December 14, 2004
The site here at the foot of the 873m high sv Ilija has been continuously settled since the Neolithic age (3,500BC), through the Illyrian, Roman, and early Christian eras, right up to the 17th and 18th centuries, when it took its current form with over 300 perfectly preserved Baroque buildings spreading up the hill. Highlights include the small 1570 Tvrđava sv Križ (St Chris Fort) and the imposing 1694 Palata Bujović (Bujović Palace) that now houses a small town museum, but the town’s one must-see site lies a short boat rip off of the coast. On the evening of the July 22, 1452, the small fishing fleet rode out from Perast to a small škrpjel (rocky crag) jutting out of the water, upon which had been built a small simple church where, to the accompaniment of traditional folk songs, the fleets unloaded their cargoes of rocks into the sea. This ceremony has continued each year, and augmented by the scuttling of old fishing boats at this site, the island has expanded to cover 3,030m2. The Gospa od Škrpjel (Church of Our Lady of the Rock) has undergone a parallel evolution and owes its current baroque style to the work of local architect Ilija Katičić carried out between 1720-25.
For 1€, you can gain entry to the sumptuous interior of the church. The ornate Gothic altar at the far end of the presbytery is topped with a magnificent icon of the Madonna and child by Lovro Marinov Dobričević encased in gold that serves merely to shed light upon the astonishing frescos by self-taught local artist Tripo Kokolja (1661-1713). This magnum opus took 10 years to complete, from 1685-95, and one can see the artists skills develop; changes in his personal life are also evidenced by the change of the model used for the images of the virgin, turning from a slim blonde to a more fully-figured brunette. The attached Keeper’s Lodge houses a small museum containing all manner of artifacts and knick-knacks left as votive gifts by grateful seafarers over the years, including paintings, pottery, and a small stone cross believed to be the oldest preserved sign of Christianity in the region. There is also a small souvenir shop, while the nearby Hall of Reconciliation, built as an arbitration court to prevent local disputes from having been referred to the law courts in distant Venice, now houses a small refreshment stand.
Minibuses regularly run the route from outside Morska Vrata (Sea Gate) in Kotor to the main square in Perast and back again for 1€. An irregular ferry service will take you to the island for 1€ each way or you can charter one of the local fishing boats for around a 5€ return.
From journal Kotor: Montenegro's City by the Bay