28 Jan 2008
Montenegro a word derived from the Italian language means Black Mountain; a descriptive name for this small country of rugged and densely forested mountains, hills and valleys. Those living here call their country Crna Gora which also means black mountain in the Serbian language.
But the black mountains are only an illusion from the distance. Instead, it is a land decorated with cities, towns, and small farms each with their own charm and picturesque beauty. It is a country of fast flowing rivers and streams, punctuated by an occasional fort high on a hill. The centuries of wars and bloodshed are over now, the outlook is bright; it is a country beginning to make the transition to a modern Western tourist attraction.
Map on screen as following paragraph is narrated:
Crna Gora is about the size of the State of Connecticut but with a population of less than 700,000. To the West, the Adriatic Sea separates this small country from Italy. The other neighboring countries are Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia, and Albania.
The tranquil waters of the Bay of Kotor flanked by steeply rising hills and mountains is illustrative of contrasts in the beauty and the history of this land a land that is part of the Balkans and a place ravaged by centuries of wars and conquest as well as religious and ethnic struggles and persecution. The remains of these past conflicts are all around.
Viewed from the Spanish fort located high on a hill overlooking the bay, Herceg Novi personifies both the old and the new. Typical of the entire country are the new buildings, flanked by fortresses that are hundreds of years old. An ATM machine allows one to extract money and then to walk up steps that have been in place for centuries. Here the ancient and the modern complement each other.
Herceg Novi is a city of about 20,000 inhabitants. All of these will agree that they have the most beautiful bay in the world. The bay is not only beautiful, but the surrounding hills provide protection from stormy seas. The narrow inlet to the bay helps calm the waters but, in the past, it was the large fort with an array of gun emplacements that served as a deterrent to invaders from the sea.
A short distance from Herceg Novi is the town of Bijela with its dockyards for the repair and maintenance of both foreign and domestic ships. Another mile further down the highway is Kamenari where one can take the ferry for the five-minute ride across the bay. This will save about an hour of driving time for those who plan to continue on down the Adriatic Highway toward Budva. For the tourist, this is not an option since several additional historic, as well as modern, cities are located along the Kotor Bay highway.
A short distance before the town of Risan a giant flow of fresh water rushes down the mountain, under the road, and into the Bay. The source of the water is from a cave in the towering mountains above. Nearby shellfish farmers, relying on the nutrients provided by the bay water, have developed a thriving business. Risan is one of the oldest settlements and predates Roman times when the people known as the Illyrians resided here. The remains of a 2,000-year-old Roman villa are visible in a small park.
The road turns south at Risan toward Perast and the Banja Monastery. The Monastery was originally built in the Middle Ages but rebuilt in 1720 after destruction by the Turks.
Churches abound here as they do throughout the country. Most are Eastern Orthodox but a few are Catholic. Some are on hills and others are along busy streets. In Kotor Bay, Saint George Catholic Church is on one island and near by Our Lady of the Rock Orthodox Church is on another. Regardless of their location all are old. The churches, government buildings, and apartments have seen generations come and go but still this is a place where many people live, work, and play.
Near the south end of the sixteen-mile long Bay is the city of Kotor. It, along with Risan, was founded some 2,500 years ago. Many relics of the past remain. Perhaps one of the more interesting features is the rock wall built high on the hillsides to protect from invaders that could possibly come down the mountain. A church is located near the top of the wall. At one time, Kotor was an independent city-republic. At other times, various foreign invaders have ruled it. The Germans occupied the area during WW II. Marshal Tito claimed credit for liberating the city in November 1944.
Continuing on around the tip of the Bay and then up and over a pass, one again returns to a view of the Adriatic Sea and on to the large seaside resort city of Budva. Budva is a thoroughly modern metropolis with wide boulevards, cheerful flowerbeds, and a generally sunny disposition with its sandy beaches stretching in both directions.
The route to the capital city of Podgorica leaves the Adriatic Highway a few miles past Budva and makes a sharp turn to the east as it heads upward in a winding set of switchbacks necessary to scale the mountainside. A view back down toward Budva is a quick goodbye to the seashore.
Once in the mountains, a new vista unfolds. There are small farms that seem to have more rock than earth for growing crops. The people follow a simple lifestyle based on working the land as a time-honored way of survival. A quick visit to one of the many cemeteries is a reminder of the generations of people who have lived, worked, and died in this land. Their names are all that is left of the memories of their past struggles.
Even higher in the mountains and across a valley is the city of Podgorica, the administrative capital of Crna Gora. Podgorica, with a population of about 170,000, has a character much different than that of the coastal cities. The historic city was nearly obliterated by bombing in World War II. One is quickly reminded that this was once a place long dominated by a totalitarian Communist government. Greeting the visitor are drab concrete block buildings and endless wash line balconies. Yet, here too one can find luxury homes with views of the surrounding mountains. There is also a large settlement of gypsies and refugees whose only view is the burning city garbage dump. The city has some industry most notably, the bauxite refinery along the river.
The central part of the city is much different and more inviting to the visitor as well as the residents. Loudspeakers feature local music for all to hear. Restaurants and sidewalk cafes provide a variety of food. This is a place where family and friends can spend an enjoyable afternoon sharing time together in a relaxed atmosphere. Podgorica is building for the future as many new and shiny office and apartment buildings are replacing the old, drab, and unused buildings of the past.
Cetinje, only about 35 miles from Podgorica, was once the capital of the country. It held this position for 500 stormy and war torn years. Reminders of its glory days are all around. The former embassies of several countries can be seen in the center of the city. Statues of legendary heroes are all around as well as a large Orthodox monastery and many churches.
About 30 miles northeast of Podgorica is the large city of Niksic. The shoebox style apartment buildings and general drab surroundings are much the same as parts of Podgorica. In the middle of the city, dominating the square is a giant monument to the failure of past government projects. This building intended to be office space for the government bureaucracy was never completed. Even the homeless do not want to spend time in its vacant rooms. A prince once lived here. However, there is little to attract a visitor to this city. The surrounding mountains beckon to the more adventurous.
In this country, affectionately called Crna Gora by its citizens, the scenery is spectacular, the history enlightening, and the culture representative of a proud and independent people; a people who have endured much hardship, discouragement and struggles in the past, but with a bright future before them. Perhaps this future is in one of the many tour busses with its load of tourists.
This short tour provides only a snapshot of the country we call Montenegro. Make plans now to visit this beautiful place with its rugged mountains and coastline. Meet the people of the country. Learn about their history and culture. Come and experience life in this forgotten land of the Balkans in an unforgettable corner of Europe!
Cetinje TSET-een-yah (usually pronounced SET-een-yah)
Crna Gora TSERN-ah GORE-ah
Herceg Novi HAIR-seeg NO-vee
Kotor KO-tor (long O sound)
Montenegro MAHN-teh- nee-gro
Podgorica POD-gore-eet-sa (long O sound)
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