Podgorica is and administrative and commercial capital of Montenegro, a modern and rather uninteresting city often overlooked by tourists. Yet, for anyone travelling through Montenegro it is almost impossible to miss as all major roads meet here. With its wide selection of hotels and other necessities, Podgorica also makes an excellent starting point for visiting most of the central Montenegro in one day trips.
The town lies in the plain of Zeta, the largest flat piece of land in the country, which an average height of just 44 m above sea level and only an hour drive from the sea. This lowland is notorious for unusually warm weather caused by the lacks of refreshing sea breeze and circulation of air, both prevented by the surrounding mountainous terrain.
In the summer the heats are unbearable, but Podgorica therefore enjoys mild winters allowing all but few of Mediterranean plants and fruits to prosper, giving it a specific look of a maritime town without a sea. The plain is traversed by river Zeta, Cijevna and Ribnica which merge with the larger Morača and continue southward as one, spilling into the nearby Skadarsko Lake.
Favorable climate and abundance of fertile soil and drinking water made the plain of Zeta an attractive place for human settlement. The first recoreded settlement on the sight of present day Podgorica was Birsiminium, a Roman way station living in the shadows of the city Doclea ( its ruins lie 3 km to the north of Podgorica) .
During the early Middle Ages the Slav settlement called Ribnica and Morača. While it served as a stronghold it allowed for the artisans and traders to inhabit the other shore, under the stumpy hill Gorica , thus forming Podgorica ( “Bellow Gorica”) , mentioned for the first time in 1326.
The Turks captured the town in 1474, rebuilding and strengthening its fortress. In the following centuries Podgorica had two rulers: in times of peace it was the marketplace for the surrounding Serb and Albanian clans, while during the unstable years (which greatly outnumbered the trouble free) it was resisting attacks by fierce highlanders.
The time in Turkish hands until 1879 when it was acquired by Montenegro. Unlike in many other towns, the local Muslim townsfolk did not move abroad, and Podgorica remained and important commercial center.
The town grew slowly and steadily, acquiring a new rectangular street plan for the present day town center and first European style edifices. The progress continued in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, with the town population reaching some 16,000 ( the largest Montenegro) but still lagging in many aspects behind the regional capital Cetinje.
In WWII Podgorica suffered from the bombings, first by Italians and later much more devastating by the Anglo-Americans, reducing the town to rubble. Admist the skeleton of old Podgorica the new communist power holders started the construction of a new, modern town renamed as Titograd ( after the leader of Yugoslav communists Josip Broz Tito) , the name it retained until 1992. Soon after the first wounds were healed the communist authorities broke with tradition and 1948 transferred the seat of government from Cetinje to Podgorica .
Thus the town started its economic and population boom fueled by the economic enterprises such as the aluminium factory and by the rise of educational and cultural institutions such the university.
After the break during the gloomy 1990s, the town is again developing quickly, with modern architectural edifices changing its appearance one more time. Most of Podgorica is a curious mix of old and new. Post-war urban development ate almost the entire city center, while the suburbs made of small cottages with gardens and vineyards, reminiscent of the old Podgorica, spread to the edges of the Zeta plain. The old center – Nova or Mirkova Varoš-lies to east of Morača. The other side of the river (“preko Morače”) was until recently home to only a few institutions but is now experiencing a construction boom that is soon going to equal its importance with the other riverbank.
This is the oldest preserved quarter of Podgorica, dating back to Ottoman rule. It is a muddle of several narrow streets and ending at the bank of river Morača. Though almost of the houses have been readapted, the area still has an undeniable oriental feel for its gardens behind high walls, mosques but also for its neglect and dirt.The most prominent sight here and one of the town’s landmarks in the Clock Tower (Sahat kula) standing at the edge of the quarter and facing the socialist apartment blocks across the street. ž
The modest stone edifice was built in the latter part of the 18th century, by local Muslim Adži-paša Osmanagić as a good deed for his town . Around the Clock Tower spreads a small square lined with a couple of old cafes. Here you can also find the modest Natural History Museum (Prirodnjački muzej) presenting flora and fauna of Montenegro. A few steps away to the left of the tower, almost hidden behind the hotel “Boja Tours”, stands the nicest piece of Ottoman architecture in the town, the Čubranović House. Dating from 1630, today it is home to the “Dvor” national cuisine restaurant. In the central street of Stara varoš one will find two small mosques from the mid 18th century.
Sastavci or Skaline, as it is known to younger people, is the name for the confluence of Ribnica and Morača. The sight is uncared for but remains very picturesque with a small Turkish bridge over the Ribnica. These are usually known as Nemanjin grad as it was here that in 1113 Stefan Nemanja was born, who subsequently founded the Nemanjić dynasty which ruled Serbia (and thus territory of Montenegro as well) for two countries. What can be seen today dates from the time of the Turkish rule, when the fort was rebuilt and strengthened.
Nova varoš was laid out in 886 as a rectangular grid of streets under the others of Prince Nikola’s son Mirko and was therefore also known as Mirkova varoš. The new street plan made break with the oriental Stara Varoš across the river and quickly became the centre of administration and commerce.One of its main streets is Svetog Petra Cetinjskog, running parallel to the river Ribnica.On this street the National Parlament and the National Bank are located.
Facing the former is the equestrian monument of King Nikola, work of Risto Radmilović from 2005. From Svetog Petra Cetinjskog Street starts Ulica Slobode.
It passes the recently renovated Trg Republike square with its fountain and continues to the foot of Gorica Hill. Hercegovačka ulica is a popular pedestrian zone and its intersection with the equally busy Njegoševa Street is the center of cafes and nightlife.
At the end of Hercegovačka St. opens the view of the Millennium Bridge (Milenijumski most)to the right. This boldly envisioned piece of architecture, work of architect Mladen Uličević from 2005, has already become the new symbol of the city,mark of its modern growth and hopes for a bright future.
A walk beneath its only pylon, a slanting metal arm that seems bent by the twelve cables with counter weighs arranged in a semicircle, is particularly nice opening a number of appealing angels for interesting views and photos.
The “Small Hill” under which the town originated and which gave it is name is a squat mound with its peak at 133m. Ulica Slobode leads to the town stadium “Pod Goricom” used by the FC Budućnost the undisputed ruler of the Montenegrin football throne. To its right starts the main walkway approaching first the Church of St George (Crkva svetog Djordja), certainly the most interesting sight in the town. Its unwieldy western part is a 19th century.
This pre-Romanesque church has a square apse and a short blind square cupola with three niches on each side. St George is the southernmost of about a dozen more churches with these specific features, others can be found only in south Dalmatia. The interior was fresco painted around 1670 by an unknown artist of modern skills. The iconostasis dating from 1881 is the work of Macedonian Djinoski brothers. In the corner of the churchyard stands the monument to the two victims of King Nikola’s autocracy.
The walkway continues through the abundant Mediterranean vegetation, crosses a small bridge and leads to the Monument to the Partisan Fighter (Spomenik partizanu borcu). This marvelous piece of socialist memorial architecture is reminiscent of an antique mausoleum. At the entrance stand statues of two colossal partisans communist fighters from WWII. Between them is represented the medal of National Hero, the highest honor in socialistic Yugoslavia, which was also bestowed upon the city of Podgorica for the courage and martyrdom of its inhabitants in WWII. The monument is a central spot of Statehood Day celebration on every 13th of July.
ACCROSS RIVER MORAČA
This part of the town, was laid out after WWII and until recently held little interest in tourist itineraries. The new construction boom can best observed here with several modern apartment blocks. This development lures the capital’s elite, closely followed by posh shops and restaurants. The main sights are equally recent but are dedicated to linking this modern quarter to the history of Montenegro.
The first one in Church of Resurrection (Hram Vaskrsenja Hristovog), the new orthodox cathedral in Podgorica. This monumental structure strives to unite all the different styles of ecclesiastical architecture of Montenegro in one edifice.
One block next to the church, in front of the Podgorica University head offices stands monument of St Petar of Cetinje, unveiled in 2006. With its height of 6.8 meters, this grandiose work of sculptor Nenad Šoškić seems fitting for Petar as a ruler.
The center is located in the compound of Price Nikola’s winter residence called Kruševac. The compound consists of the palace, court chapel, winter garden, music pavilion and life guard quarters, all finished in 1891, and located in a fine park decorated with several statues.
The Center was formed in 1995 inheriting the funds from the Gallery of Non-Aligned Countries “Josip Broz Tito”; this fact explains the variety of the collections which include works of art from Africa, Asia and Latin Americans well as the works by prominent Yugoslav and Montenegrin sculptors.
The museums collection are divided in four departments. The first one is archaeological with a valuable assortment collected from prehistoric sites in the town’s vicinity and especially from Roman Doclea.
The second department is dedicated to the memory of Božidar Vuković ( 1465-1540), a native of Podgorica who printed in Venice Serb books of utmost artistic value. The third section deals with cultural history of the area, displaying books, icons, money and old maps. The ethnographic department exhibits many nice folk costumes and objects used in everyday life.
One of the most fascinating sights in the vicinity of Podgorica is certainly river Cijevna. The river springs at the northernmost tip of Albania, runs 32 km through Montenegro and merges with Morača next to the Golubovci airport.
In its upper flow it builds a canyon almost 1000 meters deep and then gradually shrinks until east of Podgorica, in the plain of Zeta, Cijevna becomes merely a crack in the ground.
With some parts narrowing to just 2-3 meters wide it reminds of a pipe ( “cijev”), the appearance of which is described in its name. In this low lying part of its flow its stony bed filled with crystal clear blue water is in sharp contrast with the desolate grassland of almost desert-like appearance.
Although seemingly calm, the river is quite fast and boasts several attractive waterfalls. Its banks are the most popular places for a quick refreshment in Podgorica, the most prominent being in front of a bridge that spans Cijevna and head straight for roughly another kilometres.
The remains of the town of Duklja are the most important archaeological site of Podgorica, standing at its northern outskirts.
The town founded by Illyrians at the point where river zeta meets Morača at the beginning of the 1st century AD but was captured by the Romans only a few decades later.In their hands Doclea ( as was the Latin name) prospered reaching the number of some 10,000 inhabitants and had all the features of a pleasant provincial town –temples, urban villas, triumphal arch and baths.
The city rose in importance after in 297 it became the seat of the newly founded province of Praevalitana and soon afterward the bishop’s seat. Its prominence was crushed a century later when in 401 the Western Goths sacked it. This raid was followed by another in 486, when it suffered from the hands of Eastern Goths and finally by a devastating earthquake in 518.
After a short revival in the time of Emperor Justinian, the Slavic invasion forced the remaining Roman populace to retreat to a hillside fort at Martinića gradina ( excavation site on the road from Podgorica to Nikšić) which was more suitable for defense and Doclea fell into ruins. The echo of its importance is found in the fact that one of the newly formed Slav states was named Duklja.
Today, the whole of the excavation area is unattained and unmarked you can only enjoy walking amidst the scattered ruins, the most interesting being those of the town’s forum. Here there are many fragments of pillars, consoles or tombstones laying around while on the north side are the walls of the curia (courthouse).
Medun is a village 12 km northeast of the city in the area of Kuči clan and is interesting for two reasons-the ancient fort and the house of duke Marko Miljanov , turned into a museum. Weather permitting, the ridge climbing to Kuči offers memorable views of the whole of Podgorica.
At the top of the ascent in front of you opens a slowly rising plateau with a much more pleasant climate and an almost incessant light breeze. The sign will lead you to Miljanov’s home, a large stone building on a ridge overlooking the village. Miljanov built his house inside the walls of the lower town which remains from from the Middle Ages when Medun was a castle controlling the road from Ribnica ( part of Podgorica) to Plav and Peć (Kosovo).
In the courtyard stands the bust of Miljanov while his house has been turned into museum displaying weapons, flags and pictures from Miljanov’s era, costumes and households items illustrating the life of Kuči as well as Miljanov’s manuscripts (note the naivety of his handwriting) and first edition of his books.
A short climb uphill takes you to the village church, built at the start of the 18th century with the money brought by the clan’s head from Russia. Next to the lies Miljanov’s grave ( the smaller tombstone erected by his wife and the larger slightly later by his clansmen) surrounded with half-ruined walls from where you can enjoy the views of the vicinity. This prominent position has been a hill fort from times immemorial.
Here stood the acropolis (upper town) of Meteon, the enwalled town of the Illyrian tribe of Labeati founded not later than the 3rd century BC the Romans captured the brother and family of king Gentius, the leader of the Illyrian tribes, ending their resistance to the Roman Republic. Although rebuilt several times, the ruins of Medun still have parts of the original so-called “cyclopic” walls and steps cut into rock dating from the Illyrian period.
the bravest and most humane of all writers
Marko Miljanov Popović was born in 1833 in Medun into a distinguished family which held for generations for the role of the head of Kuči clan. His life and career followed the usual lines:he fought against the Turks , joined Prince Danilo’s personal guard and as an intelligent and loyal man in 1862 he became a judge in Bratonožići clan; soon he rose to the ranks of the Montenegrin Senate and in 1876-79 war commanded his troops with commanded his troops with disagreement with Prince Nikola, he was forced to retire from the affairs of state and return to seclusion of his native village.
Spending his days in Medun, Miljanov- although already 50 years old-decided to learn how to read and write so that he could immortalize the brave deeds of many Montenegrins and Highlanders he saw during his life. With no formal education or knowledge of literature Miljanov took to writing the same way as he would narrate, with no pretensions on leaving a polished work of art but offrecording history history he witnessed.
However, being a man of words, a natural born story-teller, his works turned out to be masterpiece of simplicity, stripped of any learned style but rich in fresh expressions and figures of the common people. His main work, the one that he felt obliged to write for posterity, is the “Examples of Humanity and Bravery” ( Primjeri čojstva i junaštva).
Describing many brave acts and uncovering morals in them, he defined that bravery is to defined yourself, thus remaining honorable and with a clear conscience. In this book he wrote about others and did not mentioned himself even once, although he was known as one of the greatest heroes of his time. Miljanov died in 1901, a few months before his first book was published in Belgrade. Subsequent reading of his work revealed the value of his writing, both in terms of style and in deep introspection of the customs and beliefs of the era.
Montenegro Hostel Team