Many will be familiar with destinations from the UNESCO World Heritage List such as the Taj Mahal in India, Machu Picchu in Peru, the Pyramids in Egypt, Stonehenge in England, the Grand Canyon in Colorado and Lake Bled in Slovenia. But did you know that also on UNESCO’s list of world natural and cultural heritage sites is Montenegro’s biggest national park, Durmitor? Durmitor National Park encompasses the Durmitor chain of mountains and the canyons of the Tara river with their 1,500 plant species and 130 bird species.
The Tara River Canyon has been declared a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, and there are also the Draga and Sušica canyons, the Komarnica canyon valley, and a great many mountain-tops – 48 of them exceeding 2,000 meters above sea level. There are also 18 glacial lakes that have been dubbed the Gorske Oči – the Eyes of the Mountain. Along with hundreds of other destinations the world over, this park has been specially selected for protection by the United Nations Organisation for Education, Science, and Culture (UNESCO).
The park is of inestimable value to all of humanity as a center for the development of Balkan flora, with features of both alpine and arctic and, on the southern slopes, in the canyon valleys, thriving sub-Mediterranean and even Mediterranean vegetation, while the lakes are a focal point for plant life more typical of the Siberian taiga. The mountain meadows and pastures, the deep fissures, rock gardens, scree slopes, meltwaters, peat bogs, and freshwater habitats are what make this part of south-eastern Europe so valuable, and incomparable to anywhere else in the world.
Durmitor National Park extends over 39,000 hectares, with 20,000 hectares under UNESCO protection after its inscription in the World Heritage list in 1980. Durmitor also comprises the highest-altitude town in the Balkans – Žabljak, located at 1,456m above sea level and surrounded by no less than twenty-three peaks more than 2,300m in height.
German geographer Kurt Hassert said,
“Among the mountain giants of the south-Slavic countries, the most powerful and most magnificent is Durmitor”.
Photography lovers will attest to the fact that the combination of mountains and lakes makes for some of the most beautiful, natural subject matter. Durmitor National Park is an inexhaustible source of inspiration from which some of the most beautiful works of art have sprung, and the very name Durmitor has some interesting stories associated with it. It is told that the word Durmitor is of Romanic origin, from the Latin word dormitorium – it was from this word that the Italian word dormitorio came, or dormire, meaning to sleep. When they were advancing into this territory the Roman legionaries are said to have asked themselves whether perhaps the mountain was sleeping. Another etymology of the name Durmitor dates back to the time of the Celts. According to this version the name is derived from the Celtic “water from the mountain” – dru-mi-tor, which many find a more likely explanation.
Some notable peaks dominate, setting the rhythm for all the others. The most striking are: Bobotov Kuk – 2,523m, Bezimeni Vrh – 2,487m, Minin Bogaz – 2,387m, Međed – 2,287m, Savin Kuk – 2,313m, Ljeme – 2,455m, Planinica – 2,330m, Crvena Greda – 2,175m and Pruta – 2,393m. The Austrian explorer Oscar Baumann was the first to scale the highest peak of Durmitor – Botovo Kuk – at a height of 2,523m, and his thoughts, written in “First Steps in Ciro’s Cave”, are still quoted today: “To our east stretched a deserted valley in the karst, full of rocky debris and snowdrifts … while on the other side we were greeted by the green landscape … [A]ll was glistening beside Lakes Skrcko and Malo, which looked like two dark blue eyes”.
In its unbelievably deep and picturesque valleys, beneath the mountain slopes, surrounded by rich plant life, Durmitor conceals eighteen glacial lakes or, as the locals call them, the Eyes of the Mountain. Mentioning just a few of them, there are Modro, Zminje, Vražje, Riblje, and, certainly the best known, Crno Jezero (the Black Lake) which is frozen over in winter but in July and August reaches water temperatures of twenty celsius or more.
This mountain range offers ideal conditions for active holidaying all the year-round – hiking, biking, angling, mountaineering, and snowshoeing – but Durmitor also offers opportunities to get to know its cultural and historical heritage with visits to sites preserving prehistoric remains dating back to the time of the Illyrians, as well as the Romans. A variety of cultural influences have left their mark in the form of various characteristic structures.
The Illyrians left tumuli, or burial mounds, while characteristic of the Roman period is stone bridges, standing stones, and caravan trails that can be found in this region. Necropolises with their stylized tombstones, the ruins of Turkish bridges and watchtowers along the old Montenegrin-Turkish border, the remains of the ancient fortification of Pirlitor above Lever and the three monasteries in the Tara valley, at Dobrilovina, Dovolja, and Đurđevića Tara, raised between the 15th and 17th centuries – all bear witness to a thriving medieval world here.
Seven areas of the Durmitor National Park are subject to special protection schemes, each with their own specific characteristics: the old-growth spruce and fir forest in the Mlinski Potok valley, the stands of black pine at Crni Podi in the Tara canyon, the Black Lake with its nearby forest, the Skrčka lakes valley and the immediate area of the Sušica canyon, the Barno Jezero lake with its immediate surroundings, the Zabojsko Jezero lake with surroundings and the area along the Tara river canyon.
Do you want to discover and enjoy the beauty of world heritage? Durmitor National Park is a destination you should not miss – just look at how magical the Black Lake is in winter.