The Skadarsko Lake and Rijeka Crnojevica

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The last habitat of the pelicans in Europe, the biggest bird reservation in Europe, one of the last freshwater marshes in the Mediterranean, the largest lake in the Balkans, one of the biggest natural and historical attractions in Montenegro! All these superlatives are ascribed to Skadar lake.

The lake is located in the Zetsko – Skadarska valley 7km far from the sea. Two thirds of it belongs to Montenegro and 1/3 is located on Albanian territory. Depending on the water level, the lake surface varies from 370 to 530km2. A Montenegrin part of the Skadar lake, with 40 000m2 surface together with the coast, was proclaimed national park. The lake has crypto-depression which means that some parts of its bottom are below sea level. There are around 30 such places and they are called “oke”. The deepest “oko” is Radus, at least 60m deep. The average depth of “oko” is 6m.

While cruising along the lake, one can notice its jagged coastline with many bays, islands and peninsulas projecting into it. The coast is swampy, covered with high reeds, while the lake surface is covered with a carpet made of swampy plants with yellow and white chestnuts, and a special plant called kesoranja. The southern part of the lake is rocky and it contains the forests of the horse chestnuts.

By Ramsar convention in 1996, Skadar lake was included in the swamps world list as an important habitat of water birds. The trademark of this lake is the curly pelican. Around 40 fish species live in the lake and the most interesting among them are autochthonous species such as carps and bleaks. It is interesting that even some saltwater fish might be found here – eel, salmon and many other species.

In the basin around Skadar lake, there were around 20 monastery complexes. That is why this area was called “Zeta’s Holy Hill” (Zetska Sveta Gora). Lesendro and other fortifications bear witness to battles fought here between Montenegrins and Turks. Monasteries, churches, fortifications and sacral monuments recall memories of the old rulers, the Balsic family and the Crnojevic family.

Islands

These numerous island are not only interesting as bird paradises but also as cultural and historical monuments that bear witness to the earlier importance of this area.

Vranjina island is a picturesque fishing colony. St. Nikola’s monastery, recently restored by father Nikola, who was a treasurer in Hilandar for ten years, is situated here. King Nikola’s daughters used to spend summer vacations on the island, in a palace which was destroyed.

Grmozur islet is called “Montenegrin Alcatraz”. It is the islet with the remains of an old Turkish fortress used as a prison for King Nikola’s political opponents who were non-swimmers. Grmozur is also a “bird island”.

On Starcevo islet, there is a renovated church from XIV century, renovated tavern and the tomb of Bozidar Vukovic – Podgoricanin, the printer of the first Cyrillic books.

Krajinski archipelago is comprised of a series of around 50 islands and crags along the southwestern coast.

Golubovo lake (Dove’s lake) is the biggest nesting area of the silver seagull in Montenegro. It is interesting that the saltwater birds build their nests on this freshwater island. It is possible to photograph the nests and birds, but one should not touch the eggs because seagulls are a protected species.

On Beska island, there is a memorial church of Jelena Balsic. If you are lucky, you might see flocks of rock doves or little owls.

Fifteen minutes southeast from the seagull island, there is a heron island known as Omerova gorica. Among the laurel trees, there is a colony of 40 nests of gray herons described during the 70’s as the only known colony of herons built on laurels. In recent years white herons might be seen among the gray herons. As an endangered species, herons are protected by the law.

The best place to finish your visit to the island is Muricka beach, the only sandy beach on the island which can be compared with the most beautiful Adriatic beaches. On the island, there is a restaurant where one can enjoy carp from Skadar lake served under the open sky. If you want to visit bird island, the boats can be rented from local fishermen. If you do not like long cruises, you may reach the beach from land.

Rijeka Crnojevica On the lake coast, there is a place known as a metropolis of Montenegrin medieval state, Rijeka Crnojevica. This small fishing place used to be a very important trade center. The Montenegrin rulers enjoyed the climate here. Here the first book in Cyrillic script was printed. The fishing places on “oke” were of great importance for this area. There are many of them in this area and they abound with fish. Prior to Balkan wars, Rijeka Crnojevica had many workhouse, and the first pharmacy in Montenegro was open right here as well as the first arms workhouse. In the “Marica” factory, pearls from fish scales were made.

The tourist agency MONTENEGROEXPRESS organizes cruises, lake visits, lunch in Montenegrin ethno style and many additional excursion programs. Tel: (381 81) 245–470.