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The text below about Montenegro is only the excerpt from reportage "Where East Meets West; A Visit to Picturesque Dalmatia, Montenegro and Herzegovina" by Marian Cruger Coffin, from May 1908 edition of National Geographic Magazine. The full reportage (37 scaned pages) is available on The Njegos Network.



A land of mountains, apparently without valleys, and almost destitute of vegetation. Montenegro seems to have emerged out of a chaos of the goods to be primeval rib of the world. And, in keeping with the country, is the proud and independent character of this race, who have retreated step by step before the Turk from the fat lands they once held, preferring freedom in their rocky fastnesses to soft living under the yoke of Islam. And it must be remembered to their everlasting credit that they not only remained free when the other Slav peoples as well as the Greeks, Albanian, and Bulgar fell before the power of the Turk, but that they maintained their independence when all Europe, to the gates of Vienna, trembled before the hosts of the Crescent.

Disembarking at Cattaro (lying baking in the August sun) after a wonderful sail through the tortuous Bocche di Cattaro or "mouths of Cattaro", we took the waiting carriage and started on the climb up the mountain wall to Montenegro or the "Black Mountain". Cattaro is the natural port for Montenegro, but is jealously guarded by Austria, and it was not until we had ascended for more than an hour that we came to the striped black and yellow post that marks the boundary. Our driver stopped to water the horses, to collect his revolver (left at a wayside hut, as it is forbidden to carry weapons over the border), and pointed to his native crags above, saying proudly, "Crnagora". We turned for a last look at the super view spread out below us, the sea shimmering in the distance, and at our feet the land-locked Bocche guarded by the mighty Orjen and the peaks of Herzegovina to the north and west.

We reached Njegus by the waning light. This our first Montenegrin town was the birthplace of the prince, and is a village with one wide street and small, low stone houses. Wherever there is sufficient space little patches of vegetables are cultivated in a series of stone terraces, built to keep the precious soil from being swept away by the heavy rains. These little garden plats give a curiously checker-board aspect to the valleys and hillsides in contrast to the wastes of rocks above.

From Njegus we climbed steadily up through the same dreary crags, even more solitary and impressive in the moonlight, and reached the top of the pass (3.500 feet), from which Cettinje can be seen in the daylight. Scarce a trace of habitation was to be seen. We stopped to water the horses at a wayside hut, wild young girls shyly waited on us, than passed a solitary dwelling and heard to the minor wail of the one-stringed gusle (the national musical instrument) and a strong bass voice singing one of the old ballads, probably about the Tzar Lazar and the field of Kosovo, or possibly of doings of the singer's own immediate forefathers in a border fray against the hated Albanians.


The Europe we know is left far behind. We drop suddenly from the complexities of modern life into the peace and simplicity of the patriarchal system, still in force in this strange little state where east and west meet so subtly. Here a man's life is of small account, but he will hold his honor above all earthly price, while the ambition of every boy is to be a warrior and rival the deed of the heroes of old.

Twenty years ago Cettinje was a collection of hovels. Now it is a clean, neat little town with wide streets and low stone houses roofed with red tile. There are no attempts at architectural decoration - all is plain and bare and seems to have sprung from the very soil of the mountain-locked plain. It has been called a kindergarten capital, and though but a village in size, conducts itself with the importance befitting the center of the country. It boasts a theater and the Prince's very modest palace, while the large, pretentious embassies of Austria and Russia guard opposite ends of the town like two great bloodhounds waiting to pounce on their prey.

Sights, in the strict sense of the word, there are none, but one may entertain oneself by bargaining in the market with the handsome girls for colored strips of embroidery with which they trim their blouses, chatting with the some one who has a word or two of German or Italian, admiring the medals of the older men gained in the last war with the Turks (proudly shown off by the younger men, the wearers modestly deprecating their own glory), taking a friendly cup of coffee with the tailor who is making one a national costume, or waiting for a glimpse of some member of the royal family to pass by, possibly the Prince himself.

But the amusement of all other that never palled on us was watching this handsome race airing their finery in the open streets of Cettinje. The national costume seems designed to show of the grace and dignity inherent in even the humblest Montenegrin-crimson and gold sparkle in the sunshine, in dazzling contrast to the somber tints of the encircling mountains, real gold, too, which is elaborately worked in the garment by hand. From the royal family down, the men wear a long, wide-skirted coat of light grey, white, robin's egg blue, or dark green cloth, embroidered in gold, or dark red, open wide in front over a crimson waistcoat heavily decorated in gold, and confined about the waist by a broad sash of plaid silk. The belt is stuck full of weapons, knives, pistols, etc., for our friend considers his toilette incomplete without such accessories, and indeed one's eyes become so accustomed to seeing every man a walking arsenal that on returning to work-a-day Europe people look strangely undressed! Dark blue breeches, baggy to the knee, with the leg either incased in white homespun and low string shoes on the feet, this is thoroughly characteristic, or if the wearer be a bit of a dandy a pair of high black riding boots will be worn instead: a cane for dress occasions and the cocky stiff-brimmed cap complete the costume.

A tale hangs by the cap. The Montenegrins are a conservative people and, like all the Serbs of the Balkans, look back to the days of the great Serbian Empire when the Slavs held most of the Peninsula. The highest point of glory was reached under Stephen Dushan, 1337-1356, who planned to keep the Turk out of Europe, but who unfortunately died at the height of his career. In 1389 the different Slav peoples made their last united stand under Tzar Lazar Gubijanovich on the plain of Kosovo. The day was at first with Tzar Lazar, but, as usual in the Peninsula, jealousies prevented a concerted action and he was betrayed by his son in law, Vuk Brankovich, who coveted the crown. He deserted to the enemy with 12.000 followers, a frightful slaughter ensued, and the Balkans fell to the invader. This fateful 15th of June is a day of mourning throughout Serb lands and the Montenegrin cap is worn in commemoration - the black is for mourning, and the red-centered crown for the blood shed on the field of Kosovo. A semicircle of gilt braid encloses the Prince's initials H.I., the circle typifying the rainbow of hope that the Turk will be driven from Europe and the great Serbian Empire again established.


The dress of the women is not so gaudy as that of the men, though very graceful. Like their brothers, they wear the national cap without the gold braid, the married women being distinguished by a black lace veil falling behind. The hair is parted and the mass of heavy braids forms a coronet for the well-carried heads. They wear a soft, silky blouse with open sleeves and trimmed with strips of delicate embroidery, a band of which forms the low collar, then red or black velveteen bolero heavily braided in gold, and over all a semi-fitting, open, sleeveless coat reaching to the knees of the same delicate shades as worn by the men.

It would be hard to find a handsomer race; the men seldom under six feet, strut about like war lords. Their only business in the life for generations has been to protect their families from Turkish raids when not engaged in actual warfare. Consequently most of the hard works has fallen to the women's share, which they cheerfully perform, often carrying heavy loads, such as great blocks of ice, from the higher mountains down to the towns. Such labor and the hard conditions of life age them early, but when young the girls are really beautiful, with noble, Madonna-like faces; the type is rather mixed in coloring, neither light nor dark. We saw many fine gray eyes and especially noticed a lovely shade of ruddy gold hair.

Travelling in Montenegro is delightfully simple; there are no trains and only one carriage road in and out of Cettinje: you either go by carriage or you take a pack pony and scramble over the mountain tracks. It is said that Prince Nickola wishes to make Nikshitz his capital, as being more in the center of the principality; the one road from Cettinje connects with it via Podgoritza, but it is doubtful if the scheme will be carried through, as Cettinje is considered by the representatives of the Powers to be the "jumping-off place" and certainly Nikshitz would be much less accessible.

[end of excerpt]