Ulcinj is an ancient castle and neighborhood. Today mostly inhabited by Albanians, it was built by the Illyrians and Ancient Greeks on a small peninsula at the right side of the Pristan Gulf. Today, oldest remains are the Cyclopean Wall. The castle has been restored many times since it was first built although major changes were made by the Byzantinians, Serbs, Venetians, and Ottomans. The modern city of Ulcinj was built outside of this castle.
Ulcinj's Old Town is one of the oldest urban architectural complexes on the Adriatic Sea. The castle, which some believe resembles a stranded ship, and the surrounding areas have flourished for about 25 centuries. Through the centuries, a variety of cultures and civilizations melded together. The Old Town represents a cultural and historical monument of invaluable significance due to its Illyrian walls, its citadel, the network of streets, the markets and town squares. It was built 2,500 years ago under economic, military, and cultural conditions quite different from those of today. The town’s walls were often destroyed in wars, and just as quickly rebuilt by residents to keep their fortresses and residences safe. In doing so, they also preserved the beauty of this ancient town.
Old town has picturesque narrow and curved streets typical of the Middle Ages, densely packed two- and three-story stone houses decorated with elements of the Renaissance and Baroque, and finally a series of valuable edifices from the Ottoman time. The oldest remnants of the walls date back to the Illyrian period.
The Tower of the Balšić, located on the upper, highest level is a citadel-fortress with a tower that dominates the old town and the surrounding countryside. It is connected to the last representatives of the Balšić dynasty, who had made Ulcinj their residence by the end of the 14th and beginning of the 15th centuries. Later the Ottomans built the third floor of the Balšić Tower as well as the spherical dome on the ground floor. This magnificent edifice has a view of the sea from three sides. It is considered to be one of the most representative edifices of medieval architecture in Montenegro. These days, it is used as a gallery or a location for organizing poets' nights.
It is believed that the castle was the residence of the Venetian administrator for Ulcinj in the Venice Palace. As a result of its beauty and convenience, subsequent rulers also used this building as their court. Not far away from the Palace of Venice, on the southern level of the Old Town, is a beautiful edifice called Dvori Balšića. Both of these edifices are used now as luxury accommodation for guests and visitors coming to Ulcinj.
In front of the Church-Mosque in the Old Town is a small square, once the Slave Square, surrounded by arches. Ulcinj became a significant slave market from the middle of the 17th century. Most of the slaves in Ulcinj came from Italy and Dalmatia and were captured by Ulcinj pirates, who robbed people in the rich villas along the coast of Apulia and Sicily, captured them, and sold them as slaves. The Ulcinj pirates treated the slaves like convicts and did not use them for any kind of work. Instead they were kept as hostages while a ransom was demanded from their relatives, friends, or countrymen. They had to make it possible for the 'slaves' to send messages to their homes or relatives so that they would come to offer the ransom. From the middle of the 18th century demand changed and the courtiers began to look for slaves from Africa. They would later have been sold again or brought to Ulcinj, where they might soon became free citizens and work in agriculture or seafaring. A small community of their descendants still live in Ulcinj.
There has always been a water cult in Ulcinj. It is believed that the image of Bindus, the Illyrian God of water and the sea, was carved into the walls of the Old Town. Many fountains were built not only for people's use, but also for the souls of the dead. Legend has it that it was better to build a fountain than a sacred building, thus, at one time, Ulcinj had more than thirty fountains, only half of which remain today. The fountain in the Old Town was built in 1749-50.References:
Derbent is the southernmost city in Russia, occupying the narrow gateway between the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus Mountains connecting the Eurasian steppes to the north and the Iranian Plateau to the south. Derbent claims to be the oldest city in Russia with historical documentation dating to the 8th century BCE. Due to its strategic location, over the course of history, the city changed ownership many times, particularly among the Persian, Arab, Mongol, Timurid, Shirvan and Iranian kingdoms.
Derbent has archaeological structures over 5,000 years old. As a result of this geographic peculiarity, the city developed between two walls, stretching from the mountains to the sea. These fortifications were continuously employed for a millennium and a half, longer than any other extant fortress in the world.
A traditionally and historically Iranian city, the first intensive settlement in the Derbent area dates from the 8th century BC. The site was intermittently controlled by the Persian monarchs, starting from the 6th century BC. Until the 4th century AD, it was part of Caucasian Albania which was a satrap of the Achaemenid Persian Empire. In the 5th century Derbent functioned as a border fortress and the seat of Sassanid Persians. Because of its strategic position on the northern branch of the Silk Route, the fortress was contested by the Khazars in the course of the Khazar-Arab Wars. In 654, Derbent was captured by the Arabs.
The Sassanid fortress does not exist any more, as the famous Derbent fortress as it stands today was built from the 12th century onward. Derbent became a strong military outpost and harbour of the Sassanid empire. During the 5th and 6th centuries, Derbent also became an important center for spreading the Christian faith in the Caucasus.
The site continued to be of great strategic importance until the 19th century. Today the fortifications consist of two parallel defence walls and Naryn-Kala Citadel. The walls are 3.6km long, stretching from the sea up to the mountains. They were built from stone and had 73 defence towers. 9 out of the 14 original gates remain.
In Naryn-Kala Citadel most of the old buildings, including a palace and a church, are now in ruins. It also holds baths and one of the oldest mosques in the former USSR.
In 2003, UNESCO included the old part of Derbent with traditional buildings in the World Heritage List.