Podgorica
After sunset - Moraca river and Millenium Bridge in Podgorica by Vladimir Popovic Che

Podgorica is the capital of Montenegro and its administrative, cultural and economic centre.  This quickly developing city, with some 150,000 inhabitants, is located in the northern part of the River Zeta basin. It is the centre of a municipality containing some 1,500 square kilometres, that is, 10.7% of the territory of Montenegro. It sits at a relatively low altitude of 44.5 metres above sea level, which, along with its geographical position and some other factors, causes the climate to be very mild in winter and very hot during summer.

Historically, this particular part of Montenegro has always been suitable for the establishment of settlements, being a spot where important roads connecting the coast and the continental part of the country intersect and also the meeting point of four rivers, the Zeta, Moraca, Ribnica, and Cijevna. The touristic potential of this city is significant, and there are many reasons for this: the mild Mediterranean climate, the position of the city (only 60 km from the coast and 70 km from the closest mountain resorts) and the fact that there has been a significant influx of foreign capital over the past ten years, causing the city to start developing quickly. But it is not only tourism that could flourish in this area: it could also become a major food production centre, owing to the fertile soil of the basin. Podgorica, and the area of Crmnica, around Lake Skadar, are already well known for the production of high quality wines. Due to the favourable climatic conditions, Podgorica is surrounded by numerous vineyards.

Detail from Doclea (Duklja) by Vladimir Popovic Che

Podgorica has also had a rich and often tumultuous history. There have been human settlements in this area from as early as the Neolithic age. The first written records of any kind of settlement in the River Zeta basin refer to the Roman province of Praevalitana and the Roman city of Birsiminium, which lived in the shadow of the Illyrian town of Doclea (Duklja), named after one of the two major Illyrian tribes inhabiting these parts, the Docleatae. The other major Illyrian tribe, the Labeates, inhabited the entire area between Lake Skadar and Podgorica. They had their main fortification, called Metheon (known today as Medun), and very developed social and military systems in place. Docleatae inhabited the fertile valley of the River Zeta, which is located along the vital communication between the coastal and continental regions of Montenegro, and therefore their swift economic rise was only logical. Their most important settlement, Doclea, was very large by the standards of that time, with 8-10 thousand inhabitants. From the 5th century, the settling of Slavic and Avaric tribes began in this area, always coupled with destructive raids on the native tribes and settlements. Doclea was not exempt from these violent raids, which would, eventually, along with natural disasters, lead to the complete obliteration of this once prosperous town. After the Slavic tribes settled in this area they established another settlement, which took over the role previously held by Doclea. It was named Ribnica, probably after the river on the bank of which it was built. Just like Doclea, Ribnica also quickly developed, owing to its position at the intersection of important trading routes, especially the one between Dubrovnik and the territories ruled by the Nemanjic dynasty.

Sahat kula, the old clock tower is one of the landmarks of Podgorica

The name Podgorica was first mentioned in 1326 in a court document from the archives of Kotor. Sharing the same geographic advantages as Doclea and Ribnica, Podgorica also quickly developed. However, the economic growth of Podgorica was brought to an abrupt halt in 1474 with the Turkish occupation of the city. The Turks turned the previously flourishing trading post into their main fortified bastion, which served from then on as the main base for launching attacks against the rebellious Montenegrin clans. Podgorica remained under the Turkish rule until the Berlin Congress in 1878, when it was annexed to Montenegro. From that date, a new era of development began in Podgorica. Trade was restarted and economic growth renewed. Podgorica quickly developed. The first forms of capital accumulation began to appear, and in 1904 the first important financial institution was established - the Zeta Savings Bank. The construction of roads leading to other Montenegrin towns and settlements also began. Two years before the Zeta Savings Bank was founded, in 1902, the first significant company, the tobacco factory, was established in Podgorica.

The period of World War II was an especially difficult one for this city. It suffered over 70 severe bombardments and was razed to the ground. Some 4,100 people died during this period. Podgorica was finally liberated on December 19th 1944. On July 13th 1946, it became the capital of the Republic of Montenegro, a part of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and was renamed Titograd, after the war hero and elected president of Yugoslavia, Josip Broz Tito. During the period immediately after the war, the city was reconstructed and a new layout was introduced, featuring a grid structure and wide main boulevards.

Church of Christs Resurection (Saborni Hram Hristovog Vaskrsenja) in Podgorica

Today, Podgorica is a modern, quickly developing and expanding city. In terms of its climate, its position near Lake Skadar and the proximity of the surrounding mountains create a specific combination of different climates (Mediterranean, due to the influx of warm air from the Adriatic Sea through the valley of the Bojana River and then through the basin of Lake Skadar, and a continental climate) resulting in very hot and dry summers and mild and rainy winters. In summertime the temperatures may rise above 40°C. But, thanks to its convenient position and the existence of roads connecting it to the coast and the mountain resorts alike, the heat of the Podgorica summer can be alleviated by either going for a refreshing swim in the Adriatic Sea or for an invigorating hike in the fresh (and much cooler) air of one of the mountain resorts in the vicinity of the capital, as you prefer. Podgorica is unique in many ways and one of them is that it has a clear mountain river running straight through the middle of it, the River Moraca, with its icy cold, emerald-green water and abundance of fish. It is not uncommon to see people fly-fishing in the central downtown area, while the busy traffic rolls above their heads, over one of the several bridges connecting the southern and the northern parts of the city. Bridges are increasingly becoming a prominent characteristic of this city, the most attractive being the Millennium Bridge, a single-pylon bridge designed by the architect Mladen Ulicevic in 2005. It has become the new symbol of the city, its growth and aspirations for the future. There are also a couple of pedestrian bridges across the Moraca. If you are the type of tourist interested in history, there are several museums in Podgorica to visit, such as the Contemporary Arts Centre (located in the former winter residence of King Nikola I), the Municipal Museum and the Natural History Museum. There are also a couple of localities in the vicinity of Podgorica worth seeing, such as the remains of the ancient fortress of Medun, some 13 km north-east of the city and the archaeological dig of the ancient city of Doclea, some three kilometres to the north-west. There are also two parts of the city of Podgorica that have kept their old architecture from the time of Turkish rule, one located around the old Clock Tower, with its narrow streets, old houses and two small mosques, called Stara Varos, and the other, located around the remains of the old Turkish prison, near the bus station, called Drac. If you are the kind of person who likes enjoying a relaxed cup of coffee or some other beverage, Podgorica offers a multitude of places to do that. The best time of year for this is spring and one of the most attractive places to do so would be one of the three terraces of the Hotel Podgorica, located right on the bank of the River Moraca, right opposite from Stara Varos. For those interested in religious architecture, there is the Monastery of Dajbabe, four kilometres south-west of Podgorica, off the Virpazar-Petrovac Road. The last, but certainly not the least of the landmarks of Podgorica, is the hill from which the city derives its name, Gorica. If you enjoy a nice walk in the evening or if you like jogging in the morning, then this is the place for you.