Bububu-2. Crngrn Jrnl. Issue 21. Release of the book “Montenegrins 8 + 11 + 1 + 9”. Extensive interview with archaeologist Goran Pajović.

Well then! “Montenegrins 8 + 11 + 1 + 9”, the book that has been toiled at first by me and Petar Ćuković, then by its compilers Vladimir Đurišić, Ognjen Spahić, Liliana Ćuković, and by many other good people later on, has come off the press. This is a collection of eight novelists, a playwright, and eleven poets. They have been translated to Russian by our best experts on Serbian text, from the merited Larisa Savelieva, who has put in Russian almost all of Milorad Pavić, to the young and enthusiastic Anna Rostokina, who has already earned herself a name as the most energetic translator of contemporary poetry of the Balkans.

“8 + 11 + 1 + 9” is not an anthology; when compiling the book, its makers have been driven not solely by the idea of spotlighting the widest palette of contemporary Montenegrin writers, but by their own vision of beauty. The book has three editors, and a number of authors are presented, thus one does get a sense of a panoramic view. To make this sense stronger, we have included in the book nine interviews with various doers of the Montenegrin culture.

To find out where the book is available please check social networks. Some extracts from it are available online. Ten poets and writers are published at prochtenie.ru. The Russian Journal has released several interviews, for example, the one with Varya Djukić, the actress who played Khlestakovm, and now owns a wonderful bookstore in Podgorica. Or there is an interview with Marko Pavlovic, a lead local music producer. Or there is one with Siniša Jelušić, a drama professor, who shared that in Montenegro they are shooting Monty Python style videos of crucified Christ. To commemorate the release of the book, we are publishing one more interview in “Bububu”. Natalia Babintseva has spoken with archaeologist Goran Pajović about the history of Montenegro, its museum treasures, and the current diggings.

Vyacheslav Kuritsyn, editor of the book.

«Illyrian Pillars are Securely Stored in an Old Town boutique»

Goran Pajović (1987, Bar). Graduate of the Faculty of Philosophy, Department of Archaeology, of the University of Belgrade. His graduation paper successfully presented in 2013 was on primeval history.

Chief research officer at the Archaeological Museum in Budva. One of the authors of the “Klesarski eho” exhibition of the artifacts discovered during the digging of an Epichristian basilica in Old Town Budva.  Founder of a non-government organization “Manoveki” aiming to preserve and promote the cultural heritage of the city of Bar.

When have the archaeological excavations start in and around Budva? What historic period is studied the best?

Formally, the start of archaeological diggings in this area is attributed to 1903. In a place called Miriste near Petrovac, 17 kilometers from Budva, an Austro-Hungarian army officer lifted the first archaeological artifacts, which he promptly reported to Frane Bulić, a Croatian catholic priest. Bulić, being the keeper and qualificator of antiquities, left evidence of this area and these first digs. This sort of spontaneous archaeology, I believe, had also existed prior to that first officially registered case.   Many an army marched through our land, and each one had officers willing to dig out something to take home. All the digging was very random and had nothing to deal with science, quite the opposite. It was back then that we started losing archaeological material. This, of course, could be a result of the fashion of that period, when aristocrats from Germany, England, France, and Russia competed among themselves in discovering and extracting archaeological artifacts around the world. Compared to other archaeological centers, Montenegro was not really harmed by such lovers of the ancient.


In the times of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, did “black archaeology” continue, or did authorities finally start looking after the national endowment?
The first archaeological sensation is the one linked to that very period. In 1938, during the excavation for the foundation of the Avala Hotel the workers accidentally discovered a necropolis dating back to the Hellenistic and Roman times.


Were those Illyrian burial grounds or did they belong to later periods?

Oh don’t you run before you can walk. This is a very serious question. Here, in the territory of Budva, we have found corroborative evidence that Illyrians did in fact live here. They are considered the original autochthonous population of this area. They later got a touch of the Ancient Greeks: the Greeks came here in IV c. B.C. Then the Romans came and left their impressive trace throughout the local culture.  Clearing away and separating these layers from one another is extremely challenging, historians are still fiercely debating. What is important is that the discovery of the Roman necropolis at the Avala construction site in 1938 was almost unnoticed in reality. There was no public reverberation whatsoever. Finishing the construction of the hotel on time was far more important than plunging into studying the find. This is how the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was.


But the finds were somehow taken up to the surface and described, anyway?

There were professional archaeologists who oversaw the process. Yet, it never got public with the scientific community. One other very frustrating thing happened back then as a result of this lack of attention and neglect. A substantial portion of artifacts was taken to Belgrade (where they are now kept at the national museum), another portion went to Cetinje, and the rest remained in Budva.  What is most frustrating is that the most precious objects of gold and silver and the jewelry found during those excavations disappeared from the country and landed with private collectors. We learned about them from later publications, but those treasures are lost for Montenegro forever.

руины раннехр базилики будва


Where and in what collections are those artifacts now?

There was a publication in the 1950s from which we learned about the existence of some of the most important artifacts from the Budva necropolis. The same publication shed light on the owner of those finds until the 1950s. Then they changed hands, and the trail of many of them was lost. There is a saying that a true collector of antique coins is the one who has coins from Budva (laughter). But this has nothing to do with science.


When has archaeology as science formed in this area? Or is it still developing?

The first scientifically grounded archaeological research dates back to 1951. The research was focused on the very same necropolis. However, to the greatest regret of today’s scientists, that large scale research never produced any generalized publication.  All and any information on those excavations are enveloped in mystery. The expedition led by the famous Croatian archaeologist Dobar Abramić left no evidence, no descriptions, no reports, and god knows why this so happened, there are plenty of rumors.


Sounds like there is a conspiracy around this necropolis: there have been the excavations, while there is no evidence left.

This actually came as a blessing in disguise. In 1979, Budva was shaken by a dreadful earthquake; there were human losses and extensive seismic damage. But that was the high point for local archaeology. Archaeologists got a rare opportunity to do their work before the damaged buildings were put under reconstruction. The best finds and the most detailed reports refer to that very period. It was the time when they made stratigraphic analysis of the area and systemized the finds by occupation layers. The essential change was that the scientists obtained access to the earlier unknown antiquities in the Old Town.


The early-Christian basilica, the one that is now accessible for wide public, when was it discovered?

The first research dates back to the same period. The basilica was discovered during the earthquake, while some excavations took place later.


It is difficult to imagine Budva without those ruins. What was that place before the earthquake?

It was the so-called “green zone”: construction waste, palm trees, a playground.


When was the decision made to leave this archaeological site uncovered?

It was in the 1980’s. It happened because the area immediately caught the eye of researchers; the basilica was quickly recognized as a unique archaeological site, which protected the area from real estate development. There are plans now to breathe in a new life in this place after the end of the conservation period so that the basilica could be used as a forum for public events to the benefit of Budva’s cultural profile.


What about the other finds which cropped out after the earthquake? Have they been studied? Have they been mothballed and covered? Are there any other open archeological sites in the city?
Some archaeological finds were discovered in the inhabited parts of the city that were built up with houses. They could not fit in with Budva’s contemporary guise. Moreover, stripping occupational layers and demonstrating archaeological remains was not yet in fashion. Many excavations were at an impressive depth of 2-3 meters, and archaeologists did face difficulties during tides or south winds.  The place is surrounded by the sea, and archaeological sites may sink with time.


Nevertheless, what other archaeological evidence is there to encounter in the streets of Budva?

Between the two cathedrals on the central square, St. John’s and St. Trinity, there are remains of Roman thermal baths.  There are Illyrian pillars in one boutique in the Old Town. They used to be part of the Illyrian Gate made of massive stone blocks. The massiveness and the coarseness of the stone working is the main distinguisher of Illyrian architecture from the exquisite Hellenistic orders.


So, just like that, the ancient artifact is there in the boutique, right in the open?
Yes. The boutique is located on the upper level, while the remains of the pillars are on the lower level. You can have a look. But I’d rather come back to the necropolis, the most important archaeological record for the history of Budva.

Was there any research on the necropolis after the earthquake?

мозаики в петроваце

Of course there was. It was the time when all the key archaeological studies took place, until then there was a hotel above the site. After the excavations in early 80’s, there was a long wait for the results and the publications. It was then that we finally managed to systemize the finds made in different years.  It all followed in a fundamental scientific compilation on local archaeology in Budva. The most ancient toms date back to IV-III cc. A.D.   The Hellenistic type of burials was spread in this area before I c. A.D. Archaeologists arrived at the conclusion that Budva was a powerful center of gravity; it drew people and brought cultures from around the Hellenistic world.  It became obvious when they studied the clothes and jewelries discovered in the burials, and the study shows that they were not made here, but in Greek colonies on the south of Italy and other places. Budva was literally engulfed in that Hellenistic culture.


Does this mean that this influence is not so obvious in other central locations in the Adriatic?

Just fancy, there is only one more place in the territory of Montenegro, not far from here on the shore of Lake Skadar, called Gostilje, where they discovered a matching type of burials with matching attire in them. This mighty Hellenistic influence contained until I c. A.D.

This was the time of change which immediately affected the lifestyle pattern. All started anew. There appeared new jewelry, new ornaments, and new types of burials. You can literally see the Roman culture take its slow yet powerful pressure: the Romans conquer South-Eastern Adriatic, and Budva becomes part of the Dalmatia province. The artifacts of that period as very well shown in our museum in Budva, you can see it all there.


Is the Gostilje necropolis mothballed?

The archaeological materials from Gostilje are stored in Podgorica. You need to understand, it was not merely a necropolis what they found there, they discovered a whole settlement. The necropolis dates back to IV c. B.C. – I c. A.D.
The fragments of Roman mosaics stored at Santa Maria in Punta Church, what were the circumstances of their discovery?


In the direct proximity of the necropolis, the archaeologists discovered a domestic building of the Roman times, the Villa Urbana. It could be that during the previous random digging some things were taken out of the building and went missing. Yet, what was discovered speaks for the fact that that was an exuberant Roman house equipped with a very advanced, for those times, heating system.  As to the mosaics, its central fragment is unfortunately gone for good. Only peripheral parts were discovered: an aquatic creature resembling a dolphin with some chthonic reptile, possibly a dragon, on the opposite. These mosaics have not been sufficiently studied and analyzed yet. What we know is that this type of mosaics was also discovered in Roman Ostia.


Do the Roman villas discovered in Petrovac and Risan resemble Villa Urbana in Budva?

In a way they do. The villas in Petrovac and Risan are of later periods. The house in Budva dates back to the late II century. The house in Petrovac has retained some mosaics, but it is completely different. It has a more geometric repetitive pattern. It is not easy to speak of the lifestyle on the basis of those mosaics, while archaeologists are very specific in asserting that the villa in Petrovac was a rural, or even a country house, while the one in Budva was an urban one.  With Romans, those were fundamentally different types of construction. In the Roman classification, there is an urban house, or “villa urbana”, there is a rural house, or “villa rustica”, or there is a coastal house, or maritima, usually owned by Roman aristocrats showing off their splendor. One can suggest that the villa in Petrovac was “maritima”, which, however, degraded into villa rustica with time for whatever reasons.


Why is there this crying difference in the museum care of the objects? The Risan mosaics are competently exhibited in the public under a glass cover, while the desolate villa in Petrovac is impossible to find, the mosaics are ring-fenced by some rusty metal, and are generally unavailable for viewing?

This is a sore spot for all us, believe me. We did the digging in Petrovac ourselves and we very closely follow on the developments around the object. There is a serious problem with the land owner. The state is looking to purchase the land from the owner and then invest in it to create a museum center to serve the city’s interests and draw cultural powers into it.

Is it really just like that, the owner choosing to build whatever on the land where the villa was discovered? Is there any law that governs relations with the owner of the land where unique historical evidence has been discovered?

No, of course the owner cannot build on such land: this will entail criminal prosecution. If some land of historic importance is listed as a cultural site, its protection is from time to time controlled; some expert commissions are to visit such sites to see whether everything is safeguarded. But this is the ideal model, in reality there is no protection.


Yes, I did see that they decorate flowerbeds with the leftovers of the villa.

Last year a bunch of kids burst into the place where the Petrovac mosaics were kept, they played right on them. The place got all covered in sand, plaster, and cement. It took us three weeks to clean it after them. The situation does need to be solved somehow.


When was the Petrovac villa first discovered? My impression is that not all the territory of the villa has been surfaced.

The research started in 2005. However, it was completed in 2011 only. The largest part of the monument has been excavated, yet there is an impressive segment that is under residential buildings. Until we have figured it out with the owner, until we have offered him some money or another plot of land in consideration for letting us access the remaining part of the villa, no new research is possible. We cannot kick him out of his place and start the digging.

This historic monument is not market in the city navigation system. Most tourists have no idea there is some villa on top of that hill.  Yet, there is a hotel named “Mosaics” nearby, local entrepreneurs do use the “brand”.
Everything is about the fact that this site is not property of the state. No-one can invest in it, arrange excursions and send tourists there, for the owner may not be happy such fuss. Also, there are neighbors, and they also mind visitors taking a path to the villa through their backyard gardens. Problems are snowballing, and it will not go away until the state makes a discretionary decision and sorts it out. We are hopeful that in the near future Petrovac will get a museum site like they have in Risan, or even better.


Tell us more about the archaeological site in Budva, the Epichristian basilica in the cathedral square. It is out there, it is open to the public, yet there is little known about it.

The largest part of the basilica surfaced after the earthquake, as I’ve already mentioned. This is an early Christian three-aisled church. The northern aisle is under St. John’s Church. The site was actively researched by archeologists in the 1980’s. They found out that the basilica was built in V-VI cc. A.D. This basilica is a wonderful example of an early Byzantine church with exuberant interior decorations, stone carvings, and mosaics. Some of these artifacts are exhibited at our archaeological museum. However, for the large part they are kept in our repositories and are not prepared for public show.


You have recently taken some of the artifacts from the basilica to an exhibition in Podgorica. Was that exhibition intended to popularize the archaeological site and encourage interest in history?

I did not take any of the artifacts to the exhibition (laughter). There were large-format photographs only. Today, archaeology is experiencing an inflow of new scientists who are enthusiastic and strong enough not only to do scientific research, but also to communicate their findings to wide public. You need to know the history of your place to be able to respect it and the land where you live. We are coming out from our archaeological underground to bring these fragments of ancient history to people.  I was one of the makers of that exhibition in Podgorica, we are hoping to have the same in Budva. This is a very good way to communicate to the public.  You do not need to take the stones and artifacts which are so fragile and difficult to read from one place to another, you can use multimedia and other technologies. We have tried to show what we wanted to show the real size.  By the next exhibition we will try to add new content, like video and sound.


You mentioned that they found some mosaics in the basilica. Where are they?

The mosaics were taken off some 30 years ago.  They are safely kept in the museum’s repository. It is a very interesting artifact: there are lots of geometric and zoomorphic symbols. There has been discovered an ancient swastika pattern, that of early Christian crosses. There are patterns of birds, which also attributes to early Christian cults…


Are the medieval monuments in Budva well-studied?  

The Middle Ages are very well presented in Montenegro, but they are poorly studied in Budva. Making any assumptions about the lifestyle of the locals in the Middle Ages is yet quite a challenge.


There is a church in Old Town Budva, the Church of St. Sava, dating back to XII c., if I am right. Why are its doors always closed?

Yes, it’s XI-XII cc. This church is the property of Catholic church. It rarely opens, there are very few Catholic left in Budva, and they choose to go to the nearby St. John’s Cathedral. The Church of St. Sava has unique murals. Unfortunately, very few people get to see them. By the way, there is an assumption that this used to be a cemetery church: this part of the city is located on a higher level, so there might have been a churchyard there.


Does the excavation of the ancient Dioklea still continue?

Yes, it does, but not all the year round, quite randomly in fact. Honestly, the situation leaves a lot to be desired. When the substantive part of the scientific research is over, I hope that this place will become a significant cultural brand of Montenegro and will start drawing tourists. This should have happened long ago – this is a unique site, however, nothing like that has happened as of yet.


Where did you do your studies? Where do Montenegrin archaeologists study?

I did my studies in Belgrade. So far, there is no such university department in Montenegro. Here in the Balkans the University of Belgrade is still perceived as very prestigious. Although the University of Zagreb is dynamically catching up: the archaeological school in Croatia is generally very strong.


After the collapse of the country, did the archaeologists from various parts of ex-Yugoslavia start experiencing any problems? Did joint research continue? Did they contest ownership of artifacts?   Human connections have always been important in the scientific worlds. Those who used to be good friends and colleagues continued that way. There used to be conflicts involving manifestations of local nationalism before the collapse of Yugoslavia. Now, things have settled down and straightened out, our cooperation has revived in full. There is an active exchange of information, materials, and publications. We can easily publish in other countries, and we do joint expeditions and excavations. All is well.


Does the state support archaeologists? Is there any targeted program?

The superior authority overlooking all of the archaeological excavation process is the Ministry of Culture. It determines the budget and circulates it to lower-lever authorities, i.e. regional administrations for architectural conservation and preservation, national museums where they have staff licensed to perform archaeological research. The budget is attributed on the basis of respective requests from officers of such organizations.


Do you engage school and university students in excavations?

Of course we do. They are our main workforce. For them, it is a unique opportunity to gain field experience and skills.


Are there archaeological hobby groups in Montenegro? There used to be plenty of them in Russia.

There are none in Montenegro, regretfully. I am a little familiar with Russian archaeology. Professor Anatoly Derevyanko from Novosibirsk has been into a serious archaeological research here in Montenegro for several years now. He works in to locations, one is Trlica near Pljevlja, the other is a prehistoric cave located in valley of the Morača River. His team deals with primeval history only, with very ancient history in fact. I was lucky to work with them for two years. They even invited me to Novosibirsk.


Is the effort of that team from Novosibirsk financed by some joint program?

That group from Novosibirsk is self-financed. To dig in Montenegro, you need to have a state license and to liaise with the local archaeological community. Our law is pretty stringent in this regard.


Goran, how did you make your mind to become an archaeologist in the first place?

When I was ten, I took interest in ancient oriental civilization. My interest persisted and evolved throughout my school years, and I decided to go to the University in Belgrade. I had my first digging experience when I was in my first year. I have always had interest in ancient history, and my major is prehistory. Yet, I am an employee of the Museum in Budva where they focus on early Christianity, and I have been so inspired that I have started a research of my own, yet I still do ancient history.

Interview by Natalia Babintseva