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About Piva Monastery

Montenegro Hostel Ltd

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The 16th century Piva monastery has for centuries represented the hub of clan life in Piva, while its spiritual and artistic importance radiated further away. The sober, stone complex is today located just by the Nikšić-Plužine road. However, its original location was more concealed, lying in a forest next to the source of the Piva River. To preserve it from being flooded, while the building of the dam was being carried out, the monastery church was dissembled and relocated uphill to its present position. The whole process was very sluggish due to the complications of pealing off and putting up to 1260 square meters of the monastery’s precious frescoes. In the end, the works lasted 13 years (1969-1983), exactly as long as it took the 16th c. builders to complete the original construction. The only reminders of the relocation process are the numbers preserved on every single block of stone by which they were identified and put in their original place.

The monastery was built in a 1573-86 by Savatije Sokolović, the metropolitan of Herzegovina and member of the family that gave several heads to the Serb patriarch in 1687. For the people of Piva monastery became their holiest place which they guarded from the Turks, generation after generation donated to it as much as they could until the monastery grew to be the greatest landowner in pre-socialist Montenegro.

Nothing of that wealth survives; after WWII all of the land was nationalized and, as most of it disappeared under the waters of the lake, there s no hope of its retrieval. Today the fraternity in the monastery consist only of an abbot and one monk.

The church was erected at a supposed place where St Sava, at the time still prince Rastko Nemanjić, decided to join a group of Russian pilgrims and go to Holy Mount Athos to take his monastic vows. For his endowment Savatije chose experienced builders from the Adriatic coast who were familiar with the Romanesque style, popular with the Nemanjić rulers, which the metropolitan wanted to imitate. The result is one of the largest Serb churches built under Turkish domination, a simple three-nave basilica of the white stone skilfully cut into rectangular blocks. The plain and unornamented exterior seems like it was designed to hide the wealth and opulence of its interior.

It took some years until this huge church was fresco painted, but the artists chosen for the job were among the best masters of fresco-painting one could find the time. The first space into which one enters from the west is the elongated narthex. Its ceiling and upper zones were painted by priest Strahinja of Budimlje in his naive style; however, the most beautiful frescoes- the ones in the tree lower levels- are not his but the work of painter Jovan, completed in 1626. These rank as top achievements in orthodox art by this accomplished painter and the whole epoch. Amongst them the most memorable is the one to the left of the door leading to the nave where we can see St Sava in front of the Virgin and Christ renouncing  earthly  powers (symbolized by the crown and the ruler’s belt cast underneath his feet). To the right and up of the entrance is a painting of Saint  Kosmas the Hymn-Marker binding a book shown with precisely drawn book-binding tools.

Entering the nave one passes the beautiful wooden door inlaid with ivory arranged in fantastic shapes. Most of the nave walls were decorated in 1604-1606 by a company of Greek painters. By the south door are two portraits, one of metropolitan Savatije holding the monastery church in his hands, while the other mysterious of a “Turk”, possibly of Savatije’s relative Mehmed-pasha Sokolović who at that time held the position of the Grand-vizier of the Ottoman Empire. While during his life Mehmed-pasha made possible the building of the monastery of this size, later on portrait saved occasions. In the middle of the nave hangs a splendid chandelier of inlaid wood and decorated additionally with ostrich eggs and two-sided hanging icons by master Longin ( these being just the copies, the originals are kept in the treasury). The splendidly carved and gilded iconostasis is considered to be one of the most beautiful of its time, especially the lofty central crucifix for which alone, the legend says, the unnamed carver got 25 pairs of oxen. The iconostasis was completed in 1638 when Longin painted the last of its outstanding large icons depicting (from left to right) St Demetrios, Mother of God, the Assumption, Christ and at the end St Sava and his father St Simeon, which was scratched during one of the Turkish raids of the monastery. In front of the iconostasis stand tall marble, candlesticks with lions’ heads as their base which, once again, draw their inspiration from the Romanesque models.

The monastery’s treasury is equally rich. Here one can marvel at the church utensils such as the silver ciborium and petohljebnica created in fantastic gothic shapes, the crosses with meticulous wood carvings and the abbot’s throne of inlaid wood. The original icons by master Longin include also the Assumption of the Virgin, famous handling of colours ( note the blue angels darkened by Christ’s red shine). Also displayed are the silk sakkas, a vestment worn by the bishop-a fine Venetian work, and the metropolitan’s crown stripped of almost all of of its jewels during the hectic times of communism. The Psalter printed in 1494 at the Cetinje printing-house is one the first Serb printed books. The exhibition ends with two items not related with the church but with local history- the bag and the powder cartridge once owned by Bajo Pivljanin famous for fighting the Turks in 17th c.



Bajo Nikolić Pivljanin ( early 17th c.-1685) is one of the best known personalities in Serb epic poetry, a proto-type of a brave outlaw fighting against the Turks. He was born in village Rudnice in Piva from where , barely out of his teens , he had a free killing a Turkish landlord in the place now called Bjovo Polje. He gathered around him a group of men who waged a silent guerrilla war on the border of Venetian possessions in Boka Kotorska and Dalmatia with the Ottoman Empire. They attacked Turkish caravans , robbing their lords and burning down their border forts. From their bases in Boka they would infiltrate Turkish territory where they looted for their livelihoods, while also defending Perast and Kotor from Turkish raids. Nominally under Venetian rule, Bajo’s and groups similar to his very useful in times war but a menace in times when the Republic tried to keep good relations with the Sultan, since they knew nothing else but to fight. After a debacle in trying to settle them in Istria, Venice found a good use for them in the new war during which Bajo lived his most glorious days, fighting across Dalmatia and Herzegovina. When in 1685 pasha from Shkoder raised his army to punish Montenegrins and Highlanders for their rebellion against the Turks, Bajo’s company came to help and this is where he heroically met his end on Vrtijeljka, on the threshold on Cetinje.


Montenegro Hostel Team

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