Skadar National Park – Skadar Lake

One can admire one of the most beautiful panoramas of Montenegro for sure while standing on the Pavlova Strana point (the side of Pavle) and Odrinska Gora above Rijeka Crnojevica and Skadarsko Jezero lake. Skadarsko Jezero (Skadar Lake, Scutari Lake) is the largest lake at Balkan Peninsula and the largest freshwater lake in the Balkans. It is named after the city of Skadar (Shkodra) in northern Albania (Shkodër in Albanian, Scutari in Italian and Skadar in Serbian). The origin of the name comes from the Greek expression of “Skoutari”. Two thirds of the Skadar Lake is in Montenegro and the rest third lies in Albania. During the 90-es, when UN sanctions were imposed on Yugoslavia, smugglers used the lake to bring in cigarettes and petrol from the next-door state.

Skadarsko Jezero National Park covers 40.000 hectares, of which 391km2 is the Skadar Lake itself. In 1996, by Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, Skadarsko jezero – Skadar Lake was included in the Ramsar list of wetlands of international importance. Skadar Lake is situated in the karstic terrain of the southeast Dinaric Alps in Albania, surrounded by the stunning Montenegrin mountains of Lovćen, Sutorman, Rumija and Tarabosh on the southern side. Rumija Mountain rises above the town of Bar, and makes a natural Dinaric barrier, separating Adriatic Sea from the Skadar Lake basin. The Rumija Mountain is a site of great religious significance. The Cross of the Saint Jovan Vladimir is carried every year on the Feast of Pentecost from the village of Velji Mikulići to the summit of Rumija Mt. Traditionally, in addition to Orthodox Christians of Bar area, Catholics and Muslims also take part in the procession and ascent to the Rumija Mountain summit.

Skadar Lake is located in Zeta Skadar Valley and is 7 km away from the Adriatic Sea. The Skadar Lake is predominantly filled with waters of the Morača River, as well as the Rijeka Crnojevića, Orahovštica and the Kiri River in Albania. Driving through the newly build Sozina tunnel, the Skadar Lake is only a short 20 minute drive away from the Adriatic Sea.
Depending on the water level, the Skadar Lake surface varies from 530 to 370 sq km, when it becomes 44 km long and 14 km wide. Average depth of the Skadar Lake is 6 meters and as some parts of bottom are under sea level, it creates depth up to 60 meters. Of its total size of 391 sq km, the Skadar Lake therefore -more or less – covers some 219 sq km in Montenegro. Coast line of the Skadar Lake is very cut, especially in the north-western side. The Skadar Lake shore features numerous peninsulas and islands. Low valley of the northern part of Skadar Lake is often flooded. Skadar Lake is one of the largest lakes in Europe, especially when the water level is high, which contains 40 different kinds of fish.

Skadar Lake also hides 15 Medieval Orthodox Monasteries that are fascinating spiritual nests throughout history testifying on the rich and turbulent history of the Medieval Zeta. In the Chronicle of the Priest of Duklja – the Barski Rodoslov – is recorded that kings of the pre-Nemanide Dynasty had ruled from Skadar, King Mihajlo, his son Konstantin Bodin and Saint Jovan Vladimir, all buried in the Church of Saint Sergey and Vakh.  Those claims are archaeologically attested. The Church of the Dormition of the Mother of God had been built in 980, and makes the burial place of Prince John Vladimir and his wife Kosara – the  Prečista Krajinska. The Balšić dynasty ruled Zeta from 1360 to 1421 from Scutari (Alb. Skhoder, Serb. Skadar), and subsequently from Ulcinj in Lower Zeta. The political position of Djuradj II Stracimirović and his son and heir Balša III was marked by the effort to preserve the integrity of their realm against the Venetians, the Ottomans and the Hungarians, who all struggled for control over the coastal areas whose strategic center was the Skadar Lake – Lake Scutari. The oldest monastic complex of the Skadar Lake and the prototype of the Balšić trefoil churches is the monastery church of the Dormition of the Holy Virgin in Starčeva Gorica, one of the three largest islands in the Skadar Lake. Some of the Medieval Monasteries located on the Skadar Lake are extremely interesting in terms of historical records and their almost inaccessible locations – Monasteries of Kom, Beška with two churches dedicated to Saint George and the Holy Virgin, that are endowments erected by Jelena Balšić, the third daughter of the Serbian Prince Lazar, who was spouse of much older Đurađ II Stratimirović, lord of Zeta and Upper Albania. Having returned to Zeta after the death of her second husband, Duke Sandalj Hranić in 1435, Jelena Balšić set out to build her funerary church in the immediate vicinity of the foundation of her first husband, Djuradj II Stracimirović. Jelena Balsic did not take monastic vows, but she spent her last years in Dračevica near Bar and on the islet, looking after the Serbian Orthodox monasteries in her realm. Jelena Balsic was steadily defending the interest of the Orthodox church in Primorje, reading books, organizing handwriting book-copying and icon paining, and was erecting and restoring churches. The Medieval monks used to copy and write the books on those islands, until 1494 when the first publishing house of South Slavs was established in Obod. On the shores of the Skadar Lake there are also numerous Orthodox Christian Monasteries and churches worth visiting, as the  Bogorodica Prečiska Krajinska – the endowment of Duke Vladimir, considered as the oldest Monastery in Montenegro, Starčeva Gorica, Moračnik, Vranjina, dedicated to Saint Nicholas, on the confluence of Moraca River with the Skadar Lake, Orahovo Monastery – 2 km away from Virpazar… The Monastery of the Holy Virgin of Krajina is regarded as one of the oldest cultural monument of Montenegro. Remains of the Monastery with the church dedicated to Dormition of the Holy Virgin are located in the vicinity of Ostros, on the shores of the Skadar Lake. The Church was first mentioned at the end of the 10th century, in the Annals of the Priest of Doclea – Pop Duklanin. The Monastery has been founded by Prince Vladimir, who is connected with the legend of the tragic love with beautiful Kosara, daughter of Macedonian Tzar Samuil. The Monastery was for some time seat of the Zeta Metropolis, to the destroyed at the end of the 16th century. In the close vicinity of the Holy Virgin of Krajina Monastery there is the well which dates from 1001, which still today supply locals of the surrounding villages with fresh potable water. Montenegrins fought valiantly with Turks in the region of Zeta and Montenegro for which they have used numerous fortifications in Skadar Lake dating from the 14th til the 19th century – Tophala, Besac, Lesendro, Grmozur, Virska Kuca

The Skadar Lake is a crypt-depression /some parts of its bottom are lower than the sea level/ and is fed by the Moraca River and drained into the Adriatic by the long Bojana River, which makes the international border with Albania on the lower half of its course. Mountainous massif of Rumija Mountain, with the highest peak of 1594 meters, features Dinaric course, making the natural border between the Adriatic Sea and the Skadar Lake. Rumija Mountain dramatically steeply descend towards the Adriatic coast, while it gradually descend towards the southern part of Skadar Lake. Rumija Mountain forms the highest parts of the mountainous range that is 10 to 15 km wide. Rumija can be seen from far away – from the mountains around Tirana, from Velecikut, and of course Skodra, across the Lake. Free flowing water makes up about 91% of the Skadar Lake, while shallow waters under vegetation make up 9% of the lake, and in the north these shallow waters create a belt of swamps covering a territory of 22 sq km.

Skadar Lake is decorated by Goricas, small islands covered with wild pomegranate laurel and ivy. The Montenegrin part of the Skadar lake and its surrounding area were declared the National Park in 1983. Skadar Lake is one of the largest bird reserves in Europe, having 270 bird species, among which are some of the last pelicans in Europe, and thus popular with birders. The rare specimen of Dalmatian Pelican has become the trademark of the Skadar Lake National Park. The Skadar Lake also contains habitats of seagulls and herons and is abundant in fish, especially in carp, bleak and eel. The Skadar Lake contains a number of towers and platforms build specifically for bird watching and they have been placed in the areas of the 5 largest ornithological reserves: Manastirska tapija, Grmozur, Omerova gorica, Crni zar and Pancevo oko. Grmozur island, besides being called the Alcatraz of Montenegro, since was built by King Nikola to serve as dungeon for political opponents, is also known as the island of birds.

The Murići beach is one of the most beautiful and best beaches of the Skadar Lake, ideal for day excursions from Bar. The Murici beach is sandy and 600 meters long, with shallow waters. By the Murici beach there are several springs of fresh cold water, while in its hinterland there is the lush oak and chestnut forest, providing pleasant shade.

On the Skadar Lake shore there are two small towns – old urban centers featuring characteristic picturesque architecture – Virpazar and Rijeka Crnojevica. Both places are today recognized by their tiny restaurants serving delicious traditional specialties, especially the famous Skadar Lake smoked carp. Virpazar belongs to Bar municipality and it is located in the heart of Crmnica region, only 15 kilometers from the sea. The old part of Virpazar is interconnected via bridges on the Oraovstica and Virstica rivers, after which this settlement used to be called “a town on three bridges”. Once part of the ancient Slav province of Zeta, Virpazar was invaded by the Turks in the 13th century and occupied for five centuries to experience many battles witnessed by now crumbling fortresses such as Besac in Virpazar and Lessendro in Vranjina. When the Turks were expelled from Montenegro in the late 19th century, Skadar town itself (once the capital of Zeta) was incorporated into Albania and is also called Shkoder. Meanwhile several Albanian villages on the southern shores of the Skadar Lake, such as Ostros and Donji-Murići became part of Montenegro. During the fighting days against the Ottomans, Montenegro’s rulers established their ruling seat and bastion in the north-west wetlands, at Žabljak Crnojevići, until they were forced to move their capital to Cetinje in 1482.

Many cultural and entertainment events are organized during summer season such are “Days of Skadar Lake”, “Crmnica sports games”, literary evenings, artists colony, performances at the festival “Bar Chronicle” while in the winter visitors enjoy the festival “Days of wine and bleak “. The southern hinterland of the Skadar Lake – Crmnica is known for the best wine in Montenegro. There are also several villages around the Skadar Lake shore with a variety of authentic and nicely-appointed places to stay. In the rainy season Skadar Lake is full and blue and in the summer it appears silver, shimmering in the sun.

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