Risan and Neighbourhood

This is a “Work-in-Progress”, which will be added to as and when we come across something interesting about Risan or its environs. Where we have drawn from other sources, these are shown; otherwise these are our own observations.

Risan location
42º 30’ 52”N, 18º 41’ 42”E.

Risan from the sea, showing Teuta’s fortress on the left above the last buildings. The ghastly concrete building on the right is the 1970s Hotel Teuta, making a firm statement about ‘modern’ architecture. The town lies on the shore at the northern end of the Bay of Kotor or Boka Kotorska in montenegrin. Surrounded on three sides by the massif of the Orjen mountain range, it faces south. Apart from a narrow flat strip along the shore, the town is built on sloping ground. About a kilometre from the shore building stops, as the slope changes dramatically into the sheer sides of the mountains.
Alarmingly, a road winds its way 800m up this precipice, taking one to the village of Lednice, and from there into the interior – Grahovo and on to Nikšić. Meeting a bus or a lorry on this road was a hazardous procedure, especially if one was on the outside – the drop is literally vertical and the road was built in Austrian times so is barely wide enough for one modern vehicle. A wider road has been built with a gentler incline starting around the Bay at Morinj, which links the coast with the interior. It is now open as far as Vilusi, where it joins the main road from Nikšić close to the Border Crossing to Trebinje in Bosnia. We were told that the road would be ready the following year when we first came to the Boka in 2007, and it was finished early 2011, so that’s not too bad! In the summer especially, with the tourist traffic in Kotor and Budva, it is definitely the easiest route to Podgorica, although 25km longer.

 View to the north-west from the plot – shows the scar of the new road up the hillside.

Around to the west from Lednice is the village of Crkvice (940m above sea level), which is the wettest place in Europe. The average annual precipitation for the period 1931-1960 was 4927 mm/m² and for 1961-1990 4631 mm/m². The highest amounts per year surpass 7000 mm/m² with an all time historic high at 8036 mm/m² (1937). I would guess that recent winters may surpass that – I will post figures when I get them.
About 2km west along the coast from Risan the road rises around a small bluff on the inside of which is the outflow of one of the two main underground rivers in the Bay. This one is called Sopot and erupts shortly after a major rainfall in the mountains above. It is truly a magnificent sight, with hundreds of tonnes per second of water rushing literally straight out of the mountainside and plunging 20m into the bay. The second one is called Ljuta and is next to the Stari Mlini restaurant between Orahovac and Dobrota, halfway from Risan to Kotor. Equally spectacular, there the outlet from the mountain is almost at sea level. (I had originally thought that the word for the type of outflow was Sopot and applied it to both Sopot and Ljuta. I was corrected by a local friend; in fact Sopot is the name of the river, as is Ljuta.) There are other rivers/ springs which emerge under the water of the Bay, of course, as is common in limestone country. Friends of ours with a house on the bank of Lake Skodra draw their drinking water from one.


Ljuta near Stari Mlini when dry                Sopot near Risan in full flow

Risan climate
Rainfall [mm/m²]
(per Wikipedia) Period Jan  Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul  Aug Sep  Oct Nov Dec Year
1961-1984  405 342 340 235 153 101  66 123  188  295 423 434 3105
There are two major winds: the Bura and the Jugo. The cold Bura blasts down from the mountains, and gusts can reach 250km/h. From the south (as per its name) comes the humid and wet Jugo. We’ve had quite a lot of the Jugo, bringing rain across from Italy.
The combination of sea and mountain means that there is a breeze of some kind most of the time. The area is particularly healthy, hence the major hospital which was put here mainly to treat respiratory diseases, and the old folks’ home (the only one in Montenegro).

I now have a most useful set of sunshine data from the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, based in Ispra, Italy. It gives monthly data for: 
Irradiation on horizontal plane (Wh/m2); Irradiation on optimally inclined plane of 34° (Wh/m2); Irradiation on plane at angle of 90deg. (Wh/m2); Optimal inclination (deg.); Ratio of diffuse to global irradiation (-); Average daytime temperature (°C); 24 hour average of temperature (°C); and Number of heating degree-days (-). The annual irradiation at 34°C is 4670 Wh/m2.
On the plot, we get sun in summer from about 07.30 to 18.00, and in winter from about 09.30 to about 16.30.

Our Own Experience
Winters are cold and wet – we’ve had temperatures close to zero in January and February. On the other hand when the sun is around, it can get up the mid/ high teens. There is an annual mimoza festival in Herceg Novi in early February – but then HN does get appreciably more sun compared to Risan as it is in the outer bay. We had also been told that 2010-2011 would be the coldest winter in the Balkans for decades – down to -40°C – although in the Boka, it was wet but still above zero. The 2011 – 2012 winter has been mainly dry – almost too dry – but we have had serious snow in February 2012 – about 15-20cm at sea level!
Summers are hot and dry, especially of course August when the thermometer goes above 40. Basically summer is from May to October and winter from November to March, give or take a week or two. Spring and autumn don’t really exist! As with so much of life in the Balkans, one goes from one extreme to the other. The climate data I mention above gives July as the highest daytime temperature of 25.0
°C, with the 24-hour figure being 23.5°C. August is not far behind at 24.5°C & 23.1°C respectively. January is the coldest month at 5.8°C and 4.8°C. These are of course averages!
At any time of the year, thunderstorms erupt. Sometimes for hours, sometimes just passing through. In any case, the drainage system on the roads usually fails to cope, so one finds oneself driving through floods. The end of November 2010 was a case in point, when the water barrel in our yard gathered about 50cm in a day (yes, half a metre) and with no guttering or pipes feeding into it, just straight from the sky. Another point is that the power system is fragile so thunderstorms can cause power-outages – but then these can happen anytime anyway for no apparent reason.

Risan history
(per Wikipedia)
‘The earliest mention of Rhizon dates back to 4 BC, when it had been the main fortress in the Illyrian state where Queen Teuta took refuge during the Illyrian Wars. During her short reign, Rhizon became the capital of her empire. In Roman times, Rhizinium is documented as an oppidum civium Romanorum. Two Roman routes led through the Bay of Kotor. 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.

 One of the Risan mozaics (not Hypnos)The best preserved one shows Hypnos, the Greek deity of dreams. It is the only known image of this kind in the Balkans. 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 Brač 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.’

The northern part of the region was handed to Austria as part of the settlement of the Congress of Vienna in 1814, taking over from Napoleonic control.

A few km along the coast towards Morinj at Lipci there are prehistoric rock carvings, depicting deer and geometric patterns.

Various teams of archaeologists have explored the town and the surrounding area. In the 1870s, the famous British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans, the discoverer of the Mycenaen site at Knossos, referred to ‘the foundations of houses, including a mosaic pavement, to be seen about half an hour up the mountainous steep on the East and near a delicious fountain’. Clearly this is not the same as the mosaics currently on public display about 100m from the sea. Roman roads, an acqueduct and a Hellenistic grave were still visible across the landscape. Evans’ find of a field strewn with coins enabled him to identify Risan as a mint in the time of Prince Ballaeos. (sources Bradt Montenegro p144, and
Absolute SAStronomy)
Since 2001, a team from Warsaw University’s 
Research Centre for Antiquity of South-Eastern Europe has been excavating at the Carine site near the town centre as well as underwater, directed by Prof Dr Piotr Dyczek.

From my meeting with Professor Piotr Dyczek in Risan July 2010:
‘According to Professor Dyczek, the Illyrian layers in Risan are so close to the surface because the upper layers were stripped off during the Austro-Hungarian period, and afterwards, to create more level space for building. This meant that there is nothing left from the Hellenistic, Roman, Venetian or later periods. The walls of the ancient fortified town have been found to be about 1km long, and this coupled with the sizes of houses/ rooms already excavated would indicate a possible population of about 1500 to 2000. This was pretty substantial for that time. Traces of the wall have been found near the seawall of the modern Teuta hotel, which is probably the furthest extent seaward. Inland, the wall skirts the retaining wall for the school. The river forms the eastern boundary.
Although remains have been found down to 2m below the water table/ sea level, excavating this properly is too costly, as it involves the use of methods to keep the water out of the area under examination. The level sinks by about 3mm a year under normal circumstances anyway, and the major earthquake of 1979 dropped the level by a full metre.
In addition to the fortified town at sea level, there is the fortress on the hill above the town, where a full spectrum of eras is present. One find this season was a marble head of a woman showing hair decoration typical of the Hellenistic era. A piece of a marble column with Corinthian design was also found. There are also traces of a shrine.
The major find this season was a collection of 4000 coins minted by Ballaios during his reign 190 to 175 or 168BC. The metal (ie silver or bronze) will only be determined after conservation which is taking place in Kotor.’

Professor Piotr Dyczek emailed me in September 2011 with this report of his team’s activities in June/ July:
” … The season in Risan was very intersting from archaeological point of view – we found new hellenistic house – so-called House of Aglaos ( because we found one Gnathia dih with grafitto AGL and only two greek names have that letters Aglaos or Aglaophon so we  take shorter) An most intersting find – gold ring with agat gemma with representation probably of Artemis very, very good preserved. … “ 

The Name
The official guidebooks and leaflets say that the name comes from the Illyrian tribe Risonti. A local friend told us that the name comes from the type of plant root, rhizome (from the Greek rhizoma), and so is associated with the town as a centre from which trade and other activities spread. Be that as it may, we certainly have a lot of rhizomous plants on the plot, which have spread all over the place!

We draw our drinking water from a spring up the old road to Grahovo, with a magnificent view over the town and across the northern part of the Boka. The water is delicious – would cost a packet in western european supermarkets! The area is called Smokovac, from ‘smokva’, a fig-tree, due to the number of fig trees which grew there. Nowadays, the main trees are olives – sadly rather dilapidated because (we are told) the owners can’t be bothered to harvest them!

I cannot resist inserting a note or two on cultural attitudes. Visitors to the Balkans generally will note that most people are heavy smokers, and underneath non-smoking signs in restaurants there will be usually be an ashtray over-flowing with butt-ends.

Another aspect for northern European visitors is the volume of conversation. A quiet discussion between friends will be held so that anyone within a 25m radius can listen in. A more heated discussion, say about football, could reach up to 50m or more. Music is of course loved by everyone, so that what one person plays has to be heard by as many people as possible. This is especially true of weddings, where the noise radius can reach up to several kilometres; with the natural amphitheatre created by Risan’s geography, this is particularly true here.

A further note on cultural attitudes is about driving. Cars are, as in many places, a symbol of macho pride. So the first rule of Montenegro driving is to overtake the vehicle in front at any cost and preferably on a blind corner. The second rule is that if you meet a friend, you stop and chat. The winner of this rule is the one with the longest queue behind him when the conversation ends.

© all text and photographs, except where individually credited to other sources: James Collins