Piva Gorge and Piva Monastery, Montenegro

The Piva reservoir in the north of Montenegro is the largest reservoir in the country. Along its steep banks, a road leads to the spectacular Piva Gorge. Nearby is one of the most important monastery complexes in Montenegro, which almost fell victim to the flooding. 

The Piva flows in the north of Montenegro and joins the Tara at the Bosnian border to form the Drina. There are no boats on the Piva, but its rapids are all the more popular with kayaking and rafting enthusiasts.


On the way at the Piva

View of the bridge over the Piva reservoir near the small town of Plužine, Montenegro - © FRASHO / franks-travelbox
© FRASHO / franks-travelbox

The Piva is also jokingly called the "river of five names", because the actual river rises under the name Tušina, then becomes Bukovica, then Bijela, then Komarnica, and finally only at the Piva Gorge does it become the Piva. If you add up all these rivers, the Piva is actually 120km long. On its way to the Bosnian border, it runs through an absolutely gorgeous mountain landscape.

From the village of Nikšić, an asphalt road, which is often impassable in winter, leads along the Piva into the Durmitor Mountains.

Piva Monastery (Manastir Piva)

The Piva Monastery looks inconspicuous from the outside; the treasure of the three-nave stone basilica without tower and dome lies hidden, Montenegro - © FRASHO / franks-travelbox
© FRASHO / franks-travelbox

The Piva Monastery is located in the Piva Gorge a few kilometres before the Piva Reservoir and the small town of Plužine. Along with Ostrog and Morača near Kolašin, it is one of the most important monastery complexes in the country.

The Piva Monastery was built by the Ottomans from 1573 to 1583 and was the largest Serbian Orthodox church at that time. From the outside, the three-nave stone basilica without tower or dome looks rather inconspicuous, its true treasure lies hidden.

Visit to the Piva Monastery

Entering the monastery (freely accessible), one's breath is taken away by the sight of the elaborate frescoes that cover almost every inch of the interior of the Piva Monastery. Most of the frescoes are by an unknown Greek master, but some can be attributed to Strahinja and Kozma.

Despite the many years that have passed since its completion at the beginning of the 17th century, the colourfulness of the paintings has been preserved to this day. If you look closely, you will discover a unique feature: a Muslim ruler is depicted above the entrance, extremely unusual for an Orthodox house of worship. It is Mehmed Paša Sokolović, who converted to Islam, and is depicted together with his brother Savatije, the founder of the monastery.

The monastery treasure with historical prints, handwritten gospels from the 16th century, valuable icons and masterpieces made of precious metals is also worth seeing.


Piva Monastery on the move

A sign leads visitors from the through road along the Piva to the monastery. However, it was not always located here. Before 1976, the monastery was located in a far more charming place about 9km away. The older inhabitants of the area still think wistfully of its wonderful location on the former "Pivsko oko" ("Eye of the Piva").

However, the historically valuable cultural asset was threatened by the flooding of the valley by the Piva reservoir. And so, in 1968, the monastery was demolished stone by stone, the frescoes were removed from the walls and, after 12 years of painstaking work, rebuilt true to the original in its present location.

Small town Plužine

Plužine at the southern end of the reservoir met the same fate as the monastery. It was also relocated at the beginning of the 1970s so as not to disappear under the floods. However, not as much effort was made here as for the monastery. The old Plužine actually disappeared under the floods and was simply rebuilt on the shore of the newly created lake.

The concrete slab buildings are unfortunately not a very aesthetic sight and are already showing signs of age. There is no money for renovation, because tourism has not really penetrated this area of Montenegro yet. There is a hotel and a café, but the visitors who stray here are rather random and are mostly passing through.

Piva Reservoir

Near Plužine, the Piva reservoir is crossed by the E762 on a prominent bridge, with the Durmitor Mountains in the background, Montenegro - © FRASHO / franks-travelbox
© FRASHO / franks-travelbox

The infamous Piva reservoir was created in 1976 after the completion of the impressive Mratinje dam. With a length of 33km and a depth of up to 200m, the Pivasko Jezero, which was created from the Piva, is the largest reservoir in Montenegro. Along its steep banks runs the E 762, which crosses the reservoir near Plužine on a prominent bridge.

The road leads through numerous small and larger tunnels and repeatedly offers spectacular views of the reservoir, which is a real natural beauty in the narrowing valley.

Tip: Between the bridge of Plužine and the dam wall there are no possibilities to legally stop with the car to have a look at the reservoir.

At the end of the reservoir, the dramatic dam rises 201 metres in length. At the time of its construction, it was the highest dam wall in Europe at 220m. Every second 240,000 litres of water drive the three turbines of the hydroelectric power station, which unfortunately cannot be visited.

Tip: Shortly after the bridge at Plužine, driving towards the dam wall, a dirt road branches off into the Durmitor Mountains. The entrance is a tunnel cut into the mountain, which winds steeply upwards in hairpin bends. The first kilometres are adventurous, hairpin bends in tunnels alternate with fantastic views of the Piva reservoir.

Piva Gorge

Panoramic view of the Piva Gorge with the reservoir of the same name; on the shore the small town of Plužine, which was resettled at the beginning of the 1970s because of the reservoir, Montenegro - © FRASHO / franks-travelbox
© FRASHO / franks-travelbox

The spectacular Piva Gorge opens up after the Piva reservoir. It is 33km long and up to 1,200m deep and is spanned by the filigree Most Bratsvo i Jedinstvo ("Bridge of Brotherhood and Unity"). Its name dates back to better times of neighbourhood with Bosnia. A few kilometres after this bridge is the border crossing to Bosnia-Herzegovina.


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