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Previous trips can be accessed by clicking the following links:

2013
Iceland, Finland, Estonia, Russia, Mongolia, China, Thailand, Cambodia and South Korea

2014
Germany, Poland, Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Israel, Jordan and Denmark

2015
Hawaii, Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia, Nepal, India and England

Sunday, September 25, 2016

9/17: Exploring Prizren, Kosovo

We got settled in our room at the hostel here in Prizren close to midnight the night before after a long and rather grueling 11 plus hour journey which involved three bus trips and took us through southern Montenegro, northern Albania and finally to Prizren in Kosovo.

I am sure many of you wonder why we chose to include Kosovo on our itinerary this trip. The best, and probably the simplest answer, is that in order to get a sense of what happened in all of the former Yugoslav states, we needed to visit Kosovo as well. The name alone implies the same war-heavy weight and connotations of horror that places like Vietnam still do. As such, we weren't anticpating nor looking for a fun loving, relaxing time either in Prizren or in Pristina, the country's capital, and our next destination. For us, these long trips are always inteneded to be a combination of fun, adventure and learning. Kosovo, it's safe to say, would fall into that latter category.

To visit this nation, it’s critical to understand what happened here in the late 1990s. Here’s the best description I could find of the conflict in a nutshell. Muslim-dominated Kosovo had been granted autonomy while part of Yugoslavia. This autonomy, however, was revoked in 1990 during a period of strikes against Serbian domination. To make matters worse, the Serbs banned the Albanian language in much of the mass media–the first sign of an empire swallowing up an indigenous culture. The Kosovo Liberation Army formed in 1996 and fought a guerilla style war with the Serbs. In early 1999, Slobodan Miloševic ramped up the Serbian campaign and drove 850,000 Albanians into exile across the borders into Albania and Macedonia. NATO responded with a bombing campaign which eventually led to Serbian forces withdrawing from Kosovo. The exiled Albanian returned en masse and extracted what revenge they could from the few remaining Serbs. This included torching Serb homes on the mountainside and destroying Orthodox churches.


Of course, history is always more complicated than the brief explanation I’ve provided above, so I apologize for such a brief summary.

Our discovery of Prizren: In the light of day, the area directly around the hostel was a pretty desolate and ugly looking one.

Walking up the aptly named John Paul II Street, we came across the Catholic Church of the Helpful Lady. 
I loved how it was also referred to as the Church of our Lady Falling Asleep! Like so any buildings in Kosovo it was being renovated. The reconstruction was an European Union project and managed by the EU office in Kosovo according to a sign we saw outside.

It was among the oldest churches in Kosovo. It was a mixture of Gothic and Renaissance styles because it was adapted to both the financial and construction capabilities at the time it was originally built. 





The condition of this sign was like what we’d seen so far in Prizren, namely a little rough around the edges and in sore need of some TLC.
We had seen this man just a minute or two upon leaving the hostel. When I heard again the tap tap of the cane as its metal tip hit the cobblestones, I knew the town of Prizren was small. According to my travel notes that I had prepared for each city on our trip, he was wearing the white felt skull cap common to Gheg Albanians.
Walking along the pedestrian street, we saw the tiny church of St. Nicholas. We tried later to find its entrance but never could. We noticed that just a five or so minute walk away from the hostel, the area looked 100 times 'better' or more attractive. The change was quite dramatic.
It was so funny seeing the McCain sign - go Canada! Is the company still owned by Canadians or has it too been bought by a company south of the border?
Right across the street were two churches in a gated area protected by a guard. The first thing we saw was this sign. I somehow never see the one in the upper right hand corner though!
Both churches were locked but the guard kindly unlocked them for us. We entered the much smaller Chapel of St. George Runovic first. It was built in the 15th or 16th century over the ruins of an earlier church and was named after its donor.


We were both amazed by the lovely frescoes on the walls and ceiling. 


The Orthodox Cathedral of St. George was just four steps away. 
Votive candles are lit in this cabinet (for lack of a better word) outside the church. I wondered if that was to eliminate smoke damage inside the church.

When we walked in, we had it to ourselves to admire. A few minutes later, a number of Orthodox priests and faithful entered. It was completed in 1887 but was sadly destroyed by an Albanian mob in 2004. Like the Catholic church we had just seen, this too had been reconstructed since. Unlike many, or possibly even most Orthodox churches we've been in so far this trip, this one had no admission.





This residence on the grounds of the two churches belonged to the Archbishop.
It was heartwrenching to see the pictures of what the Cathedral and other parts of Prizren looked like after the war. On a positive note, though, it was uplifting to see how much had been done in the intervening years.

People in the Balkans sure must love gaily colored shoelaces because seeing roadside vendors with them for sale was a common sight. Shoeshine men were a fairly common sight in this part of the world, I noticed.
Steven and I could not believe the number of jewelry stores as we walked toward the central square. There had to have been at least 10 small ones in the space of 20 plus stores. It was just amazing to think that the residents of Prizren could support that many jewelry stores.

This was the second nut house we saw in the space of five minutes.

Shadervan Plaza is the lively main square in the center of town and was surrounded by cafes, bars and ice cream parlors. We discovered later how it was also a major gathering point in the evenings. 
We often saw the small train go by and it was filled by adults and children alike as it made a circuit through town.
Sinan Pasha Mosque: Following a full renovation, the 16th century mosque is a central landmark in Prizren. 
It was very unusual in a number of ways: there was no one in it while we were there, neither staff nor men praying; the wall to wall carpeting was not the usual Middle Eastern style common to mosques and there were a profusion of highly decorated and painted walls.
Janina: I thought you'd be amused to know that, as a result of a comment you had made on one of my posts during our 2014 trip, I always think of you when I crane my head taking these ceiling shots!


The area set aside for female worshippers:

Sitting on the town’s 15th century stone bridge, we had to be very careful not to fall back into the very fast flowing Bistrica RiverThe Casbah or bazaar area of Prizren was on both sides of the river.
The Kaljaja Fortress high on the hill on the top left, the Orthodox Church of Christ the Savior in the center background and Sinan Pasa Mosque behind my dearest's noggin!
Prizren’s version of Islam is not necessarily an orthodox one. The town is well known for its dervishes who practice the zirka, a ceremony that involves chanting, dancing and psychological release, which is intended to bring the participants into direct union with God. One location where the dervishes continue to meet and practice the zirka was this 17th century tekke or dervish house of Sheh Osman. You may recall we also saw a tekke while on the day trip out of Mostar.

I was amazed that we had complete freedom to walk right around the tekke.


Prizren was so small that we heard, before we saw, the same man again an hour later!

The Mehmet Pasha Mosque was being rebuilt as was so much of the town as it still recovers from the devastating war.


List of the mosque's daily prayer times:
It was wonderful seeing kids playing everywhere in Prizren, even in the mosque courtyard. It was very unusual seeing so many kids having fun as we hadn’t seen that before in any of the other towns or cities we’ve been in this trip.


Beautiful apartments just remodeled or rebuilt after the ravages of war.
What a maze of overhead wires.
The building in the middle hadn’t been remodeled. Wonder if was slated to be?
We stopped in at a bakery for some much needed sustenance. It cost all of .85 for a huge loaf of freshly baked bread, a sesame roll and a croissant! Granted, the croissant was the heaviest one I have ever eaten and would bring misery to any French baker worth his salt but I still managed to eat it. As you can probably tell by now, I sort of like croissants!
As we sat enjoying our snacks on a bench on a footbridge, we could hear the muezzins from two nearby mosques just a block from each other each chant, over their public address systems, the call to prayer. To me, it was almost like a round as one would start and then the second would begin his chant a few seconds later so that both overlapped. The call to prayers takes a couple of minutes from beginning to end so ‘the round’ went on for a bit. Each muezzin’s chant is different so, in that sense, it was not a round of course. I wish I could have taped the audio not only for you to hear for presumably the first time, but also for us to remember that special moment in time. We walked over to the nearest mosque which filled up quickly with men heeding the call to prayer.

Steven peered inside but I didn't feel comfortable as a woman going beyond the rotunda where men were also praying. I feel I should know so more about the Muslim faith and their religious practices after visiting so many mosques since we began our overseas travels.


Another view of the the Kaljaja Fortress:
The Architectural Museum of Prizren was in an old complex where the Albanian Prizren League had met. The League was an Albanian political organization founded on June 10, 1878 in Prizren and it was the first serious effort to create an united Albanian region.
Serbian forces struck the museum with hand grenades on 3/27/99 and burned it. Three days later, Serbian forces flattened the building.


In the courtyard was the Ethnographic Museum
Men’s costumes from the 20th century:
Women’s from the same timeframe:


Upstairs had a far different feel: it was far brighter from the natural sunlight, it had new floors and lots of great lighting.
Loved the painting of the dervishes. How could you not smile looking at it?
No idea who these characters were!




We sat on a bench here for a good while just soaking up the warm weather as we were pooped out and needed a breather before continuing our explorations of Prizren!


Cute paintings on the walls of the embankment:


These homes were the traditional style in Prizren.

This Kosovar patriot, Ismet Jashari Kumanova, was only 31 when he died.

The Arasta Camii Minaret had a six-pointed star. However, there was no mosque attached to it as is usually the case.

Phase I Restoration of the Hamman, or bathhouse, of Gazi Mehmed Pasha was right across the street from the minaret.
On the other corner was Emin Pasha Mosque that was built between 1831-1832 and restored with financial assistance from Turkey. However, the entrance wasn't easily accessible!
While looking for the entrance, we had to pass the Sesahr bridal shop with the wedding photo of Prince William and Princess Catherine in the window! 



We were still looking for the mosque entrance!
We finally found it.

Looked like two apartment buildings, or perhaps mosque offices, on the mosque grounds but unfortunately, the mosque was closed.
Seeing all the parking signs made us feel like we were at a sporting event!
Happened to glance to our left and we noticed another Ethnological Museum! This one was funded by the US Embassy in Pristina, Kosovo’s capital, and the International Relief and Development Agency.  And no, we didn't go in this one as one ethno museum per day is definitely our max!
The Church of the Holy Virgin aka Our Lady of Ljeviš is considered as Prizren’s most important site and one of the most beautiful examples of medieval Serbian architecture. It was erected between 1306 and 1309 by King Milutin and was dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. 
During Ottoman rule, it was converted to a mosque. It was largely destroyed when an Albanian mob set fire to the church in 1999 and was given back to the local Serbian community. A group of Russian experts has been working on the restoration of the church's frescoes. Given its prime location, the church was not exactly welcoming as it was surrounded by barbed wire.

We knew nothing of the Archaeological Museum and Clock Tower until we walked by but we stopped in. The caretaker/ticket taker kindly opened up each room, turned on the lights and also became our guide as we were his only visitors.

'Map of Archaeological Localities around Prizren:'


We climbed the 100 steps to the top of the Clock Tower. 
We had never seen steps like these before where, to conserve space, there was a step for the left foot and then one for the right one at a slightly higher elevation. I thought they were the neatest things!
I said to the man escorting us up the steps that he must have been up these steps a gazillion times before but he replied that, unfortunately, the museum gets very few visitors which he blamed in part on the nonexistent signage. What a shame as it was worth seeing for a bit.
What commanding views of the city from atop the tower.


The guide of a thousand hats!

Reflection of the Clock Tower in the glass Municipal Building.

It was impossible to miss the large number of photocopy places all over Prizren. In just one block, there were three in a row.
Parade of cars all with Albanian Eagle flags. Wonder what that was all about? About 90% of Prizren residents are ethnic Albanians and the Albanian flag was everywhere. It will be interesting to see if we will see it as often in Albania itself. 
The Tourist Information Office was closed, not that we needed it at that point really. I found it amusing that the supposedly descriptive plaque simply said Old Building.’ Now, how helpful is that?!
Sign on this building said House of KLA War Veterans.
 After spending several hours exploring Prizren, we needed to rest up in our 'zebra room' at the hostel before going out for dinner!

We later returned to Skadervan Square for dinner and to watch the world go by.
We had become quite used to ordering these bottles of wine which were just the perfect size. Food and wine was as cheap in Prizren as it had been in Montenegro. A very decent dinner and the wine cost about $10 or so. I will put off cooking as long as I can when we can eat out so cheaply, the food is so good and someone else is doing the dishes!



It was unsettling to think of ethnic cleansing while sitting at dinner watching the crowds of people wandering past. And yet, every one of these people was marked for extermination by the Serbs who wanted to wipe the ethnic Albanians from Kosovo. This wasn’t some World War II horror, but one that happened just a few years ago in 1998/99. How especially tragic to see history repeating itself yet again right now in the streets of Aleppo in Syria.


Posted from Ohrid, Macedonia on September 26, 2016.

3 comments:

  1. I think those steps were very interesting, too. I'll have to investigate them. Lil Red

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  2. Interestingly, we also saw the same type of steps in Skopje, Macedonia a few days ago too. Wonder if we'll see still more of them?

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