The ceremony was over and the wedding certificate had been signed. It was time for the new husband and wife to walk gracefully down the aisle right?
Things are done a bit differently in Montenegro.
Dino, my CouchSurfing host, was showing me the Old Town in Bar. It sits on a hill about 4km from the centre, overlooking the city and the beach – although the former didn’t exist at the time the Old Town was the town. As far as old towns go in this part of the world (nearly every major town or city has its own Stari Grad), the one at Bar is small, but beautiful. Some of the fortress walls are in good condition and it’s easy to imagine it as it once would have been.
It was nearing sunset and the hills were glowing behind us and the sun sparkling on part of the Adriatic Sea in front of us. At this time of day it must be one of the most beautiful spots in Bar.
The main entrance was decorated with peach ribbons. “There’s a wedding here,” Dino said. The Old Town, along with King Nikola’s Palace by the beach and the grounds around Bar’s famous olive tree (it’s more than 2000 years old) are popular wedding locations here.
As we went up into the grounds, the wedding guests were coming down, the women struggling on the rocky path in their heels. “Ah I know the people getting married,” Dino said. That didn’t surprise me. Bar has a population of about 20,000 people and everyone knows everyone and their grandparents. When I walked around the city I frequently saw people stop to chat to each other, or beep the car horn and wave out the window at someone. It’s not a big place.
When we came back down, there was music coming from where the wedding was. “Come on,” Dino said and walked around to the entrance. I followed, shaking the hand of the city official who authorises marriage certificates on the way.
The newlyweds were surrounded by a musicians and some of the guests. The bride was dancing and throwing her hands up in the air, doing well not to spill her champagne. The music was loud – lots of drums and horns – and a few flower girls were covering their ears. I joined the rest of the guests at the back, clapping along.
From the party scene in front of us and the table of food and drink I assumed official proceedings were over and this was the reception. “This isn’t even the reception,” Dino said. “They just signed the certificates.” All this celebration was just an interlude.
When we left the bride was dancing on a chair.
We had coffee in the Old Town and heard the music getting louder. Then it was replaced by car horns. Dino explained the guests would now make their way to the reception in a convoy that would have right of way through the city. “They won’t stop for red lights.”
Later that night I mentioned how much fun the wedding looked like, compared to the standard in Australia. Dino laughed and warned that what I’d seen was nothing. Then he showed me part of his brother’s wedding video.
It started in the groom’s bedroom. His family and friends were dancing around the room, while one man, the designated flag bearer, waved pole with a Montenegrin flag and a towel tied to the end. The flag bearer is usually a distant cousin from the father’s side and sharing the same last name as the groom. It’s a prestigious position and one carried out with pride. He led the dancing guests through the house before everybody made their way in convoy to the bride’s house. Each car had a towel attached to the bonnet to indicate it is part of the wedding procession.
At the bride’s house her family was lined up to greet the guests; first the men, then the women. There’s another parade through the house and more dancing before everyone sits down for a drink. Many of the women stand and dance while waving small handkerchiefs. At this point the bride is still tucked away getting ready. The groom is back at his house, possibly alone, unless someone opted out of going to the bride’s.
Then it’s back to the groom’s for more socialising before everyone goes home to get ready for the ceremony.
The wedding, quite literally, lasts all day. A wedding with less than 150 guests is considered small. The average is perhaps 200 to 300 and usually it’s the parents who compile the guest list, knowing who should and shouldn’t be invited. I read that King Nikola turned a Montenegrin tradition of newlyweds planting an olive tree on their wedding day into law, but I forgot to ask if that was still the case.
I’ve seen a lot of weddings take place around the world, but this is the first time I’ve walked into the event. It’s as close as “wedding crashing” as I think I’ll ever get.