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Friday, September 23, 2016

9/15: On Top of the World in Cetinje's Lovćen National Park

One of the reasons we wanted to come to Cetinje was because of its proximity to Lovćen National Park. A lot of tourists visit the park on a day’s drive from Kotor as that drive is supposed to be one of the world’s great drives. However, with 25 hairpin turns on the mostly one lane 17 km long road to the park, that sounded too much of a horror story to me and I was sure relieved we had not rented a car here! 

Petar, our host, had told us the night before that he would be glad to drive us and two other people also staying at the house to the park as long as we paid his gas money as he enjoyed visiting the park several times a year. That worked out fine with us as there was no public transportation in and around Cetinje at all and we would otherwise have to hire a taxi to take us all the way to the park, wait for us and then drive us back.
The biggest and most important monument of Lovćen National Park is Petar Petrović Njegoš' Mausoleum. Venerated as a poet and philosopher, Cetinje native son Njegoš is well known for his epic poem ‘The Mountain Wreath’ which is considered a masterpiece of Serb and South Slavic literature. His writing unified all of Yugoslavia, Petar said. As a school kid, he said he had to memorize the poem’s 200 pages!

The location for his burial place and the mausoleum at the summit of Lovćen was chosen by Njegoš himself as his last wish. However, Njegoš' express wish was to be buried in a small chapel which he had built in his lifetime. That was done but the original chapel was destroyed in the First World War. Njegoš' remains were then transferred to Cetinje Monastery and buried in the chapel rebuilt by King Alexander in the 1920s. Contrary to Njegoš' express wishes to be buried in that chapel, the communist powers of Montenegro destroyed the chapel and built a monumental mausoleum in the Viennese Secession style. The design was that of Ivan Meštrović; although world-famous, he had never set foot on Lovćen.

If you peer closely, you can see the Mausoleum in the distance at the top of the mountain.

Protests erupted in 1970 with many famous Yugoslav public figures, of both Montenegrin and non-Montenegrin origin, complaining of what they described as a barbaric violation of Njegoš' last will.

Arriving at the summit of the mountain was one achievement but we still had to climb up the 461 steps before reaching the mausoleum. 
Gorgeous views from the top of just the steps to the entrance where we then faced 461 more steps!

Once we entered the tunnel, those steps were in sets of nine with the odd place to rest and look out of arched open windows. It was hard work due to the altitude and steepness of the steps. 
There were several openings, each with stunning views but no guardrail. Forget health and safety as there were sheer drops. One false move and it would be game over!

Rock cairns are normally placed in memory of loved ones. Or perhaps these were as simple as people wanting to see how many rocks they could pile on top of each other before they all toppled over!
Light at the end of the proverbial tunnel after climbing almost 500 steps!

Petar and Steven at the top with the mausoleum in the background.

Once we finally reached the entrance to the Mausoleum and bought our nominal entrance tickets, we were loaned a booklet about the mausoleum and Njegoš. Petar laughed and said the booklet had been printed in 1984. 
For the Montenegrins, Lovćen is the same as Mecca and Medina are for Muslims.

Njegoš' Tomb:
When Petar saw the candles, he joked and said these are for when the electricity goes off. I gathered that happens somewhat frequently.
Petar pointed out how unsafe the area around the mausoleum is now compared to years ago when it was properly maintained and there were guard rails up. The viewing platform was straight ahead.

The mausoleum was interesting and an amazing sculpture but the star attraction was the view from the platform. 
It felt like we were truly on top of the world here. The journey to and the views from this location were breathtaking. 
It is said that the whole country of Montenegro can be seen from the top of Lovćen Mountain. 
Rather than walk back down the steps, we took the path down the hill.
Petar commented he had noticed the proliferation of the rock cairns in just the last couple of years.
Petar kindly said he would drive us next to another area of the park so we would have some more panoramic views of the wonderful park.
These cyclists had ridden all the way from Kotor and had stopped here for a well deserved break and lunch.
By the time we got there, the clouds had rolled in so Petar began driving back. A few minutes later though, the sun made an appearance so Petar drove back so I could take some more photos. How incredibly kind of him.

Thank  goodness we weren’t driving as much of the road was one lane with two way traffic where you'll have to pull over and or back up for larger vehicles (even buses!!) coming in the opposite direction. As someone else wrote, driving in the park is “a dance with oncoming cars!
We passed a number of roadside stands that sold local products. I didn't feel like I could ask Petar to stop though.
We had been so very fortunate that Petar had offered to spend so much time driving us to and through the fabulous park. He would only accept gas money as remuneration. After relaxing for a bit in his home's garden, we set out to explore Cetinje. That will be my next post!

Posted from Skopje, Macedonia on September 23rd, 2016.

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