Ostrog Monastery, Montenegro
Cut into a cliff, this spectacular Montenegro monastery near Niksic has centuries of fascinating history… like the Ostrog Monastery miracles, for example!
Without giving it too much thought, I join the queue at the top of this monastery in Montenegro. Perhaps it’s my partial British heritage that subconsciously prevents me from questioning what the line is for – I just feel compelled to stand behind someone and wait, slowly shuffling ahead with the others.
My mind wanders slightly and I look out over the view from Ostrog Monastery. At the top of a mountain in central Montenegro, with an expansive valley stretching out below me, it’s a good location to enjoy the scenery.
I don’t really mentally process that everyone in the queue is a local, all the women have their heads covered with scarves, and many are holding bags full of food or clothes.
It’s only when I’m almost at the end of the queue that I notice the bags are being put into wooden baskets like offerings – but by then it’s too late.
I’m ushered through a tiny entrance in the cliff I need to bow down to get through… and I find myself in a cave.
This isn’t any ordinary cave, though. The walls are painted with frescoes from many years ago, there’s a small altar in one corner and in front of it is a priest giving blessings and mumbling in a language I can’t understand.
I realise I had been waiting with everyone for this special moment to be face to face with the human representative of the divine spirit of Ostrog Monastery.
Thinking quickly, I cower in a corner and wave the person begins me past. I pretend this was planned and act calm. I stand for a while and admire the artwork which surrounds me. I inspect everything carefully and put on a face designed to give off respectful appreciation.
Then I smile politely at everyone and make a retreat back through the small hole, bowing out of necessity rather than devotion as I squeeze back out.
This is what happens when tourists like me visit a site that is still a significant centre of worship.
The story behind Ostrog Monastery
Ostrog Monastery is, in fact, the most important Orthodox site in Montenegro – and definitely the most dramatic!
It was built in the 1600s by literally carving into the face of a cliff. The work was overseen by the Bishop of Herzegovina at the time, who would go on to be known as St Basil of Ostrog.
His decision to build this monastery in Montenegro into a cliff was probably in a large part for protection, because this was the time when the Ottoman Empire was causing havoc in the area.
But the legends say that St Basil was also guided by God to create something special here. In the first cave, he built a church. The second cave he made a bedroom for guests. And the third cave was where the religious artefacts would be held.
Large and painted white, Ostrog Monastery can be seen from kilometres away, contrasted against the greys and oranges of the natural rock. But, actually, this is all from a restoration that happened around 1925 after a major fire destroyed much of the monastery.
The two caves, which are the most important part of the site, did survive, though. Perhaps St Basil of Ostrog was protecting them.
Ostrog Monastery miracles
When St Basil of Ostrog died in 1671, he was buried at the monastery in Montenegro that he had founded. But this was not the end. In some ways, it was just the beginning.
This is when the miracles of Ostrog Monastery began, with people telling stories of St Basil appearing in their dreams. He would often be there to guide them, to help them, to heal them.
Over the years, the stories spread, and people started coming to visit Ostrog Monastery. Many of these visitors who were sick or injured were said to be healed by being in the presence of the relics of St Basil.
There are countless stories of these miracles, people who claim that St Basil cured them – even in modern times.
One of the most famous tales that’s told is of a former US senator called William Barr who had been injured in an attempted assassination. He said he had a recurring dream of an old man in a white church in a cliff but didn’t know where it was.
When he one day heard about Ostrog Monastery, he decided to do a pilgrimage. He spent many days, walking (in pain) up to the monastery and kneeling before St Basil’s relics.
Each day he felt less pain until eventually it went away completely.
Pilgrimage to Ostrog Monastery
Every year, tens of thousands of people make a pilgrimage to Ostrog Monastery in the hope that the relics of St Basil will be able to help them. Many of them go barefoot for the last three kilometres from the lower monastery, up the winding road to the upper monastery.
Although I am not doing it for any spiritual reason, I find myself doing a bit of a pilgrimage myself.
I have come from Podgorica to Ostrog Monastery by public transport, which has dropped me off on the highway, about eight kilometres from the upper monastery. Although there are a couple of taxis waiting nearby, I decide to walk.
(I will go into the transport options to get to Ostrog Monastery shortly but, if you’re interested in visiting, I would recommend a tour to take the hassle out of the logistics and save yourself the walk! I would recommend this great tour that also visits some other sites.)
There are definitely a lot of people here when I visit. Some are tourists, but the majority are definitely local. Maybe not pilgrims, as such, but presumably believers who have come to worship.
It’s a Saturday, so it’s probably a bit busier than usual. But it’s interesting to see such a cross section of the community here. From the old grandmothers to hip well-dressed twenty-somethings.
The pilgrimage to Ostrog Monastery is clearly not confined to just a certain type of person.
I guess that included me. I may not have brought a bag to donate to the church, I may not have had a blessing, and I may not have appreciated the presence of Saint Basil’s remains.
But the long walk each way did give me plenty of time to think and it’s hard not to be inspired or awed by these incredible buildings in the cliffs above the Bjelopavlici Plain.
This monastery in Montenegro is a highlight of my time in the country and I would recommend trying to visit Ostrog Monastery if you can. If you have any ailments, St Basil may be able to help.
Where is Ostrog Monastery?
The Ostrog Monastery is just off the main highway between Podgorica and Niksic.
By road, Ostrog Monastery is about 25 kilometres from Niksic, about 40 Kilometres from Podgorica, and about 120 Kilometres from Kotor.
You can see it on a map here.
How do you get to Ostrog Monastery?
I wouldn’t say it’s simple to get to Ostrog Monastery by public transport, but it is possible.
To get from Budva or Kotor to Ostrog Monastery, you’ll need to first get to Podgorica.
To get from Niksic or Podgorica to Ostrog Monastery, you can take a train to Ostrog train station, or jump on one of the many buses that go between the two cities and get off on the highway at Bogetici (just tell the driver ‘Ostrog’ when you get on).
From Bogetici, it’s a two hour walk one way. From the train station, it’s a bit over one hour. Or there’ll probably be taxis waiting at both to take you the last leg.
Of course, it’s much easier with a tour (which I’ll discuss in a moment), or I would also recommend hiring a car to explore Montenegro.
When is Ostrog Monastery open?
Ostrog Monastery is open from May to September from 06:00 – 17:00.
From October to April, it’s open from 05:00 – 16:00.
How much does it cost to visit Ostrog Monastery?
There is no cost to visit Ostrog Monastery but there is an opportunity to leave a donation, if you like.
Are there tours to Ostrog Monastery?
The easiest way to visit Ostrog Monastery is with a tour and, unless you have a lot of time and enjoy the challenge, I would recommend you take one.
Most of the Ostrog Monastery tours will also visit some other sites in the region so you get to see some bonus parts of Montenegro. Plus the tours can be quite affordable, especially considering all the time they save.
I would recommend this great tour, which packs A LOT into one day. You can browse some of the other tours that include the monastery here.
THE BEST ACCOMMODATION IN PODGORICA
Although you could also stay somewhere like Kotor, the best accommodation to visit the monastery is in nearby Podgorica.
For a friendly and cosy hostel, I would recommend the lovely Hostel Q.
With a nice breakfast and unbeatable location, Hotel Kerber is really good value.
For something modern and cool, Hotel Hemera has a great design and fantastic facilities.
And the best five-star luxury hotel is the Hilton Podgorica Crna Gora, in the centre of the city.