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.