Tuesday, September 7th we were in Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro and off on another tour. The day was nice and warm which I am becoming very use to, it will be hard to return home to cooler weather. Montenegro is surrounded by Bosnia, Serbia, Albania and even a little portion of Kosovo. This poor country has always been involved in some type of war over the Centuries. It does have some coastline along the Adriatic Sea which is being developed as we speak into a tourist area. The whole country of Montenegro has only 700,000 people living in it, which is 1/3 of the population of the city of Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. Podgorica was bombed 70 times during WWII by the Germans and many of the buildings were destroyed. Today most of the buildings in the city were built in the Socialist Style (not very nice).
The Montenegrins have a reputation of being a little lazy. They have a legend that their politicians were deciding what days of the week would be their workdays. They decided Monday could not be a workday as they needed a rest day after the weekend. Tuesday, they could not work as they were preparing for Wednesday which definitely should be a workday. Then Thursday they needed off because they had to rest from Wednesday and of course Friday, they could not work as they were getting ready for Saturday and Sunday, their weekend. So Wednesday was declared their work week. Then one of the politicians stood up and asked, do we have to work every Wednesday?
We took a bus on this tour to the old capital of Montenegro, Cetinja, founded in 1492. Cetinja was the capital city until 1946, then the capital was moved to Podgorica. So Cetinja was the ancient capital and Podgorica is the modern one. On the top of the hill was a monastery built at the same time as the city of Cetinja. The monastery published religious books in Cyrillic as early as 1493, in colour. It was destroyed by the Turks in the 17th Century but it was rebuilt in 1701. Today, there are five monks living there. The first five leaders of Montenegro were Bishops. Then the church and state was separated and the leadership a King. We were privileged to be able to see this monastery’s treasures, which are a private collection and not open to the public. One of the monks was a good friend of our guide, Anna and he showed us around the building where the treasures were stored. He also allowed us to take photos which is never allowed in museums of this type. We saw a piece of the actual wood from the cross that Jesus was crucified on, a bone from the hand of St. John the Baptist, and some hair from Jesus.
While we toured Cetinja we went to a small church called Vlaska, that had a fence made up of approximately 2,000 rife barrels confiscated from the Turks during battles in the 1800s. The Vlaska Church was built around 1450 by shepherds. It has been extended and reconstructed several times. Standing outside of the church is a large statue of a woman holding up a sword representing freedom and a laurel wreath representing glory.
There are approximately 18,000 citizens living in Cetinja today. Many of which are bitter about the capital moving to Podgorica because there use to be an electrical plant, a shoe making plant and many European Embassies here. After Communism left and the Capital was moved to Podgorica the factories and embassies were all closed. Today most people living in this village are unemployed. Their main street is very eclectic with old mansions turned into restaurants or museums. One such house use to be the Belgium Embassy and today is a museum of King Nikola’s private things he had to leave when he was exiled to France. King Nikola had 12 children, 9 daughters and 3 sons. Two daughters died early, two were unmarried and the other five were married to other rulers of European Countries. Two were married to the Russian Romanoff family, one was married to the king of Italy, one to the King of Germany and one was married to the King of Serbia. They use to call King Nikola the Father-in-law of Europe. From this family there is only one male heir who today lives in France, he is the great grandson of King Nikola. Many of the mansions in Cetinja were European Embassies. The French Embassy was made in 1876 with blue tile on the outside and our guide said that it was brought here by mistake, it was meant to go to Cairo, Egypt instead. I am guessing that one of the reasons the Capital may have been moved to Podgorica was that the river dried up in Cetinja.
Next we drove to Lovcen National Park. We walked up 461 steps to the mausoleum of St. Petar Njego built in 1974. He was a poet, philosopher, bishop and ruler of Montenegro. He was responsible for winning battles with the Ottomans and expanding the territory of Montenegro in the 19th Century. He is a National hero in Montenegro. Inside under a golden roof was a statue of Njego sitting on the wings of an eagle. This was carved from a single block of black granite which is 28 tones. Standing outside and guarding this tomb are two very large statues of women. One represents his sister and the other his mother. The view from the top of this mountain (1,657 meters high) was spectacular. The legend of this mountain is that it is one day’s ride up to the top of the mountain by friends but enemies can never make it to the top.
Montenegro’s history is similar to the other Balkan Countries. The first settlers were Illyrians. They were tribes living all around the Balkans until 1,000 BC. Around 400 BC the Greeks created colonies on some of the Illyrian settlements. When the Illyrians attacked the Greeks, the Greeks asked for help from the Romans. The Romans came to help the Greeks with the Illyrians and never left. They spread around the Balkans establishing roads and trade networks. A short distance from Podgorica are ruins of one of these Roman settlements, from the first Century AD. The ruins have well preserved streets, foot baths , etc. After the Romans, the Slavs migrated to the Balkans from the North in the 6th and 7th Centuries. The language of all the Balkan Countries excluding Albania (who have a completely different language), are Slavic based. A Serb can understand a Croat, Slovenian, Russian, Bosnian, etc. They sound a little different but they can all understand each other.
The Ottoman’s conquered the Slavs in Montenegro for 5 Centuries, from the 15th Century until 1912. The Turks did not believe in education so this area did not develop very much during these 5 Centuries. The Montenegro people were fierce fighters for their freedom so there were some areas that were never conquered by the Turks. The mountainous areas of Montenegro are very rugged and desolate. So the Turks did not bother fighting with the Montenegro’s in those parts and they were left on there own. Most of the Montenegro’s have remained Orthodox only some converted to Muslim. Central Montenegro was and is a very difficult and poor place to live. The coast of Montenegro was occupied by the Venetians, then Napoleon, then Habsburgs. Montenegro joined the Serbs during the Balkan Wars in 1912 – 1913, then WW I happened and Austrian/Hungarian captured the capital, Cetinja. The Montenegro King Nikola was sent to France in exile, never to return again. 1919 Montenegro was incorporated into the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenia, later this name was changed to Yugoslavia. The Montenegro Church was absorbed by the Serbian Orthodox Church. After WW II, Tito became Yugoslavia’s Dictator and he declared to have Montenegro full republic rights and the border of modern Montenegro was set.
Montenegro throughout their history has always had a close relationship with Russia. In 1948 Tito broke off all ties with Stalin and the Soviet Union. Montenegro did not like this. But during the civil war of Yugoslavia in 1991 – 1995 Montenegro sided with Serbia and was responsible for much of the attacks against Dubrovnik and parts of the Dalmatian Coast. In 2000 Milosevic lost the Serbian election and was later sent to the Hague to be put on trial for war crimes. He died before he went on trial. In 2006 Montenegro voted for independence and the split between Serbia and Montenegro was relatively smooth. Today Montenegro is an independent country.