Risan (Latin: Risinium, Greek: Rhizon, Venetian: Risano) is a town in the Boka Kotorska (Bay of Kotor). It is the oldest settlement in the Boka Kotorska. Lying in the innermost portion of the bay, the settlement was protected from the interior by inaccessible limestone cliffs of the Orjen mountain, the highest range of eastern Adriatic, and through several following narrow straits in the Bay of Kotor from the open sea.
While the Krivošije karst plateau that hangs steep above the narrow shores of Risan bay receives over 5000 mm rain annually (European record), several strong karst springs that form a short brook collect in the narrow cultivable belt at Risan. Today Risan is a small port with roughly 3500 inhabitants ( In 1900: Around 5000 inhabitants; of them 80% Orthodox Christians, 20% Catholics. ) where logs from the vast virgin forests of the Bijela gora are shipped mostly to Italy. Risan is a tourist destination that has a fine hotel called after its most famous citizen, Queen Teuta, with accompanying fine plages.
History of Risan
The earliest mention of Rhizon dates back to the 4th century BCE. Rhizon had been the main fortress in the Illyrian state where Queen Teuta took refuge during the Illyrian Wars. During the short reign of the Illyrian Queen Teuta, Rhizon became the capital of her empire. During theses periods a mint was established that issued several coinages:
- autonomous coinages of the town, in bronze,
- the royal coinage of king Ballaios, in silver and bronze, most probably,
- the coinage labeled “Coinage from the Rhizonian Gulf”, which has been considered as the coinage of an alliance in which Rhizon played a part, in silver and bronze.
The chronology of these coinages is still not defined with precision, primarily because the historical background of their issuance remains little known. There is hardly any mention in the literary sources of the town of Rhizon, and none of the king Ballaios. However, several features of these coinages – such as the characteristics of style, elements of inscription and iconography (especially the presence of the title “basileus” on the coinage of Ballaios, and the presence of a Macedonian shield on the “Coinage from the Rhizonian Gulf”), metrology, choice of coined metals, etc. – point to the 3rd and 2nd centuries BCE as the general chronological framework for the activity of the Rhizonian mint and for the successive issuance of the coinages of different issuing authorities there.
Formerly the Boka Kotorska was known as Sinus Rhizonicus after the (Greek) name of Rhizon, the leading town in anticity of the bay. Rhizon had also its own protector, a deity called Medaurus, who was depicted as carrying a lance and riding on horseback. In Roman times, Rhizinium is documented as an oppidum civium Romanorum. Two Roman routes led through the Boka Kotorska. The most prosperous time for Roman Rhizinium came during the first and second centuries. Five mosaics are the most valuable remains of that period – not only for Risan but also for Montenegro. The best preserved one shows Hypnos, the Greek deity of dreams. It is the only known image of this kind in the Balkans.
“The most beautiful contact between the earth and sea took place at the Montenegrin littoral”
The famous English archeologist Sir Arthur Evans led those initial excavations. The invasions of the Avars and Slavs left Risan deserted. The last reference of a bishop in Risan dates back to 595. In the 10th century, the Byzantine emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus includes Risan among the inhabited towns of Travunia, while the priest of Doclea considers Rissena to be a district. During the Middle Ages, Risan lost the significance it used to have in the ancient times. In the mid 15th century Risan was referred to as the town of Herceg (duke) Stjepan. In 1466, the Venetians offered to give Brac island and a palace in Split to Herceg Stjepan, in exchange for his two towns (Risan and Novi) in the Boka Kotorska. In 1482, the Turks took Risan, together with Herceg Novi, from Herceg Stjepan’s son Vlatko. Only in 1688 Risan became Venetian as part of the Albania Veneta with the Venetian name of Risano. In the following centuries Risan has had the same fate as the whole of Dalmatia. Actually it is part of the newly independent Montenegro. In the present-day Risan, there are no elements that could connect it to the medieval town. Risan by the sea was probably just a settlement. However, on the Gradina hill, above the famous archeological site of Carine, a fortification is situated containing remains of an Illyrian-Greek acropolis, as well as the medieval and Turkish stratum. The position of the fortification was excellent, particularly for the control of Risan – Onogošt route, while the hilltop itself was inaccessible.
- Risan mosaics — The Roman Mosaic Villa, dating back to the 2nd and early 3rd centuries, is located in southeastern Risan. A total of 5 mosaics have been preserved. The most famous of the mosaics shows Hypnos, the god of sleep.
- Banja Monastery — On the road from Risan to Perast, along the coast of the sea lies the Banja monastery. The history of the monastery is related to Stefan Nemanja who lived temporarily in the 12th century. It is thought that the monastery has been named by the Roman bathrooms, which fell into the sea in one of the serious earthquakes, together with ancient Risan.
Sunbathing on the beach.
Access by bus and car from Kotor (20 min drive) and Herceg Novi (35 min drive). Risan is one of the places to be operated by any bus, from Kotor to Herceg Novi and vice versa. Risan is 18 km from Kotor.
Walking from one end to another is a mere 15-20 minute walk, so other options than this are not really necessary.
Risan has one hotel called Teuta. This hotel has 309 beds and makes the most of overnight stays in Risan. In addition, there are several private accommodations for overnight stays.
- Budva — the Montenegrin touristic metropolis on the Adriatic Sea is located some 20km south of the Boka Kotorska.
- Cetinje — the historical capital of Montenegro is located just under Mt Lovćen, the mountain overlooking the Boka Kotorska.
- Dubrovnik — the hub of Croatian tourism can be reached from Herceg Novi in less than 40 minutes north of the Boka Kotorska.
- Lovcen national park — Mount Lovćen rises from the borders of the Adriatic basin closing the long ang twisting bays of Boka Kotorska and making the hinterland to the coastal town of Kotor. The mountain has two imposing peaks, Štirovnik (1,749 m) and Jezerski vrh (1,657 m). The mountain slopes are rocky, with numerous fissures, pits and deep depressions giving its scenery a specific look. Standing on the border between two completely different natural wholes, the sea and the mainland, Lovćen is under the influence of both climate.
- Perast — a well preserved village, built entirely in barroque style, a UNESCO World Natural and Historical Heritage Site. From Perast there is a boat ride to the man-made islet of Our Lady of the Rocks (Gospa od Škrpjela). Upon returning home safely, seamen dropped rocks and old boats filled with rocks in this place and gradually created the islet as the foundation for the church.
- Herceg Novi — take a walk on the 6km-long 5 Danica’s esplanade to meet with the rich and diverse history of the town.
- Njegos Mausoleum — The mausoleum of Petar Petrovic Njegos built of limestone and granite can be found on top of Mount Lovcen. It was Njegos’s last wish, the greatest ruler of the Montenegrins who was a bishop and a poet at the same time to be buried there.
- Prcanj — small family-friendly place with great view of the Bay of Kotor.
- Kotor — an ancient fortified town located deep down the Boka Kotorska bay, and an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Tivat — a small town, quickly emerging into a major touristic, business and transport centre. Located in the vicinity of the Tivat International Airport, in summer 2014 it became home of a luxury yacht marina called Porto Montenegro.
- Mamula — Guarding the entrance to the bay, is this prison island built by Austro-Hungarian general Lazar Mamula in mid 19th century. During the World War II, the fort was used as a prison by the Italians.
- The Island Gospa od Skrpjela — (Our Lady of the Rock). The Island Gospa od Skrpjela is one of two gorgeous islands in Kotor Bay, which are situated in the bay across from Perast (in the Kotor municipality). The other island, which also should be visited, is the island Sveti Djordje (St. George). That island is also called “the island of the dead captains”, because according to a legend one French soldier, by shooting from cannon towards Perast, hit a house of his beloved girl and killed her. That legend was a motive for the master piece “The Island of the Dead” by the Switzerland painter Beklin. The Island Gospa od Skrpjela is an artificial island, made by seaman from Perast and Kotor, who on their big sail boats brought in large boulders. According to stories, fisherman from Perast, after a shipwreck near the island, found an icon of the Holy Mother of God with the Christ on a sea rock, so they vowed to build a church on the island. They built the church in 1630. As the island had to be maintained, seaman continued to bring in stones, so that tradition is alive even today. It is called Fasinada from Perast (July 22).
- Plava Spilja — A blue grotto in the bay. It is 5.7 nautical miles away from Herceg Novi. During the summer season, you can take private boats from Herceg Novi to Plava Spilja.
- Mount Orjen — Mount Orjen at 1,894 meters is the highest mountain on the Adriatic coastline and dominates the entrance to the Boka Kotorska and it’s surrounding.