Herceg Novi

Fascinating Fortresses of Herceg Novi

15 Mar 2019

Nowhere is Herceg Novi's intriguing history as one of the most prized possession on the Adriatic sea more apparent than in its fortresses. As competing empires of Europe and beyond all left their marks over the centuries. Nowadays the diverse remnants of the mighty fortifications range from overgrown ruins to modern festival venues, and all have a unique story to tell.

Herceg Novi's Kanli Kula Fortress is now an open air theatre with unrivalled views of the Mediterranean
Herceg Novi's Kanli Kula Fortress is now an open air theatre with unrivalled views of the Mediterranean, © Nikiforov Alexander / shutterstock.com

Kanli Kula

The largest of Herceg Novi's fortresses, Kanli Kula (or the Bloody Tower) takes its ominous name from the fact that it was long used as a prison by the Turks soon after they built it in the middle of the 16th century. Whilst awaiting their torture and inevitable execution (it was said that the doors of Kanli Kula only opened one way for inmates, as release or escape was impossible), many prisoners bided their time by carving into the walls of their cells, with various works of amateur art surviving to the present day.


Its dark history and gory name aside, since 1960 Kanli Kula has served as one of the most picturesque amphitheatres and performance venues anywhere on the Adriatic, with seating for some 1000 visitors, who get treated to panoramic views and a cool sea breeze during the summer months. After suffering significant damage during the earthquake of 1979, the fortress complex was restored in a more Venetian style, but should still be considered one of the top historical attractions in Montenegro. Located at the northern edge of the old town, it can be entered from main gate on the north side or the small southern gate if you're coming below.

Forte Mare

Perched dramatically atop a rocky outcrop just above the sea at the southernmost point of the old town, Forte Mare (in one incarnation or another) has been an integral part of Herceg Novi throughout its history. In fact, it's said that the fortress' first stone was placed by none of that than King Stjepan Tvrtko I when he officially founded the settle in 1382. It's widely used Italian name comes from the time of Venetian rule during the 17th century. Nowadays, in addition to being one of the symbols of the city and a must-visit attraction for tourists, Forte Mare is also one of the venues for the annual Festival of Cinema in August, which explains the projection screen that sits atop it.

Spanish Fortress

Owing to its location at the top of the hill, the so-called Spanish (or Španjola) Fortress is the least visited of the three main fortresses in Herceg Novi, but definitely worth making the effort to reach, as it offers the most eye-catching panoramic views and an intriguing history over its five centuries.

Most first time visitors to the area (ourselves included) will be surprised to learn that the Spanish were one of the many empires that came to rule over Herceg Novi. However, their occupation was also the shortest lived, capturing the settlement from the Turks in a surprise attack in 1538, only to lose it back to the Ottomans some nine months later. During that time they laid the foundations for the fortress that bears their name to this day, although it was only finished by the Turks a decade later.

Nowadays, the fortress is partially in ruins and is slowly being reclaimed by nature, offering unique photo opportunities and lots of hidden corners to explore. Then of course there are those glorious views. While it's best to visit with a guided tour, if you come on your own look for the signposted road opposite Kanli Kula on the Adriatic Highway, it's about 10-minute walk to reach the top.

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