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  • Writer's pictureSaša Mrvaljević

The magic of Montenegrin old royal capital

Updated: Feb 20, 2022

As a child, growing up in Cetinje, I always knew I was surrounded by magic I couldn’t define. I felt special and everything around me seemed that way.  Later, I thought it was my child fantasy that was ascribing my home town some unusual aura and charm. Then I grew up and realized the truth…

Cetinje is special, now I know it. It is something you can feel in the air, the spirit of the past, the spirit of great people who lived here and whose steps you can still hear if only you could listen careful enough. I appreciate now the fact I was born right here, having a privilege to look at and admire mountain Lovćen every day, just like our greatest ruler and writer, Njegoš, did. Join me for a walk through Cetinje and I will reveal you its magic.

Cetinje has its Holly Mountain – Lovćen. It is a mystical place; little bit hostile and real paradise for reptiles and snakes. Bernard Shaw compared its configuration with the surface of the Moon. And indeed, looking at this terrain it becomes obvious how nature can sometimes be cruel and divine in the same time. Impressive view from the top of the mountain makes you feel like a bird in a sky, looking overwhelmingly far in the distance, where sky loses lines and becomes one with sea and mountains.  Lovćen has always been source of inspiration for local artist and writers for one more simple reason: we owe our freedom to this mountain. Due to the inaccessibility of terrain Montenegrins managed to resist here to the powerful Ottoman Empire for five long centuries, and preserve, in permanent battles, our language, culture and traditions. This is why we strongly identify ourselves with Lovćen.

Cetinje also has its fairy – Lovćen’s fairy. The fairy stands tall in the center of the town, proudly looking at Mountain Lovćen, holding a saber in a right hand and laurel wreath in the other. She reminds us of a tragic event and a great emigrants love for their homeland. In the relief below the monument, you will follow this sad true story told in pictures. In the World War I (1915), five hundred of our emigrants living in Canada, embarked on the ship, planning to come back to Montenegro and defend it from Austro-Hungarians. Despite of a long way, their noble intention and brave heart, their fate was tragic. In the vicinity of Albanian port Sand Diovanni Di Medova, their ship run into underwarter mine and expoded. More than 300 volunteers found their eternal peace in the blue water of the Adriatic.

Every magic town has its guarding angels. One of them was Peter II Petrović Njegoš: 19th century philosopher, ruler, writer and a priest, all in one. Tall and handsome, he was not allowed to get married because of his head position in the Orthodox Church. Passing away young, at the age of 38, he left behind precious works of literature, success in political and social matters. His most famous book “Mountain wreath” is translated into more than 80 world languages. The last wish of this great man was to be buried at the top of the mountain Lovćen.  Since then it’s not possible to imagine Njegoš as a poet without Lovćen, and Lovćen as our Holly Mountain without Njegoš anymore. He is still watching over us from his mausoleum (on 1660 m altitude), known for being the highest one in Europe.

Cetinje was also a seat of the kingdom, but not any seat-the smallest one in Europe in the begining of 20 century. Our king could have been met regulary while walking trough Cetinje as if he was just another ordinary citizien of the town which counted between 2 and 3.000 people. It is still posible to imagine one of his nine daughters walking trough Royal park, going to the Royal Theater or hearing her laugh while playing some music instrument in the Palace.

During the kingdom period (beginning of the 20 century), Cetinje and Montenegro gained international popularity; Europe was surprised that one small country in Balkans resisted so successfully to the main European threat of the time – Ottoman Empire. Due to “marriage diplomacy” and smart politics, our King Nikola ensured good relation with a wide range of countries. Foreign embassies appeared, new tennis courts and golf fields, royal theater, hospitals, libraries, girl’s institute and finally Cetinje flourished in every sense. Just like in a fairytale.

This fairytale, unfortunately, didn’t last for long. Austro-Hungary occupied our country in 1916 and king emigrated, leaving struggling Montenegro in enemy’s hand. The palace built for his son, who was not destined to be a king, is housing now official Residence of our President.

Cetinje amazes with one more fact – it had the first state typography in Europe and, at the end of 15 century, several books of extraordinary beauty and religious content were printed here. This was considered to be a cultural phenomenon since existence of country and its people were in a permanent danger in that time. Not many people knew how to read and write back then, but they kept religion in their minds and hearts, and it has always been giving them strength to carry on in the fight against Ottomans.

The holiest place in Cetinje is a Monastery, the symbol of the Montenegrin spirituality and love for freedom. During the theocracy period, it has been seat of our rulers, center of both spiritual and secular power.  Often, the Monastery is the main reason for believers to come here. God’s will was to have two great items of Christianity placed here- a right hand of John the Baptist and piece of The Holy Cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified.  These items passed a long way to find their place in the heart of Montengrin religions feelings –famous Monastery.

If Cetinje shines in its full glow in spring and summer, it is washed by rain in autumn and covered with white blanket in winter time. One curiosity is that Cetinje is the town with biggest precipitation in whole Europe. Famous rains can last for days, making you stay at home and contemplate. This is also when miracles, stories, painting, sculptures and music are born.

With its silent, charming streets, Cetinje is true small paradise for artists. Focused on their work, they can find inspiration here in every single thing and no wonder the town has already given Montenegro many famous artists. One of them, sculptor Dimitrije Popović, was engaged in creative realization of wishing well on the main square. Inside of it you will find the face of proud Montenegrin woman who played tremendously important role in history of the country. Throw a coin in the well and make a wish. If it doesn’t come true, come back and do it again 📷 .

This is also town of museums and a whole town is actually museum in the open air. Cetinje has always been a free piece of land, a symbol of resistance against invaders, great powers, which never managed to break a spirit of small but brave warrior nation.  It is “historical postcard of the country” with five state museums which can tell you an interesting story about history, customs, tradition and life of Montenegro trough centuries.

Besides, it is also known after three artistic academies, making Cetinje “a town of students”. They youth, laugh and creativity warm up the town in the period when it needs the most: in cold winter.

In the post “Revealing the last secret in Europe” I compared Montenegrin mountains to solders, protecting us, mountain lakes to their eyes and rivers to their tears. And if we would look at Montenegro as an organism, then Cetinje has a full right to be called “a heart of Montenegro”. If you really want to get to know the country, then you have to feel its beat, to feel the pulse of the town where past meets present and where future can, and will be created…as it always has.

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