Stari Bar (Old Bar), Montenegro
The Old Town of Bar in Montenegro, known as Stari Bar, may lie in ruins – but it still has plenty of stories to share with visitors.
The old town of Stari Bar, in the southeast of Montenegro, has seen its fair share of troubles. Over the centuries it was taken over by the Venetians, the Serbians, the Hungarians and the Ottoman Empire.
The scene of a siege in 1877, it was finally reclaimed by Montenegro from the Turks after the locals bombed the aqueduct into the town and cut off the water supply.
One hundred years later, in 1979, that same aqueduct, since repaired, was destroyed again by a major earthquake and the community was abandoned.
Today it lies in ruins.
A new city of Bar was built down by the water and has become an important port city for Montenegro. The old town, about an hour’s walk up a hill in the mountains, has never been repaired.
Once upon a time, though, the old town of Bar must have once been an impressive cultural centre, full of dedications to deities, grand buildings for the nobility, and a residential and commercial hub for the common people.
For more than a millennium it was an important part of this region.
In recent years, the authorities have put in quite a lot of effort to make Stari Bar important again – but this time for visitors like me. A fair amount of restoration work is taking place to try to bring back some of the glory days.
Visiting Stari Bar
When you first arrive, you’ll see the houses, shops and restaurants that have appeared around the old fortifications of Stari Bar.
Official figures show the old town has a population of almost two thousand people. Some are former residents of Bar who have moved up the hill for the views and potentially cheaper real estate. Others have some to start businesses aimed at tourists.
You’ll notice this as you walk the last part of the path that runs alongside the old fortress at Stari Bar. On both sides are little buildings – cute and quaint – that are used as shops and restaurants.
They are all pleasant enough and you might find a nice souvenir here. But these are not part of the history. Continue on to the ruins to discover the real reason you are visiting Stari Bar.
You see, the original town will never be inhabited again – there’s too much history here to be preserved.
Stari Bar Fortress
For visitors, the most important part of the old town is the Stari Bar Fortress. You won’t miss it from the outside, with its large imposing stone walls and sturdy round turrets at the corners.
Head inside and everything suddenly gets much quieter. You don’t have the shops and the stalls here.
Instead, you’ll find cobblestoned pathways leading underneath ancient arches; towers that stand firm even though the original buildings around them have crumbled away; plants that come from between the bricks; bushes blooming with flowers escaping over walls; gates that lead to the remains of tunnels within the fortifications.
The skeleton of Stari Bar’s fortress is still here. You can walk the paths and see the windows. You can make out the foundations that would’ve halls, the ones that would have been houses. And you can peer over the edge and see down the hill to the modern Bar and out to the water.
Stari Bar Fortress is open in summer from 08:00 – 20:00.
In winter, it is open from 09:00 – 17:00.
The entrance fee for Stari Bar Fortress is €2 for adults and €1 for children.
Within the fortress and in the area just outside, there are a few particular things to see at Stari Bar that are worth looking out for.
Things to see at Stari Bar
Although I think you’ll enjoy just wandering around Stari Bar and exploring the site for yourself, you might want to see some of these sights – some of them are pretty obvious anyway.
- There’s a small museum just inside the entrance that will give you some basic information about the site and the history.
- There are the remains of a Franciscan monastery from the 13th century that was converted to a mosque in 1595.
- You’ll also be able to see the foundations of St George’s Cathedral that was also converted into a mosque in the 17th century by the Turks.
- The Ottomans had quite a big influence on the site and you’ll also be able to see a Turkish bathhouse from the 18th century.
- The clock tower is an obvious symbol of Stari Bar and you shouldn’t have any trouble spotting it.
- And, of course, there’s the long 17th-century aqueduct that carried water from a nearby spring.
In total, I would suggest giving yourself between one and two hours to slowly explore the site and see all the different parts. You might like to go for a little walk to get some different views.
And there are also the restaurants here if you want to have a break and grab a meal.
How to get to Stari Bar
The old town of Stari Bar is about 5 kilometres from the centre of Bar and, even though it’s uphill, you should be able to walk it in about an hour.
If you’re driving, there is some parking around the site. There are quite a few reports of local asking for about €2 as a fee, even though there is no official charge.
A taxi from Bar should cost about €5, so that could be a good option if there are a few of you.
Otherwise there are irregular bus services that leave from near the train station and cost €1 each way.
These days, the coast of Montenegro is the playground of the country with beach resorts around the towns and cities along the entire length.
It’s defined by tourism and the European holidaymakers who want to get away from the crowds of Croatia, Greece and Italy but still enjoy the warm waters and affordable prices of this part of the continent.
But around all the vacationers are the remnants of history, mementoes of centuries of civilisation and lands lost and won.
Oh, and if you would like some great tours to explore Montenegro, have a look at some of these:
A trip above the port of Bar to the old town is not a trip wasted. It’s a fascinating adventure and it can take an hour or two to properly explore what remains of this fortress settlement.
For a backpacker option, Namaste Hostel & Camping is a lovely and relaxing place.
With a great location and beautiful rooms, Apartments Suster is a very good budget choice.
If you need a bit more space, Berg Apartments is in the hills looking out over the water.
And for nice modern apartments right by the water, I would recommend Apartments Kuce Lekovica.