Old Town Bar, with its three millennia of existence, represents not only the multicultural phenomenon of Montenegro, but one of the most important sites of Medieval Europe. The grandiose ruins of the abandoned town, although somewhere covered with dense ivy and sheltered by treetops of southern plants, are nevertheless visible, and for centuries hidden history seeks for archaeology, and its ability to connect the missing pieces.
Mr Mladen Zagarčanin, curator
Old Town of Bar – a spatial aspect
The Old Town is located in the hinterland of wide valley of Bar, at about 5 km from the coast. The town was founded on the sloppy limestone rock, which covers the area of about 4 ha with highest point at 151 meters above sea level. With a natural defensive position, surrounded by a canyon of the river Bunar at eastern and southern side, the town was hidden from the sea by St. Vido hill.
The Old Town of Bar was well connected, not only with places in its immediate hinterland, but also with the mainland. Relatively convenient roads through Shkoder and Duclea, ie Ribnica, connected Bar with ramifying traffic system and the main road Via de Zenta which connected the coast of Zeta with the central region of the Balkans. The main obstacle to its connection to the hinterland was the mountain range formed by mountains of Rumija, Lisinj and Sutorman. The canyon of Bunar river, which flows directly below the old town of Bar, enabled easier penetration into the massif of Rumija and passage to the opposite side of the mountain through the Bijele skale, a sharp and difficult passage towards the Lake of Skadar. The road to Shkoder was passing through Livar and Krajina, present day Ostros, on the lower slopes of mount Rumija from where it counties further along the coast to the lake. By this road a pedestrian could have crossed the whole distance from Bar to Shkoder in 8 hours.
Thorough the network of roads Bar was connected to the deeper interior of the Balkans more than any other town on the Zeta coast, such as Ulcinj, Budva and Kotor. Although hidden, at some distance from the coast, the old town of Bar was in direct contact not only with the nearby ports on the coast of Montenegro, but also with overseas regions, especially with neighboring Apulia.
Old Town Bar – historical context
The Old Town of Bar is a town with over 2,500 years of existence, which was confirmed by the latest archaeological investigations. However, the exact period of its foundation is unknown. First time its name was mentioned in the X century in the capital opus of emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus “De administrando imperio”, in the list of suffragans from Duress, as Antibares, or Antibaris. In Latin transcription the town was called Antibarum, Atibaris or Antivari, which will remain as its medieval name on charts and documents. The first Slavic mention of the town, from 1216, is by the Serbian king Stefan Prvovenčani in the hagiography of his father Stefan Nemanja. In the old town of Bar the first historical-literary text regarding southern Slavs was written by of Bishop Grgur, known as “Ljetopis popa Dukljanina”.
Populated since prehistoric times, the area of the Old Town of Bar and its defensive benefits have attracted the autochthonous Illyrian population, as evidenced by surface cultural layers in which pottery from VIII – VI Century has been found. The oldest architectonic remains are linked to the Church of St. Theodore from the VI century. Later on, in VII century, the town received refugees from the ruined Doclea (Duklje), after which it fell into the hands of the rulers of Zeta region. Byzantine captured the town in 1018, during the rule of Vasily II, but in 1042 Stefan Vojislav defeated the Byzantine army and returned it under his rule. In 1067, Mihailo, King of Zeta received the royal crown from Rome, while in 1089 the Episcopate of Bar received the status of archbishopric. Since 1166, the city was once again ruled by the Byzantines until 1183, when Stefan Nemanja included it into the borders of his state, where it remained until the sixties of the XIV century, when the feudal Balšić family entered the historical scene. During the first half of the XV century, the town several times changed the “owners”: 1404-1412 it was in the hands of Venetians. From 1412-1421 the town of Bar was again ruled by Balšići family, and the following six years it spent in the hands of Despot Stefan Lazarević. In 1421, the city was again ruled by Venetians very briefly. From 1427, the town went under the rule of the despot Đurđe Branković, who resided in it for nine months. For a year, the town of Bar was also held by Stefan Vukčić, in period 1442-1443, when for the third time it fell in the hands of Venetians, and remained there until 1571.
The historical significance of the Old town of Bar could be confirmed by the fact that forged and issue its own money for centuries. In the time of Stefan Uroš Nemanjić`s rule and in the period of Balšić familly, money in two types and more variants was forged in Bar. There are 31 variants of folar and 19 varieties of semi-folar from the period of Đurđe Stratimirović II Balšić. Considering the fact that Venetians have brought this privilege to the town, it is supposed that at the end of XV Century, Bar-Venetian coins – Bagatini, were made here from pure copper.
Despite the collapse of Ottoman army in the Mediterranean in naval battle of Lepanto in 1571, when the Venetian ships defeated the fleet of Admiral Kapudan Pasha, the Ottomans managed to conquer Bar and Ulcinj. From this time, Bar was under the control of Ottoman regional ruler from Skhodra until it was liberated by Montenegrins in 1878. After liberation from Ottomans, the city was abounded, while the settlement was formed in the suburbs, today known as Čaršija, located beneath the walls of the old town.
At this briefly explored Montenegrin Pompeii, in period from 1951 to 1959, professor Đurđe Bošković conducted several archaeological expeditions which as a result had a publication of monograph “Stari Bar”. Monograph was a capital work on the architecture and history of the old town. In 1979 a strong earthquake took place and severely devastated the town and its architectural remains collapsed.
During the 80’s, extensive conservation and restoration measures were undertaken, but were never implemented completely. A great challenge of conservation of town`s remains and its partial reconstruction was taken and led by archaeologist Omer Peročević in cooperation with the relevant public and governmental institutions.
Today, while simultaneously leading archaeological research and investigations with international scientific cooperation, archaeologist and curator Mr Mladen Zagarčanin focuses on everyday protection, preservation and restoration of the Old Town of Bar.
Economy of the Old Town of Bar
The medieval Town of Bar was not located at the coast of the sea, which had its flaws and advantages. The advantage was that it was naturally protected from seaborne attacks. Its lack of access to the ports and benefits of maritime trade forced the town to rely on a fairly fruitful environment and on urban activities, trade and craftsmanship. The most cost-effective was trading in raw metals, fabrics and olive oil. The fertile field closer to Bar was less used for the production of wheat, which was mostly imported, but mostly for growing olive trees, grape vines and pomegranates. Olive growing brought the largest economic income. It is assumed that in XV Century Bar had from 80,000 to 100,000 olive trees, most of which were then couple of hundreds years old. In addition to water mills for grinding olives located on the Bunar River, mills powered by humans and animals can still be found in a number of buildings in the Old Town of Bar. According to one document from 1553, residents of Bar produced approximately 400 barrels (botte) per year. Volume of the barrel is 751.17 liters, which is about 300,000 liters of oil.
The wine was not of the best quality, but was still consumed in fair amount. In 1553, it was noted that 2/3 were used for local purposes, while 1/3 was exported, and the data recorded after six years states that the Bar’s environment produced wine for 6 barrels (botte). Traders from Bar were selling Spanish silk to velutari (craftsmen) from Dubrovnik, and at the beginning of XVI Century they exported to Dubrovnik silk from the Orient, from Beirut. Velutari represented the highly skilled craftsmen from Bar, including goldsmiths. They were elite masters that moved from Bar to some of the richest cities of the area, such as Kotor and Dubrovnik. Baring all in mind, it is easy to conclude that through the Middle Ages and late medieval period, Bar had quite decently developed economy.