When you travel from Podgorica to Danilovgrad, either by the new highway or the old road, you can’t miss the internationally recognized “tourist signposts” showing you where to go when you want to visit the archeological site of Gradina Martinići. And when you read relevant information on the website of the Municipality of Danilovgrad or the National Tourism Organization, you will learn that this is one of the most significant ancient sites in Montenegro and one of the most precious segments of local history.
Unfortunately, when you follow the signposts, you will finally arrive – nowhere. After another local signpost (Градинa), the road comes to an end and you will see three gravel roads leading to a large hill with a flat top and obviously ending in private property. I am sure that many tourists, who wanted to visit this site, have desisted from further adventures and returned to the main road, continuing their trip to other more famous tourist attractions.
But of course, we did not give up! The car was left at the crossroads and we decided to take the road in the middle that led to a beautiful stone house. And we were lucky! The owner of the property, Ilija Janjević, was willing to show us the remnants of Gradina Martinići, the early medieval settlement of Lontodokla. Passing under a few high and threatening vertical rocks, we climbed a narrow path through the forest and then farther through dense shrubbery and fields of wild anemones. Soon we reached the top of the plateau. Everything was overgrown with grass and bushes, but the remnants of the early-Christian basilica could clearly be recognized (photo 1).
A fragment of an old pillar decorated with spirals and other ornaments was just lying there in the grass (photo 2). We started roaming through the bushes, getting aware of the enormous size of this ancient city that was built by the end of the 8th and the beginning of the 9th century. The walls – now only ruins – were, once, more than one meter thick and 6-7 meters high. The remnants of one of the three gates still showed the decorated threshold and upper part of the gate frame (photo 3). Exploring the plateau, we also discovered remnants of an old guard post (photo 4). The view of the surrounding mountains was spectacular.
Ilija spared no efforts to show us everything and finally invited us to his home (photo 5). We sat down on the big terrace with a beautiful view of the Piperi mountains, enjoying a glass of home-made quince juice. As always, typical Montenegrin hospitality!
There was a lot to tell about Gradina. Ilija showed us a book written by archeologist Vojislav Korač (2001) that contained many pictures of archeological objects found at the site. I found it very interesting to hear that archeological research was done here by a Belgrade institute in the eighties of the last century, when Montenegro still belonged to Yugoslavia. Ilija had also participated in this research and showed us interesting pictures.
There seem to be different opinions about the history, role and function of Gradina Martinići. Probably, it has been one of the three big cities in Doclea, called Lontodokla, which was destroyed in the 10th century. But the rest remains a mystery. Who were the inhabitants? When was it established? And why was it destroyed?
In the eighties of the last century, many archeological objects were taken to the Museum of Danilovgrad, such as a beautiful closure slab of the basilica (photo 6). Other fragments just disappeared and in some cases the stones of the centuries-old walls were used for building houses and walls in the surrounding villages.
But Gradina Martinići still exists, lonely and forgotten, almost invisible (photo 7). Nobody seems to be interested to clear up some of its mysteries and to create a more complete picture about this ancient site. Will it have the same destiny as some other “witnesses of the past” that can be found in the Bjelopavlići plain? Hopefully not!