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Travel to Montenegro - Montenegrin Mountains

Within the general area one can always find “out of the way” areas that defy convention and stick out from the rest. The old capital of Cetinje is one such magical place, located high in the mountains above Kotor where it rests on a small plateau with breathtaking views.

A trip to Cetinje will confirm that few places in the world are similar. Additionally, you can travel higher from Cetinje until you reach a height of more than 1.5 kilometers (2.1 miles) above sea level.  At this extraordinary height you will reach the mausoleum and final resting place of the poet, philosopher and benevolent Montenegrin ruler Petar II Petrović Njegoš. 
This awe-inspiring monument certainly has no comparison in Europe due to its dramatic setting between mountain and sky.

As in the case of Petar II Petrović Njegoš, the practice of forging a single persona from multiple desirable characteristics of governor, poet and a philosopher is a unique historical practice and has few comparisons throughout ancient and modern history; however, this type of melding personal characteristics between the practical and the artistic now seems everyday in Montenegro and helps define this special country.

Petar II also contributed greatly to the tradition of prominent poets that have called Montenegro their home.  Montenegro’s poetry shows us the country’s unique soul in its true embodiment – one that is meant to inspire contemplation and inner peace. To better understand the soul of this great country, it is necessary to visit its historic treasures, to climb Mount Lovcen and gaze out for as far as the eye can see, finding Montenegro’s highest mountain peaks where they rest before you.

Montenegro’s mountains can often provide you an entire panorama of vistas as you gaze down on Old Montenegro at your feet.  These awe-inspiring natural monuments include the mountain Njeguši, the patron mount of the Petrović dynasty.  From mount Njeguši you will see the city of Cetinje, one of the region’s ancient capitals.  If you continue your gaze down the mountain, below you lays “Boka Bay” where the city of Kotor rests on its near bank.  In the opposite direction the Zeta River valley stretches serenely before you.  Finally, to your left you will also see Lake Skadar, one of Europe’s prominent nature reserves and cultural heritage sites. ImageOn a truly clear day, the coast of Italy is also visible on the horizon!

Here we have mentioned the idea of “Old Montenegro”. The mountains in the region represent a kind of “Old Montenegro”.  The mountains are a type of breeding ground, a cradle for the ongoing veins of Montenegrin independence that run throughout this country’s history.  This is because for Montenegro’s people, freedom has always been more important than life’s other necessities and that is why difficulties and deprivations of life in the mountains, living among the rough-hewn stones, was more preferable then being made a slave in the wake of invading nations that often overtook Montenegro.   

If you were to consider the relief map of Montenegro which is kept in the ancient Montenegrin capital of Cetinje, you would immediately see that the country has practically no flat surfaces, except for a large plain called Zetsko and of course the equally immense flat surface of Lake Skadar.  In fact, all of Montenegro’s territory consists of a diverse array of mountains and canyons that spring to life with pure mountain rivers that punch-drunkenly move their way down towards the Adriatic sea, with the occasional straggler moving its way in the opposite direction towards the Black Sea.
Additionally, Montenegro is occasionally the butt of a regional joke because of its relatively small size when compared to other Balkan states.  The joke often involves a man or woman you carries a "full-scale map of Montenegro" in their pocket.  However, a joke often reveal another truth: Montenegro is manageable in size for a traveller with a week or more to explore several of its sites – however one can also pass a lifetime in Montenegro and never see everything that the country offers visitors.

One of the best ways to gain an authentic feeling for Montenegro involves rafting down the Tara river  that flows between Sinjavina and Durmitor mountains to your left and Bjelasica, Ljubishne, and Zlatny Bor mountains to your right. Because of its legendary clarity, the Tara River is named "the tear of Europe ", and travelling its waters is an enjoyable activity that is accessible even to beginners. Other true delights along the Tara include the ancient relic woodlands that dot its banks, waterfalls and to follow the flight of an eagle held aloft above you as you gaze from the bottom of Europe’s deepest canyon. Image

Mountain Tourism:
Durmitor mountain is the centre of Montenegrin mountain tourism. The tourist facilities for Durmitor Mountain are concentrated around the town of Žabljak. ImageDuring the winter, the main activities on Durmitor include skiing and snowboarding. However, in the summer activities shift to mountaineering and recreational tourism. One of the most prominent attractions on or near Durmitor mountain include its 18 glacial lakes, best known of which is Crno Lake.Image

Although it is the smallest of the four principal National Parks in Montenegro, Biogradska Gora near the Kolashin area, is the oldest of the four and contains a diversity of flora and fauna unlike anywhere else. ImageThere are 26 different plant habitats making a home for 220 different plant species, 150 kinds of birds, and 10 kinds of mammals.  In the Park’s forests alone there are 86 kinds of trees and shrubs. Finally, in the waters of the Park there exist three kinds of trout and many other aquatic species. Image

Basic elements of Biogradska Gora include: untouched forests with trees over five hundred years old, large mountain slopes and glacial lakes found at altitudes as high as 1820m (nearly 6000 feet).

It is also possible to visit Skadar Lake, which many millennia ago was a part of the sea but after some impressive geological history is now  considered one of the most attractive freshwater lakes in the world. Skadar Lake includes uncounted opportunities for boating and  fishing or you can simply observe the lives of rare birds living in the Lake’s many protected bird habitats. ImageFor example, the rare Dalmatian Pelican (pelecanus crispus) has become the symbol of Lake Skadar and the need to preserve this unique area.Image

Like Ancient Greece or the past stories surrounding Celtic culture, Montenegro is surrounded by myths and legends.  The need to form and absorb myths, passing them from one generation to the next by incorporating them into cultural life is perhaps one of the basic features of the Montenegrin psyche. For those who live to share and partake in myths, the events of ages past at times have a greater urgency to be relived than what has in fact occurred today.

For example, the fact that during the events of the Russia-Japanese war many years ago, Montenegro sided with the Russians and thousands of volunteers travelled to distant Russia to serve in the Russian army and navy, shows the great esteem Russia and Montenegro have for one another. By the way, it is not common knowledge but one legend says that the war symbolically ended with a traditional duel between two Samurai. Russia was represented by Montenegrin Saicic, who literally tore his opponent  to pieces. In more modern days, a peace treaty was recently signed with Japan soon after Montenegro’s announcement of its independence.
Another myth that continues to circulate here in Montenegro is that Russia and Montenegro combined represent 300 million people.  This may seem absurd because for years Russia alone will total her population at a scant 150 million, this in comparison with the population of Montenegro at about 650 thousand.

On the other hand, after you consider the prominence of Montenegrins in Russian life and affairs, the idea of 300 million people makes more sense.  In Russia since the time of Peter the Great, Montenegrins were a privileged elite in Russian society, as they commanded fleets and army regiments, became governers of Russian provinces and oversaw important factories and mines. The peak of rapproachement between the Russian and Montenegrin monarchies really came during the beginning of the 20th century when two daughters of Montenegro's Prince Nikola I formed a familial bond with the Grand Princes Romanov.   In 1910 King Nikola received the rank of Field Marshal of the Russian Army, an important ceremonial position.  However, by a twist of fate, his honourable post was not to last.  The last days of the Romanovs’ time as rulers of Russia had already come and their days on the throne were numbered. Both families had ascended to power at almost the same time and both ruled for about 300 years before their time came to an end. A young general born in Montenegro named Andrija Bakic was among the last that combatted bolshevism during the early days of the violent Civil War in Russia.

The resulting victory by the Bolsheviks ended the Russian monarchy and a breakage of the historical communications between the two countries followed. In Russia, communists tried to delete all memory of the past.   Meanwhile, Montenegro lost its independence again, becoming a part of the newly formed Yugoslavia.

Cetinje, once the seat of Royal power, has almost not changed since the king lived there. Maybe the only change is that the chestnut trees and lindens that line its shady avenues have grown older, and the city is now dotted with a few decaying embassies once dedicated to foreign powers, among which the Russian embassy is the most representative of this grim history.
Montenegro's independence was originally recognized by the decision of the Berlin Congress (1878) and for a time Cetinje became the capital of a small, but culturally and historically distinguished European country. After a wave of new constitution in 1993, Cetinje again took life and today it is more similar to a city-museum, while Podgorica is now the capital and host to the country’s parlament and majority of administrative offices.    

Traditional  Montenegro folk dances: "kolo", a little bit reminding Russian "round dance", danced to the accompaniment of voices or even without an accompaniment.  Also without compare, the "?r?" which is a circle dance that involves the dancers standing on each other's shoulders in a circle.  This is probably one of the best illustrations of the country's proud spirit because participants struggle to reach the top at any cost, an analogy for the modern Montenegrin man. Heroism is a characteristic trait cultivated in Montenegro until just recently and it has not yet been completely drowned out by the new century of practicality. Another Montenegrin “heroic spirit” is represented by a song by famous Russian poet and bard Vladimir Vysotsky who complained because Montenegro cannot become «his second homeland». In Podgorica you can still see his monument.

However in out search to find a true symbol of Montenegro, what have we found? One possibility is the «gusli» as most symbolic.  The gusli is a unique musical instrument which has only one string, but is still capable of expressing all possible depth of feeling and the many shades of the person playing on it. Or perhaps a better choice would be the «diple» - the local version of the bagpipes and the favourite musical instrument of Montenegrin mountaineers? A diple festival is held annually at Negushi at the height of 850 metres (2800 feet) above sea level. By the way, nearby you will find the native land of some of the main Montenegrin specialties: njegushski cheese and prshut.

Food is another way of studying of the country and restaurant menus provide excellent research. However, to study a culture via her food, you must also arm yourself with patience: you should not be limited to just the aforementioned “cheese and prshut”, because Montenegrin cuisine contains dozens, if not hundreds distinct dishes and drinks...

This overview does little to exhaust the whole of Montenegro, and everyone has a possibility of choosing his own unique way to discover an answer to the question: «What is  Montenegro?».

Written by: Igor Kossich

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