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An independent country since May 2006, tiny Montenegro (about the size of Connecticut) overlooks the Adriatic Sea and lies between Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, and Albania. The 650,000 people who live here call it Crna Gora (which, like Montenegro, means "black mountain"), in tribute to the imposing, pine-forested mountains of the interior.
Montenegro's main draw is its unspoiled
nature, from the sand and pebble beaches along the coast—which is dotted with delightful Venetian-era fortified port towns and home to some excellent seafood restaurants—to the dramatic Alpine mountains of the interior, where visitors can participate in adventure sports such as rafting, mountain biking, and skiing. The locals are open and friendly, a proud, handsome, and educated people who are keen to preserve their own customs rather than succumb to globalization.
Montenegro's first known inhabitants were the Illyrians, who were farmers and hunters, and also worked iron and traded with the ancient Greeks. Urbanization began in the 4th century BC when the Greeks founded Budva, on the coast. In AD 9, the Romans annexed the region into the province of Illyricum (which ran down the Adriatic coast from the Istrian peninsula to Albania), calling it Doclea after the dominant local Illyrian tribe. When the Roman Empire was divided between east and west in AD 395, the fault line passed right through Montenegro. Later, this was to be the dividing line between Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic lands.
In the 7th century, the Slavs arrived from the region that is now Poland. They mixed with the descendants of the Romanized Illyrians and lived in the mountains, in clans, each ruled by a Župan (chieftain). Originally pagan, they soon adopted Christianity. In 1077, their independent state of Duklja (the Slavicized version of the Roman name, Doclea) was recognized as a kingdom by the pope. Later, Duklja became known as Zeta (derived from the old Slavic word for "harvest") and kept its freedom through paying off the Byzantine Empire, and fighting off the Ottoman Turks. Because of the constant threat of Ottoman invasion and fear of rival clans, courage in combat was emphasized as a major virtue in Zeta.
Meanwhile, most of the Montenegrin coast was under Venetian rule from 1420 to 1797. Due to ties with Italy, Roman Catholicism was the dominant faith here, whereas the Eastern Orthodox Church prevailed in Zeta. In fact, politics and religion became so intertwined in Zeta that from 1550 to 1696 it was governed by bishops. In 1697, the Petrović-Njegoš family took the helm as prince-bishops, initiating the Petrović dynasty, which ruled until 1918.
During both world wars, Montenegro sided with the Allies. In 1945, it became one of the six constituent republics that made up Yugoslavia, governed along communist lines by President Tito. Yugoslavia was not part of the Soviet Bloc, however, Tito having broken off relations with Stalin in 1948. The country was ruled under Tito's own form of communism—far more liberal than that in the former USSR.
During the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, no fighting took place on Montenegrin soil. The region did suffer economic hardship and a degree of political isolation. When Croatia and Slovenia claimed independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, Montenegro remained loyal to Belgrade. However, by May 2006, when all that was left of Yugoslavia was the so-called Union of Serbia and Montenegro, Montenegro held a referendum and voted for independence and became its own democratic republic. Today, tourism is the main force behind the economy, and foreign investors (notably Russian and British) keen to be in on the potential boom are buying up properties fast. Even Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have visited.
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