They say that sometimes the best things come in small packages and in the case of the Montenegro this is indeed a minuscule nation.
Wrapped up into an area just two-thirds of the size of Wales it has majestic mountains, primeval forest regions and breathtaking beach towns. In the north east the air is amongst the clearest and fresh in Europe. Its larger-than-life open population meanwhile give many visitors a warm welcome making it currently one of Europe’s ‘must visit’ destinations.
During the Balkan wars Montenegro largely stayed aloof from the conflict and hate which raged around it. They were only dragged into hostilities thanks to its close geographical proximity to waring neighbours Serbia and the important strategic port of Croatia – Dubrovnik.
The overriding strategic importance of Montenegro (at least to Serbia) hailed from its ports on the Adriatic. Seaborne NATO oil and goods embargos made towns like Bar crucial entry points into Serbia especially during the later Kosovan wars on the late 90’s.
Ever since the Roman Empire split in two 1,600 years ago, Montenegro has sat on the borderline between east and west Europe. Despite being only a nation of 600,000 it has a richness of cultural history that can be seen in Venetian walled towns, flamboyant Orthodox monasteries, ornate Catholic churches and noticable towering mosques.
Then of course there is the building legacy of nearly 50 years as a non-aligned communist state.
With such a compelling and complex history Soviet architectural styles and Ottoman influences are readily noticable near the city centre of the capital.
During the heavy bombing of Podgorica in World War II a number of the city’s previously prominent structures were destroyed, and this allowed for a distinctive communist design movement to flourish.
With this diverse and enthralling combination of building designs, Podgorica’s streets make for a fascinating architectural expedition even where most of the crumbling football stadiums of old have now gone.
Adorning the walls of many of these vast communist era blocks are a range of murals and artworks dedicated to the local football club FK Buducnost Podgorica and some Montenegrin football playing greats of the past.
Likewise in the second city of Nikšić located in the west of the country, football graffiti dedicated to the local team Fudbalski klub Sutjeska adorns many a wall.
Montenegro isn’t Monaco or even the Croatia riviera. Humble and small its capital Podgorica would fit into one corner of Belgrade. But this is a historic nation that as recently as 1905 was a kingdom in its own right.
Following the breakup of Yugoslavia it was then with Serbia known as the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro. Only an independence referendum held in May 2006 saw Montenegro declare itself as the stand alone nation it is today.
Club football may have struggled in Montenegro since the end of the former Yugoslavia but as a nation itself Montenegro is far more progressive than its often shackled near neighbour Serbia. That progression can be seen in modern football stadia infrastructure that although humble and basic shows some evidence of a nation eagerly searching to progress and assimilate itself into a modern Europe.
You can see some of the graffiti discovered in Montenegro here.