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Friday, September 23, 2016

9/15: Cetinje: Montenegro's Former Royal Capital

After spending the morning and early afternoon in nearby Lovćen National Park with our host, we wanted to spend the rest of the afternoon seeing Cetinje itself. The home we stayed in was technically 'downtown' but that is a misnomer when referring to Cetinje as we could see the entire town in an hour or so. 

The front of the Town Hall; one side faced the house where we stayed.
Next door was the Royal Theater; notice the Cyrillic writing above the front door.
Cetinje was an odd mix of former capital and overgrown village where one story cottages and stately mansions share the same street.

I have lost my handwritten notes on Cetinje but I believe the monument was dedicated to those who lost their lives in a shipping disaaster.
Vlaska Church was built around 1450 by shepherds at the site of a large necropolis or Christian graveyard with old tombstones. 

The church was extended and rebuilt a number of times, the last one taking place in 1864. The church, which was closed each time we passed it, was dedicated to the birth of the Virgin Mary.
Below, the rather unusual former French Embassy. Among Cetinje rresidents, popular legend has it that the design of the embassy was actually designed for Cairo but that there was a mixup in postal communications and it was built here instead! After the departure of the French and at the beginning of WWI, the embassy became a bank. It is now the Central National Library.
Montegrin flags flew from many buildings throughout the small town.
 The pedestrian mall: Did I say the town was quiet and peaceful?!
Getting ready for a long, cold winter ahead.
The National Museum of Montenegro is actually a collection of five museums housed in a  clump of important buildings. We purchased the Museum Pass ticket which was valid for all of the museums for only 10 euros each. What a great value especially since it was also good for the next day as we didn't have time to see them all before they closed at what we were told initially was 5:30!

Two museums were housed in the former Parliament Building built in 1910. The History Museum was on the first floor and the Art Museum was upstairs. We were the first to admit that we didn't expect much at all from either one. Were we wrong!
The History Museum was very well laid out following a timeline from the Stone Age to 2006.

Copy of a frescoe from the monastery in Gradiste.
Fourth to second century BC pottery vessels from Budva. We had just visited Budva, near Kotor, if you recall.
More archaeological finds from the necropolis in Budva.

One of the interesting relics was the tunic that Prince Danilo was wearing when he was assasssinated as the back of it showed the bullet holes!

Russian flag used when they supported Montenegro in the Russo-Turkish War in 1877.
The museum was configured differently than most. We needed to keep going left until we reached the end and then turn around and come back on the right!
At the war's end, Montenegro received full international recognition during the Congress of Berlin in 1878.
This book detailed the legal regulation of all aspects of social life at the end of WWI.
Mass literacyof the population was conducted in the hope that a higher level of education would facilitate modernization of the country. The first school for girls, 'The Girls' Institute,' was founded in 1869 with the help of a Russian empress.
On July 13th, 1941, the largest uprising, up to then, against any occupying forces in occupied Europe took place in Montenegro. More than 30,000 people took up arms to fight for freedom from Italy and, in just a few days, succeeded in liberating almost the entire country with the exception of a few major towns. The uprising began in Cetinje. The Italians were stunned by the size of the reaction and brought in additional forces. Because of their superior manpower and quality of arms, the uprising was doomed to failure.  

In December, 1941, headquarters of the Liberation Army of Yugoslavia established the title of People's Hero as the greatest recognition to fighters, commanders and others. During the war from 1941-45, 250 soldiers and one city, Cetinje, were awarded with the Order of the People's Hero for witnessed heroism and merit. 

Pretty amazing quote by Jean-Paul Sartre about the importance of the uprising.
In comparison to other European countries, Montenegro had a proportionately small Jewish population before WWII. I read  that during the war, Montenegro became a shelter for the Jewish poulation of Yugoslavia. Although some were caught and sent to concentration camps all over Europe, 'most found salvation here because local people of all faiths provided them refuge.' I was shocked to learn that Montenegro was the only country occupied by the Axis powers during WWII where the Holocaust was not carried out.
Fast forward to the early 1990s when the UN imposed sanctions on Yugoslavia, of which Montenegro was a part, because of its involvement in the war in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The unemployment rate rose to 40%, the country's industry was devastated and the economy collapsed. The economic giants closed down which was accompanied by a dramatic drop in living standards and a shortage of food and consumer goods.

In 1993, Yugoslavia saw the greatest ever recorded hyperinflation at an annual rate of 120 billion per cent and the beginnning of the controversial privatization while the foreign savings accounts of its citizens were robbed.
UN Resolution 1244 in June of 1999 established peace in Kosovo. According to the information at the museum, 136,812 refugees, 80,000 from Kosovo alone, found shelter in Montenegro from areas affected by war and political unrest from 1991-95. It was a huge burden on Montenegro considering the size of the small country's population.

The General Assembly of the UN admitted Montenegro to the UN in June, 2006, making it its 192nd member. I was flabbergasted to know that there were so many members of the UN back in 2006 - I wonder how many there are now, ten years later!
Montenegro's admission to the UN completed the History Museum. I think we only saw about two other people the entire time we were in the History Museum. What a shame as it was far, far better than we anticipated. We then walked up a flight of stairs to see the Art Museum. This was the entrance:
Unlike virtually all other national art museums, this one 'only' showcased Yugoslav/Montenegrin classic art as well as modern and contemporary artists. Each of Montenegro's great artists was represented with the most famous having their own rooms.

Here are some paintings and sculptures that caught my eye or struck my fancy.

When I saw this one I immediately thought of teletubbies! It was actually called 'The Optimist' although I don't know where you get optimists out of this!
'Blood and Blood'
There was a small but exquisite collection of icons.

The most important icon in the museum's collection is this precious Our Lady of Philermos which was traditionally believed to have been painted by Luke the Evangelist himself in Jerusalem. (For those interested in knowing how the icon reached Cetinje from Jerusalem, let me know as I kept a pamphlet about the Icon.) According to information at the museum, it's one of the three most venerated Christian relics and is deemed to be the oldest preserved picture of the Virgin. 
It was spectacularly presented in its own bright blue-lit 'chapel' but the Madonna's face was only just visible behind its spectcaular casing, mounted with diamonds, rubies and sapphires.
'Market Day'
I was repeatedly drawn to this figure and couldn't quite decide if I was horrified, repulsed or what. It was certainly one of rhe strangest pieces of art I've ever seen. If the artist meant for the viewer to remember it, he certainly achieved his goal in my case!

This was one of the few sculptures in the museum. It was called 'Group of Women.'
The last painting or image in the Art Museum was this one. I would have been curious to discover how it was selected for inclusion in the museum.
We had spent far longer than we anticipated at both the History and Art Museums so had less time to devote to others on the Museum Pass ticket that afternoon. We went next to the Museum of King Nikola I, the last king of Montenegro. 
In this former palace and royal home, we saw how Montenegrin royalty lived until 1918 when the monarchy was dissolved. The palace cum museum was small, more of a family home rather than the palace of a king, I thought.

Even though the palace was looted during WWII, enough plush furnishings, stern portraits and taxidermied animals remained for us to cpature the spirit of the court!
The furniture in this room looked initially like rattan, but it was only upon closer examination that it was very ornately carved wood.

A view of Cetinje Monastery from the palace:

It was neat seeing the arrows pointing to some of the world's most famous art museums in the square where the King Nikola Museum and the next museum on our list, the Njegoš Museum, were located. We've been fortunate enough to already have seen some of the museums listed and hope to make it to more of them in our future travels.
Since we thought all the museums closed at 5:30, we really had to scurry through at a quicker rate than we normally feel comfortable. We went next to the castle-like Njegoš Museum, dedicated to the man whose Mausoleum we had hiked to that morning. Njegoš was a prince-bishop and famous poet beloved by all Montenegrins.

The building was financed by the Russians in 1838 and contained the nations's first billiard table, hence the museum's alternative name, Biljarda!

The first steamboat to sail the Adriatic:

A tad gruesome: this was the chair where Njegoš spent the last hours of his life!

Copies of Njegos' epic poem 'The Mountain Wreath' translated into many languages:
This one was the Braille edition!
As we left the Museum, the guard reminded us to go through what looked like the garage door and follow the walls to the glass pavilion as it had a fascinating large-scale relief map of Montenegro created by the Austrians in 1917.

It was like a hot house inside but the map was indeed intriguing.

Steven could figure out on the huge map where exactly Cetinje was because he was able to match the map up with the one on his ipad.
We had seen four out of the five museums omitting only the Ethnographic Museum for tomorrow if we still felt like seeing it too. We were both sort of 'museumed out' at that point but still had some energy left so we walked to the nearby Court Church. Built on the grounds of the adjacent original Cetinje Monastery, the cute church's main claim to fame is as the burial place of Montenegro's last king and queen. They died in exile in Italy and were only interred in 1989. Unfortunately, it was late so the church was closed.
Directly opposite the church was the large Monastery of Saint Peter known normally as just the Cetinje Monastery. The original
building dates from 1484 when King Ivan Crnojević, retreating from the Turkish advance, made Cetinje his capital. The Monastery was destroyed repeatedly during Ottoman attacks and rebuilt. This sturdy incarnation dates from 1785 and only the columns were reclycled from the original building.

The icon over the entranceway into the monastery courtyard:
When we entered the courtyard, we noticed a few monks living in prayer and serving the liturgy. They didn't want their photos taken.
The monastery was closed to visitors except for the superb chapel through this small entrance once inside the monatery courtyard..

We had read that the chapel holds the monastery's proudest possessions, a shard of the true cross and also the mummified right hand of St. John the Baptist. The hand has had a fascinating history, having escaped wars and revolutions and passed through the hands of Byzantine emperors, Ottoman sultans, the Knights of the Hospitalier, Russian tsars and Serbian kings! The hand was in the small fabric-covered casket by the chapel window in the photo below. The casket is only opened occasionally for veneration. I think we were just as glad we missed out on seeing it as it wouldn't have been a very pleasant sight!

We saw very few tourists like ourselves there, mostly pilgrims coming to pray in the chapel and venerate the relics in the monastery. 

Walking around Cetinje felt like walking in a small country village as there were few people and few cars to contend with. How blissful for a change. We could easily have spent an extra day in the pretty little town as we had ideal accommodations, easy access to cheap and good food and a great wifi connection. Steven and I have always had as our travel motto or philosophy that we always want to leave a place knowing there's something we left undiscovered. In Cetinje, there were a couple of parks that would be great to come back to and while away time.

Posted from Skopje, Macedonia on September 24th, 2016.


  1. According to Wikipedia there are 173 members in the UN. Lil Red

  2. Thanks for checking! Appreciate it.


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