Cultural-historical heritage of the Skadar/Scadar/Scutari lake region
Numerous cultural-historical monuments as well as archeological locations, monastery complexes and fortifications are widely scattered all over the Skadar/Scadar/Scutari lake basin, and the large number of islands carry evidence that even in the XIV and XV centuries this area represented a significant cultural center.
The Skadar/Scadar/Scutari lake cultural-historical heritages are:
- archeological locations
- monastery complexes
- holy monuments
- ethnographical funds
This territory is a witness to indescribable beauty with its overgrown coast, bays, capes and islands, all of which are the reason this is the most unique lake on the entire European continent. Traveling the Skadar/Scadar/Scutari lake one will encounter a number of small villages surrounded by greenery, bays, docks with the ships of hard working fisherman, and a different world of flora and found special compared to all world standards. One will also encounter remains of long gone times and people all along the coast, islands and in the fortifications.
The cultural and historical importance of the islands in the Skadar/Scadar/Scutari Lake is enormous. On these islands numerous monasteries, churches and holy monuments are situated. The many fortifications on these islands, mostly build by the Turks, and later on by the Montenegrins, stand witness to the wars fought between the two people. The fortes of Lesendro is an example of the long lasting struggle of the Montenegrin people for independence, dating back to the XV century when it was known as the capital of the Zeta region. The island Grmozur, also located on the Skadar/Scadar/Scutari Lake, was the island that King Nicola builds a prison for political prisoners, long known also as the Alcatraz of Montenegro. Some other important islands are Starcevo, Beska, Kom, Moracnik, etc.
Grmozur is probably the most memorable historical place. The exact date of build of the prison king Nicola builds is not known. It is, however, known that is was build by both Turks and Montenegrins. Many ask who the actual prisoners where on this island. Many simply said that prisoners where selected based on whether they could swim or not. The guards also did not know how to swim so that nobody could get out of prison or of the island. A story exists about the island that snakes where thrown on it to kill the prisoners, and that the number of snakes became so large that mongooses were brought to the island to kill the snakes. Nevertheless, there where prisoners that escaped.
The Lesendro fortress is an exceptionally important cultural historical monument. It is situated on a territory of 3.150m2. Just as the case is with the Grmozur prison, the exact build date of the fortress is not known. The fortress Lesendor was reconstructed in 1832 thanks to the bishop Rade. During the rebuilding process its walls where raised significantly, right after Rasid pasa from Skadar/Scadar/Scutari accused and eliminated eight residences from Crmnice for espionage when they came to trade goods in the town of Skadar. For the eleven years that the fortress of Lesendro was under the rule of Bishop Rade, he often resided at the fortress and it is said that most of his greatest works where written here. In 1843, Oman pasa conquered Lesendro and Vranjinu since which time it has become abandoned.
In the Skadar/Scadar/Scutari lake are many archeological locations from the prehistoric, antic and early centuries can be found, that have unfortunately not been very explored. Some of these are: Samobor – from the Illyrian -Hellenic period, Mataguzi – (Mljace, Djurici, Kremenjaca) from the Hellenic period, Oblun – also from the Hellenic and middle ages, Gostilje – from the Hellenic period around the middle of III to I century B.C., Plavnica – from the middle ages, Mijele – from the early middle century, Livari – from the middle century, and many more.
The number of cultural monuments and monasteries in the Skadar/Scadar/Scutari lake area is considerable and they are a representation of the rich Montenegrin history. One of these monasteries is Precista Krajinska – dating from the period from the XI to the XV century. Precista Krajinska played a very important role in the early period of the state of Zeta. In the IX and X century, Precista Krajinska was the center of the territorial thrown of the Zeta state headed by the countries creator Prince Vladimir. He ruled from the end of the X and beginning of the XI century, with the capital of the state being Precista Krajinska, today village Ostros. Here, Prince Vladimir, build a monastery named Precista Krajinska, believed to be the first monastery build on the territory of Montenegro. From this current location, the center of the Zeta state later became the monastery of Saint Nicola in Vranjine in the beginning of the XIII century, and then the town of Cetinje. The remains of this monastery are scarce and many myths and legends are told about them. In the year 1010, Prince Vladimir was overthrown by the Macedonian prince Samuel, who imprisoned him and took him to the city of Prespa into captivity. According to legend it is said that there Prince Vladimir met the daughter of Prince Samuel, Theodora Kosara, whom he later married. He returned to Zeta and continued to rule the state until 1016. Following the death of the Macedonian king Samuel, Prince Vladimir was killed 22nd of May, 1016 by his brother’s nephew Vladislav. Kosara moved Vladimir’s body to Krajina and buried him in the church of Preciste Krajinske. Today, people say, that Vladimir and Kosara go to the top of the mountain Rumija every year, so the people annually carry a cross to the mountain top for this occasion. The Krajinski archipelago is also located in the Skadar/Scadar/Scutari Lake, and contains a row of around fifty islands and cliffs along the southwest shore of the lake.
Vranjina used to be an island, but today it is connected to the mainland with a small bridge of land. It is located on the road connecting the cities of Podgorica and Bar, about 30km from Podgorica to the left. This is where the monastery of Saint Nicola is located that dates back to the XIII and XIX century. It is situated on the delta of the Moraca river into the Skadar/Scadar/Scutari lake. Legend says that the monastery was founded by Saint Sava or Ilarion, the first bishop of the Zeta state who is also buried in the monastery. This monastery was a branch to the monastery of the Saint Archangel in Jerusalem and was always richly gifted from both the Serbian and Montenegrin dynasties Nemanjic, Balsic and Crnojevic. The monastery was restored by father Nicola who was the treasurer at Hilandar for ten years. What is also known about Vranjine is the fact that the daughters of King Nicola often traveled to and stayed in the night quarters that was located on the island at the time, but has since been torn down.
On the island of Breska a monastery with the same name is situated, and like most monasteries from this time, it is directly connected to the Balsic dynasty. The monastery has two churches, Saint George (Sveti Djordje) and Holy Mother of God (Sveta Bogorodica). The church of the Holy Mother of God was erected by Jelena Balsic, the daughter of Prince Lazar (a well known Serbian ruler), and wife of Djurdja II Stratimovic Balsic. Her grave is located in this church.
The next important island is Starcevo. On this island a monastery with a church can be found dedicated to the Holy Mother of God, build between 1376 and 1378. It is stated that the monastery was founded by an old man named Makarija who lived on the island like a hermit, for whom the island is also called Old mans mountain (Starceva gorica). The monastery belonged to the Basic dynasty. It is believed that already in 1540, monks lived in the monastery, because it is documented that during this year the first printer of books in the Cyrillic alphabet, Bozidar Vukovic from Podgorica, and his wife where buried (by their wishes) in front of the monastery.
On the island of Moracnik a church barring the same name was build dating from the XV century, dedicated to the Holy Mother of God. This church was first mentioned in the charter of Balse III, who is also believed to be its creator. The monastery Moracnik, as holy shrine of the orthodox religion and the Zeta state, was 250 years ago totally demolished by the Turkish army. Following a period of two and a half centuries in 1998, monks returned to the monastery.
On the island of Kom, also called Ondrijska gora, a monastery dating back to the XV century (1415 -1427) is nestled. The mausoleum of the Crnojevic family is located here containing 4 graves. One of them is Leso Crnojevic, and the other Mara Crnojevic, the wife of Stefan Crnojevic, founder of the monastery. Additionally, the church dedicated to the Holy Mother of God was build here, and is one of the rare churches in the Skadar/Scadar/Scutari Lake area that is intact due to its inaccessible terrain.
Nearby Zabljak Crnojevica is situated which used to be the old capital of the Montenegrin state. Except for the once mentioned, there are many more cultural monuments or their remains on this territory. On the shores of Skadar/Scadar/Scutari lake, as well as its islands there was about twenty monasteries it its days, exactly why this region used to be called Zeta Holy Mountains (Zeta Sveta Gora).
Continuing down the shore one will encounter a little town called Rijeka Crnojevica. This is an antic metropolis full of natural beauty and historic acquisitions, and the heart of the Montenegrin state during the middle ages. This small fishing village used to be a very important center of trade. Montenegro’s ruling families Balsic and Crnojevic liked this region very much due to climate conditions, so they stayed in the area very often. This is where both families build their winter residences. The town is also known by its first printing house of books in the Cyrillic alphabet in this part of Europe, with the first book called Oktoih printed in 1494. Since this was a fishing village, of enormous importance where the previously mentioned eyes in the lake that are exceptionally rich with fish. Before the Balkan wars the town was filled with small manufacturing shops, and exactly in this town the first pharmacy was opened as well as the first weapons factory. In the factory named Marica, Montenegrins used to make pears made from fish scales. The town is easily accessible from land as well as sea. The highway connecting Podgorica to the town of Cetinje, about 20km from Podgorica to its left, is clearly labeled where to turn for Rijeka Crnojevica, and signs are posted along the path until one reaches the town. One thing is for sure, the view visible while driving down the narrow, steep, curvy road is indescribable and will forever carve itself into once memory.
The collection of holy monuments also includes numerous village burial churches in the coastal region of the lake. These are usually single buildings with bell towers in its center build between the XIV and XIX century. Amongst these we will mention just a few: church of Saint Nicola (Sveti Nikola) in Mataguzima, church of Saint George (Sveti Djordje) in Berslavcima, church of Saint Luke (Sveti Luka) in Gostilju, church of Saint Petke (Svete Petke) in Golubovicima, church of Saint Dimitrij (Sveti Dimitrije) in Bijelo Polje, church of Saint Elijah (Sveti Ilije) in Ponarima, church of Saint Petke (Svete Petke) in Kurilu, church of Holy Trojice (Svete Trojice) in Vukovcima, church of Saint Nicola (Sveti Nikola) in Obod by Rijeka Crnojevica and many more.
A significant collection of cultural heritage constitutes the traditional architecture, old and currently uninhabited fishing villages located on the shore of the Skadar/Scadar/Scutari lake, like for example Radus, Krnjice, Karuc and many others in which the people survived by fishing and making of fishing nets.
Among the town on the Skadar/Scadar/Scutari Lake, Virpazar is one that needs to be mentioned as the trade center of the Crmince area. It was first mentioned in 1242 by the name of Vir, in the document written by King Vladislav located in the monastery Vranje. During the rule of Peter I, Vir developed more and more into a trade center. Vir was erected on the delta of the Crmnica and Orahovistice rivers, with the Vranjina, Ceklina, Zeta and Krajina in its background. Since 1888, Vir has a road connecting it with the city of Bar, and from 1908 its first railroad. A little later a road was build to the town of Rijeka Crnojevic. Today, during the tourist season, hundreds of vehicles going toward the sea or towards the inland, pass by Virpazar.
Traveling today toward the Rijeka Crnojevic town one can find many architectural complexes build by both the Crnojevic and Balsic families that ruled the area of the Zeta state in the second half of the XV century. It is well known that on this territory many battles between the Turks and the Montenegrins where fought, and some of the places of great importance in these battles where the following fortresses: Tophala – build in the XIV century, Besac – build in the XV century, Lesendor – build in the XIX century, Grmozur – build in the XIX century, Virska kulica – build in the XIX century. Many of these fortresses have been renovated, but still some are grown deep in the Underwood due to the neglect of the people.