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History and culture of Montenegro

Montenegro is a relatively new country and only declared its regained independence in 2006. Even so, the region boasts a long history and a culture that has been in development for thousands of years.

Read on to find out which people have influenced the nation over the years, the origins of the country from what was formerly Yugoslavia, and where to visit to know more about Montenegrin history. We also cover some of Montenegro's modern day traditions and cultural quirks.

Montenegro’s journey to independence

There is evidence of human occupation in the Montenegrin region dating back over 2,500 years.

Across the centuries, a succession of invaders have ruled and influenced local culture, including Greeks, Celts, Slavs, Romans, Ottoman Turks and Venetians. The Venetians in particular ruled the region for nearly three centuries, contributing greatly to the beauty of Montenegro's architecture.

However perhaps the biggest influence on the people and landscape of Montenegro was the arrival of Christianity in the 6th century. There are several beautiful medieval churches and monasteries that still survive intact that you can visit today. Two excellent examples are the Savina Monastery in Herceg Novi and Cetinje Monastery in Cetinje – the latter of which is also known as St. Peter's Monastery.

Montenegro's first attempt to become independent was in 1878 under King Nikolai I. By 1905 they had their own constitution and were well on the way to organising their own affairs. Unfortunately, following two world wars in the first half of the 20th century, this attempt was short lived.

A long period of civil war and political turmoil followed and eventually saw the break-up of what was Yugoslavia into Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro. Today, Montenegro remains independent and is developing a thriving tourism industry which makes the most of the country's incredible natural beauty.

Historical buildings and architecture

As well as ancient monasteries and churches, there are several other buildings that are worth visiting to learn more about Montenegro's history.

Castle of San Giovanni, Kotor

Sat high up on a hill, you'll get panoramic views from the ramparts when you visit the Castle of San Giovanni. There's been a fortification on the site since the 6th century, while the current castle was built by the Venetians in the 15th century.

King Nikola's Palace, Cetinje

Built in the 1800s, this was the Montenegrin royal family's home for 50 years and it's interior has an opulent mix of neo-classical and Art Nouveau styles. You can see the Montenegrin crown jewels here, while there are also extensive gardens and a summer house.

Noteworthy museums

If you'd like to know more about Montenegro's heritage you can also visit the National Museum of Montenegro and the Museum of King Nikola, which are both in Cetinje.

Traditional music and dance

You're likely to see traditional music, dances and songs performed during your visit to Montenegro, as these are still very much alive within the culture. Even young Montenegrin's sing traditional folk songs regularly and with pride. They also incorporate ancient instruments – such as the single stringed gusle – into modern compositions, which merge old with new.

You may also see a traditional dance called the Oro performed. This dance is both a game and a kind of social occasion, designed so that young men and women in the group can get to know each other. Ultimately, it's a circle dance where one person starts by singing to another on the other side of the circle. A man enters the circle first and does a flamboyant dance, followed by a girl who dances gracefully. When they're tired they kiss and leave the circle and another couple enters.

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