Sept. 26, 2015: This morning went got aboard our bus, and headed off to the south of Dubrovnik into the country of Montenegro. I’ve already told you a little about the siege of Dubrovnik, but we need to do a little history lesson before we go much further.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but the early 1990s are somewhat of a blur to me, possibly because we were totally consumed with child-rearing in those years. As a result, I can remember almost nothing about the Geo-politics affecting the former republic of Yugoslavia, whose breakup resulted in the countries of Croatia, Bosnia-Herzogovina, Montenegro, Serbia, Kosovo and Macedonia being formed following the death of Josip Broz “Tito” in 1980. For a while, the republic carried on with a rotating presidency among its 6 constituent republics.
However, we’ve had to do a deep dive on the history of this region in order to have any clue about what we’re seeing and what its historical significance might be, so we thought it might also be of assistance to you. In any event, here’s your minimal refresher so you can somewhat keep the next few posts straight.
Marshall Tito, former president of Yugoslavia, died in 1980. He was probably best-known (and most charitably remembered) for his ability to keep several distinctly different cultural and religious groups united into a cohesive republic for over 40 years. However, upon his death, there was a power vacuum, and the constituent groups started to break apart. The war criminal former leader of Serbia, Slobodan Milošević, planting the seeds of suspicion that a plot was afoot in Kosovo to oust or suppress the Serbian citizens of Kosovo. Using that as a pretext, Serbia annexed Kosovo. With some concern for the fate of their own republics, Slovenia and Croatia decided to secede. The first to go was Slovenia, which declared its independence in 1991. It was followed shortly thereafter by Croatia. Slovenia and Croatia are predominantly Roman Catholic. Montenegro and Serbia are predominantly Eastern Orthodox. However, Bosnia-Herzogovina is a melting pot, which while predominantly Muslim, also has Bosnian Serbs (E. Orthodox) and Croats. While Slovenia wasn’t strategically important, Croatia had both its lengthy sea coast, agricultural and manufacturing strongholds and strategic military posts. As a result, the remaining people of the Yugoslav Republic (largely egged on by the Serbians under Slobodan Milošević), labelled the Croatians traitors, and Montenegro led the attacks against them, supplied by forces of the Yugoslav People’s Army as directed by the government in Belgrade, Serbia.
Fast forward to today: As we drove though the southern part of Croatia, specifically the valley of Cilippi, which had been the Croatian manufacturing center, you can still see mile after mile of cratered manufacturing sites. Unlike the aid Dubrovnik enjoyed, the rest of southern Croatia still has numerous unrepaired areas. In fact, the whole area is now only good for agricultural use. Moreover, the entire valley still has active land mines which claim a life on a fairly regular basis. Needless to say, this is a pretty brutal wake up call for us.
Montenegro is just about 40 kilometers to the south of Dubrovnik. Our agenda today was to the visit the World Heritage-recognized Bay of Kotor. Here is a link so you can see the immensity of this bay:
The Bay of Kotor is basically the southern-most fjord in Europe and enjoys the deepest shipping bay in Europe.
We stopped in the town of Perast, along the Bay of Kotor, to board a boat which would take us first to the Church/shrine at Our Lady of the Rocks about five minutes’ cruise off the shore of Perast. Local legend has it that the island was formed by local fishermen dropping rocks on a reef to form the island after two of them saw an icon to the Virgin Mary cast up upon the reef. To this day, every summer, the villagers of Perast take to their boats to make a pilgrimage out to the island to drop more stones. This church has become a shrine to fishermen who believe that the Lady of the Rocks protects them and the church contains numerous offerings from fisherman who believe She has saved them.
Our journey continues along the Bay to the actual town of Kotor, past numerous small villages that all sort of look like they are sitting on a lake in the Alps. For such an heavily fished a trafficked bay, the water is amazingly clear, and we really enjoy our cruise on the calm waters.
Upon arriving in the town of Kotor, which is a well-preserved medieval town that managed to escape conquest by the Ottoman Empire, we are dumbfounded to see an absolutely immense cruise ship docked at the pier which utterly dwarfs the adjacent town. I guess they weren’t kidding when they told us how deep the bay is!
After enjoying a tour of the town and an alfresco lunch, we boarded the bus for the ride back to Dubrovnik.
Rather than driving back around the bay, the bus took a ferry that was smaller than the one we had used to get to Hvar to get us back on the road to Dubrovnik. It was quite the logistical achievement!
We returned to Dubrovnik in time for one more spectacular sunset, and enjoyed dinner at a great restaurant called Komine.