Many unknown historical sites can be found in the central part of Montenegro, in particular in the area around Podgorica. Surprisingly, most of them are abandoned and forgotten. Even the local population is not aware of their cultural and historical significance.
I have already written posts about Doclea (Duklja), about the fortresses of Medun, Spuž (see: The forgotten fortress of Spuž) , Žabljak Crnojevića and Gradina Martinićka … but when my daughter Nataša came up with the idea to make a hiking tour to the Turkish fortress on Velje Brdo, a 283 m high hill near Podgorica, I really got excited and started to do some research. As far as I know, a detailed description of this fortification doesn’t exist, except for two video clips that show an old Turkish fortress on Crvena Stijena (Red Rock), with the note that this was only one of the strongholds from where the Turks controlled the border with Montenegro during the Ottoman occupation.
On Google Earth I found two ruined fortresses on Velje Brdo – one above the Zeta river opposite to Rogami and the other one on the ‘Red Rock’ above Mareza. The second fortress looked fabulous ‘from the sky’. I could see the surrounding ellipse-formed walls and, in the middle, the remnants of a rectangular building. But how to get there, that was the question!
Some people suggested to climb the steep slope opposite to the transformer station in Mareza, but we preferred to follow another advice: to turn right at the first roundabout in the Mareza district – coming from Podgorica – and approach the fortress from the back side. Asking around, an old woman, carrying a bunch of firewood, confirmed that this would be the right path to the ‘kula’ (tower) and that the walk would last around 40 minutes.
This weekend, Paul and I collected my daughter and grandson and, provided with food and drinks, we headed to Mareza. Turning right at the first roundabout, we took the narrow road straight uphill, where we parked our car at a big parking lot. Asking once more for the ‘kula’, we were told that it is ‘just straight uphill’. Following a narrow and rocky trail that is probably used by cows and sheep only, we found our way through an arid karst landscape.
Attention: if you want to make this tour, you have to keep right after around 150-200 meters from the parking lot, passing between two rocks. This – almost invisible – horse trail leads uphill to the fortress on the top. We were lucky to meet a young man, who passed by with his horses to collect wood in the forests. He showed us the right direction!
Approaching the huge stone walls of the fortress from below, we had to find our way among fallen stones and rock slides, but finally we succeeded in entering the fort through the main oval-shaped gate. Surprisingly, the building style was very similar to the fortress of Spuž. It was probably built in the same period, i.e. in the beginning of the 18th century (the construction of the Spuž fortress was finished in 1704). The fortification was totally abandoned, the walls were crumbling and wild trees were penetrating between the big stone plates. The ruins of a watchtower, an old well that still contained water and the remnants of a big rectangular building showed how important this Turkish stronghold must have been. This was not surprising: the entrance gate was turned towards the city of Podgorica and the Ottomans could also control an important part of the Bjelopavlići valley from this position. The view was amazing. So why is this place forgotten? It is obvious that nothing has happened here, since the Turks left in 1878…
I know that the Tourism Organization of Podgorica has marked and signposted the hiking trail from Gorica – Malo Brdo – Duklja (Doclea) this summer. Information boards show a good hiking map of this trail. Unfortunately, I have not made the tour yet, but I certainly will in the near future. But what astonishes me is the information from June 2016 that the signposting and marking of a second 11 km long trail, i.e. Vranići – Velje Brdo – Crvena Stijena – Mareza was (or should be) finished this year, too. How is it possible that I didn’t see any signpost or mark during our walk to the fortress?
I am a lover of old ruins and archeological sites, as I am always curious about the past, trying to disclose hidden secrets. Who built this architecturally ingenious fortress, when was it abandoned and why did nobody try to maintain it or use it for other purposes? Why was such a powerful fortification left to the ravages of time?
History can be attractive. Tourists want to see and experience undiscovered, unknown places. Montenegro abounds in old fortresses, monasteries and churches, archeological sites and caves. The Montenegrins should be aware of the miraculous world in which they live and of the treasures they possess. Maybe they will then start with the valorization and protection of these historical sites.