The site

In 1979, the "Natural and Cultural Historic Region of Kotor" was inscribed on the World Heritage List. The heritage site is characterised by an unusually rich and multi-layered history and by numerous architectural monuments from different eras, as well as by a remarkably intensive and multifaceted combination of cultural-historical and natural components.

The Bay of Kotor is surrounded by fortified settlements on the coast on the one hand and settlements on the mountain slopes, which were protected by their natural location, on the other hand.

Donji Stoliv, originally only a series of stone houses, is located at the foot of the slope of the Vrmac peninsula, which separates the Bay of Kotor from the Bay of Tivat. The name Stoliv today usually refers to Donji Stoliv, because it is inhabited, In addition, Donji Stoliv is recognised by locally famous events, such as the Days of Camellias and the Days of Chestnuts which are held in this place. Most of the former inhabitants of Gornji Stoliv had moved during the last decades to Donji Stoliv.

Gornji Stoliv has been settled since at least the Middle Ages and for a long time was one of the most important places in the region, radiating far beyond the Bay of Kotor. The majority of the families were seafaring clans who sailed the Adriatic Sea and beyond, especially in Venetian times, but also afterwards, up to the time of Austro-Hungarian rule, and helped the village to achieve supra-regional renown and considerable prosperity. Testimonies to this are several historic buildings such as the imposing, frescoed village church of St. Elias, two chapels, a large number of formerly stately residential buildings and numerous facilities of community village life. However, Gornji Stoliv was also formative for the region in other respects; for example, it was the first rural community in the region to establish a school.

At times, Gornji Stoliv had almost one thousand inhabitants; at the beginning of the 1960s, the population was still over five hundred people before the gradual exodus began.

The main reason for this exodus was that Gornji Stoliv was – and still is – only accessible by a footpath of almost one and a half kilometres, that the village has only recently had electricity, and that the sophisticated cistern-based water supply system, which had ensured the village's drinking water supply for centuries in the absence of natural springs, was finally no longer functional due to ever-decreasing use and lack of maintenance. These circumstances, which had begun in the 1960s due to migration to cities that offered better income opportunities, was intensified as a consequence to a major earthquake in 1979 and has experienced a further dynamic in the past twenty-five years due to the increased demands on the standard of living and the increase of national and later also international tourism.

Today, only three people live in the village more or less permanently, but even two of these three still own a house each in another village. Even though Gornji Stoliv serves no longer as a living community, it is still taken care by former inhabitants, most of them members of the "Kamelija Stoliv” local association. The site remains as a silent witness to the effects of changing times, but it is also a beautiful treasure of historical significance to the local community as a time capsule preserving the history of these communities in a ruinous slumber.

However, the uniqueness of the Gornji Stoliv site has recently been threatened not only by progressive decay, but also by several inappropriate interventions. But in first line, the state of conservation of this so far isolated site is currently being disturbed by the encroachment of tourism, which led to plans to construct a road to access the village.

Recently, a first part of the road had been already constructed without any legal base or formal permission what is why these activities – endangering not only the very special setting and the extraordinary heritage state of Gornji Stoliv, but also crossing an area which is on the way to be declared in the next months as Natural Park – luckily could be stopped.


The project

The project will be the continuation of the first European Heritage Volunteers Project in Gornji Stoliv which took place in autumn 2022. I will aim to two main tasks: conservation works at a small stable - the last building in Gornji Stoliv still covered with stone slabs - and repairing works at the historic footpath from Donji Stoliv to Gornji Stoliv. The focus on the stone slab roof should raise awareness for this traditional technique which is on the way to die out not only in Gornji Stoliv and the Bay of Kotor, but also in the wider region; the focus on the footpath should underline its historic value and thus create arguments against a modern road.

The small stable measures only about eight to six metres, but before the interventions undertaken in autumn 2022 it was in a highly endangered state since the damages at all parts of the building were extensive. If no interventions would have been undertaken, Gornji Stoliv's last slab stone covered roof would have been inevitably be lost. The outer walls of the building were still partially intact, but large cracks were appearing at several parts of the walls, which would have soon lead to the collapse of the corresponding area and thus of the entire building. The beams were still hand-hewn in the traditional manner, but almost all of them were rotten at the beam heads and were supported by makeshift supports placed underneath, which was a short-lived and unsafe temporary solution in view of the stone slabs bearing down on them. 90% of the original stone slab roofing was still in place, but most of the slabs had slipped out of their original position due to the buckled substructure, so that the roof could have collapsed completely at any moment. An additional danger was posed by grazing goats and cows, which, because the original protection was missing, climbed onto the roof from above.

During the project in 2022, first the whole buiding had been documented by drawings, photos, and verbal description. Afterwards, the stone slabs have been carefully taken away and stored according to their size and state of conservation. Then, the beams have been taken away and the not rotten ones prepared for reuse. Since so the weight had been taken away from the walls they could be then repaired in traditional technique; the parts of the Eastern walls which had been compltely damaged had to be completely reconstructed. Afterwards, the erection of the new roof construction could start, using as much as possible of the original beams and replacing the rotten resp. missing ones with the same local material as had been used at the original structure. As a first step, a chestnut tree of more than seven metres length origining from the surrounding forest was manually transported to the site and placed on the walls to serve as the main beam of the future roof construction.

During the 2023 project, the works at the stable will continue. In particular, smaller chestnuts trees which will serve as secondary beams of the construction will be transported manually from Donji Stoliv to Gornji Stoliv and placed on the walls and the main beam. Afterwards, the roof will be again covered with stone slabs, using approximately the original ones and replacing the missing or broken ones by bew stone slabs produced in traditional manner by a regional enterprise.  

The path from Donji Stoliv to Gornji Stoliv is about 1,500 metres long, of which 1,200 metres are between the two villages and 300 metres are within the village of Gornji Stoliv. Around 150 metres of the path are accompagned by traditional dry stone walls. In the past, the path was continuously maintained, as residents made up for broken out or missing stones on their daily walk to and from the valley. The path is completely free of recent interventions or alterations and its current condition is still quite good, but there are countless minor and major damages.

During the 2022 project the most endangered parts of the accompagnying dry stone walls had been repaired.

During the 2023 project the participants will continue to repair the dry stone walls and start to repair the pathway itself. For the repairs material collected from the surroundings which belonged the original pathway will be used.

In addition to these two main components, the residential building next to the barn will be documented, surveyed and carefully cleared. This adjacent structure should be later restored and – together with the former stable – used as a space to accommodate exhibitions on the value of Gornji Stoliv’s tangible and intangible heritage, a place to store tools and materials and to host volunteering activities aiming to revitalise Gornji Stoliv.

The works on the stable will be led by an architect and craftsman with knowledge on traditional rural architecture and the particular techniques used in the wider region. The works on the dry stone walls will be led by a heritage professional specialised in traditional masonry techniques, particularly dry stone wall techniques. The works on the pathway will be led by a master paviour.

The project will be accompanied by several events in Donji and Gornji Stoliv to familiarise a wider public with the activities carried out by European Heritage Volunteers in Gornji Stoliv. As part of the educational programme, excursions will be conducted to other locations within the World Heritage Site area, where critical developments and threats, particularly with regard to unrestrained tourism and road construction projects in the town of Kotor and its surroundings, will be examined in more detail.


The project will take place from April, 23rd, till May, 6th, 2023, and is organised by European Heritage Volunteers in cooperation with the Kamelija Stoliv Association and the Association MESHTRA – Traditional Knowledge and Crafts.


European Heritage Volunteers