Ulcinj is a charming town on the southern coast of Montenegro. The Illyrians built it in the 5th century BC. And it was part of the Roman republic from the mid-second century BC. Following the division of the empire, it became part of the Eastern, Byzantine territory. With the weakening of the Byzantine Empire, Ulcinj came under the rule of various South Slavic states until the beginning of the 15th century, when it came under Venetian rule. The Venetian rule here lasted for about a century and a half, ending with the Ottoman conquer of Ulcinj. Despite Venetian attempts to recapture Ulcinj, it remained under Ottoman rule for more than 300 years, when, in the Congress of Berlin in 1878, it became a part of the Principality of Montenegro.
Ulcinj was a piracy base from Roman times until deep into Ottoman rule. During the Ottoman era, most of the population converted to Islam, so there are 22 mosques in Ulcinj and its close vicinity.
Two of them are the most eminent:
– The Sailor‘s mosque (Džamija mornara), which once served as the lighthouse. Many believe the Moors built it in the 14th century. This would make it one of the oldest mosques in the Balkans. Ibrahim Bushat Pasha rebuilt at the end of the 18th century after surviving the Battle of Krusi.
– Pasha‘s mosque (Pašina džamija) was erected in the early 18th century. It is dedicated to the conquerer of Ulcinj, Kılıç Ali Paşa (Occhiali), an Italian farmer who later became the grand admiral of the Ottoman fleet.
The most important historical monument of Ulcinj is the Ulcinj castle. It is the castle and the old town in one. The Illyrians first built it in the 5th century BC, but it has undergone multiple repairs and rebuilds throughout history. Since it is on the hill, you can see the beautiful panorama of the town from it. There are several historic buildings, but two of them are especially important:
– the Church of Saint Mary. This originally Catholic church was later converted into a mosque during Ottoman rule. It is now the Museum of Local History. In front of it is the old Slave market. It gets its name from the practice of the local pirates to abduct people during their raids and later demand a ransom.
Legend has it that one of these slaves was the famed Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes. It says that Dulcinea (Don Quixote’s beloved) was from Ulcinj. What was the legend of her supposed origin based on? Ulcinj was and still is, in some Romance countries, called Dulcinjo, which sounds similar to Dulcinea. However, it turns out that Cervantes was a slave in Algiers, proving this legend false.
– the Balšić tower was built in the late 14th or early 15th century under the rule of the Balšić dynasty. This well-preserved building originally had only two floors, but the Ottomans built one more. Today, the tower is the Art Gallery.
Ulcinj also has many beautiful beaches with crystal-clear water.
Velika plaža (the Great Beach), 5km from the town, is a spacious sandy beach stretching for 13km. It is one of the most popular beaches in Montenegro. Some call it Ulcinj‘s Copacabana.
Another popular destination, located near Velika plaža, is Ada Bojana, a river island formed by the delta of the Bojana river. It is a popular kitesurfing and windsurfing area and a famous naturist camp.
Valdanos beach, a former pirate haven, is the natural monument of the III category. Its Olive reserve is the largest in Montenegro, with more than 18 000 trees, with an average age of 800 years.
Mala plaža (Small beach) is located near the Old town. A sandy strand and shallow water make it especially popular among families with little children. With a length of 360m, the beach is not as small as its name would indicate.
You can easily reach Skadar Lake from Ulcinj with our car rental. The largest lake in the Balkan peninsula is home to over 280 bird species, including the rare Dalmatian pelican. This makes it one of the largest bird reserves in Europe and truly a must-visit destination for nature lovers and bird watchers. The lake also has diverse fish species, including endemic Skadar Lake carp. Traditional fishing villages, such as Virpazar, make it a fishermen’s paradise.
Not far away is the smaller Lake Šas (Šasko jezero). It has picturesque scenery and rich flora and fauna, which makes it an ideal place for fishing and nature photography.
In conclusion, Ulcinj and its surroundings are among the things you must see when in Montenegro, so book a car and be on your way!