Located just 20 miles inland from Budva and 670m above sea level; it’s funny to think this sleepy little town, with a population of just 14,000 (2011), was the capital of Montenegro from 1482 to 1946. If you’ve an interest in history and like to get off the beaten track; escape the heat of the coast and enjoy the laidback ambience of Cetinje.
A little History
Established as the capital in the 15th century to resist invaders, Cetinje became home of the first printing press in Southern Europe in 1494. Three times the Ottomans tried, and failed, to invade; allowing Montenegro to remain an independent state on the border of this vast domain. Following the signing of the Treaty of Berlin in 1878 embassies were created and, since the relocation of the administrative centre to Podgorica, the buildings now serve a wide variety of purposes: To name a few the Russian Consulate is now the Faculty of Arts, the English Embassy the Musical Academy, the Turkish Embassy is used by local administration and the Italian and French embassies now house sections of the National Library.
Following a glass of homemade pomegranate juice with my neighbor, Cetinje was my second experience of the fabulous hospitality I hope you’ll experience during your stay in Montenegro. Travelling alone I’d found a lovely little guesthouse online, run by mother and son Radmila and Petar, and within my first couple of hours they’d gone out of their way to ensure I could watch the Eurovision Song Contest and invited me to go mushroom picking with them on nearby Lovcen (insert link) the following afternoon.
You will also find food and drink prices much lower away from the coast and some really delicious local specialties. Here I tried for the first time teleca ciorba – veal soup and karadordeva snicla – rolled veal or pork steak stuffed with cream cheese, breaded and then fried. Not the lightest meal but highly recommended. All washed down with the local Montenegrin vranac red wine of course.
First a couple of things to see in Cetinje itself. The town centre is made up of two parallel streets, one of which is pedestrianised and lined with cafes leading to the central square. All of the main sights are a stone’s throw away and by midday the area was buzzing - Every terrace full and children playing in the streets.
Monastery and Eagle’s Rock
Top of the list should be a visit to Cetinje Monastery and then to climb nearby Orlov Krs (Eagle’s Rock) to see the tomb of Prince-Bishop Danilo Petrovic Njegos and enjoy a panoramic view of the city. The monastery was first built in 1484 by Ivan Crnojevic, who established Cetinje as the capital in retreat from Ottoman invaders. Over the years it has been destroyed and rebuilt several times and its current appearance dates from 1927. The first elementary and high school of Montenegro operated here and locked in its tiny chapel you’ll find numerous significant relics including the right hand of St John the Baptist.
The following day I set about investigating the fabulous museums the town has to offer but more on that later.
After my early morning of culture I took Radmila and Petar up on their offer of a trip up to Lovcen National Park and the mausoleum of well loved poet and intellect ruler Petar II Petrovic Njegos. Located between Kotor and Cetinje, about a forty minute drive up to the 1657m peak, the breathtaking views and grand monument are an absolute must see.
I was told the two huge female statues supporting the entrance represent the women holding up Montenegro when the men left to fight and inside you’ll find a mighty marble statue of the man himself, resting in the wings of an eagle below a domed roof of gold leaf . Imposing yet with an air of calm it did make me smile when Radmila commented he was much more handsome in real life.
Cetinje is well known for abundant rainfall but if you wake up to a gloomy day, as I did on my second morning, fear not; for the town has numerous museums I can thoroughly recommend. At 10 euro (at time of writing), a combined ticked to visit all five is great value for money and the few hours I had was almost not enough to take in all the information and artifacts on show. Although descriptions in English are limited, each has a lot to offer with friendly staff giving information and more than happy to answer questions.
The State Museum housed in the grand palace of the last monarch King Nikola I. The style of each room has been carefully recreated as the original contents were looted during WWII
Museum of Njegos at Biljarda – Named after billards which Njegos brought to Montenegro from Vienna. Exhibiting memorabilia of this illustrious leader.
The Ethnographic Museum is the smallest of the museums showcasing some lovely traditional textiles and with traditional gifts for sale at the entrance.
National Museum and Art Gallery housed in the same building. The former includes a comprehensive display of weaponry and the latter has a vast and varied collection including the original icon ‘the Madonna of Philermos’.
If you really want to make the most of your trip inland to Cetinje you should schedule in some time to visit Lipska Pecina (Lipa Cave) and Rijeka (River) Crnojevica; both of which are on my ever expanding list of day trips. Lipska Pecina is just 5km from Cetinje and offers 2.5km of passages and halls with tours for all ages, interests and abilities. Rijeka Crnojevica is a pretty little hamlet on the waterway of the same name flowing from the Northwestern end of Skadar Lake. Sights here include the house of a former ruler Njegos, an ancient stone bridge and Stari Most, one of the this region’s finest restaurants. You will also find small boats offering cruises and, for those feeling a little more adventurous, from here you can organize a tour to kayak along to Lake Skadar or take the 8km circular walking track.
(Photos coming soon)