After nearly a century of decay, Montenegrins started timidly turning back to Rijeka Crnojevica at the beginning of the new millennium. Dressed stone embankments were erected on the Rijeka waterfront, this was then paved, Danilo’s Bridge reconstructed… and there is hope that the small town will manage to recover at least a small part of its former splendor.
When you leave Podgorica, on your way to Rijeka, your first stop will be at Pavlova strana, overlooking the River Crnojevica that springs from the Obodska cave and runs down the valley, meandering among the nearby hills and flowing into Skadar Lake. After the surreal image of natural harmony from Pavlova strana, the road goes on to another view. A view to the past and… oblivion…
Nestled into the silence of Skadar Lake, away from modern roads, new buildings, industry… almost deserted by both its citizens and visitors… this small town has been lost in time. The beauty of its nature has remained untouched because of human neglect, glorious past of this place.
A law prohibiting the sale of fish also contributed to the slow death of this town, as well as the construction of the Podgorica Cetinje road, which did not go through Rijeka. A whole town with around 500 citizens remained derelict and deserted. It was also considerably damaged in the devastating earthquake of 1979.
Montenegrins started timidly turning back to Rijeka Crnojevica at the beginning of the new millennium. Dressed stone embankments were erected on the Rijeka waterfront, this was then paved, Danilo’s Bridge reconstructed…
Tourists have again started coming from Russia, Italy, Great Britain… together with the hope that this small town will manage to recover at least a small part of its former splendor so that a beautiful heritage would not slip into oblivion and neglect, living on only in the canvasses of painters and in the eye of a cameraman.
The history of oblivion
The beginning of the story of Rijeka is related to a former ruler of Zeta, Ivan Crnojevic, who, while running away from the Ottoman army in 1475, erected a fortification and a monastery on Obod hill, with a church dedicated to St Nicholas. He moved his capital there from the Zabljak fortification, while the monastery became the seat of the Metropolitanate of Zeta.
The Town of Obod is better known for the first Montenegrin printing house, than as the seat of the Crnojevic Dynasty. Ivan’s son, Djuradj Crnojevic, bought a printing press from Venice (only 38 years after Guttenberg), which was used to print Oktoih, the first printed book among the South Slavs, in 1494. The printers were hieromonks, out of whom Makarije was the most skilled. The printing house was active until the Montenegrins were forced to melt down its lead letters into rifle ammunition in order to defend their freedom. A modest plaque, exhibited on the walls of the remains of the Obod fortress, which informs visitors that the Obod printing house used to work there.
The dynasty that ruled Montenegro after the Crnojevic was also not indifferent to the beauties of this palace. The Metropolitan and ruler of Montenegro, Petar I Petrovic Njegos, build a house here in the early 19th century, and it later became known as the Bishop’s House. A famous landmark of Rijeka Crnijevica, its stone bridge, was erected in 1853 by Prince Danilo. Apart from the bridge, Danilo built a house on the left riverbank, and the two compose a harmonious whole and blend perfectly with the surroundings. King Nikola built his winter palace, Ljeskovac, in this town, as well as a large bridge on the road connecting Rijeka and Virpazar.
During the 19th and the early 20th centuries, Rijeka Crnojevica was Montenegro’s largest port and leading trade centre. Many people of different religions and nations came to its market, which offered goods from all parts of Montenegro. A local product that was especially appreciated was dried bleak, which was a highly valued dish in Italy. The then great wealth in this area was based on community land, located in the lakes inlets, the so called oke, which are numerous in this area and very rich in fish. At that time, the town used to have its town government, district court, customs house, a salt and oil monopoly, and it was the main industrial centre of Montenegro. Before the Balkan Wars, Rijeka was full of manufacturers. The first pharmacy in Montenegro was opened here, as well as the first gunsmith shop. The Marica factory produced fine mother-of-pearl, that is, pearls made out of fish scales. At that time, there were seventy-five different trade and service companies, as well as nearly seventy taverns in the town, all of which operated successfully. Nowadays, there are three taverns in Rijeka, one of which (next to Danilo’s Bridge) bears the symbolic name “The First Port”.