Podgorica isn’t necessarily blessed with an abundance of landmarks worth your attention. Reduced to rubble during World War II, the old town perished under the relentless shelling induced by Allied bombers and reconstruction of the city, then called Titograd, went slowly.
However, beyond the train tracks, set against a dramatic mountain backdrop, a peculiar building demands further investigation. Shaded by tall conifers, unadorned concrete walls rise towards the dull sky. An equally modest bell tower, boasting a cross at the top, looms above dilapidated apartment blocks and single-family houses.
It is a strange ensemble. An unassuming sight.
Even the front entrance spares splendour. A single bronze statue, depicting a priest, a boy, and a girl, stands motiveless to the left of the main gate. A simple wooden door bar any carvings, the only embellishment an unpretentious shooting star above it.
Despite its bleak and unremarkable appearance, the building is one of a kind. Erected in 1969 at the hight of the Yugoslavian state, the “Church of the Holy Heart of Jesus” is not only Podgorica’s sole Catholic church, but a house of worship constructed in the communist brutalist style, an absolute rarity given the strong areligious sentiment of the ideology.
Once a visitor steps inside the dim confines of the sanctuary, the absence of windows will be the most striking feature. Solitary beams fall through a single skylight, perfectly positioned above the altar, highlighting the marble floor and the church’s main part.
A massive cross, adorning the back wall and illuminated from behind, constitutes the centrepiece of the temple. Some recesses are decorated with painted statues. Clear lines and angles dominate the architecture.
Besides a couple of paintings depicting the crucifixion of Jesus, the walls are entirely exposed. However, rather than intimidating the atmosphere is surprisingly soothing. Although the church bears more resemblance to a bunker than a house of God, its simplicity carries an unexpected serenity. The bare concrete is strangely peaceful.
In stark contrast to the city’s noise, calmness reigns within these walls.
Visiting the church won’t take long. You might just walk in, take a quick look around, and leave again. Or you might stay a little longer, study the minimalist architecture, listen to some nuns reciting passages of the Bible (on their phones), and envision yourself in some dystopian sci-fi universe.
Whatever you’re choosing, a visit is definitely worth it.
I didn’t know concrete walls could be so oddly satisfying.
How to get there
From the city centre follow the V Proleterske brigade (Podgorica’s main street) towards the train tracks (to the east). After around 10min, you should spot an underpass. Walk through and continue until you reach the round about on the other side. Now turn left. You will find the church on your left-hand side after roughly 300 metres.