Ulcinj in Middle Age

  • Post category:History

The powerful fortification on the coast enabled the citizens of Ulcinj to resist to the Avarian and Slavic attacks, but failed to resist the Eastern Roman Empire – the Byzantine Empire.  This empire had been ruling for several centuries over our town leaving on it its particular impact.

Since the IV century Christianity had already spread on the eastern Adriatic coast. The Ulcinj epyscopacy had been mentioned for the first time in the document of the pope Zacharias in 743, and as an archepyscopacy in 1089.The main buildings in the town were those built according to the permission of local bishops. They characterized the urban landscape. The oldest church in Ulcinj, in the southern part of the Old Town, dates back to the beginning of the IX century (813-820).In the pope documents of (1076, 1089, 1102 and 1149) the town was mentioned under different names Ulcini, Dulcinium, Licini, Dulcignum. The Byzantine emperor Constantine VII  Porfirogenet connected Ulcinj (Helcynio) to Durres both in an administrative and strategic sense and he named it castello. After the fall under the Nemanjic dynasty (1183), Ulcinj began to experience an economic rise; it became one of the most significant coastal trade centres of the Serbian state.


The town forged its own money, like the nearby Shas, and it also got the city statute (1330).From 1360 to 1421  it was ruled by the powerful family of Balshic, who made it to their residence. It is from this period that the magnificent Tower of Balshic in the Old Town was built, to which the Ottomans added the third level.The following 150 years Ulcinj was part of the Venetian Republic. Although the Venetians had promised to respect the town autonomy, when Ulcinj surrendered, this did not happen. Throughout this period Ulcinj had just been one of the pre-guards of Venice on the Adriatic.

The new masters left in the town its traces especially on the fortification and urban culture. Most important were the city walls, the bastions and revellins, by which the old towers had been substituted. Very often you can find evidence of sanation of the city gate and palaces of the city masters, dukes and captains.The Ottomans conquered Ulcinj in 1571, short before the battle at Lepanto, and they ruled with it until 1878/80. In that time the town experienced its biggest transformation in the history. Its geostrategic location, the empire’s needs, the Khandian and Morean war, then the piracy, marine, shipbuilding and trade contributed to the rise of the citizens of Ulcinj onto the very surface of history.

Sine it was one of the bigger towns, Ulcinj was almost two centuries (XVIII and XIX century) among the biggest maritime centres on the Mediterrannean, with over 300 small and big ships. With its powerful fleet and fearless pirates who acted as the semi-regular forces of the empire, it represented the main support of the Ottoman empire on the Adriatic Sea. During this time the town became a magnet  for everybody, even the self-entitled Messiahs, such as the Jewish „last king“, Sabbatai Zevi (1626-1676), who spent the last years of his life in this town.