Question: Which rocky mountain got its entire nation named “dark” despite the summit itself being composed of nearly white stone?
Answer: Lovcen Mountain, Montenegro
Inland from the Bay of Kotor, glowing bright in the sunlight, a pair of rocky mountain peaks rise from pine forests. If they were described on appearance alone, you might call them the Pale Mountains or the Almost White Range. So how on earth did they become known as “black mountains”? Blame Italy.
For nearly 400 years ending just before the dawn of the 19th century, Venice ruled the coastal area around Kotor, controlling it as part of what was then Venetian Albania. Venetian rule dominated architecture, trade, and official traditions during this time, despite the fact that what we now call Montenegro already had its own culture, its own royalty (a family of Prince-Bishops), and its own Serbo-Croatian language.
What it didn’t have was a single name for the country, which had been divided into several realms (Duklja, Travunia, and Rascia) for its first few centuries, though the majority of the territory was named Zeta by the time the Venetians arrived. The interlopers fixated on the mountain that stood between their boats and Cetinje, which was the capital of Zeta and the seat of all official business. When viewed from the sea, the pine forest cloaking the mountain slopes looked like pitch black shadows in contrast to the white stone peaks, and the Venetians were not crazy about having to pass through such ominously dark territories to get to the capital.
Lovcen was then both an obstacle for them to conquer and a mighty symbol of their new territory, which they named Black Mountain (Montenegro). Almost immediately, the locals began using that name as well, but in their own language: Crna Gora. Both names are still in play: the locals call the area Crna Gora and the country Montenegro—but the mountain itself is called neither. By any name, Lovcen’s two peaks (Jezerski and Štirovnik) continue to dominate the skyline and offer the best views in the nation.
Fascinating Facts About Mount Lovcen
- Montenegro’s beloved nationalist poet and Prince-Bishop Petar II Petrović Njegoš, so loved the vistas here that he asked to be buried atop Jezerski in a humble chapel so that he could eternally enjoy the view.
- The mountain offered not just beautiful sights but strategic ones: Montenegrin troops used the mountainside as a base to fire down on Austro-Hungarian forces in the Bay of Kotor during World War I.
- In the same war, return fire destroyed the chapel housing Njegoš (though his body was preserved). When the war ended, he got new digs but no longer humble ones: a mausoleum featuring 20-foot stone guardians and a larger than life-sized statue of him cradled in the lap of an eagle.
- Behind the mausoleum, a lookout platform offers views of nearly the entire nation, encompassing the Bay of Kotor, Skadar Lake, Podgorica, Mount Runija, Mount Durmitor, Cetinje, Njegusi, and the border of Albania.
- Nobody is supposed to enjoy the view from sister peak Štirovnik, which was sealed off for military purposes; nonetheless, some local guides sneak in hikers who wish to experience the mile-high peak, the region’s highest.
- Because Lovcen is the physical border between the sea and inland ecosystems, it has two climate zones: Mediterranean and Continental. It contains flora and fauna of both, with more than two thousand plant species and nine different habitats.
- To Montenegrins, it not just a scenic view. They come here for hiking, animal tracking, and Nordic skiing in winter months.
- It is now considered the national symbol. As the tourism board described it: “What the statue of Liberty is for Americans, this is Lovcen for Montenegrins.”
- A popular Montenegrin folk song makes it even more explicit, as the refrain says, “Lovcen is our Holy Altar.”
View Lovcen from the Bay of Kotor, as the Venetians first did, or explore it up close on an optional tour during our Hidden Gems of the Dalmatian Coast & Greece Small Ship Adventure.