The southernmost town on the Montenegrin coast has a distinguishing Oriental flavor and feel to it, partly because of the long Ottoman presence here ( till 1878) and, more due to the fact that this is only coastal town with a Muslim Albanian majority. This makes Albanian the first language here and most of the signs are bilingual. Ulcinj is one the oldest cities in the Adriatic. It was probably founded as a colony of the ancient Greeks from the town of Colhis (in present day Georgia). The Romans captured the town in 167 BC. Destroyed in the barbarian onslaughts, the town was rebuilt by emperor Justinian in the location of the today’s Old Town. In the middle ages bishopric and important trading center, exporting wood and salt from the surrounding area. In the time of the Serbian Nemanjić dynasty it was often visited by heirs to the throne and queen mothers whose presence made it into a sort of unofficial capital. Later on it was an important stronghold of the Balšić family. In 1422 it came under Venetian “protection” which lasted until 1571 when it was conquered by the Ottomans. Soon afterwards, in 1580, the town was captured by Uluz-Ali, Alegrian pirate and later viceroy of his province. His rule began a period of more than a century in which Ulcinj was the dreaded seat of pirates, who with their light vessels attacked not only Venetian or other Christian trades but also Turkish ships in Adriatic. The local pirates were known far and wide, acquired vast wealth in valuables especially from slave trading. It is speculated that the famed Spanish writer Cervantes was sold as a slave to Algerians in Ulcinj when he fell captive.
The corsairs also kept good connections with other parts of the Ottoman Empire and especially with their “colleagues” form Africa. In this way, in Ulcinj also settled a number of black slave families and if you’re lucky you might even see some of their mulatto descendants. This era was ended in 1737 after the Sultan banned corsairs un the Adriatic and destroyed their fleet. In 1878 the town was taken by Montenegrins becoming a valuable harbour for their previously land-locked state. The city wraps around and climbs a hill standing in its midst; the center is behind it, away from the sea while the area most visited by tourists is around Mala plaža ( Small Beach) and the adjoining Old Town. The Small Beach is a 360 km long sand cove between two promontories. On its northern side rises the cliff on which stands the Old Town, a muddle of small streets framed by both old and new houses.
The tall Venetian walls are its best preserved part and make a dramatic impression atop the high cliffs. There are two entrances inside its walls, one ascending from the cove and other from the top of the hill. Close to the latter is the former Slaves’ Square, where the unfortunate were sold to their masters. In it stands a pretty drinking well from 1749 with an Arabic inscription. Enclosed by a fence is the local museum which is housed by several buildings. The shapely medieval church was built in early 13th century and was converted into a mosque in 1693 as demonstrated by the ruins of the minaret found next to it. The archaeological collection with the Greek red figure vases, Venetian cutlery and Turkish jugs is displayed in the church. Of special interest are 9th century ciborium from Ulcinj, a sacrificial altar dedicated to Artemis Elafavolis, patroness of deer hunting ( 5th century BC), and a cameo with a depiction of Athena. In the former Bishop’s Palace ( 13th century) is the ethnographic collection with varied costumes of local ethic groups. To the right of the entrance is the building of the Venetian customs office which is today used by the museum management; inside it one can see the scale model of the town. Rising next to the church is the 15th century Balšić tower on whose top floor resided Sabetha Zwi and where two Jewish altars still stand preserved. The tower leans on the walls of the inner citadel.
Just outside the city walls lies the orthodox church if St Nicholas, built in 1890 on the site of medieval monastery and surrounded by a pleasant olive grove. Further down you will find Pasha’s Mosque built in 1719 with Turkish baths next to it. At the top of the long 26th November Street stand the Namzgah Mosque ( 1828) and the 18th century Clock Tower. On the other side of the Small Beach is a headland descending to the sea in a cascade of flat rocks turned into small beaches. Further to the south stretches a series of similar rocky inlets shaded by a wonderful pine forest. One of these is called Women’s Water that got its name after the sulphuric mineral spring that assumingly helps infertile women.
The road south of the town leads across the Milena Canal ( named after King Nikola’s wife) leading to the vast Ulcinj saltpans. On the canal one can see kalimere, traditional fishing devices with the net on the end of long pole designed to catch fish. From here stretches the long Great Beach (Velika plaža). With the length of 12 km of fine gray sand it is the largest in Montenegro. Its two main disadvantages are that the water is very shallow and in windy days, when the waves are high, it is forbidden to swim here. The breach can be reached by a number or roads branching off the highway. Several small hotels behind the highway and cafés on the waterfront have their own parking lots; otherwise parking is a bit chaotic. The sand of the Great Beach has therapeutical traits, especial helpful for curing rheumatism and similar ailments.
the fallen messiah
Sbetha Zwi ( 1626-1676) was the best known and most successful of the Jewish “messiahs” of the 17th and 18th century. He was born in Smyrna and spent his youth in Jerusalem and Saloniki but later moved to Germany and Poland. This adventurer studied kabala and led an ascetic life preaching in poor Jewish communes and eventually pronouncing himself to be a messiah. He profited from the art of painting, sending his pamphlets across Europe, causing an unknown frenzy among many Jews. His prophecy marked the year of 1648 as the Second Coming, but when this turned out to be incorrect he announced that the world will end in 1666. That year he hired a boat from Hamburg and with a group of followers set of for Holy Land ( Palestine). A part of his scheme was to be crowned the King of Jews by the Ottoman Sultan. However, the Ottomans seized him and convicted him as a false messiah. He and his men offered to die or save their lives by accepting Islam. They opted for the latter forming a specific Muslim sect with many elements of Judaism. Under his new name Mohamed –effendi Zwi spent his last years in house arrest in Ulcinj, making the town seat of his sect and famous in Jewish history.
Montenegro Hostel Team