At A ConFluence Of Rivers Podgorica

With its centuries of history, its as yet unspoiled nature and its mild Mediterranean climate, Podgorica is a rising star among European cities.

We are heading inland now after touring Herceg Novi, Kotor, Budva and Bar on Montenegro’s Adriatic coast. The country’s capital and largest city, Podgorica greets us with a buzz of activity on a hot summer day. Known as Titograd in the old Yugoslavia, it is the hub of commercial and cultural life today.

One of the oldest settlements in the Balkans, Podgorica played host to the Illyrian tribes in antiquity. Coming under the influence of the Roman, Celtic and Slavic cultures in turn, the city still bears traces of the Ottomans, who ruled here for four hundred years starting from the 15th century. One of the first buildings that rises before us on a tour of the old city (Stara Varos) is Sahat Kula, a clock tower and historic and cultural monument, commissioned by Hacı Paşa Osmanagiç.

IN THE FOOTHILLS OF THE LITTLE MOUNTAIN
This is a city that was bombed dozens of time during the Second World War but rose from its ashes every time. Founded at the confluence of the Zeta, Moraca, Ribnica, Cijevna and Sitnica rivers, Podgorica in Serbian means ‘below the Gorica’, which refers to the Gorica mountains in whose foothills it nestles.

Our first stop is the Sveti Djordje Church, one of the most important medieval structures at the city center. Afterward we visit the museums, which hold up a virtual mirror to the cities where they are at home. Numerous archaeological artifacts and ethnographical items are on display in Podgorica City Museum. The Museum of Natural History meanwhile informs visitors about Montenegro’s rich flora and fauna. Petrovich Palace, whose noteworthy architecture represents the 19th century, is used as an art center today. The Nova Varos quarter with its vast squares and government buildings symbolizes the city’s modern face.  Finally, Millennium Bridge on the Moraca river completes the picture.

TRACES OF THE TURKS
A walking tour is the most enjoyable way of exploring Podgorica. You will hear a lot of Turkish words as you stroll through its streets. Seeing words like ‘çay’ (tea), ‘çorba’ (soup) and ‘börek’ (savory pastry) on restaurant menus will warm your heart. The historic town of Nemanjin Grad, birthplace of the Serbian king Nemanjic, tops the list of must-see sights in Podgorica, where the castle and city walls whisper mysterious medieval tales in our ears.
The next day we are at Skadar, the largest lake in the Balkans and one of the country’s four national parks. One of Europe’s leading bird sanctuaries, Lake Skadar is on the Montenegro-Albania border. It southern shores are lined with picturesque villages whose monasteries and old stone houses give a person peace of mind.

MONASTIC PARADISE
The churches and monasteries that have borne witness to the city’s history can be visited on day tours. Dajbabe Monastery is a perfect symbiosis of man and nature.  The rock walls of this monastery in the form of a cross, which was built inside a cave by Father Simeon Popovic in 1897, is adorned with religious figures which unfortunately are on the verge of vanishing today.
Ostrog Monastery on the Podgorica-Niksic road is a site held sacred by Orthodox Christians. Built on a steep rock face like Sumela in Trabzon, it is extremely difficult to reach. This monastery, where a saint by the name of Vasilije Ostroski lived in the 17th century, welcomes travelers from many European countries all year round.

ANCIENT CITIES

We now visit the ruins of Duklja near Podgorica. Walls, the remains of a palace and stone bridge, sarcophagi adorned with reliefs and gravestones can be seen in this ancient city, which is thought to have been a Slavic settlement already in the 7th century. Twelve kilometers from Podgorica is Medun, an Illyrian city dating back to the 3rd century B.C. History buffs are going to love this city, which resisted Roman invasion to the end and enjoyed its most brilliant period throughout the Middle Ages. When the Sozina Tunnel shortened the distance between Podgorica and the port of Bar, it became possible to tour the neighboring towns using the capital as a base. Podgorica, which is located smack dab between the winter resorts to the north and the Adriatic’s sunny coasts to the south, has been trying to use its geographical advantage to boost tourism revenues in recent years. With its fertile plains fed by five rivers, its deep valleys and its nearby coastal cities, Montenegro is a candidate for becoming the rising new star of Europe.