One of the most cherished religious heritage monuments in Montenegro is the Sailors Mosque. Set in Ulcinj, this incredible landmark serves as a true representation of the multicultural and multiconfessional character of this area.
Montenegro is known as a country that cherishes differences among its citizens, which is witnessed in this mosque. Today, it stands as one of the rare examples of early Islamic architecture, telling the story of how Islam entered the region and how Muslims have lived in peace with Christians for centuries in this Balkan gem.
To truly grasp the importance of this incredible marvel, continue reading and discover what makes it so special.
The southernmost part of Montenegro’s coast celebrates Ulcinj, a multicultural hub with some of the finest beaches and historical attractions converging. The heart of this area is an incredible old town with an ancient wall overlooking Mala Plaža (Small Beach). A 17th-century fountain adorned with an Arabic inscription stands just a few steps away, completing the allure of the area. Its crescent moon invites you to enjoy the hints of Ulcinj’s storied past. This unique setting slowly transforms into modernity as you walk around, as you will encounter clubs, stores, and a myriad of amenities for tourists and locals alike.
But Ulcinj is more than stones and walls, as it is a huge natural wonder with its Velika Plaža (Big Beach), which stretches 13 kilometers along the Adriatic. It is claiming the title of the longest beach in the region and serving as the ultimate destination for kitesurfing enthusiasts. Nearby, Ada Bojana Island displays its marvelous sandy stretches where the Montenegrin river Bojana meets the sea. At the edge of this iconic location, Valdanos Bay nestles among ancient olive trees, offering an oasis of tranquility.
This area is also known for laid-back beach parties that complete the atmosphere and present the perfect balance between relaxation and adventure that awaits in Ulcinj.
The historic city of Ulcinj is home to one of the most enduring religious objects in Montenegro, the iconic Sailors’ Mosque. It stands as a testament to a storied past, and recently, it has been reconstructed in tribute to the courageous sailors and Islamic heritage of the country.
Many consider this mosque not just a religious edifice but a symbol of heartfelt gratitude that the locals of all religions have felt for the important members of society, the sailors who marked the city’s history.
Historical Significance of Sailors’ Mosque
The Sailors Mosque was originally built in the 14th century, presumably by Moorish merchants for prayer during their trade endeavors. It is considered to be one of the country’s oldest mosques, if not the oldest. The mosque’s existence, which was well-documented in numerous writings, surprised the Ottoman conquerors when they arrived in this region. They didn’t believe that there was a significant Islamic presence in Ulcinj up to that point. At the same time, the mosque’s early existence hints at the town’s ancient customs and diverse cultural influences. More importantly, it also speaks about the importance of faith for those braving the seas.
Up until today, there have been several reconstruction projects done on the mosque to preserve it. Ibrahim-Pasha Bushatlija, a significant figure in the mosque’s history and prominent Ottoman stateman, put forth the first order for reconstruction around 1798. This was a way to express his thankfulness following his survival at the Battle of Krusi. It was his way of honoring the sailors whose efforts significantly contributed to his family’s prosperity.
During this time, the mosque served as a place of worship and a cultural hub. The premises have been used for the needs of religious schools as well as a refuge for travelers.
The mosque was further changed and renovated several times on a minor scale until 1931 when the structure was destroyed. It is presumed that the destruction was related to nationalistic tendencies, but the mosque’s spirit endured, leading to a poignant revival eight decades later.
The Mosque Today
The old mosque, unfortunately, was not preserved in any significant form as the country was experiencing the rule of a communist regime and the unwillingness of authorities to tackle this issue. However, the new mosque was lovingly built in the same place where the old one stood. In the garden of this new Islamic complex, you can still see the foundation and some pieces of the historic building that stand as a testament to its long history.
Private investors from Alanya, Turkey, along with the Islamic Union of Montenegro and the Municipality of Ulcinj, funded the construction of the new mosque at this place. Unfortunately, on November 4, 2013, a lightning strike tested the Sailors’ Mosque, damaging the peak of its minaret.
Since then, craftsmen have repaired the damage, and the mosque now rises with its 26-meter-high minaret as Montenegro’s most magnificent representation of Islamic architecture. Like in the past, it serves both as a place of worship and a cultural landmark, symbolizing Ulcinj’s resilience and rich history to visitors and locals alike.
The Sailors’ Mosque stands as Ulcinj’s cherished monument, capturing the town’s maritime legacy, its cultural transformation under Ottoman rule, and its prevailing spirit. It is a great landmark to visit for those who wish to explore the depths of Montenegro’s Islamic architecture and the narratives shaping this Adriatic country.
Its reconstruction has breathed new life into the structure and spirit, symbolizing the resilience and unity of the Ulcinj community. Now, its towering minaret not only dominates Ulcinj’s skyline but also stands as a proud representative of Montenegro’s enduring multiculturalism.