Through the centuries in Montenegro, battles and skirmishes have raged. The mountains provided natural protection against marauding armies. Nestled in these mountains were medieval castles or fortresses. One ancient fortress is Zabljak Crnojevica. (In Montenegrin it is spelled Žabljak Crnojevića and pronounced Zhablak Tsrnoyevicha.) This historic castle on a hill not only provided protection for its people, but it also altered the future of learning for the Montenegrin people.
Fortress for Advancement
While the area was first developed in the 10th century, it was in the 15th century that it became the capital and trade center of Zeta or modern-day Montenegro. From 1427-1516, the Crnojevic dynasty ruled. They led the people to repel a number of attacks from the Ottoman Turks. The family rulers at that time were Stefan, Ivan, and then Djuradj Crnojevic.
There was more to this area than just the usual defense that all fortresses needed to offer. During the Crnojevic era, Djuradj commissioned the first books in the Balkan region. The Crnojevic dynasty was responsible for bringing the first printing press and then printing the first book among Southern Slavic people in 1493. Oktoih Prvoglasnik or the First Voice was a religious book that had black and red characters with intricate design that many believe rivaled the quality of Venetian works at the time. (HT)
Directions to the Fortress
Zabljak Crnojevica is an area just 15 kilometers southwest of Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro. From the city, take the E-65/E-80 road past the airport and turn right at the sign directing to Vukovci. You will go almost 1.5 km and then turn left. There is a road under construction right now making it a bit difficult to find the way. While the road is out, turn just before the basketball court and then a quick right after that. This will put you on a dirt road headed toward the construction. Go across the river on the one-way bridge. Take the second left after the river. Go several kilometers. Before another basketball court, take the small bridge back to the left. This will end in a parking area by the river with the fortress on the adjacent mountain.
After the Vukovci turn-off, observe the natural barriers that the water and mountains provide as you drive or bike toward the fortress. Looking up, the old fortress offers an imposing view. To arrive at the castle area, any number of paths may be picked along through the village area up the mountain. Depending on which way you go, you’ll see bee hives, a small dog or two, fishermen fishing, and/or a small church with tombstones. Though a rocky climb, it is doable for most people. At a moderate pace, it takes about 15 minutes to hike to the top.
Call to Climbers
There are some great opportunities for rock and urban climbers to scale the walls of the fortress. Starting at the bottom of the mountain, there are natural rock wall barriers that present unique challenges for those wanting to find the most adventurous way up to the fortress. If you go this route, contact us. We’ll help you get there and would like to capture some images of adventure lovers scaling the walls.
Inside the Fortress
Upon arriving at the top of the mountain, there are steps and a gate to enter the castle grounds. If you are more than 6 foot tall, be sure to duck at the bottom of the stairs. (smile)
On top of the mountain, inside the fortress grounds, there are a number of walls and buildings that have survived the centuries. Some facade has been added to some, but the passing of the centuries is still visible.
Inside the fortress are grassy areas and a number of trees. Some of these are where buildings used to be, some are open courtyard areas. The walls with the grass and the mountains in the background provide some unique photo ops.
The fortress is multi-layered. There are two-story buildings that don’t have a second floor or roof, but the architecture is still largely intact. Also, there are levels of courtyards, buildings, and lookouts.
It is easy to see where the stone for the construction came from. The walls of the fortress match the colors of the stony mountains around them.
The Views from the Fortress
The views from the windows are nice. A number of windows are still intact showing the quality of construction and materials. With mountains in view through the windows, there are a bunch of pictures waiting to be taken.
This turret provides a nice contrast for view, but it also is waiting for climbers to come and see if they can scale the walls.
Looking out from the ancient fortress provides a number of unbelievable vistas. There are a few bodies of water including Skadar Lake that borders Montenegro and Albania. On a clear day you can see into Albania. This view is looking off into the mountains of Montenegro.
Due to heavy rains, this marshy area was full of water. Even on an overcast day, the vistas are stunning.
Whether your interest is climbing, historical exploration, seeing the culture that lives on in the area, or taking pictures, we strongly encourage a trip to Zabljak Crnojevica. It has withstood time well and it has not been tainted with tourist trappings. So take a picnic, a camera, and some friends and enjoy this historical, ancient fortress treasure.