02 February 2019 - What could be more romantic than the small, pugnacious kingdom of fierce fighters, with its ancient temperate rainforests, bleakly beautiful mountains and fjord-like coastline of bays, inlets and emerald waters?
It’s an epic landscape accompanied by more history than any country the size of Montenegro has a right to. For centuries, it was the only Balkan state to hold out against the mighty Ottoman Empire, and although its historic capital Cetinje was sacked by Ottomans three times (in 1623, 1687 and 1712), Montenegro was never ruled by them.
Archaeologists have found evidence of agriculture, pottery, and copper smelting dating back to 7000 BM and by 4000 BC trade links with Europe had been established. These first Illyrian or early Balkan tribes were joined by Celts and later Romans, who conquered the region in 9 AD. After the fall of Rome, Montenegro became part of the Byzantine Empire, and Slavs from Poland and the Baltic joined its original inhabitants.
In 1041, the Serbian warlord Stefan Vojislav became King Vojislav after he won independence from Byzantium at the Battle of Bar. His kingdom of Duklja, which included most of Montenegro, was superseded by that of Stefan Prvovjenčani, the founder of a Serb dynasty which by 1355 ruled over a territory that included the majority of the modern Balkans.
By 1483, the Ottomans had conquered all of Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Montenegro’s ruling Crnojević dynasty decided to move their capital to the more easily defended mountain fastness of Cetinje, having agreed a defensive alliance with Venice in 1455.
Fascinatingly, from 1516, for the next 355 years, Montenegro was ruled by celibate prince-bishops called “vladika”. The last of the Crnojevićs married a Venetian and entrusted the defence of Montenegro to the first of them, Cetinje’s Orthodox bishop. After that, succession passed from uncle to nephew, with Montenegro’s warrior-priests fighting a guerrilla war against the Ottomans and winning formal independence in 1799. The greatest of them, and the father of modern Montenegro was Petar II Petrović Njegoš, who created a central government, judiciary and police force and still found time to compose an epic poem, The Mountain Wreath, celebrating Montenegrin culture and values.
After Petar’s nephew was assassinated, he was eventually succeeded by Prince Nikola Petrović, or Nicholas I. In portraits, he appears in a national costume of richly coloured sash, coat of duck-egg blue, and black cap adorned with the Montenegrin crest; armed with a sword and laden with medals, he looks part paterfamilias, part Balkan chieftain. His wife Milena gave birth to three sons and nine daughters, five of whom married into Russian, Serbian and Italian royal families, earning him the nickname “the father-in-law of Europe”.
This canter through Montenegrin history can’t possibly do justice to its complexity. We hardly mentioned the famous defeat of Napoleon in Kotor, let alone the birth of modern Yugoslavia, and much more. But without a sense of Montenegro’s rich past, anyone’s sightseeing would be a much poorer experience.
Source: Luštica Magazine