EXPLORING UPPER KONAVLE: SOKOL GRAD AND MEDIEVAL TOMBSTONES

k1k2The Konavle region in Croatia stretches between Cavtat and the border with Montenegro. Many people have already passed through this fertile valley on their way to Dubrovnik or Čilipi Airport, but I suppose that the road through the upland of Konavle, with its picturesque stone villages on the karst slopes of Mount Snježnica (1234 m high), is still unknown to most tourists and travel fans.

The reason why we decided to explore the upper section of Konavle  was the fact that the villages in this area are hiding many “stećci” or medieval tombstones, as this region borders with Herzegovina, the homeland of numerous medieval necropolises.

k3Immediately after passing the border we turned right, in the direction of Vodovađa and Dubravka. The narrow road took us uphill and we enjoyed the magnificent view of the valley with its typical slender cypress trees and the karst mountains above us. After a twenty minutes’ drive we were surprised to discover a medieval fortress on the top of a rock: Sokol Grad. Of course, we were curious to visit the tower, which was obviously renovated and reconstructed. We paid an entrance fee of 40 kuna (€5) and climbed the steep stone stairs to a small museum with very interesting exhibits. Medieval music was heard in the rooms with showcases, and on the outer walls, equipped with a series of old canons, visitors could hear the sounds of war-making. The view of the surroundings was breath-taking.

k4Sokol Tower was built on the site of an Illyrian and Roman fortification. In the late 14th century, the fortress was ceded to the Dubrovnik Republic. There was a cistern, a storehouse for wine and food, a building for the soldiers, but also a separate house for the accommodation of women and children from the nearby villages in case of war danger. After the big earthquake in 1667 the fortress was abandoned. The ruins were purchased by the Association of Friends of Dubrovnik Antiquities in 1966 and the fortress was completely renovated and reconstructed. Last year it was officially opened for visitors. Although I really admired the excellent setting of this cultural monument, I could not help feeling sorry for monuments of this type in Montenegro, which are often abandoned, neglected and full of litter. How beautiful it would be to reconstruct the fortress of Žabljak Crnojevića, Haj-Nehaj, Kosmač, …..

k5We continued our trip through the upland of Konavle in search of “stećci”. And we really found them at several locations, mostly as an integral part of small village cemeteries: first of all around the church under Sokol Tower, and further in Gabrili, behind the church of  Pridvorje, near Drvenik … Very picturesque tombstones can be found near Uskoplje, at the graveyard of the church on the left side of the road (coordinates N 42°34′ 29″; E 18°16’59″). They show women in a circular dance, a horseman and various other scenes.

k7But the most important goal of our trip was Brotnice, a small village on the border with Herzegovina, the location of a necropolis with a very famous medieval tombstone that is often mentioned in literature. So we passed Uskoplje and turned right at the signpost to Duba Konavoska (13 km), following the narrow asphalt road through the arid karst landscape.  After a few kilometers we turned right in the direction of Brotnice and after having passed this hamlet, the road was getting worse. An inhabitant of the village explained us that we had to park 500 m farther beside the road, at a big blue fire plug on a junction with two trails. We did not take the sandy path uphill on the right side, but we continued on the left trail, passing a small home chapel. After 20 minutes we reached a small church and behind it, on the graveyard, was the necropolis with around 10-12 tombstones, most of them simple stone slabs. The biggest one, a stećak with a pointed top from the 15th century,  showed vivid primitive carvings and glagolitic lettering in the ancient language of Bosnia. The frontal side of the monolithic monument was decorated with a deity bearing large rams’ horns, rosette, and a crescent. We also saw a hunting scene, deer, dancing girls, an eagle with its pray, a dog with a hare in his mouth, a horseman …. It was unbelievable to see that such a marvelous tombstone, a real work of art, is hidden here, without any signposts, in the middle of nowhere.

Deeply impressed by the beauty of this mysterious tombstone, we took the same way back and reached Cavtat, from where we took the highway returning to Montenegro.

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THE ARCHEOLOGICAL SITE OF CRVENA STIJENA (RED ROCK CAVE)

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cs2A rather unknown tourist attraction in Montenegro is Crvena Stijena, an archeological site from the Paleolithic Age that is situated near the village of Petrovići, 30 km from Nikšić. The Red Rock Cave was a good reason for us to make a day trip to the karst region between Nikšić and the border of Bosnia and Herzegovina. We combined the trip with a visit of the Kosijerevo Monastery. An insider’s tip!

From Nikšić we took the road west from the city in the direction of Trebinje until Vilusi, where we turned right in the direction of Bileća (Bosnia and Herzegovina) and soon we passed the village of Broćanac Viluški. On the right side of the road we stopped for a moment near the small white church. The huge medieval tombstones on the graveyard belong to the most beautiful „stećci“ in Montenegro.

cs3After a few kilometers we made a left turn in the direction of Petrovići, following the signs to the Kosijerevo Monastery. Turning right in front of the monastery, we followed the narrow road until the end, just past a large walled estate on the right. There we parked our car on a small plateau and admired the beautiful view of Bilećko Jezero and the huge reddish rock above it.

The landscape was magnificent. On one side the barren karst rocks, on the other side the blue lake with its green surroundings. Everywhere around us we saw the bright yellow colors of flowering spurge and dogwood. The view of the lake was breathtaking!

cs3aA signpost showed us the path to the cliff and it took us only ten minutes to reach the cave with its 24 meters wide opening. The area around the cave was fenced off, but the gate was not locked, so we continued walking along the path and reached a steep ladder leading down. Everything was abandoned. Obviously, archeological research has been suspended. Honestly speaking, we did not have the courage to go down without a guide!

The cave itself is thrilling. Situated on the left bank of the Trebišnjica river, around 700 meters above sea level, it was discovered in 1954. Archeologists have already revealed thirty-one cultural layers. More than 5,000 artefacts were found in the cave, of which the oldest stone artefacts are 180,000 years old. Crvena Stijena was inhabited by 15 to 20 people, who had a semi-nomadic lifestyle and respected their neighbors who lived in similar groups. Although there were no information boards near the cave, it was not hard to imagine those prehistoric people hunting and fishing in this environment.

cs4After having enjoyed the silence and peacefulness of this beautiful place, we returned to the Kosijerevo Monastery. The new monastery that was built instead of another one, which was flooded by the Bileća Lake, possesses a valuable relic, the foot of St. Lucas. In the courtyard we saw a newly built charnel house for the victims of World War II. But a real surprise was the old church on the right side of the monastery, which is decorated with beautiful and very original frescoes. The paintings do not only show Orthodox saints and traditional scenes from the Bible, but also depict hell and punishment. I hope that there is a possibility to preserve these frescoes, as they are already damaged by moisture!

Returning to Podgorica, I concluded once more that Montenegro has numerous hidden treasures, which are still unknown to foreign tourists. The Red Rock Cave is one of them, not only for historical and cultural reasons, but also as a natural phenomenon.

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SLOW FOOD IN MONTENEGRO

sf1sf2The Slow Food philosophy -  which envisions a world in which all people can access and enjoy food that is good for the planet – has finally found its place in Montenegro. Each of Slow Food’s 100,000 members around the world are part of a convivium – a local chapter – that brings the philosophy to life through events and activities they organize in their communities, such as visits to local producers, support of local campaigns, simple shared meals and tastings, promotion of slow food restaurants, festivals and discussions… Such a convivium has also been founded in Montenegro: Slow Food Skadarsko Jezero. And of course, I have joined it!

sf4Let me tell you something more about the Slow Food approach. It is based on a concept of three interconnected principles: GOOD, CLEAN and FAIR. Food should be fresh and tasty, it should be part of the traditional and local cuisine, its production should not harm the environment and there should be fair prices for the consumers and fair conditions for the producers.

It is interesting to know that over 1,400 convivia are registered in Europe, but just four of them come from the Balkans. Strange! There are so many traditional, artisanal foods in the Balkan countries. It is important to safeguard and promote these hidden treasures. Examples? There are many of them: Bukovo paprika from Macedonia, white beans from Bulgaria, Serbian ham from the Banat region, Njeguši cheese from Montenegro, etc. etc.

sf3The Slow Food convivium Skadarsko Jezero is, first of all, dedicated to products from the Skadar Lake region. This is the area where you can find many original dishes: marinated and smoked carp (see picture 3), smoked bleak, eel on rice, red onions from Crmnica, fish soup, dried figs, pomegranate juice… Try the red wine “Vranac” from the Crmnica area! There are more than 150 private vineyards in this region. And what about the delicious honey?

Each year during the winter period, a festival is organized in the picturesque fishermen’s village of Virpazar, on the banks of Skadar Lake. It is called “Days of Wine and Bleak”. Not only wine producers offer their wine here, you can also find honey, figs, and many other natural products from the area on the old market of Virpazar. A great festivity with a tradition of more than 12 years!

sf5The Skadar Lake region is getting more and more popular among tourists who want to get off the beaten track and experience something special. A visit to this area with a traditional lunch or dinner in one of the restaurants on the lake that are well-known for their national cuisine is a must. Such restaurants can be found in Virpazar, Rijeka Crnojevića or Karuč – take a look and try!

And should you be willing to join the Slow Food movement, you can learn more about it on the international website www.slowfood.com. For 10 € you can become a basic member for two years.

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DOCLEA (DUKLJA), MONTENEGRO’S FOREMOST ARCHEOLOGICAL SITE

d1d2The ruins of Doclea or Duklja, near Podgorica, have always fascinated me. I have been there many times and I was often disappointed to see that the place was neglected, full of litter, with a flock of grazing sheep as only visitors. I also found it a pity that the railroad to Nikšić crosses the site and that there are so many electricity pylons and illegally built houses in the immediate surroundings.

But fortunately, things have changed the last few years and Doclea has finally got a representative place in the tourist offer of Montenegro.

In former times, it was almost impossible to find this archeological site, although it is situated at three kilometers north from Podgorica. The first signposts were placed last year – although the name on them, “Docela” (!), was somewhat confusing… Fortunately, they were soon replaced. But should you be interested in more detailed instructions to get there: take the old road from Podgorica to Danilovgrad (along the left bank of the Morača river in northern direction), turn right at the signpost Rogami, pass the bridge and then take the first road on the right side in front of the small supermarket. Pass the railroad and you will soon see the excavations.

d3The gate is open and you can freely enter, entrance fee is not charged. It is a pity that there is no guide or at least a leaflet to learn more about the history of this interesting place. It’s true, there are some information boards, but they only show the places where the ancient buildings were located. So let me tell you something more about Duklja’s history.

Duklja was the largest settlement of the Docleatae, an Illyrian tribe. The city was built in the 1st century AD on a plateau near the confluence of the Zeta and Morača rivers. It was a large town with 8-10 thousand inhabitants and also the surrounding area was relatively densely populated. Around 300 AD it became the capital of the newly established Roman province, Prevalis, with a population of some 40,000. After the 4th century it lost power and in the beginning of the 5th century it was attacked by the Visigoths. In 518, it was totally destroyed by an earthquake. And finally, in the 7th century AD, after the invasion of the Avar – Slavic tribes, Doclea lost its urban characteristics.

d4Being a typical Roman town, the urban plan of Doclea shows a central axis which used to connect still visible and recognizable representative structures, i.e. the Forum with a Basilica, the temples of Diana and Roma, the ramparts, the thermal spas, the urban villas, and many other undiscovered architectural edifices – towers, streets, water supply systems, gates, etc. Necropoli were located to the south-east and west from Doclea. At the south-east necropolis, more than 300 tombs have been explored, dating back to the period 1st – 4th century. Apart from the ashed of cremated bodies, the tombs contained many precious objects: jewelry, toilette bottles, ceramic and glass dishes, fibulae, etc. Nowadays, many exhibits can be seen in the Podgorica City Museum.

Another curiosity: the so-called Glass of Podgorica, found during excavations in Doclea in the middle of the 19th century, can now be admired in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg!

Altogether: Duklja or Doclea is really worth a visit. This also appears from the fact that, since 2010, Doclea is part of the Montenegrin tentative list as a candidate for being included into the UNESCO World Heritage List.

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YUGO-NOSTALGIA

y1y2Starting from February 1st, a very interesting exhibition with the title “Long Live Life” (“Živio život”) has been organized in the shopping mall of Delta City, which shows how life looked like in Yugoslavia in the period between 1950 and 1990, through every-day life of ordinary people. Last year this exhibition could be seen in Belgrade, where it has provoked contradictory reactions and interest of visitors from all ex-Yugoslavia. The exhibition in Podgorica will close on March 1st.

I moved to Tito’s Yugoslavia around 45 years ago. Personally, I have good memories of my life in ex-Yugoslavia. My children were born in a self-managed society. As I was employed (what was, at that time, certainly unusual for married women with children in the Netherlands, my home country), after my pregnancy leave – that lasted between six months and one year – they went to kindergarten and later to school. Everything was well-organized, medical care and education were free, and we earned enough for a decent living. Moreover, people felt safe, as it was almost impossible to lose your job in a “socially-owned” enterprise. After a while, most employees got an apartment made available by the employer, with a size that depended on the number of household members. Such a standard of living was completed by a modest car: a “Fića”, Yugo or Lada. But also social relations were different: contacts with family, friends and neighbors were extremely important and solidarity was a rule, not an exception.

y4Although I came from a West-European country, I was very satisfied with the school education of my children. The language was called Serbo-Croatian and nobody protested against this name! The children did not only gain solid knowledge at school, but they also learned how to become decent and diligent people, showing respect to their parents and loyalty to their friends and their home country. I was proud of them when they became Tito’s pioneers on the “Day of the Republic”, in the autumn of their first school year. Wearing a red scarf and a navy blue hat with a red star on the front, they pronounced the text of the Pioneer pledge, which reads in English:

Today, as I become a Pioneer, I give my Pioneer’s word of honor that  I shall study and work diligently,

Respect my parents and my seniors, and be a loyal and honest comrade/friend;

That I shall love our homeland, the self-managed Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia;

That I shall spread brotherhood and unity and the principles for which Comrade Tito fought;

And that I shall value all peoples of the world who respect freedom and peace!

y3Brotherhood and unity, freedom and peace … aren’t those words beautiful? Maybe such principles are the reason that Yugo-nostalgia is making a comeback and that it seems to become a trend in all former Yugoslav republics. On the walls of residential buildings in Belgrade you can see slogans like: “Tito come back, all is forgiven”. In Sarajevo I saw a shop with dozens of pictures and objects with Tito’s portrait. Two years ago I attended a concert of the “Kings of Strings” in the Podgorica gymnasium. When the Macedonian guitar player Vlatko Stefanovski – one of the three “Kings” – played old Macedonian songs, the public got ecstatic and I saw tears in the eyes of many people.

A lot of people now think of Tito’s rule as a golden era compared to the war years before he came to power and the decades after his death. However, young people often believe that they are now paying the price because of that carefree period. And  they are probably right…

Altogether, it was a nice experience to see this exhibition and to see the living room, clothes, typewriter, newspapers and all those other objects that reminded us of those peaceful times. I hope that the exhibition will also move to other republics of ex-Yugoslavia, it is worth a visit!

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BUDVA RIVIERA: A NEW BUILDING BOOM HAS STARTED

b6b6b6b6b6b6b3It’s been a long time since I have visited the Budva Riviera. A day trip to the coast on a beautiful sunny day in February was a good occasion to see what is going on there. The Budva Riviera is a 35 km long strip along the Adriatic Coast with 12.5 km of beaches and it is generally considered to be the most important tourist area of Montenegro.

We first visited Petrovac. What a disappointment! I had always believed that high-rise buildings would be banned from this quiet resort, but now things turned out to be different. Directly on the sea shore, a huge building is under construction: the Riviera Crystal Hotel (30,000 square meters). But this is not the only one. I also saw another construction site nearby: an 11 floor apartment building. Who will buy all these apartments? Do people understand that the beautiful red sandy beach of Petrovac – with a length of 600 meters – is far too small for all those tourists? What about the infrastructure, parking possibilities?

b4The Budva Riviera looks quite different from a panorama viewpoint. Taking the narrow asphalt road to Čelobrdo, above the Praskvica monastery, we soon arrived on the top of the hill, near the end of Jegor’s path. Here we enjoyed a breathtaking view of the Riviera, in particular of Sveti Stefan and Miločer, still unspoilt by concrete blocks!

The walk along the promenade from Rafailovići to the Splendid Hotel in Bečići was relaxing, although there are many new construction sites. In my opinion, the situation in Rafailovići is critical: no space to park your car, no space on the narrow streets, no space on the beach … just concrete structures, higher and higher!

b5And of course, our last destination was Budva itself. Spring was already in the air and mimosa trees were flowering everywhere. Many people were walking through the narrow streets of the old town, enjoying the beautiful weekend. The pubs and terraces on the Ričardova Glava beach were full with relaxed people. But one hundred meters further, things are different…

Dozens of building permits have been issued by the Municipality of Budva and the Ministry of Sustainable Development and Tourism, although it is claimed that there are around one thousand apartments in Budva that were constructed previously and were not sold because of the economic crisis. In spite of warnings from a number of citizens who want to stop building along the Budva Riviera, construction will continue.

In the very center of Budva, 30 m from Slovenska Plaža and around 100 m from the old town, is the construction site of a complex composed of five buildings (with seven and 13 floors respectively) with a total surface of 18,000 square meters. Another 11 floor apartment building will be constructed near the Avala Hotel. And what about the huge hotel “Tre canne” close to the Adriatic Fair? What about the famous Zavala complex?

b1I think that the national and local administration have lost control over what is built within the Municipality of Budva. The increase in high-rise buildings has brought negative change to the visual and physical characteristics of the Budva Riviera, destroying the natural environment.

I know that it is necessary to develop tourism in Montenegro. But I also know that many countries have regretted to have allowed high-rise building in their tourist resorts. Nowadays, many tourist places around the world allow buildings up to four stories only. Structures from four to eight stories are allowed in suburban environments. And existing high-rise buildings near the coast are often DEMOLISHED (example: Mallorca)!

The new building boom on the Budva Riviera will cause significant visual pollution and gradually destroy the still stunning scenery. Is it really necessary to allow greedy developers to spoil the beautiful Montenegrin Coast, in particular the Budva Riviera? And finally, I will not publish photos of the ugly construction sites – I want you to see the beautiful places. Fortunately, there are (still) so many of them!

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LIFE IN CUBA: CHANGE COMES SLOWLY

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c2When we started our round trip through Cuba, I was very curious. Would I really find a communist, poor and backward country or has life changed for the Cuban people since Raoul Castro has taken over the power from his brother Fidel? In the last few years, the situation in Cuba has become complicated. There is more and more private initiative, in particular in tourism. Nowadays, Cubans are allowed to open a family restaurant, a “paladar”, in their own house. “Casas particolares”, a kind of bed and breakfast, are becoming more and more popular among Western tourists. Changes have started. Unfortunately, they are not always positive!

We were warned in advance about the new phenomenon of ‘jineteros’ (hustlers). These persons offer anything you want: accommodation, restaurants, salsa festivals and excursions. They are normally quite decent and friendly people, but unfortunately their persistence can become annoying. I know that these phenomena are normal in developing countries, especially in Latin America, but I was really disappointed to see that it was so difficult to establish normal and friendly contacts, at least in Havana and other tourist places. Yes, it was easy to start a conversation with Cuban people in the street. They really showed interest in “becoming our friend”, but after five minutes we would find out that all they were interested in was our money.

c3It was thus hard to get a good idea about life in Cuba, but during a guided ‘bicitaxi’ tour we got more information. We were told that the average Cuban salary is about $ 20 per month. This seems extremely low, but we should not forget that the costs of housing, electricity, water and education are very low, too. The Cubans also have social benefits. With the ration booklet (“libreta”), each family gets a basic ration of rice, beans, oil, salt, chicken, bread and sugar. We got the possibility to see such a state shop where people were waiting in a long queue to get their monthly rations that were noted on a big blackboard. Nobody was nervous, people were laughing and talking. Of course, they are used to it! For most of them it has always been this way.

Education is free and an obligatory up to the age of 16. It was a pleasure to see the children in their neat school uniforms. Traveling through the country we discovered that even the smallest villages have an elementary school, nicely decorated with the Cuban flag and revolutionary pictures. Health care is free too: the health care system is one of the best in Latin America and life expectancy is 76 years!

c4But nevertheless, life is hard for the Cubans. In Havana and other towns, a lot of people live in very old crumbling colonial buildings, which are divided into small apartments. A car is a luxury, but most cars date from the sixties of the last century. Public transport in the whole country is a disaster. We saw people waiting for the bus in each village, on each corner. But most buses are reconstructed old army trucks, always overfull. Rickshaws, bicycles and horse carts are used for local transport.

Can you imagine how weird it is to live in a country without mobile phones? Without internet? What would our children do without computer games and iPads? But the Cubans know how to spend their leisure time. They pay chess or domino on the streets and in the parks! They listen to music, they sing, play and dance salsa in the ‘casas de la trova’. Or they are just standing quietly on the street corners…

c5Life in the countryside is different. People in the villages still do not think about making money, they are happy to survive. Many of them live in a simple wooden house or hut without window panes, with the obligatory rocking chairs on the veranda. In the garden they have their own banana trees, tobacco, coffee plants, and a few pigs and chickens strolling around. They do not depend on their “libreta”!

Cuba is a fascinating country. The old communist system is crumbling away, new laws and regulations offer new possibilities. It is true, change comes slowly, but I am sure that nobody can stop it anymore!

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THE VILLAGE OF UTRG: BIRTH PLACE OF A NATIONAL HERO AND AN ORTHODOX SAINT

u1u2All over Montenegro you can find war monuments, commemorative plaques, busts …. Some of them remind us of battles against the Turks, but most memorials refer to World War II. They are especially numerous in the central part of the country.

In search of such “red star” memorials, we made a trip to the village of Utrg, the birth place of Svetozar Vukmanović Tempo, national hero of Yugoslavia, and his brother Luka, who was canonized by the Serbian-Orthodox church.

Utrg, part of the village of Podgor, is situated in the area of Crmnica, but it is not easy to find. We started the trip from Podgorica, taking the road to Cetinje and further towards Budva. At eight kilometers after Cetinje we turned left, following the signpost to Prekornica. Then we kept right at the first junction, two kilometers further. The road, narrow and winding, lead us through impressive karst mountains and forests.

u3After five kilometers we entered Utrg, a sleepy mountain village at the foot of the Velika Trojica mountain that offers a magnificent view of the surroundings. Until the sixties of the last century Utrg was just a “nook” in the Crmnica region. There were no roads and the inhabitants needed a whole day to reach Podgorica by foot or by horse. But things have changed now. Roads were built, old houses reconstructed, and the people from Utrg are coming back to their village, where they produce wine and other agricultural products.

u4The center of the village is a weird place, at least for foreign tourists: close to a big “guvno” (threshing floor), there is a big sculpture of a young partisan soldier with a gun, watching in the distance and proudly standing on his pedestal. But this is not the only war memorial of Utrg! In front of the village administration building we saw four commemorative busts of famous Partisans born in this area. The fifth one has got a special place: this is Svetozar Vukmanović Tempo, people’s hero, writer and well-known state official in Tito’s Yugoslavia. He was nicknamed Tempo as he always urged people to hurry.

Tempo’s brother Luka was a Serbian-Orthodox priest in Montenegro. He was executed by Partisans in 1945, trying to escape Montenegro in a mass exodus towards Slovenia and Austria. Luka’s 14-year old son Čedomir was also in the convoy that was composed of royalists and chetniks who feared reprisals by the communists. The group was intercepted by troops commanded by Peko Dapčević, communist general from Montenegro. Most of the people in the convoy were executed on the spot and buried in unmarked graves.

u5Tempo’s role in Luka’s capture and execution has remained unclear. Some people say that he was informed and asked to decide on what should happen to his brother. His reported answer was: “The same as what happens to others”. Luka’s son Čedomir managed to survive. He was raised and educated by his uncle Tempo. However, Čedomir believes that Tempo did not find out what happened to his brother Luka until a few days after his execution. The Serbian-Orthodox church believes that Luka has died as a martyr and he was thus canonized by the Serbian-Orthodox church around fifteen years ago.

What a strange story! But a story so typical for Yugoslav circumstances in that period. Thinking about this family tragedy, we did not see anybody around. We were alone with the past… The proud soldier seemed to say goodbye when we left. We continued our trip to Virpazar and from there back to Podgorica – a total distance of 90 km.

I am sure that this area and in particular this village is much more beautiful in spring and summer and I would not only recommend the trip as part of my planned war monument route, but also as a place of exceptional natural beauty!

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PODGORICA: THE NICKNAMES OF RESIDENTIAL BUILDINGS

pg1pg2When I take a taxi downtown to go home, I never mention my exact street address. I just say: „Preko Morače (across the Morača river), Vektra building, in front of the CKB bank“. The taxi driver does not ask any questions, for him – and for many other inhabitants of Podgorica – this is a normal situation. My apartment is located in a street with regular house numbers, but is still called after the investor and constructor of the building: Vektra (picture 1).

Many buildings in our city have been the inspiration of ingenious co-citizens who have given them funny nicknames. They bear the name of constructors, tenants, the color of their facade, their form, location or even popular TV series.

pg3Along the bank of the Morača river we still have our „Five Widows“ (picture 2). Their name is quite logical: in the period when they were built „across the Morača river“, i.e. in the seventies of the last century, they were quite lonely. No other buildings around to keep them company!

Another funny example is the residential settlement „Pejton“ (picture 3). This group of dwelling buildings, built in the seventies, was called after the popular American TV series „Peyton Place“.

pg4Some buildings have also got ironic names. What do you think of the two high-rise blocks on the road to Tuzi, called „lemon“ and „orange“ (picture 4) due to the colors they got? (Honestly speaking, the color of the „lemon“ building has faded since a long time). Or the „carrot“, a (once) orange building near the former Big Market?

We have also got Blok 5 and Blok 6 with its Russian towers that have got their name due to their Russian way of construction. And we should not forget the „Solarne“ in Blok 6 either. They got their name because of the solar panels placed on their roof – which have ceased to function many, many years ago…

pg5The old governmental building on the bank of the Morača river has got a well-chosen nickname: „Two coffins“. It must admit that this name really applies to the architectural solution…

But there are many other examples. „Lordovka“, in Bulevar Sveti Petar Cetinjski, was the building were many state officials got an appartment in the seventies. „Napoletanka“ got its name after a popular biscuit. But by the way, does anybody know how Maxim (picture 5) got its name?

With new buildings and new tenants, new anecdotes and nicknames will appear. In time, they will become main characteristics of the newly built settlements. Formally, their addresses will be omitted. Only names will be left that will provoke a smile and a lot of curiosity to learn how they were invented.

But what about the responsibility of the municipal administration? Is it really normal that so many addresses in the capital of Montenegro do not have a house number? I know many people whose address is indicated with BB, no number. Not only in the rural area of Montenegro, but also in Podgorica. In order to get their post they add different data to their address: „above Voli Market“, „at the round-about“, „opposite to the Life Clinic“ … But is this an efficient solution? Is there any possibility for the municipal administration to find a solution for this problem?pg6

 

 

 

 

 

 

ŽABLJAK CRNOJEVIĆA, A HIDDEN TREASURE

zc1zc2After a few weeks of rain, we took advantage of the first sunny day in January to make a trip to the medieval fortified town of Žabljak Crnojevića, once capital of the Crnojević dynasty. This beautiful place is situated on a hill near Skadar Lake, at a distance of only 15 km (a 20 minutes drive) from Podgorica. Unfortunately, it is not easy to find it, as there are no signposts at all!

We took the road to Golubovci and in the center of this town, at the traffic light, we turned right to the direction of Vukovci. Turning left again, we soon passed the railway and then the narrow bridge over the Morača river. Continuing, we saw a big sports ground and there we turned left once more, passing another quite narrow bridge. Following the asphalt road, we soon reached Žabljak Crnojevića.

zc3It was very quiet in the village. An old woman in a “čun”, a typical fisherman’s boat, moved slowly through the water. She had collected some wood and went home. She told us that she was nearly eighty years old and kindly invited us to her home for a cup of coffee. So, at only fifteen kilometers from the capital, we had the opportunity to see the “old Montenegro”, without tourists, without noise and with the old tradition of Montenegrin hospitality. It was a good feeling!

When we parked the car, we saw an old Turkish bridge, nearly covered by the water. Small fishes were jumping above the lake and two fishermen were carefully preparing their nets. Cows and horses were grazing on the humid wetlands.

zc4We made a walk to the castle that was totally abandoned. Only a flock of sheep was roaming through the ruins, enjoying the green grass. I was pleasantly surprised to see that there was no litter around.  Climbing the stairs and entering the gate, we passed through a narrow and arched corridor. Now we could see the remnants of old buildings and walls. The view on Skadar Lake was breath-taking on all sides. Far away, we saw the mountains covered with snow, but here, high above the Lake, it was nearly warm in the winter sun.

zc5But let me tell you something more about the castle itself. It is assumed that the fortress was built in the 10th century, when the Romans ruled these areas. During the Crnojević dynasty, in the 15th century, it resembled a Venetian fortification, unique in the region. At that time, the city consisted of 300 houses. And during the period of Ottoman rule it was one of the most important strongholds of the area, around which fierce battles took place. The fortress itself has huge walls, two meters wide, and up to 15 meters high, with towers and one gate. Within the walls are the ruins of the Church of Saint George (that was turned into a mosque during the Ottoman rule), housing and military facilities, a warehouse and a water tank.

Žabljak Crnojevića is, no doubt, an important cultural monument in Montenegro, but it is still a hidden secret, as we could not see any sign of tourism activities – except for an information board of the National Park. There are no pubs, restaurants or souvenir shops. And maybe that is exactly the charm of this beautiful place – we had the feeling that we had made a trip “back in time” and we really enjoyed it!

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