterations.

Conditions for life in the towns of this group were difficult, judging by the remains of architecture, their position on waterless, steep, protuberant rocky mounts of Montenegro .

The least numerous, fortified monastic complexes include the smallest objects (except Ratac). Only some of them were distinctly fortified with powerful towers, and some were built on islands or peninsulas which were more easily defended than the mainland territory .