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Crmnica - the village of Godinje

Pictures and text: Boro Milovic

Godinje is a small village in the mountains above Lake Skadar with nearly one hundred ancient stone houses set above a picturesque valley. Godinje is considered by many to be an architectural marvel, studied by architects from around the globe, and it’s location in the Crmnica area, near the famous coastal city of Bar, makes it an ideal place to have a relaxing day-trip!

The village architecture, seen primarily in the construction of the houses, distinguishes Godinje as an amazing place to stop during your journeys in Montenegro.  In order to defend themselves from attacks by the Ottoman Empire, generations of men and women in Godinje built their houses “one against the other” and developed a special system of underground passages that run through the village.
Image ImageIn Godinje, each house had a passage the led away from the home and began in the manger where the animals were kept.  The mangers, known as the “konoba”, had secret passages which enabled the people of Godinje to move from one house to another without fear of attack. Image Image Image

Through the tunnels, each resident in Godinje could move freely underground as far as the last house in the village, a truly ingenious invention that helped the town residents survive tens of sieges throughout their long history.

There are over a dozen other charming features in Godinje that make a trip here more than worthwhile.  Nearly every house in the village has a front porch where the citizens of Godinje could sit and rest after a long day.  These porches, called “volats”, are unique because they were included in the construction of the homes many decades before a similar feature was developed in other cultures, including in Victorian architecture in the UK.

The cultural life of Godinje, like in many rural and agricultural areas, centered around the seasons.  One of the most important monuments in Godinje to the history and culture of it’s inhabitants is the threshing floor – a large circle, at the lower end of the village where dances and celebrations where held. In Godinje’s threshing floor, both young and old would often meet to dance the Montenegrin national dance (kolo) and to sing Montenegrin folk songs.
Life in a village like Godinje was never easy for it’s inhabitants. The people lived ona meager supply of food that they grew, and also by hunting and fishing in nearby streams and woodlands.

However, to this day the main occupation in the area surrounding Godinje is producing grapes and wine, and the area is famous among Montenegrin’s for the production of quality wine and grape brandy.

Other aspects of Godinje include ten springs that feed the village with a constant supply of drinking water. The most well-known of these springs is called “tocak – lješkovac (hazelnut – wheel)”, and is the center of a very strange custom. According to legend, Leka, the founder of Godinje’s Lekovica clan, came across a male goat with a wet beard, standing under the hazelnut trees. Leka, chased the goat and after losing track of him finally saw the goat drinking from the spring. Leka decided to sacrifice the goat to this new spring, so that the water would always run without stop. To this day the spring never dries up, a fact not lost on modern day residents of Godinje who depend on the spring for their drinking water.
A Montenegrin beauty in London in 1907.

Finally, Godinje became world famous at the turn of the 20th century, and the story is worth telling.  In 1907, a competition was held in London to finally identify the world’s most beautiful woman. King Nikola of Montenegro was asked to send a representative of his country to this important competition. Faced with a difficult task, the king sent messengers to every Montenegrin village with the task of identifying beautiful young girls of merit.

One messenger fatefully stumbled upon a young woman called Milena Delibasic, a resident of Godinje!  Her father was a traditionall man and refused to allow her to attend the competition. However when King Nikola traveled to the village and insisted that his daughter participate, he ultimately conceded and allowed her to leave for London.

Milena was the most outstanding beauty and eventually won the competition and was declared the world’s most beautiful woman.  Many people began to wonder who she was, or where “Godinje” might be located in Montenegro. Giving up more than a few proposals for mairrage in London, she returned to Godinje and married a young man from the Lekovica clan.

When King Nikola asked Milena why she hadn’t married in London, she said that the King had sent her to represent the beauty of Montenegro, not to get married. To this day there is a house in Godinje where they have kept pictures and cuttings from famous international newspapers telling the story of the beautiful Montenegrin girl who turned down riches and fame and came back to live a more simple, if not more happy life in Montenegro.
  Image Image Boro MILOVIC
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