English Français

The Venetian Works of Defence between 15th and 17th centuries

Date of Submission: 11/02/2014
Criteria: (ii)(iii)(iv)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Ministry of Culture of Montenegro
State, Province or Region:
Boka Kotorska
Ref.: 5853
Other States Parties participating
Word File

The Secretariat of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the World Heritage Centre do not represent or endorse the accuracy or reliability of any advice, opinion, statement or other information or documentation provided by the States Parties to the World Heritage Convention to the Secretariat of UNESCO or to the World Heritage Centre.

The publication of any such advice, opinion, statement or other information documentation on the World Heritage Centre’s website and/or on working documents also does not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the Secretariat of UNESCO or of the World Heritage Centre concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its boundaries.

Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


The system composed by the Venetian Works of Defence between 15th and 17th centuries is the proposed nomination of a serial transnational site to the World Heritage List; it is representative of the more complex defensive system, designed and built by the Serenissima Republic of Venice in order to control its territories and the commercial routes leading to the East.

The site extends for more than 1.000 km from the Pre Alps of Lombardy to the Eastern coast of the Adriatic, in the area between the western outpost (Bergamo, Italy) and the Bay of Kotor (Montenegro). Between the Stato di Terra (State of Land: Lombard-Venetian) and the Stato di Mare (State of Sea: Croatia, Montenegro), this unique and ancient enclave bears nowadays significant examples of the Venetian fortifications, important testimony of the interaction among peoples and, more in general, of the culture expressed by Venice in the world.

The components of the nominated property summarize the most representative expression of the defensive system –still evident at present- conceived as a real network, where any fortified element played a precise role within a wide and unitary project. The Serenissima Republic of Venice, in fact, tests and completes in a vast territory a new defensive system – technically recognized as “alla moderna” (“modern style”)- characterizing the period of time between XV and XVII century.

During the first phase, that can be considered as “transitional”, Venice undertakes a series of interventions and experiments, revealing the evolution from the medieval warfare techniques to the new and modern defensive systems (end of XV century). But it is in XVI century that the most advanced Venetian military structures see their maximum diffusion as they were to resist the newly invented firearms. Finally the XVII century is characterized by the completion of the previously started works and by the improvement of the defensive techniques, which represent as a whole outstanding examples of the new military architecture.

The site is composed by a complex system that show different defensive solutions: continuous walls reinforced by bastions with forts and citadel (Kotor), hill top castle and sea fortress (Herceg-Novi). These structures are still highly connoting the urban and geo-morphological context they are in.

This extraordinary operation conducted by Venice at a such vast territorial scale was carried out thanks to an impressive circulation of professionals, the fortifications’ architects themselves and of a consistent heritage of treaties; at the same time, regulations, social models and new type of governance led Venetian culture to merge with the cultures from the Eastern Adriatic sea and from here, by land, to the East: all territories where numerous and various material and immaterial evidences of the Venetian centuries-old presence remain.

Because of this variety of aspects, the nomination proposal is representative of a system formed by a series of components which are interdependent from one another and, at the same time, constitute systems with their own precise and recognizable connotation.

Name(s) of the component part(s)

1.c Name(s) of the national component part(s)

1.d State, Province or Region

1.e Coordinates

Defensive system of the Boka Kotorska with fortified town of Kotor and fortified town of Herceg-Novi


Montenegro,  Boka Kotorska




Description of the component part(s)

In order to achieve the most complete representativeness of the site, the selection of the Italian components with Bergamo, Peschiera del Garda and Palmanova, is representative of the most significant fortifications in the State of Land, while the lagoon defensive system (Venezia-Chioggia) represents the connection between the mainland and the State of Sea, here represented by the components of Croatia and Montenegro.

Defensive system of the Boka Kotorska with fortified town of Kotor and fortified town of Herceg-Novi:

The Boka Kotorska are made up of a series of inlets, with broad valleys between them, connected and set deeply into the hinterland. They form one of the best natural ports of the Mediterranean Sea and, thanks to this feature, for centuries the Venetians and later the Austro-Hungarian Empire used the area as a well-equipped and unconquered naval military base, controlling the entrance of the Adriatic Sea.

This unique geomorphological scenario is home to the defensive structures of Herceg-Novi and Kotor.

Herceg-Novi stands where sea runs into the broad, articulated fjord of the Boka Kotorska, surrounded by very high mountains. Republic of Venice held it stably only from 1687, after a long and ferocious period of Ottoman rule (from 1483). The defensive system created by Venice is characterised by the strengthening of the large Medieval circuit which highlights the town’s development towards the sea. It circumscribes the higher village further north, culminating with the Land Castle (Town Castle), and the lower village in the south, culminating with the Citadel (on the south-east peak) and with the Sea Castle (on the opposite peak).

The defensive system of Herceg-Novi was strengthened when Ottoman rule was briefly interrupted by that of Spain (1538-1539), with the construction of the first isolated fortress located further upstream (High Fort, also known as the Spanish Fort) later on radically rebuilt by Ottomans and used during Venetian and Austro-Hungarian period.

Kotor, one of the Venetian “fortezza chiave” (key fortress), stands in the innermost basin of the Boka, on an almost triangular strip of land formed on the alluvial fan of the River Skurda, and is surrounded by very steep mountains that stretch up to an altitude of over one thousand metres. Venetian since 1420, fortified town of Kotor is characterised by an articulate and complex defensive system which originates from the unusual morphological characteristics of the place. The western part of the town, facing the sea, and the northern part, which looks out towards the river, are delimited by walls which climb up the mountain behind the town as far as St. John Castle, at an altitude of 260 metres.

Republic of Venice intervened conspicuously on this system (in the 16th century), strengthening it mainly in the part overlooking the River Skurda with the construction of strong curtain walls and three bastions: the Riva Bastion, further upstream, the Bembo Bastion just below, and Kampana Fort, where the stream flows into the sea, while two ravelins defend the curtain wall on the other side of the stream. At the same time, it intervened on the part facing seaward, strengthening the perimeter walls by adding two bastions, Valier and Corner,(17 th century) one platform (16 th century) , and tower Gurdic (15 th century). The upstream walls start from the two ends of this curtain wall and run as far as the castle above. The Sea Gate was opened in the front towards the sea between the Kampana and Valier bastion. The River Gate is set between the Riva and Bembo bastions, with a bridge crossing the stream.

Hit by numerous earthquakes (1563, 1667, 1979), Kotor was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979. Venetian rule left a deep imprint on the urban structure of Kotor and its customs. Italian was the language used in all the public deeds and in teaching, particularly due to the influence of the nobility and the powerful classes of merchants and naval captains, until the end of XIX century.

This articulate sit forms the southernmost tip of the Venetian defensive system, developed continuously to the Boka Kotorska and then interrupted until Corfu.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The Venetian works of defence between 15th and 17th centuries represent an exceptional and unique example of defensive and unitary project (at a transnational scale today) realized and managed in a period of time and in a geographical area, the Republic of Venice’s territories, highly characterized by a certain lively way of think and action, that was able to elaborate and spread its culture with its own personal language.

The site shows, through its fortifications, designed and built by the most famous architects and military engineers of the time, the exceptional and enormous economic and design effort of the Venetian Republic, giving the vastness of the territory and the different morphological and functional conditions of each domain. These aspects made necessary to develop many typological solutions –whose most representative examples form the serial site- which constitute the diversified scenery of isolated forts, defensive systems and fortified cities, by the sea and on land.

These material evidences are closely connected to commerce, wars, strategic politic alliances and, above all, to the high management skill that allowed the Serenissima to assert itself as a big power in the Mediterranean for a long time (XI-XVIII centuries) and to have a leading power in the geo-political scenery between the West and the East.

During the first half of 1400, Venice was a great power with important terrestrial and maritime domains: it controlled the maritime and terrestrial routes that linked the Adriatic to the core of Europe, it dominated a big part of the Mediterranean, creating one of the widest Italian State, in which ancient Rome’s, Greek and Byzantine cultural models were taken as inspiration. Venice in fact, asserted itself as “the new and true Rome” and “the alternative to Byzantium”. Also arts and literature helped to support the myth and the image of Venice as an essential authority, recognized by the western and the eastern world.

As the conflicts encouraged by the emerging European powers and the Ottoman Empire increased, the sites vital to preserve and control the commerce on land and the maritime routes and to assure the wellbeing of the Republic, became vulnerable.

For all these reasons a big project on vast scale was put in place in order to assure the growth and the socio-cultural development of the Venetian settlements and it took the Republic all the following century to complete it. Therefore it was very important to guarantee the safety of the territories: the first experiments by architects and engineers designated by the Serenissima to create a “new art of fortifications”, involving both the military architecture and the very own structure of the cities themselves, which remoulded urban layouts and existing buildings.

The application of these new methodologies and techniques made Venice a dominant figure in the cultural debate concerning “modern style” fortifications, theoretically discussed by Francesco di Giorgio Martini in his famous Renaissance treaties and by Leonardo da Vinci: their relationship with Venice is well documented by many historical sources.

The skills and the building techniques were exported from the mainland territories to the maritime domains. Designers, materials and professionals, moved from the Republic of Venice and went working in the Venetian properties in the Adriatic.

The new unified vision of the defensive system based on the modernization of the fortification techniques, had Venice as its “heart and soul”, the domains on the inland as its ramparts and the coastal cities as the nodal points of a communication network to sustain the territorial and commercial policies of the Republic.

Criterion (ii): the complex of the venetian defensive works is an outstanding example of the interchange of influences and values between Venice and the diverse civilizations located along the Adriatic sea from the Middle Age and more intensively between XVI and XVII century. The exceptional administrative and managerial skills of the Republic of Venice allowed to spread the most advanced knowledge about fortifications, arts and, more in general, social models. This was channeled by a number of workers, operative tools, construction materials and arts in general and it is finds its more tangible and more complete testimony in the proposed defensive works

Criterion (iii): the site is representative of a varied heritage that testifies the Venetian cultural tradition and had its core in the Adriatic “Gulf”, mainly between XV and XVII century. The defensive structures and the landscape around them -carefully designed by the architects of the Serenissima- have kept their integrity or are still legible in their layouts, characterizing the facies of the proposed sites. Moreover the uniqueness and the outstanding value of the Venetian culture is testified by the rich publishing production with its worldwide known treaties, the presence in this area of cultural heritage objects referring to the city Capital and the numerous letters bearing witness of the communication between Venice and its faraway domains. All these written documents, conserved in many archives and collections, allow to retrace in details the fortunes of Venice. Beyond all the architectural and archive heritage, an endless and peculiar documental heritage, still perfectly conserved, contribute to assert the outstanding nature of the Venetian defensive system.

Criterion (iv): the site is an outstanding example of defensive system generated by a unitary project and conceived to guarantee the safety of the maritime commerce and to protect the domains from invasions. Since the Venetian sites were particularly desirable, a branched communication network had to be established over a wide transnational territory. The generating element of the whole project was the use of the new fortification techniques experimented by the Venetian professionals after the widespread introduction of gunpowder and firearms: these advanced results became outstanding examples of "modern style" (“alla moderna”) fortifications, as exemplar models for next realizations.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The authenticity of the serial system is guaranteed as every element has conserved visible, in different shapes resulting from different typologies, the architectural, planning and landscape choices connected to the defense project wanted by the Serenissima. The structural features of the architectures have maintained their integrity, in the shapes and in the materials, although with a different function. Moreover one of the widest archive heritage in Europe testifies these extraordinary realizations.

In fact the documental sources, both written and cartography, perfectly match with the real places and significantly validate the influence of the Republic of Venice in the culture of the Adriatic sea between XV and XVII century.

The ensemble of the defensive works is a system, which includes the most significant examples of the different defensive typology connected by terrestrial and maritime routes along which commerce flourished, in a unitary territory comprising the State of Land and the State of Sea of the Republic of Venice.

Justification of the selection of the component part(s) in relation to the future nomination as a whole

Defensive system of the Boka Kotorska with fortified town of Kotor and fortified town of Herceg-Novi:

The Boka Kotorska are the southernmost part of the nominated system and, historically, the main natural harbours of the Adriatic Sea, known as the “Gulf of Venice” in the past. Inside this articulate basin made up of fjords and inlets, the complex defensive system with two fortified towns that best represent the influence exercised by the Most Serene Republic of Venice during its troubled presence in the area has been chosen.

Comparison with other similar properties

In order to underline the outstanding values expressed by The Venetian Forts of Defence between 15th and 17th centuries in the Eastern Mediterranean a comparative analysis with other sites already inscribed on the World Heritage List and similar in theme and characteristics was carried out.

The main features of the nomination proposal were taken as criteria for comparison, classified in a hierarchic order, which allowed to progressively restrict the selection and highlight the uniqueness of the Venetian works of defence.

As further verification, the previous results were confronted with the selection of sites obtained from a criteria comparison. Finally, among the sites already on the WHL for the criteria (ii) (iii) (iv), the serial ones concerning defensive works were chosen.

The comparison showed three sites that could be confronted with the Venetian works of defence: Kunta Kinteh Island and Related Sites (Gambia), Forts and Castles, Volta, Greater Accra, Central and Western Regions (Ghana), Fortifications of Vauban (France).

Theme and seriality: each case has a variety of fortified structures, realized to guarantee the defense of the territories of particular economic interests. The Venetian works are the most significant and numerous “modern style” fortifications, spread all over the Mediterranean basin.

System and/or route: the African sites are representative of a route along which the cultural interchange among different geographical realities developed. Except the Fortifications of Vauban (which are not located along a waterway)- Ghana, Gambia and Venice exploited a waterway –river or lake- as a generator element of each route (the river Gambia, the Gulf of Guinea, the Mediterranean).

Unlike the others, the Serenissima Republic of Venice built its cultural, economic and territorial primacy on the sea, controlling for centuries the Mediterranean basin.

Unitary project: the sites of Ghana and Gambia give a partial vision of the more spread phenomenon of the slavery, which involved more civilizations (Portuguese, English, Dutch, …), more Countries at an international level and many other navigation routes.

In fact the Gambia nomination presents an inhomogeneous design, testified by military and civil architectures, converted in time; the Ghana site shows a higher level of typological uniformity of the fortifications, which are however all located along the Guinea Gulf. As for the French site, it can be stated that the fortification of Vauban are not located along an itinerary, as for the previous cases. Whereas the completeness in the representation of the series and so in the unitary project which generated it, can be underlined in the proposed Venetian defensive works.

The wide and articulated route in which the Venetian works have been selected, even in the complexity of the historical events, is highly representative of the Venetian culture and the defensive project of the Serenissima only.

In conclusion, the nomination proposal for The Venetian works of Defence between 15th and 17th centuries is very dissimilar from the abovementioned sites, because it is representative of the domination of a single civilization, the Venetian, spread in a multitude of Countries, all represented here, where its exceptional design and constructive knowledge was declined following the local language and habits and developed along a single route.

The uniqueness of the Venetian system is also shown by the typological variety of the military architecture; in fact the selection of sites means to underline the excellencies of the “modern style”, that are all those artifacts built between XV and XVII century by the main experts of the time. Each work (fortifications, walls, fortified city, …) played a precise role within the overall system, with a typology that followed the morphologic context. All these aspects concur to create a rich palimpsest of typological solutions, not found in other sites.

The state of conservation of the Venetian site still guarantees the legibility of the system at a macro and micro scale, not so visible in the Gambia and Ghana sites. In this sense represent an exception the fortification of Vauban, which are perfectly conserved and with a high typological and settlement variety.

The architectural typology conceived by Vauban represents a fundamental moment in the European military engineering, already experimented by the technicians of the Serenissima in the Mediterranean basin, where the Venetian culture’s spread involved not only the defensive apparatus, but more in general the socio-economic and settlement development.

To synthesize, from the comparison with the other sites on the WHL, emerges the outstanding values born by the Venetian defensive works, given their international scope, their seriality and the unitary project, which is deeply represented by the site.

From the comparison with the other sites on the World Heritage List, emerges the outstanding character of the Venetian defensive works, given the international scale, the seriality and a unitary planning completely represented by the site.