Budva Old Town is one of the oldest settlements of the Adriatic and the ancient heart of a modern resort town.
In a country as small as Montenegro, where almost 1/3 of the gross national product comes from tourism, Budva is its tourist flagship. It is located in a uniquely beautiful location on the shores of the Adriatic, surrounded by impressive beaches. It has a multitude of modern hotels and amenities for all tastes and budgets. And with dozens of restaurants, bars, shops, and an intense nightlife, it is undoubtedly an up-and-coming cosmopolitan destination. Its development is continuous, and the so-called Budva Riviera has evolved into one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Adriatic.
And yet, in the centre of this modern resort town lies the heart of one of the oldest towns in the Adriatic. Built on an islet that used to be connected to the mainland by a strip of sand, the Old Town of Budva (Stari Grad) is definitely a place worth discovering.
Starting with Greek mythology
According to the myth, Bouthoe (later Budua in Latin and Budva in Montenegrin) was founded by the Greek hero Cadmus, the founder of Thebes. After being exiled, he and his wife, the goddess Harmonia, found refuge here.
The first historical reference to Budva was made in the 5th century. It was a base of trade during the Greek colonisation of the Adriatic. Later, it played a significant role in the region as part of the Roman and Byzantine empires. However, the old town as we see it today is a product of the years of Venetian occupation. Subsequently, the city followed the fate of Montenegro under the rule of the Austria-Hungarian Empire, as part of Yugoslavia, and finally as an independent nation. Thus, with a history spanning 2,500 years, the Old Town of Budva is a depositary of Montegrin history.
Reborn from its ashes
On April 15, 1979, the most destructive earthquake in its history hit Montenegro. A main earthquake of 6.9 on the Richter scale and at least 90 strong aftershocks completely destroyed the Old Town of Budva. Of the 400 buildings in the core of the town only eight were not destroyed. At the same time, the 15th-century walls and ramparts protecting the Old Town were severely damaged as well. After the disaster, an expensive and long-term reconstruction programme was implemented by the Yugoslav state. This programme managed to repair the whole of the old city that we admire today.
The Old Town today
There are a total of six entrance gates to the walls enclosing the Old Town. However, the only two genuine gates are Terra Ferita and Pizzana. Without a doubt, the most significant point of reference and the largest of the town’s three squares is Starogradski Square. Four churches are located in the square, with the largest and most important being St. Ivan’s Church. The church has undergone multiple reconstructions, and the 19th-century bell tower is the most recent addition. The Holy Trinity Church, Santa Maria in Punta, and the Church of St. Sava are the other three. The last two are on the opposite side of the square, looking out over the bay.
The impressive Citadel edifice rises to the south of the square. The Austrian Army rebuilt the 15th-century Citadel in 1936 to serve as housing for the troops stationed along the seashore during World War II. The Citadel today houses an interesting library with a sizable collection of English volumes from the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The entrance to the City Walls is a short distance from the Citadel. You can walk along the walls from here to Terra Ferita Gate for a small fee. The view from the walls is spectacular, especially the part above the sea. From here, you can see all of the Budva Riviera and the island of St. Nicholas.
Another interesting sight within the Old Town is the Museum of the City of Budva. The museum is housed in a building from the early 19th century. It features a lapidarium with priceless stone artefacts on the ground floor, in addition to a permanent exhibition of its archaeological and anthropological holdings.
A wonderful maze
But beyond the beautiful churches and interesting buildings, the old town of Budva will impress you with its labyrinthine architecture. With dozens of narrow alleys that are skillfully intricate, it is almost impossible not to get lost. But what a beautiful loss this is. Bougainvillaea trees, stairs, narrow passages, arches, small shops, and so many other sights await you to discover them at the next turn. The city manages to a great part to keep its charm and give its guests the impression of being genuine and hospitable, despite being quite touristy and noisy in the summer.
With a slice of pizza in hand
Although there are several excellent restaurants in the old town, we recommend something simpler and different. What you will see everywhere in the city are small places and bakeries that sell freshly baked pizza. Pizza in Budva, as in many other parts of the Adriatic coast opposite Italy, is an almost traditional food. It is definitely a direct influence from the culinary tradition of the neighbouring country and the interaction of its inhabitants for centuries.
Two places that we singled out for great pizza in the Old Town are the following:
Pizza Smiley: The variety of flavours and colours in this tiny window make it difficult to walk by without being wowed. Here, they make wonderful pizza with a variety of ingredients.
Old Town Bakery: Although this place does not only serve pizza, the one they make stands out and is really tasty.
Outside the Old Town
From Starogradski Square, if you follow Petra I. Petrovica Street, you end up at Pizana Gate. Outside the gate, there is the Marina of Budva, lined with some upscale restaurants and cafes.
From the same square, if you follow Njegoseva Street, you end up at Terra Ferita Gate, which leads you to the iconic Ricardova GlavaBeach just outside the walls. It is not the best beach, but it is fully organised and has as a backdrop the Old Town.
Also near Ricardova Glava Beach and behind the Hotel Avala, there is a rather impressive archaeological site. It is the ruins of a Roman-era necropolis that were discovered in 1937–1938 during the construction of the hotel. This is undoubtedly another proof of the ancient history of the settlement.
An modern city with an ancient heart
If you reach one of the viewpoints towards Budva, you see an remarkable city spread out in front of you. It is a resort town with impressive buildings, luxury hotels, beach bars, wide sandy beaches, and green hills surrounding it.
But you also see the Old Town on the edge, like a sentinel in the middle of the bay watching over it. Like a stroke of warm colours on a modern painting, the Old Town, reborn after the destructive earthquake, is the custodian of Budva’s history and beats like an ancient heart in the middle of a modern resort town.