Rediscovering the Cultural Treasures of Old Royal Montenegro
This article was first published by our friends at WHL Group, who have agreed to its republication here.
>> View original article on whl.travel blog.
By Ethan Gelber
Until not that long ago – only about 100 years – the whole of Montenegro was still a tribal society with groups of families united by clan and living in regions called nahijas. The oldest historical part of Montenegro, today referred to as Old Royal Montenegro, which was independent for centuries, was split into four such nahijas: Crmnička, Katunska, Riječka and Lješanska nahija.
From the top of Mt. Lovćen, a symbol of Montenegrin freedom since the villages on its slopes were never been conquered by either Austrians or Turks, the whole of Old Royal Montenegro is visible.
Sadly, today, despite its incredible cultural and historical importance, its proximity to other major attraction (like the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Kotor and its famous bay, Skadar Lake National Park and the Ostrog Monastery) and its beautifully preserved environment, the Old Royal Monetenegro district is disused, neglected and its local population is in serious decline.
But that may all be about to change thanks to a contract signed between the Delegation of the European Commission in Montenegro and the Centre for Sustainable Tourism Initiatives (CSTI).
A Heritage Treasure Trove
Old Royal Montenegro covers the broad area between the Zeta River, Skadar Lake and the Bay of Kotor and consists principally of rural communities and the old historic capital of Cetinje. Apart from in Cetinje and the Mt. Lovćen area, which are historic highlights of Montenegro, the infrastructure of traditional buildings and historical sites in the district is however in terrible disrepair and the local populations, which have retained a distinct culture, one based on age-old traditional values and lifestyles, are diminishing in number. All this is now the focus of an effort to inspire new life and opportunity through travel and tourism.
For the next 18 months, CSTI will be leading a project to identify the district’s traditional and cultural tourism products, stimulate and upgrade tourism services, develop concepts for new tourism products that take advantage of the unique local attributes, and work to improve knowledge and raise awareness of the cultural heritage opportunities in Old Royal Montenegro (as well as throughout the country).
At the centre of the Riječka nahija is Riječka Crnojevića, a tiny settlement on a river of the same name leading to Skadar Lake. Many Old Royal Montenegro villages like this are deserted or reduced to one or two families. The project will visit all of these villages to identify anybody with any products that can be made market ready.
The project’s target groups are local producers of traditional products (wine, honey, cheese, ham, souvenirs, handicrafts etc.), owners of the old authentic stone buildings, traditional restaurants and more. Where possible, particular heed will be given to the needs of young people and women within the target groups with an eye toward increasing their involvement.
“[Signing the contract] was a huge event for both organizations,” said Slavica Vukcevic, Executive Director of Montenegro Adventures, the commercial subsidiary of the CSTI and the whl.travel local connection in Montenegro. “We are extremely interested in developing new tourism products in this rural area, which, while quite underdeveloped, is full of tangible and intangible heritage of great importance to the future of tourism in Montenegro.”
Really Going Local
Foremost in many project partners’ minds is the preservation of cultural heritage as a crucial component of identity and self-understanding, qualities that help anchor a community in its past and give it meaning in the present.
Svetlana Vujicic (left), Executive Director of CSTI signs the contract with Mr. Leopold Maurer (centre), Ambassador of the European Union to Montenegro, and representatives from the Monetenegro Ministry for European Integration.
This was reflected in a comment made by Mr Leopold Maurer, Ambassador of the European Union to Montenegro, in his speech at the contract signing: “The European Union attaches great significance to the activities carried out by civil society organisations and acknowledges the important role that a well-organized, functioning and strong civil society can play in strengthening pluralism, democracy, human rights, social inclusion, rural development, cultural dialogue and creativity, not only in the EU but also in all those countries striving to join EU.”
Given that, the CSTI project aspires to improve cooperation and cultural exchange between constituencies in the region at all levels; share best practices, especially those constructive in recognising and attaining ethno-cultural diversity through environmentally and culturally sustainable development; and showcase the unique culture of the region as one of its main attractions and an opportunity for economic advancement.
The ultimate goal for the region is to give it a new sense of vitality as a living cultural area, thus triggering positive change and creating a platform for future development.
Abandoned structures like this are all too common along small village roads throughout Old Montenegro. Some have been sold to foreign investors, who turn them into summer houses.
Not yet catalogued but certainly well known are the district’s unique cultural practices and arts that, on a small scale, already attract the curiosity of tourists and provide opportunities for tourism and economic development. The challenge to CSTI will be to further invigorate these qualities without destroying the existing feeling or violating the interests of the locals.
“For that reason, learning exchange and improving the knowledge from EU stakeholders and especially on sustainable development approach is the core value of this proposal,” says a concept note describing project.
That same concept note identifies the expected results as including the following:
- a tourism/cultural heritage inventory of at least 100 assets that will be shared among the participants, local and national authorities and international organizations working in the region;
- a core group of 15 motivated stakeholders who will gain and later share the experience of how to revive traditional ways of life/customs/cultural heritage in the community;
- proposed thematic routes that connect the district’s highlights and involve the assisted stakeholders.
- an awareness-raising campaign that will include a documentary, press releases, workshops/trainings.