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Ulcinj Old town

Date of Submission: 28/02/2018
Criteria: (ii)(iv)(v)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of Montenegro to UNESCO
Coordinates: N41 55 20.08 E19 12 05.09
Ref.: 6300

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Due to its exceptional cultural value, the Old Town of Ulcinj was protected in 1961 as a cultural asset of national importance. It belongs to the farthest southeastern zone of the Montenegrin coast, located on a sloping limestone of approximately 29 ha. Its fortification character is due to its long evolution, started almost two and a half millennia earlier, when the first civilizations hit the base of the city. Discovery of the remains of the so-called Cyclops walls indicates the existence of the first settlement in this area in the 4th or 5th century B.C., before the new era. Archaeological research found that in the ancient times a smaller structure had existed in this area, and in the Middle Ages the fortress served as an observation point.

Early Middle Ages, in Ulcinj are visible through the architectural elements (pillars and capitals of a sacral structure). The Venetian rule in the city from 1421 to 1571 introduced new elements into the architectural and urban structure of Ulcinj. They were erecting and renewing the defensive ramparts, the gates of the city and the tower. During this period, the middle part of the southern wall and the adjacent part of the walls from the west and east sides are reconstructed, together with the tower. During this period, the middle part of the southern wall and the nearby part of the walls from the west and east sides were rebuilt together with the tower. The citadel from the north and west is surrounded by tall escapades, which cover the rock on which the city rests. The stone, as the basic building material, was mostly used in pricked and broken form. The city had the seal of the East Adriatic and Venetian urbanism with Gothic and Renaissance palaces, churches and squares. Under the Turkish rule Ulcinj is again experiencing transformation which gave the city architecture a specific oriental character, which is predominant in its appearance today.

The Old Town of Ulcinj represents a unique example of the interweaving of the oriental and mediterranean urban and architectural concepts, which is also its dominant urbanistic and architectural characteristic. It consists of two parts, Gornji (Upper), of a military character, dominated by Citadel, and Donji (Lower), a civilian settlement. It is surrounded by ramparts, where some smaller segments belonging to the Middle Ages can be distinguished in the northeastern and southwestern parts, while the dominantly recognizable cultural layers of the ramparts, from roughly squatted squares in a horizontal organization, belong to the Venetian period. The parts built from cut and broken stone indicate the period of Turkish domination of the city.  

Historical occasions and natural disasters have influenced the formation of today's appearance of Ulcinj's old town, especially the destruction caused by the earthquake of 1969 and 1979.

During the rebuilding after the earthquake of 1969 and 1979, particularly significant results were given by the archaeological researches carried out in the campaigns: 1953-1958; 1966-1971; 1977-1980, followed by conservation and restoration works.

Old Town of Ulcinj is inscribed in the Register of Cultural Properties of Montenegro and thus placed under the protection of the law, based on established cultural values.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The cultural layers of the Old Town of Ulcinj and their diversity represent the urbanistic and architectural specificity which defines its cultural value. Architectural assets were created during several different historical periods: from Iliro-Greek - I and II centuries (Colchinium, Cicinium, Vicinum, Helcynio), over year 734 (Ulcini, Dulcinium, Licini, Dolcignum), medieval - during 11th, 12th and 13th centuries, Venetian – from 1412 to 1571, to Ottoman – from 1571 to 1878.

The special value of the Old Town of Ulcinj is a combination of these types of architecture with the geomorphological context, which makes it a special example of human interaction with the environment. The identity value of the Old Town of Ulcinj reflects the interweaving of various cultural influences, which - in the period from the 1st century BC until the end of 19th century - model the architectural values, and belong to both Latin-Venetian West and the Byzantine-Ottoman East.

The essential and universal value of this urban whole is reflected in the preserved cultural layers that were created during several historical periods, which is indicated by archaeological remains and architectural structures. It includes the harmony of multifunctional and multicultural values which manifest themselves in the originally preserved urban matrix and fortification layers of the Citadel and the ramparts.

The found urban and architectural ensemble is a testimony to the cultural tradition and civilization that has worked in the area over the past period. It is also an exceptional example of traditional settlements of this type that continuously developed and adapted to the natural configuration of the terrain at one of the most recognizable points of the Montenegrin coast. 

Criterion (ii): The Old Town of Ulcinj with its citadel and the walls presents a multifunctional and multicultural urbanistic and architectural ensemble that, in the abundance of diversity of forms and architectural techniques, is based on the interweaving of various cultural influences, spatially organized in specific topographical conditions of the location and the climatic specificities of the Mediterranean. Such a statement is confirmed by evident architectural layers, from the urban matrix to the individual architectural constructions, from fortifying buildings to residential forms, which are related to the functional requirements of certain epochs and the influence of the east and west in the field of shaping the fortification structure and the development of residential architecture.

Criterion (iv): Housing culture and architecture of the Old Town of Ulcinj, is the most valuable parameter on this basis. The demands of the housing culture of different civilizational circles from east to west, based on traditional values, produced a genuine residential texture that is based on the acceptance or interweaving of various cultural influences.

The criterion is supported by the appearance of a house that appears in its original form in the most diverse construction types.  From a two-part house - as a traditional model with porch of Greek-Ionic influence, in the spirit of the Mediterranean, built on a recognizable stone sub-walnut construction - through a transient type of house - with a porch all along the length or part of the entrance facade, as a particular Mediterranean value - to the most representative model of the five-part scheme of a central plan with a porch in examples where the Oriental-Ottoman organizational principle made a significant impact, which is especially reflected in the way furniture is being fitted and the elements of the equipment (divanhan, musander, hamam) appear.

The common denominator of all types of houses is an original term that is based on the acceptance or interweaving of different cultural influences, the interaction of man and nature in the conditions of construction on the ground in the slope, with the fulfillment of functional constructive demands, which is an extraordinary testimony of the symbiosis of different civilizations and traditions as a new quality of materialized through the development of architecture and urbanism of Montenegro and beyond.

Criterion (v): Old Town of Ulcinj is a prominent representative of the natural balance, involving conditions of location and architectural forms at all levels, from the urban matrix to the architectural construction.

The city streets network developed as a natural consequence of the need to make connections and access to housing blocks and fortifications, with the relief shape of the terrain itself and the existence of two entrance gates playing an important role. Curvy, irregular and narrow streets are somewhere conquered by crossing volts which form discontinuous closed squares. This form of network is result of specific steep location, and at the same time fulfills the functions of the communication within the settlement. In the streets network itself three main north-south roads can be spotted, which essentially provide connection between the southern and northern gates, i.e. the direction of further expansion of settlements outside the fortification.

As result, the organization of housing space is characterized by these phenomena:

  1. grouping of several housing units organized with the tendency of creating as many free facades as possible, in addition to the specific terrain, caused the appearance of an "irregular" texture in the network of streets;
  2. formation of a set which consists of facilities placed side by side frontally on the street;
  3. grouping of several objects oriented to a common courtyard or a smaller square.

A particular specificity is the phenomenon of joining two or more objects as a whole by forming the passageway and the above organization of housing content.

As a final result, the housing culture of the Old Town of Ulcinj is a unique example of the interaction of architectural forms, a product of multicultural permeation and spatial organization over a period of two thousand years, preserved to this day.  

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Authenticity and integrity of the urbanistic and architectural ensemble the Old Town of Ulcinj is reflected in the preserved urban concept, despite certain changes at the level of individual objects.

The original multicultural and multifunctional expression of the Old Town is reflected in the fact that, on a relatively small spatial arrangement there are architectural designs and forms of large civilizations which were created in different periods and during long time ranges, from the Iliro-Greek Cyclops wall, over the Venetian escarpment, to the Ottoman segment port and vault in the Citadel, from the medieval tower of Balsici, through the Venetian palace, to the Ottoman house with musenders, Hammams. Evident symbiosis of different civilizations and traditions confirms the cultural continuity - the duration of space over time in its original expression, which is based on the acceptance or interweaving of various cultural influences.

Comparison with other similar properties

Old Town of Ulcinj is a unique fortified assembly on the Adriatic Sea, with uniform architectural characteristics which bear witness of the different civilizations that left their traces on this region.

The comparison below has been carried out taking into account the values specifically mentioned in the proposed statement of Outstanding Universal Value and in the selected criteria for inscription.

Starting from the international level, the Old Town of Corfu (Greece) is an eminent example of a late medieval Mediterranean city. Its Outstanding Universal Value is based on the various influences that existed and the merging of different cultures (Byzantines, Angevins, Venetians, French and British) that occupied the island in succession. Corfu is also an important example of bastioned fortification, designed by Michele Sanmicheli during the years that Venice dominated the island. However, the main differences with the Old Town of Ulcinj refer to the sheer variety of types of architectural solutions adopted, which were in turn influenced by very different historical, urban and environmental circumstances.

Historic City of Trogir (Croatia) is a remarkable example of urban continuity. The orthogonal street plan of this island settlement dates back to the Hellenistic period and it was embellished by successive rulers with many fine public and domestic buildings and fortifications. Its beautiful Romanesque churches are complemented by the outstanding Renaissance and Baroque buildings from the Venetian period. The urban and architectural settings are very different from those can can be seen in Ulcinj, as well as the historical framework.

The Old town of Rhodes (Greece), with its Frankish and Ottoman buildings is an important ensemble of traditional human settlement, characterized by successive and complex phenomena of acculturation. Contact with the traditions of the Dodecanese changed the forms of Gothic architecture and building after 1523 combined vernacular forms resulting from the meeting of two worlds with decorative elements of Ottoman origin. The cultural background and the architectural types developed in Rhodes are completely different from the town of Ulcinj.

Harar Jugol, the Fortified Historic Town (Ethiopia) is located in the eastern part of the country on a plateau with deep gorges surrounded by deserts and savannah. The walls surrounding this sacred Muslim city were built between the 13th and 16th centuries. Harar Jugol, said to be the fourth holiest city of Islam, with 82 mosques, three of which date from the 10th century, and 102 shrines, but the townhouses with their exceptional interior design constitute the most spectacular part of Harar's cultural heritage. The impact of African and Islamic traditions on the development of the town's building types and urban layout make for its particular character and uniqueness. In this case the overall cultural and environmental background and the typology of cultural heritage are very far from the one of Ulcinj.

Old Havana and its Fortification System (Cuba), founded about 1519 on Cuba’s north-western shore, has maintained a remarkable unity of character through its adherence to its original urban layout. Urban plazas surrounded by many buildings of outstanding architectural merit and narrow streets lined with more popular or traditional styles permeate the historic centre of the city. Its overall sense of architectural, historical and environmental continuity makes it the most impressive historical city centre in the Caribbean and one of the most notable in the American continent as a whole. Defensive and urban heritage of Ulcinj is based on very different historical and cultural layers as the geopolitical context is very far from that part of America.

Furthermore, due to its fortified characteristics, Ulcinj has a special significance in the defense system of this area, and it could be compared to the transnational UNESCO site Venetian Works of Defence Between the 16th and 17th Centuries: Stato Da Terra – Western Stato Da Mar”, in particular with the Montenegrin component part, that is the Fortified city of Kotor. Old Town of Ulcinj represents the southernmost spot of the whole Venetian defensive system on the Eastern Adriatic Coast. It was the first checkpoint on the naval passage towards Venice. Its role was not only defensive, however, but was especially commercial.  

The cultural and historical ensemble of the Old Town of Ulcinj greatly differs from all the component parts of the serial site, and in particular from the Fortified City of Kotor. These differences are seen in the many layers of history that are present in the Old town of Ulcinj. Diversity of the Ulcinj’s Old Town is also visible through the connectivity of natural values, military architecture and urban-architectural values ​​of the whole; through a variety of forms and architectural techniques, based on the infiltration of various cultural influences. Such a finding is confirmed by the evident architectural complexity, from the whole urban matrix to individual architectural objects, from fortifications to residential buildings. All of this is related to the functional requirements of the builders of individual epochs and the influences of the east and west in the field of shaping the fortification structure of urban development and residential architecture.