Ostrog, with its white cliff hanging church has been a place of pilgrimage for hundreds of years. While today, people make the journey here for a variety of reasons, the traditions and importance of Ostrog have remain unchanged throughout its long history. To journey here, no matter what your intentions are, is to participate in a pilgrimage that has occurred day by day for the past 300 hundred years. For budget travelers, figuring out how to get here can be the trickiest part. Good news to you, there is a way.
Why is the Monastery so Important?
Ostrog Monastery was founded by St. Basil of Ostrog, who moved his following of monks here after their monastery in Herzegovina was destroyed in the 17th century. After his death, he was named a Saint and his remains were kept on display at the church. The site has been known for the miracles that have occurred to the faithful who have come here to pay their respects. The monastery is still the most important pilgrimage site in the Balkans, as those from the Orthodox, Catholic, and even Islamic faith have come here to witness the miracles for themselves. In addition to the devout, the church has become very popular with tourists visiting Montenegro. While you can get to the church from almost anywhere you are in the country, most places will either have you needing to rent your own car ($40-$50 a day) or hop along with a tour which will set you back almost $40 a person. There is one place in the country however, where you can visit the Monastery for nearly a tenth of the price: Podgorica.
Podgorica: The most boring capital in all of Europe (maybe the world?)
As far as capital cities go, Podgorica has to be near the bottom of the list. The city has no worthy attractions, its shopping areas are basic, and the city consists of mostly haphazard Communist era buildings that do little to stir your imagination. We did our fair share of walking around the city as we searched high and low for a camera shop and vaccination clinic that had the Yellow Fever Vaccine (both with no success), and found absolutely nothing worthy of taking out my camera for. The few photos we do have, were just to show you how boring this city actually is.
So why stay here if there is nothing to do? While the capital is quite depressing, it has a direct link to the monastery that nowhere else in the country does. From Podgorica’s train station, several trains leave and pass through Ostrog everyday. Buying the tickets before boarding the train cost a mere $2.25 for a 45 minute train ride to the base of the mountain where Ostrog lies. As you will probably be passing the town on many itineraries, its worth a stop here for a night or two in order to visit the monastery.
Getting to Ostrog
When deciding what train to take, keep in mind that trains are few and far between so take a look at when trains are heading back to Podgorica. Just ask the information desk in the train station and they can give you a slip of paper with the current schedule. We took the 7:55 train and came back on the 2:35 train which proved to be the perfect amount of time at the Monastery. It is also best to buy a round trip ticket while in Podgorica, as there is no ticket counter at Ostrog station. Tickets are more expensive on the train.
While this is the cheapest way to visit the monastery, it does require you to put in the most effort. From the train station, you can just spot the church nestled into the cliff above, reminding you that you still have a long journey ahead of you. From the station, the monastery is a 3 kilometer journey and up 500 meters to reach the steps that lead into the sacred building. It is a nice climb as you past through small farm settlements, patches of moss covered woods, and a couple of churches. Be sure to also pack a lunch as there is nowhere to buy food once you are out of town.
The Hike Up
If your in good shape, an hour and change should be sufficient time to hike up to the church. But as the time between trains is long, it’s worthwhile to slow down, take in the scenery, and stop by the churches that are found midway to the upper monastery. The trail is well marked and mostly follows the road that leads up to the church. This is the path that pilgrims have been taking for centuries, with the most devout making the climb barefoot as an act of penance.
As the climb is steep, the way back down can be hard on the knees most of the way. Again, if you take it slow, the journey becomes much more enjoyable and you should have no need to rush to get back to the train station.
Visiting the Monasery
Your first up close glimpses of this church as sure to be special as the white washed church is nestled tightly into the side of the sheer cliff. As you begin to take in the place, its important to remember that this is a very important sight to many people and there are a few things you should keep in mind to respect this. Foremost, modest clothing should be worn when entering the church. Keeping your knees and shoulders covered is sufficient enough. Also when leaving the church, you should step out of doorways backwards, facing the church and relics as you leave. The devout will appreciate these actions from you.
The church itself has three main areas. After climbing up the church tower, the upper balcony allows you to get up close to the cliffs, which are painted with images of saints and other religious figures. On the far side, there is a small side chapel which is beautifully decorated with original frescoes, dating back to the church’s founding. After admiring these, head downstairs and get in the queue to pay your respects to St. Basil himself. The small side chapel, holds the remains of the revered saint which is attended to by a priest at all times. The remains are wrapped elegantly in maroon colored cloth at the front of the room. After taking in the atmosphere, remember to back out of the room rather than turn your back on the relics and altar.
Ostrog: To Continue a Tradition Hundreds of Years Old
The importance of Ostrog to the people of Montenegro and surrounding countries can not be overstated. Due to its significance, a journey here helps you understand the culture and people of this small coastal country. When in Montenegro, be sure to stop by and participate in one of the oldest ongoing traditions the region has to offer.