Perast lies at the foot of St. Elijah Hill, at one of the most beautiful and significant positions on the Gulf of Kotor. For centuries, the people of Perast have guarded the strategically important strait of Verige, the gateway to Kotor. To protect this vital lifeline, they fortified two key points, the island of St. George and the church of Our Lady of the Angels. They also constructed a fortress.
The Fortress of St. Cross - It was constructed on the heights above the town, at the locality called “Kasun” at the site of an old church from which it is said to have taken its name. The church is dated to the 9th century but it is not known if it was related to the cult of St. Cross in Perast. The latter is connected with the safekeeping of the Venetian gonfalon (standard) which bears a cross and the lion of St. Mark and even with the Serbian medieval flag, the so-called krstas-barjak – a flag with a cross. St. Cross is the patron saint of the old families of Perast.
According to the documents of the Perast municipality (Libro verde X, 15), in 1570 a fortress was built above the town. A great ravaging of Perast (1624) is believed to have been the reason for building the fortress of St. Cross (1628), but it is more likely that the fortress was only enlarged and reinforced.
Considering the fact that Perast was surrounded by Turkish territory, the lack of encircling defensive walls was a serious drawback. The construction of defenses was a constant goal on the part of the inhabitants of the town but one that went unrealized. Due to the high costs of construction, only a minor tower was built “as a shelter for the loyal people of Perast”.
The fortress was manned by a small Venetian garrison, commanded by a castellan who was paid by Venice but elected by the municipality of Perast. The fortress played an important defensive role during the Turkish attack of May 15, 1654.
During the Napoleon’s rule over the Boka Kotorska, the fortress was occupied by French troops. This ceased on October 13, 1813. From 1814 to 1895, the fort was under Austrian rule and was emptied of cannons and other equipment upon their retreat. There is evidence that in 1911 the fortress was completely deserted.
Besides the fortress of St. Cross, there was a network of individual but separate towers, the “cardaks”, which were strategically positioned within the town in order to form a reliable system of defense. The oldest in this system was the Markovic tower, later known as Martinovic tower, built at the beginning of the 16th century on the waterfront, in the square of St. Nicholas.
In the 16th century, the Viskovic tower was built. It is situated next to one of the two Mazarovic towers. The last tower built in Perast, the tenth one, was erected in 1656 following the Turkish attack in 1654.
Of all the towers, only the Matosevic tower has survived while the towers Zvecan, Krsticevic, Hercegovic, Burovic and Mare Krilove have all ceased to exist.
The defensive towers were simply built on small, almost square foundations, and were either vaulted or had wooden ceilings. They were two-story buildings, with their own water cisterns in the ground level. As a rule, they had single sloping roofs.
The fortified checkpoints on the island of St. George and a fortification complex around the church of Our Lady of Angels at the Verige strait comprised the rest of the system of defense for the town.