According to historical data Ulcinj is from sure one of the oldest towns on the Adriatic coast. It is thought that Ulcinj is more that 2.000 years old. In this area for centuries the cultures of Orient and the West collided, which by the richness of the historical inheritance, can be felt in every step. As the tracks of the first settlements in Ulcinj appear even before V century B.C. it is considered that Ulcinj was founded by Illyrians, the people of the Indo-European origin. At the time of the free Illyrian state, Ulcinj experiences its greatest bloom. The original name of Ulcinj was Kolhinijum, and it got such name by Kolhidians (a tribe of Greek origin) for which is thought that they are the founders of the old Ulcinj Lake. Before the year 162 B.C. Ulcinj is ruled over by an Illyrian tribe Olcinijantas, which in the II century B.C., was conquered by the Romans, so the ancient Colchinijum becomes Olcinijum. During the time of the Roman Empire Ulcinj receives a status of a town with special privileges (Opida civijum romanorum), in order to later become a town with temporarily independent status – a Municipium. After the division of the Roman Empire Ulcinj belonged to province Prevalis, which was a part of the East Empire, and the inhabitants becomes Christian.
Because of an extraordinary geographical location, mild climate and relief, Ulcinj has been for centuries a target for the conquerors. That Montenegrin town at the utmost south was frequently ruined during the wars. Byzantium emperor Justinijan, has renewed and rebuilt Ulcinj, while Nemanjici, Balsici, Venetians and Turks have widened the town with new buildings.
In the year 1183 Ulcinj was taken over by the Great Serbian rector Stefan Nemanja, and in that period Ulcinj becomes one of the most significant coastal towns. As well as in the era of the Duklja rulers (since the IX century and on), Ulcinj is a distinguished coastal town with mixed Slav, Albanian and Roman citizens.
Ulcinj was not a permanent capital of the rulers and co-rulers of Zeta and the Coast, but the potentates of Zeta and the Coast had their residences in that town.
Especially in the period of the reign of Duklja and the state of Nemanjic, Ulcinj gains a medieval character. At that time Ulcinj was an important trading and naval center with the autonomy of the town inside the Raska state. The political significance of Ulcinj was very distinct in the era of Balsici, especially in the era of Djuradj Stratimirovic Balsic (1385 – 1403).
In a dash at the end of the XIII century even the Mongolians, who performed an unsuccessful siege of the town, attacked Ulcinj. After the failure Mongolians have ruined the town Svac (close to Ulcinj – today a dead town), and murdered all of its citizens.
After the fall of the state of Zeta in 1405, Ulcinj is taken over by the Venetians and they rule for 150 years. Ulcinj was under Turk reign until 1571, when it definitely falls into hands of a heavy Turkish hand. Compared to the adjacent towns on the Coast, Ulcinj has fairly late fell into the reign of Otoman control, 90 years after the fall of Herceg Novi (1482 – 1483)
As during the reign of Venetian Republic Ulcinj had an evidential fortification, strategic, naval and economic and political significance, the Turkish conquerors continued to develop strategic goals. Still, during the era of the Turkish reign over the town, Ulcinj gains a completely Oriental look. Mosques, Turkish baths, drinking fountains, watch – towers, inns and burial chambers are being built. Everything in towns is adjusting to the new masters. Ulcinj was also famous as a place of a long and rich naval and merchant tradition. In this town sailing reached its top rise in XVII, XVIII, and during the XIX century. The naval trade of people from Ulcinj with their own boats took place in bigger harbors and trading centers of the Adriatic coast, Levant and the Mediterranean. During the era of Turkish reign (1571 – 1880) Ulcinj with its trading fleet has become the main pillar of Otoman Empire on the Mediterranean. Brave and skilful mariners from Ulcinj have poorly acknowledged the state reign of the Turks. Until the proclamation of Mehmed Busatlija for the Grand Vizier of Skadar, Ulcinj was like a small republic. It is written that the Grand Vizier of Skadar in deceit, to restrain the piracy, which at that time grew more and more, in port Valdanos sank liners form Ulcinj, after which people from Ulcinj officially recognize the Turkish reign. During the era of the Montenegrin reign (1880 – 1918) in Ulcinj, 107 sailing boast were registered. People from Ulcinj were skilful mariners and good ship wrighters.
In the XVII century the fleet of Ulcinj had 500 two – master ships, which sailed across the Mediterranean Sea. Many wars have imperiled the development of the Ulcinj fleet. In the XIV century Ulcinj was known by 400 pirates from Malta, Tunis, and Algeria who have inhabited Ulcinj after the Kanidian war (1669), so Ulcinj has turned into a dangerous pirate nest, which remained a characteristic of the town during the XVII and XVIII century as well.
After almost 300 years, at the beginning of the 1878 Ulcinj is freed from the Turks, and after the decision in Berlin congress on the November 10 1880, Ulcinj is annexed to the Principality of Montenegro. The First World War Ulcinj waited as an integral town of the former Montenegrin Principality. Even though the King and the Prince of the Montenegro, Nikola I Petrovic Njegos, at the beginning of the XX century moved one part of the Christian citizenship, in Ulcinj Islamic citizenship, that was loyal to the Principality of Montenegro, still prevailed.
As in many other towns of the Montenegrin Coast in Ulcinj too the vortex of the Second World War was felt. In the year 1941 German and Italian troupes conquered the entire Montenegro, and stayed in it until the crash of Nazism at the end of 1944, when partisan troupes liberated the utmost south town on the Montenegrin Coast – Ulcinj.
Beside its rich cultural and historical heritage this ancient town is famous for its multiethnic and multinational structure of the citizens who through history was united and offered resistance to the conqueror, especially during the Second World War. On those, for Ulcinj very important historical days, remind many commemorative plaques and busts all over town.
After the Second World War the renewal of all towns on the Montenegrin Coast as well as Ulcinj began. The great tourist potential which Ulcinj with the surroundings has even today, was and remained a great chance for a successful development of the most important economic branch in Montenegro – tourism..
Today, Ulcinj is a famous multiethnic and tourist town in the South of Montenegro, which from year to year marks greater and greater number of domestic and foreign tourists.
As many other states, places or towns are recognizable for its historical events, famous individuals, fairy tales or stories, Ulcinj and people from Ulcinj are famous for various and especially pirate ones. Through the history, Ulcinj has been for many centuries a pirate nest. The town starting from the XIV century has began to be inhabited by the pirates from Malta, Tunis, and Algeria. The coastal part, from the present Ulcinj all the way to Kotor, was the pirate nest. The pirates, especially during the XVII and XVIII century, have represented fear on the sea. Pirate gangs have become so powerful that they attacked various trading ships that sailed under various ensigns; they have robbed them and quickly sailed in their bulwarks, which they made along the entire Ulcinj Coast.
The greatest damage of the dangerous attacks of pirate commanders among whom the most famous were brothers Karamindzoja, Lika Ceni, Ali hodza and others, suffered the Venetian fleet.
Beside the invasions and robberies on trading ships, pirates from Ulcinj were famous by the trading of black slaves. Because of that fact a great number of inhabitants in Ulcinj were black people from different African countries. Among old people from Ulcinj even today it is mentioned how until 1878 in Ulcinj 100 black people lived, as well as the fact that among the slaves in the dungeons a famous writer Servantes dwelled, by whom one of the Ulcinj squares is named Slave square. Still, the most famous and the most gladly retold story among people from Ulcinj even today is the legend of famous pirate Liko Cena.
Liko Cena a man from Ulcinj was the most famous pirate chief. Everyday with his pirate army he attacked different trading ships, and sometimes even the entire fleets. One time Liko Cena with his company sank a ship on which there were pilgrims who traveled to a pilgrimage in Mecca. It was a very tragic event, which echoed even past Ulcinj. Namely, when the Turkish sultan heard of the great accident, he ordered that Liko Cena must be found and imprisoned. Sultan also proclaimed that he’d richly award the one who catches or kills Liko Cena. But, exactly then on the sea appeared another, also very dangerous pirate – Lambro or Aralampija as he was otherwise called. Originally from Greece, Lambro knew the sea very well, and he was thought to be a skilful pirate. Very dangerous and fearless, Lambro quickly became a real “sea monster’ for many trading ships and naval fleets. The news of Lambro
s misdeeds quickly got to the Turkish sultan. As the damages which Lambros company committed were immense, and sultan soon proclaimed that he will give a rich reward to the one who catches or kills Lambro.
However, the time went by and the sultan could find Lambro. The only thing that at that moment was left to him to do was to send a message to Liko Cena in which he is saying that he’ll forgive him everything if he manages to destroy Lambro.
Sultan soon did that, and Liko Cena with pleasure accepted the call, binding himself in front of the sultan that he’ll “either catch Lambro or die”.
After some time, there comes a duel in which Liko Cena manages to kill Lambro. For the favor he has done and for the loyalty, Turkish sultan spares Liko Cena`s life, by giving him the title of the captain. Famous men from Ulcinj, descendants of Liko Cena, were also distinguished captains. The legend of Liko Cena, among people is even toady mentioned as am unusual event, so people from Ulcinj from generation to generation tell the story of how the most famous bandit from Ulcinj thanks to the destiny became a captain.