Henry Fanshawe Tozer:
Researches in the Highlands of Turkey
Henry Fanshawe Tozer (1829-1916) was a British writer, teacher and traveller who journeyed much in Greece and the Ottoman Empire. He graduated from Exeter College in Oxford in 1850 and was later (1869-1893) curator of the Taylor Institution there. He was a fellow of the British Academy and a corresponding member of the Historical Society of Greece. Tozer is the author, in particular, of the two-volume travel book “Researches in the Highlands of Turkey, Including Visits to Mounts Ida, Athos, Olympus, and Pelion, to the Mirdite Albanians, and Other Remote Tribes” (London 1869), which contains a detailed account of his journey through Albania in 1865.
Henry Fanshawe Tozer (1829-1916).
Ohrid to Elbasan
The Menzil – Primitive Boats – The Drin at Struga – Roman Milestone – Bulgarian School – Kukus – Wild Mountain Road – Elbassan – Concealed Treasures – Illtreatment of Women – Value set on Water – The Albanians – Their Origin – Character – Riddles and Superstitions – Ghegs and Tosks – Albanian Heroes – History of Scanderbeg – Ballad on his Death.
Two hours’ riding along the northern shore of the lake brought us to the town of Struga, which is situated at the place where the Black Drin makes its exit from the lake, from whence it flows first north, and afterwards south-west, and falls into the Adriatic near Alessio [Lezha], after describing almost a semicircle in its course. We were now travelling by the Menzil or Turkish post, for along the main lines of communication horses are kept in readiness for government officials, and travellers who are provided with a firman of the Sultan can use them at three-fifths of the regular charge; they can also impress the horse of the people of the country, if necessary, though we always preferred hiring them from carriers, if they were to be had, as the inconvenience to the peasants was often very great. In this part of Turkey the charge for menzil horses is three piastres and a half (about sevenpence) an hour; but this is higher than what is found in some other parts of the country, and a great deal above the ordinary carrier’s fare. At the same time the gain is great in respect of speed, as the post-horses are usually good: thus the ordinary “hour” of carriers’ pace, which averages about three miles, may be compassed into three-quarters of the time. In many other ways a firman will be found of great service; it will secure you a night’s lodging, if there is any difficulty; and on one occasion, when a Turkish guard by the roadside required to see our passports, and demanded bakshish for himself, on hearing that we carried a firman he instantly lowered his tone, and said he had no wish to inspect it, and did not desire bakshish at all.
The scenery of this part of the lake of Ochrida is extremely beautiful, and it is more easy for the traveller to fancy himself in the neighbourhood of the Italian lakes, than in the midst of the wild stern regions of European Turkey. One of the mediaeval travellers compares it to the lake of Gennesaret, and my companion assured me that from the level of the lake, where the distant mountains are hidden from view, the resemblance is striking. Great numbers of waterfowl might be seen near the shore, and huge buffaloes lay revelling in the coolness, and in freedom from the attacks of flies, with their heads just protruded above the surface, and their mouths idly gaping. But the greatest curiosity of these parts are the boats which are used on the lake. These are flat-bottomed vessels, with large logs of wood projecting from their sides to keep them steady in the water; and in the bow a sort of platform, rising in three steps, for the three rowers, who have their oars all on the same side; while to counterbalance them another sits in the stern, and steers with an oar on the other side–a mode of progression the disadvantages of which are no more apparent than the advantages. Their primitive shape and peculiar arrangement is probably intended to suit them for fishing purposes; though, when the history of primaeval boats comes to be written, those which are found in the remote lakes of Turkey may perhaps be found to belong to a very early type.
The old bridge at Struga (Photo: Auguste Léon, 1913).
At Struga, the Drin is crossed by a long wooden bridge, beneath which the full clear stream rushes along in a well-defined bed. As we looked down into it, we could see fish of all sizes swimming about in the water; and before long we were able to pronounce on their excellence as an article of food, as we purchased for six piastres (one shilling) a fine pink salmon-trout, of four pounds and a half, off which we made a luxurious repast. The trout and salmon-trout which abound in this lake are rarely, if ever, found in the other lakes of Turkey. Struga is the head-quarters of the fishery, in consequence of the fish resorting at certain seasons to the outlet of the lake, where they are caught in immense quantities. A great part of the population of the place is occupied in catching and drying them, and they are exported to all parts of Turkey, being in great request on account of the frequent fasts of the Greek Church. The fishery is the property of the Sultan, and is sublet by him to contractors for a very large sum. The fishing takes place by night, and has been described to me as a very picturesque and exciting scene. These fisheries and the export of their produce must have existed from very early times, for Strabo mentions “the places for drying fish belonging to the lake near Lychnidus”. The embankment of the sides of the river, by which the neighbourhood was converted from a marsh into a habitable region, was the work of the Bulgarian prince Samuel, at the time when he made Ochrida the capital of his monarchy. Originally the system of desiccation must have been much more elaborate than what appears at present. Anna Comnena speaks with warm admiration of the hundred channels into which the water was drawn off, with embankments and covered watercourses communicating with one another, by means of which the river Drin at length was formed. It was from these works that the place obtained its name, for struga in Bulgarian signifies “a dike, or arm of a river.”
At one angle of the outer wall of the church at Struga is an ancient Roman milestone, a single cylindrical block rounded at the top, the base of which, and together with it the lower part of the inscription, is now buried in the earth. It was probably one of the milestones of the Egnatian Way, which passed by this place, and is described by Strabo as being “measured by miles and marked by milestones.” It is not easy to decipher, but seems almost identical with one in the courtyard of a house at Ochrida, which was copied and communicated to me by my friend Mr. Curtis of Constantinople. As I am not aware that this has been copied before, I give it here. The greater part of the inscription is in Latin, that being the official language, but the distance is given in Greek for the information of the natives. In this respect I believe it is unique, for though many other Roman milestones have been discovered, the inscriptions on all of them are in Latin throughout.
M AVRELIVS ANTONINVS
PIVS FELIX AVGVS
POTEST XX IMP III
COS IIII PP PROS RE
Close by the same church is a large school for Bulgarian children. There were 200 of them there, and very clean and orderly they looked as they sat at their desks, very much in the style of an English school. The master was a Bulgarian; and the children are taught to read and write both Greek and Bulgarian, two days in the week being devoted to the latter language. Here again the intrusive Greek element makes its appearance. I was told that other schools like this have lately spring up among the Bulgarians of these parts (we saw one ourselves adjoining the metropolitan church at Ochrida), and in many ways they seem desirous of improvement. Before leaving I heard the children read the Gospel, but the room was crammed with people who had followed me from curiosity to see a Frank, and to discover the reason of my interest in the inscription. Here, however, as elsewhere during this tour, I was not the least molested, nor did I meet with any incivility.
Leaving Struga in the afternoon we bade adieu to the beautiful lake of Ochrida, and crossed the mountains to the west by a low pass over stony ground, the sides of which were partly clad with oak trees, while the track itself was frequently shaded by walnuts. From the head of the ridge we descended into an upland plain, cultivated in places and dotted with trees, from whence again we made our way by a similar pass into a deep valley beyond. All along this part of our route we saw numerous lazy tortoises crawling along by the path: they are common throughout Greece and Turkey. As we descended, night came on, and it was a pretty sight to watch the bright fires in the shepherds’ huts or encampments, shining like glowworms all about the mountain side. At the bottom we crossed a narrow picturesque Turkish bridge, which spans the river Skumbi with a single lofty arch undefended by a parapet, and then scrambled along for some way in the darkness to the little village of Kukus [Qukës], where we found only one small room in the khan. In this some of the natives had already lighted a fire, so that we were thankful to sleep outside under a sort of kiosk, or summer-house, in the open air. Here we were only disturbed by the cats and fowls, which in the early morning skipped playfully over our prostrate bodies.
View of Berat, 1940.
The next day was spent in winding along the steep mountain sides by an extremely rough track, in and out, and up and down, wherever the steep rocks left room for the path. An Albanian, who was bound in the same direction as ourselves, had now joined our company. At an hour’s distance from our night’s resting-place we stopped to breakfast at the Khan of Jura [Xhyra], which is one of the cleanest in this part of the country, and in every respect superior to that at Kukus. The room which opens out from the gallery on the upper story has the advantage of a clay floor and stone walls, which, as I have before remarked, are preferable to wood from their not harbouring vermin. The gallery itself, where he had our meal, was fitted all round with hooks for the reception of the long metal-bound guns without one of which an Albanian rarely moves. Some four or five of the owners of such weapons sat and smoked meanwhile, and eyed our proceedings with the utmost curiosity. When we resumed our journey, in many parts we passed Mahometan cemeteries, placed, as they often are in Turkey, by the road-sides, and the graves marked by ovals of stones; their number might almost lead one to suppose that these parts were once more thickly populated than they are now. The mountain masses in this district are much more confused than in the country eastward of Ochrida, and the scenery, both here and throughout a great part of the route which I am describing, though it is broad and wild, yet wants grandeur in its mountain forms and delicacy in its outlines. It is quite surprising to read the rapturous epithets in which Mr. Lear indulges in describing it, when one considers how very inferior the landscape is to that of many parts of Europe. For a considerable distance the road was carried along the heights far above the Skumbi, penetrating from time to time into the mountain side to round a gorge, while in some places the slopes below shelved away in a manner not seriously dangerous, but such as to require caution in passing. At last we descended by a steep and tortuous path to that river, the ancient Genesus, a considerable stream, which seems to have taken its modern name from the town of Scampae on the Via Egnatia. Just at this point, where the Skumbi emerges from the deep valley in which its upper course lies, its waters are spanned by a fine stone bridge of three arches. After fording it a little way below the bridge, and following its stream for some distance through softer scenery, we made our way through a picturesque wooded gorge into a plain, and, after passing a sheikh’s tomb with a tiled roof, threaded the olive groves which skirt the city of Elbassan.
This place probably represents the ancient Scampae, which seems in the middle ages to have been replaced by a city called Albanon, from which the modern name may be derived. It holds an important position, as it commands the entrance to the mountain passes, and is the point where the road from Scodra [Shkodra], Durazzo [Durrës], Berat and Ochrida [Ohrid], converge. The population is said to be about ten thousand; by far the greater number of these are Albanian Ghegs, a few of whom are Christians, the rest Mahometans; besides these there are a few Wallachians, and the keeper of the khan at which we stopped, like so many of his trade, was a Greek. The Christians of this part of Albania are mostly Roman Catholics, but they have been so persecuted of late years that a large number of them have become Mussulmans; some also have joined the Greek Church; but the light way in which religion hangs on an Albanian is shown by their proverb, “Where the sword is, the creed is also.” Thus a Mahometan of this race who once accompanied us maintained stoutly that all good Mussulmans ought to drink wine and that those who abstained were unfaithful to their creed. It is said, however, that the oppressiveness of the conscription for the Turkish army is so great that many who have embraced the religion of the Prophet, would be glad enough to be Christians again.
The old city is square in form, and enclosed within walls, the circuit of which cannot be more than a mile. From the brickwork which is in them they would seem to have been built by the Venetians; but both the walls and the towers which rise out of them at intervals are in ruins, having been dismantled when the town was taken by Reschid Pasha, in the time of Sultan Mahmoud. This was during the events which succeeded the massacre of the Beys and the fall of Mustapha Pasha, when almost all the fortified places in Albania were destroyed. The suburbs seem now to form the most important part of the place. After paying a visit to the governor of the city, in order to get permission to visit the walls, we climbed up onto one of the ruined towers, which commanded a view over the city and surrounding country. The minarets and a large clock-tower, sheathed in glittering tin, form conspicuous objects; and the trees that environ the houses, among which the fig, cypress, and poplar, are the most remarkable, are more numerous than is usual even in Oriental towns. Among these the towers and walls appear here and there, and around the whole city is a circuit of olive-groves. Close by, to the north, beautiful wooded hills descend into the plain, beyond which rises a high mountain, separating us from Tyrana [Tirana] and the country of Scanderbeg. To the south appears at a great distance, rising above the nearer mountains, the magnificent triple-crested peak of Mount Tomohr, quite a relief in this land of common-place mountain outlines.
We were amused to find that the Governor (or rather his deputy, for he himself was absent, and had left a locum tenens to discharge his office) had given strict orders to the guard who accompanied us to the tower in the walls, that we were not on any account to be permitted to find hidden treasures. It is a fixed idea in the minds of all Orientals, that the object of antiquarian research in their country is to discover hoards of money, and this suspicion has frequently proved a fatal bar in the way of excavations. On a subsequent occasion, when we were performing quarantine on a small island off the shores of the Gulf of Volo, near the Greek and Turkish frontier, an old woman, who was the only permanent inhabitant of the place, firmly believed that we were searching for treasure, and, what is more, that we should probably discover it. She had heard that some time before, a band of robbers (this is a common form for the story to take) had been hunted down by the soldiery on the mainland, and after taking refuge in the island, had concealed their valuables in some secret spot; and when she saw us reading and writing in the hut we occupied, and in the intervals walking about the rocks, she took it into her head that we were practising magic arts, in order to discover the locality of the deposit. Captain Spratt has suggested with considerable probability that the frequent occurrence of the name “Jews’ Castle” in the islands and on the continent of Greece (there is an Ebraio-Castro on Mount Pelion) may be accounted for by this same idea: that is to say, that ruins are regarded as likely placed for finding treasures, and hoarded money is, or was in former times, associated with the Jews. It must have been from some notion of this kind that the name arose, for the fortresses themselves cannot be supposed to have belonged to the members of that despised race. In Albania such deposits are supposed to be guarded by snakes or negroes, both of which are mythological representations of the powers below. From time to time these guardians bring them to the daylight, to preserve them from rust and mould; and the following story is told of the way in which a shepherd possessed himself of such a treasure. This man once found a snake asleep, coiled round a large heap of gold pieces; and knowing how to set to work under the circumstances, placed a pail of milk by its side, and waited in a hiding-place until it should wake. It came to pass as he expected. The snake took to the milk with avidity, and drank its fill. On this it returned to the heap of gold, in order to go to sleep again, but the thirst, with which snakes are attacked after drinking milk, prevented it from doing so. It became restless, and moved irresolutely round and round the heap, till the burning within forced it to go in quest of water. The water, however, was far off, and before it had returned, the wary shepherd had carried off the whole heap of gold into a place of safety.
The inside of the city, as you pass through the streets, has a poor appearance, from the low wooden houses with rickety tiled roofs: the bazaars, however, have a gay look, from the bright dresses of their occupants, the red jacket and white kilt being common among the Ghegs, under which they have loose white trousers, girt in below by leggings, while their belts are filled with a variety of richly ornamented arms. Most of the Ghegs are finely made men; their most marked characteristics are their long necks, long narrow faces, with sharp features, often aquiline, and frequently light hair; they have a stern look, as if they were a daring, unmerciful people. In the evening we had a visit from a young Turk, who has charge of the telegraph here, on the line between Salonica and Scodra; for this civilized institution has penetrated even to these barbarous regions, though it is viewed with some jealousy by the people of the country, and is kept up with considerable difficulty in the mountain passes during the winter. He was an educated and intelligent man, spoke French, and, as a Government official, was dressed in European costume, except for the fez cap. He expressed great delight at seeing us, for with the exception of a young Greek, his coadjutor, he had seen no traveller, nor any person with whom he could have any ideas in common, during the nine months that he had been stationed there. He spoke bitterly of the barbarism of the natives, and confirmed all that we had heard about the frequency of robberies and murders, and the danger that the people incurred if they ventured a few miles away from the place. “The Mahometans here,” he impressively declared, “are not real Mahometans, and the Christians are not real Christians.”
As far as this point, our route from Salonica has lain in a north-westerly direction: here we change our course and go south. It is a proof of the small number of Turks in this part, that the stork, the sacred bird of Turkey, is not found here: their place, however, is supplied by flocks of geese, which are numerous in the neighbourhood of the towns and villages. The country districts leave a most melancholy impression on the mind; broken bridges, and roads almost impassable on horseback, evidently show neglect and decay; and here and there your horse will start aside at the sight of a carcase left to rot where it has fallen. The land is mostly covered with tamarisk-bushes, prickly palluria, and ferns. Very little of it is cultivated, owing to the laziness of the people, and the contempt in which agricultural labour is held; the consequence of which is frequent scarcity of bread, and there is a sad look of poverty and misery about the lower classes. Much of this has resulted from the centralizing policy of Sultan Mahmoud, which has paralysed the outlying portions of the empire. In ancient times, both this plain, and that of Berat, further to the south, were cultivated at a very early period; and the prosperity of the Greek colonies of Epidamnus and Apollonia was mainly attributable to their being the points of export respectively for the products of these two fertile regions. It roused one’s indignation to see the way in which the women were treated. At one place on the road we passed a number of men, whose wives were walking by their sides, staggering under the weight of huge boxes. The position which the female sex occupies in these parts may, perhaps, be well illustrated by a story which I heard some years ago from the late Sir Henry Ward at Corfu. As he was riding, one day, into the country, he overtook a man who had laden his wife with a very heavy bundle of faggot-sticks; he remonstrated with him, and said, “Really, my good man, it is too bad that you should load your wife in that way; what she is carrying is a mule’s burden.” “Yes, your Excellency,” the man replied, “what you say it quite true, it is a mule’s burden: but then, you see, Providence has not provided us with mules, and He has provided us with women.”
Shortly after leaving Elbassan we again forded the Skumbi, which is here a broad and shallow stream. As we proceeded along the plain we met a considerable number of ill-looking fellows, whose occupation was sufficiently shown by their arms and long pipes: guards they may have been, or robbers, or both, - for the line of demarcation between these two classes is sometimes rather fine. It was amusing to notice the curious mixture of pride and poverty that showed itself in some of these men; you might see them swaggering along in their dirty fustanellas (white kilts) with erect carriage, twirled moustachios, and the fez set on one side of the head, looking far too fine gentlemen to take any notice of passers-by like ourselves; yet everything about them betokening the utmost indigence. The way, too, in which an Albanian often carries his gun across the back of his neck, with both arms extended over the two ends, gives an additional nonchalance to his air. Our surudji, or postilion, of the day before had warned us strongly against the robbers of these parts, and had stories to tell of the Pasha’s baggage having been plundered; the moral of all this was that we should take guards, but this we always refused to do, unless they were almost forced upon us, because we knew that they would take to their heels if there was any real danger; but the truth is, that a western European is exposed to very slight risk in travelling here, for he is generally not worth robbing, and if anything happens to him, a considerable stir is sure to be made about it, and some one or other will probably be hanged. Thus the Frank comes to be regarded in the light of a sacred animal, and we used to ride along through the country unarmed and unguarded, with a feeling of security which was hard to analyse.
After some hours’ riding we forded the swift stream of the Devol [Devoll], near a picturesque ruined bridge, two arches of which alone remain, and some way further on made our midday halt by a fountain, in the neighbourhood of which some trees afforded a refreshing shade. Here we had an example of the value that is set on water in these parched countries. The fountain was an erection of masonry built against a bank, with a small spout in the centre of it. (Colonel Leake believes that some of the great fountains of antiquity were of this unpoetical character: certainly that of Aganippe, on the side of Mount Helicon, is now represented by one of this sort, and there is an ancient inscription over it.) We expected to find water here, but alas! there was none. So, at least, it appeared at first sight, but the surudji who accompanied us knew better, for he went up to the spout, and pulled out a small plug of linen or paper, on which there gushed out a thin crystal stream. When we had all drunk, the plug was carefully replaced. It is remarkable to find that in a country where human life is held so very cheap the common interest should cause men to regard water with almost religious respect. Besides this, Orientals generally are very curious on the subject of the quality of their water; indeed, they are as great connoisseurs of water as any Western epicure can be of wine. Both in Albania and elsewhere I have heard one spring distinguished as light (ελαφρόν) and another as heavy (βαρύ), where the traveller can distinguish no difference in the taste. No one can doubt, after observing this, that it requires no refinement of criticism to understand Pindar’s meaning when he said, “Water is the best of things.”
At no great distance from this fountain we arrived at a small village, which forms the boundary between the Gheg and Tosk tribes: here it may be convenient to rest awhile, and before we proceed take a survey of the Albanian nation, and the elements of which it is composed.
The Albanians call themselves Skipetar, and there is considerable evidence to show that they are a nation of great antiquity. The name Arnaout, which is given them by the Turks, is in reality only a corruption of “Albanian.” The process of change is distinctly traceable in modern Greek, where the original Albanites (pronounced Alvanites), by a change of liquids becomes Arvanites, and thence by a transposition of letter, Arnavites, from which the passage is easy to Arnaout. Their language, which for a long time was a puzzle to philologists, has of late years been carefully examined by Professor Bopp, who pronounces it to be an independent branch of the Indo-European family. Much of the system of inflexions and many of the words are strikingly similar to Latin and Greek, yet not in such a way as to render it supposable that they have been borrowed from either. In most points, according to Bopp, it can be explained more readily by Sanscrit than by those languages. Dr. Von Hahn, who resided several years among the Albanians, and from whose learned work, ‘Albanesische Studien,’ many of these remarks are drawn, believes them to be the nearest existing representatives of the Pelasgians. He considers that the great similarities which exist in customs, national constitution, and other points, as well as language, between the Albanians and the early Greeks and Romans, are most naturally accounted for by the supposition that they were all originally of the same race, and that the Albanians, having been little civilised, and from their position little interfered with, have kept these original institutions. The Pelasgians, it is true, have so often been made to serve as the basis of untenable ethnographic theories, that the mention of them is apt to raise a smile; but here there really seems much more to be said than in other cases. For the accounts given us by ancient authors seem to show that the present inhabitants are the same race who held the country in classical times, and imply a close connection between these Epirotic and Illyrian tribes and those of Macedonia, &c.; these statements, taken together with the existence of the great Pelasgian oracle of Dodona in this country, and other facts of the same nature, seem to lend probability to the theory. There also exists among them an alphabet, apparently of great antiquity, which Hahn believes to have been derived by some of the Pelasgians from the Phoenicians – perhaps from the Phoenician settlements in the north of the Aegean – and to stand in the relation of a sister to the Greek alphabet. But, whatever may be thought of these views, and whether they are reconcilable or not with the results of philological investigation, the subject is one that deserves more attention than it has yet received; and I cannot but believe that a careful study of the language might throw considerable light on the classical languages.
In respect of character they are described by Finlay as proud, insolent, turbulent, and greedy of gain, but honest and truthful. They are shown to be a clever and imaginative people by their poems and stories, and still more by their riddles, of which Hahn has made a large collection. The following may be taken as favourable specimens; they are generally propounded in the form of similes, and introduced with the question: “What is this?”
The field is white, the seed is black; it is sown with the hand and reaped with the mouth? – A letter. (How curiously this last clause illustrates the way in which half-educated people spell out a manuscript!)
The father is green, the son is red? – The blossoming pink.
The monkey dances, while the white cow is milked? – The spinning-wheel.
Though it is not an ox, it has horns; though it is not an ass, it has a pack-saddle; and wherever it goes it leaves silver behind? – A snail.
What is that which wears the wool inside and the flesh outside? – A tallow candle.
Among the many superstitions which exist in the country, none is more curious than that which relates to men with tails. Of these there are two kinds, one with goats’ tails, the other with short horses’ tails. Persons endowed with such appendages are always short-made and broad-shouldered, great walkers, and extremely strong. This evidence for their existence is so convincing that even the critical German who mentions the belief, is half inclined to think it true. His account is so curious as to be worth extracting:
“This belief,” he says, “is, perhaps, more than a popular superstition. One of my cavasses at Yanina (Soliman of Dragoti) maintained, that in his part of the country tailed men of this sort were not uncommon, and that he himself had a tailed cousin, whom in his youth he had often pulled by this gift of Nature when bathing. A much more trustworthy man, Theodoris, who when young had been a cleft on the Pindus, related that in his band there was for several years a short-sized, broad-shouldered man of a very fair complexion, called Captain Jannaki, who was reputed to have a tail. In order to convince themselves of this, once when he was asleep in the middle of the day six of them fell upon him at once, for he was uncommonly strong, and he himself had taken part in this ocular inspection. He distinctly remembered to have seen a goat-like tail about four fingerbreadths long, covered on the outer side with short red bristles. My endeavours to see such an object were in vain; and all the Turkish military surgeons to whom I spoke about it declared the thing to be fabulous, because in their yearly inspection of so many recruits from all parts of the country no such lusus naturae had ever come before them”
Mr. Baring Gould, in his ‘Curious Myths of the Middle Ages,’ has shown that this superstition was once widely spread throughout Europe, though now it has almost perished. He is also sensible enough to remark, that whatever the evidence, such a conformation of the human body is physiologically impossible.
The total number of Albanians in Turkey, according to the most trustworthy computation, amounts to one million souls; to these must be added 200,000 in the kingdom of Greece, forming no inconsiderable part of the population of that country; and 85,000, who have settled in the south of Italy and Sicily. The Albanian nation is divided, as I have already mentioned, into the two great tribes of Ghegs and Tosks, the Ghegs inhabiting the country to the north, and Tosks to the south, of the point where we are supposed to be stationed. The name Tosks belongs properly only to the inhabitants of the north bank of the lower Viosa [Vjosa], and is not acknowledged by the other inhabitants of South Albania, to whom it is applied to distinguish them from the Ghegs; until we discovered this we were puzzled by an Albanian, who accompanied us during one part of our journey, describing himself as neither a Gheg nor a Tosk. However, as all who are called by this name belong to the same tribe and speak the same dialect, it will be convenient to use it. Strabo represents the Egnatian Way, which followed the course of the Genusus (Skumbi), as lying on the borders of the Epirotic tribes to the south, and the Illyrian to the north. This division corresponds so closely to the modern line of demarcation of the two tribes, that it seems highly probable that the same races inhabited the country then as now, and that the Tosks correspond to the Epirots, the Ghegs to the Illyrians. The difference between the Gheg and Tosk dialects is as great as between German and Danish; they do not understand one another, or, at most, can only hold communication in the simplest things, and that with difficulty. The distinction of dress is not as marked as has sometimes been represented. The red jacket is generally peculiar to the Ghegs, the white capote to the Tosks; the Ghegs also frequently wear the short white trouser, which the Tosks do not; but none of these rules are of invariable application. Another difference also exists in respect of the form which Christianity takes in the two tribes; speaking roughly, the small number of Ghegs who have maintained their allegiance to the Christian religion are Roman Catholics, while the Christian Tosks are of the orthodox communion. It is probably a consequence of this that the Ghegs, in writing, use the Latin letters, the Tosks the Greek; for the national alphabet, which I have mentioned above, does not seem to be much used. The hereditary opposition between the tribes is so strong, that when they are serving together in the Turkish army feuds will break out among them, and the Turks have at times turned this animosity to their own advantage, by employing them to put down insurrections in one another’s country.
The historical heroes of Albania are Alexander the Great, Pyrrhus, and Scanderbeg; and in modern times, if it is allowable to mention one so mean in connection with those great names – Ali Pasha. All that is interesting in the history of the country gathers round them; the rest is a series of temporary conquests and barbarian inroads, the effects of which were transient, and have not permanently influenced either the people themselves or the neighbouring races. Alexander was connected with Albania through his mother Olympias, which was an Epirotic princess: his exploits, however, belong to universal history, as those of Pyrrhus do to that of Rome. Of the third, Scanderbeg, it may be well to give a brief account, for few warriors have left behind them a fame as lasting, or an admiration as enthusiastic, as that with which this hero is still regarded by his countrymen. George Castriote, for that was his real name, was born in the north of Albania in the year 1404, and as his father was forced to become a tributary to the Turks, he was sent with his three brothers as hostages to Sultan Amurath II. They were lodged in the palace of that prince, and, contrary to an express stipulation made by their father, were educated in the Mahometan religion. The other brothers died early, but George rose in favour with the Sultan, who enrolled him among his guards and appointed him to an important command: his ability and valour were conspicuous at an early age, and in consequence of this he received from the Turks the name of Iskender Beg, or Lord Alexander. After his father’s death, when his family possessions were seized and appropriated by Amurath, and a Turkish officer sent to govern them, Scanderbeg conceived the design of regaining them and asserting the independence of his native Albania. He carried out this scheme in the following manner. When engaged in a campaign against Hunniades he entered into a secret correspondence with that commander, and by deserting, at a critical moment, contributed to the defeat of the Turkish army on the plain of Nissa. During the confusion that followed he extorted from the Sultan’s secretary a firman, by which the governor of Albania was ordered to surrender to him Croia [Kruja], the capital of that country, with the command of the neighbouring district. Armed with this mandate he hastened to the spot, and when he had by this means got the power into this own hands, he threw off the mask, declared himself the enemy of the Mahometans, and was acknowledged by his countrymen as their leader in the struggle for independence. For the remaining twenty-three years of his life he was engaged in almost unceasing hostilities with the Turks, and was renowned for his skill as a general, for the discipline he maintained among his soldiers, and the prodigies of valour he performed with his own hand. On more than one occasion his enemies penetrated to Croia, but they were as often repulsed, and when Sultan Amurath himself laid siege to that place in 1450, he was forced to retire, and his death, which occurred in the following year, was attributed by some to the mortification caused by that defeat. At one period Scanderbeg retired from the scene, when, having concluded a truce with Mahomet II., he passed over into Italy, at the solicitation of Pope Pius II., to assist the King of Naples against his opponent the Count of Anjou. In consequence of his services which he rendered on that occasion he received large grants of land in Italy, which were occupied in 1460 by a body of immigrants, the first of the numerous colonies which have passed over from Albania into that country. Towards the end of his life he was again engaged in hostilities with his former enemies, and again came off successful. He died at length at Alessio in the 63rd year of his age, and with him the hopes of his countrymen were extinguished. He does not rest among them, for, after he was buried, the Turks tore up his body, and out of the bones constructed amulets, which were supposed to inspire courage into the wearer on the battlefield; so great was their superstitious reverence for the man who during his long life had kept them at bay and repeatedly defeated them! But his name is familiar throughout Albania; and even among the Albanians of Southern Italy, the descendants of those who left their country after his death, he is still the hero of popular songs, of which the following is a specimen, -
“When Scanderbeg departed for the battle, on the road that he pursued he encountered Death, the ill-omened messenger of melancholy fortune. ‘My name is Death: return back, O Scanderbeg, for thy life approacheth its end.’ He hears him and beholds him: he draws his sword, and Death remains unmoved.
“‘Phantom of air, dreaded only by cowards, whence knowest thou that I must die? Can thy icy heart foretel my death? Or is the book of heroes’ destiny open unto thee?”
“‘Yesterday in heaven were opened before me the books of destiny, and cold and black, like a veil, it descended on thy head, and then passed on and fell on others also.’
“Scanderbeg smote his hands together, and his heart gave vent to a sigh. ‘Ah! woe is me! I shall live no more.’ He turns to contemplate the times that must come after him; he beholds his son fatherless, and his kingdom filled with tears. He assembles his warriors, and says to them; -
“‘My trusty warriors, the Turk will conquer all your country, and you will become his slaves. Ducadjin, bring hither my son, my lovely boy, that I may give him my commands. Unprotected flower, flower of my love, take with thee thy mother, and prepare three of the finest galleys. If the Turk knows it he will come and lay hands on thee, and will insult they mother. Descend to the shore; there grows a cypress dark and sad. Fasten the horse to that cypress, and unfold my standard upon my horse to the sea breeze, and from my standard hang my sword. On its edge is the blood of the Turks, and death sleepeth there. The arms of the dreaded champion – say, will they remain dumb beneath the dark tree? When the north wind blows furiously, the horse will neigh, the flag will wave in the wind, the sword will ring again. The Turk will hear it, and trembling, pale and sad, will retreat, thinking on death.’”
Berat to Corfu
Berat – Mount Tomohr – Local Chieftains – Castle of Berat – Siege under Scanderbeg – Malaria Fever – A Mountain Residence – Slavonic Names – Pass of Glava – The Viosa – Tepelen – Ali Pasha’s Palace – Argyro-Castro – Albanians and Greeks – Pass of Mount Sopoti – Delvino – River Vistritza – Lake of Butrinto – Departure for Corfu.
When we had reached the summit of the hills which separate the valley of the Devol from that of the Usumi [Osum], we obtained a view to the west over the winding course of the Beratino, which is formed by the combined waters of these two rivers; and, again descending, caught sight of the white walls of the Castle of Berat, situated on a lofty pyramidal rock. A level plain intervenes, at the commencement of which lies the village of Fendroudi, a picturesque place intersected by a stream and shaded by magnificent plane-trees. Not far off, on the hill-side, was a Christian church of some pretensions. We rode across the plain to the foot of the castle-rock on the north side, but did not come in sight of the city until we had made our way round to the opposite side. Here the River Usumi is hemmed in between the castle-rock and another still loftier height; the city nestles at the foot of the former, and spreads itself along the sides of the wooded heights to the east, where the gorge opens out, while on the other side of the river is the suburb of Goritza, the dwelling-place of the Christians, joined to the town by a well-built bridge of several arches. Looking upwards the eye is attracted by a quaint little Byzantine chapel, niched in the side of the castle-rock at a considerable height above the town, in a position difficult of access. Berat is a better looking place than any we had seen since leaving Monastir; many of the wooden houses have an imposing exterior, and a cleanly habitable look about them. A splendid sight awaited us as we passed through the city, for at the end of the gorge in which it lies appeared the vast flank of Mount Tomohr, closing the vista at a few miles’ distance, and flushed with rose-tints by the setting sun. This mountain, which when seen thus from the west is no longer triple-crested, but strongly resembles the Acro-Corinth, is said to have perpetual snow upon it; and, as a proof of this, we had frozen snow brought to us as a substitute for ice at our meals. This luxury is almost one of the necessaries of life, for the water-supply of the lower town seems to be entirely derived from the turbid river, and the drinking-water is consequently so full of sediment as to be hardly palatable without some admixture.
The khan at which we lodged occupied an agreeable position, overlooking the Usumi, from which a refreshing stream of cool air passed into our apartment. In the adjoining room, separated only from us by a thin partition of lathes with widely gaping interstices, was a large party of Gypsies, men, women, and children, who made merry with the violin and tambourine, to the accompaniment of which they sang in nasal and squeaky tones. They were a merry set, and kept up their performance till late at night, and their instrumental music was by no means inharmonious. These wanderers are to be found in great numbers in Turkey. More interesting to us were the local chieftains from the country districts, who swept in and out of the courtyard during the day with their escorts of mounted retainers, gaily dressed, and betraying haughtiness in their countenances and restlessness in their movements. Their appearance suggested to the imagination a lively picture of the state of things when the country was only half-subdued, in which clan-feeling was the first motive to action, and feuds were universally rife. The condition of Albania at this period is well described by Mr Finlay in a passage relating to that country in his ‘History of the Greek Revolution.’
“The peculiarities of Albanian society,” he says, “are most marked in the manner of life among those who are the proprietors of the soil. All of this class consider that they are born to carry arms. The great landlords are captains and leaders; the peasant proprietors are soldiers or brigands. Landlords, whether large or small, possess flocks, which supply them with milk, cheese, and wool; olive-trees, which furnish them with olives and oil; and fruit-trees, which enable them to vary their diet. Every landlord who was rich enough to lay up considerable supplies in his storehouse, expended them in maintaining as many armed followers as possible; and if his relations were numerous, and his phara or clan warlike, he became a chieftain of some political importance. Every Albanian who can avoid working for his livelihood goes constantly armed, so that whenever the central authority was weak, bloody feuds were prevalent. And at the commencement of the present century, anarchy appeared to be the normal condition of Albanian society. Gueghs, Tosks, tribes, septs, pharas, towns, and villages, were engaged in unceasing hostilities; open wars were waged, and extensive alliances were formed, in defiance of the power of the Pashas, and of the authority of the Sultan.
“Most of the towns were divided into clusters of houses called makhalas, generally separated from one another by ravines. Each makhala was inhabited by a phara, which was a social division resembling a clan, but usually smaller. The warlike habits of the Albanians were displayed even in their town life. Large houses stood apart, surrounded by walled enclosures flanked by small towers. Within these feeble imitations of feudal castles there was always a well-stocked magazine of provisions. Richly caparisoned steeds occupied the court during the day; lean, muscular, and greedy-eyed soldiers, covered with embroidered dresses and ornamented arms, lounged at the gate; and, from an open gallery the proprietor watched the movements of his neighbours, smoking his long tchibouk amidst his select friends. The wealthy chieftains lived like his warlike followers. His only luxuries were more splendid arms, finer horses, and a longer pipe. His pride was in a numerous band of well-armed attendants.”
The population of Berat is reckoned at 6500, the greater proportion of whom are Mahometan Tosks; the rest are Christian Albanians, Wallachians, and Bulgarians, all belonging to the Greek Church. The history of the name Berat is instructive. It is a corruption of the Slavonic Beligrad (Belgrade), which signifies “white or beautiful castle,” and this again, according to Schafarik, is nothing but a literal translation of the earlier Byzantine name Pulcheriopolis. The castle, to which we ascended in the morning, is entirely occupied by Christians, with the exception of a few Turkish soldiers, who serve to guard the powder-magazine; probably because here, as at Ochrida, the Bishop’s palace is situated in this, the oldest part of the city. On our way up we met the Bishop himself, clothed in purple robes, and mounted on a donkey. The castle is defended by two circuits of walls, now in ruins: at the summit stands a mosque and broken minaret, which are conspicuous objects from the plain below; and at the south-west angle, leading down to the river, is a covered stone staircase, also partly ruined, similar to one of the same kind at Nauplia in the Morea. Within the precincts there is an excellent cistern of pure water. In the outer wall, near the gateway, are remains of Hellenic masonry, which probably mark the site of the ancient Antipatria. The view to the north is striking, comprehending the plain, intersected by the river, and diversified here and there by groves of trees, beyond which in the extreme distance rise the high serrated mountains of Croia. After what we had heard of the upper town being occupied by Christians, I was surprised, in descending, at meeting on the steep path, which forms the approach, a woman on horseback, wearing the close veil and black cloak, the usual costume of Mahometan women in these regions; but I was informed of the curious fact, that the Christian women in this place have adopted Mahometan dress.
The castle of Berat is celebrated in history as the scene of an important siege conducted by Scanderbeg, against whom it was defended by the Turks, at the commencement of the reign of Mahomet II. Emboldened by a succession of victories over his opponents, the Albanian hero resolved to make himself master of that important position. Accordingly he invested it closely, at the same time arousing the ardour of his followers by reminding them of the famous defence of the Servian Belgrade by his great contemporary Hunniades. At last the place was reduced to such straits, that its garrison were forced to agree to a surrender, unless relieved within sixteen days. But before that period had expired, the Turkish General Sewali appeared with a large force in the plain to the north of the city, and there gave battle to the besiegers. After a severe struggle, Scanderbeg was defeated with the loss of 5000 of this best troops, and of Musachi, one of his firmest friends and ablest captains. On this occasion, his biographer tells us, from vexation at his ill-success, his under-lip split open and spurted blood, which used to be the case whenever he was violently excited in the council or the camp: and when he saw the Turks cutting off the heads of his dead comrades on the field, he gave orders to 7000 of this men, notwithstanding the presence of the victorious enemy, to go and bury the slain at all hazards. The effect of this repulse, however, was but temporary, for before long we find Scanderbeg pursuing his victorious career elsewhere.
At Berat the Turkish menzil or post-system comes to an end; in consequence of which, as we could find no other means of transit, we were forced to impress horses from the country. In order to do this, we had to pay a visit to the Pasha to show him our firman. His name was Abdurrahman, and he was a young and heavy-looking Osmanli. Seated on the divan near him was a white-turbaned mollah, a personage who may often be met with in the audience chamber of a pasha. In the centre of this room stood a table, an unusual article of European furniture, and on it were ranged conical rifle bullets of various sizes. After the usual cigarettes and coffee, and an interchange of compliments, he offered us guards, which we declined, but accepted the services of one of his retinue, as a guide to conduct us over the wild and intricate pass that leads to Tepelen [Tepelena]. This man was a gay and vain Albanian, but lively and good-humoured. Poor fellow! he was suffering from malaria fever, which made him very low-spirited at times; but we relieved him considerably by doses of quinine, so that he expressed a fervent wish that it was to be found in Albania. This malady is a terrible scourge in many parts of Turkey: the man who accompanied our horses from Salonica to Monastir, was so ill with it that sometimes he could hardly ride, and moaned piteously; and in other places we saw persons in the khans miserably ill, and obtaining apparently no relief from the treatment of the native doctors. It is to the prevalence of this complaint that Hahn attributes the very small number of travellers that venture into Central Albania; he himself had a bad attack of it, and Leake was obliged to turn back, and leave the country unvisited. In the afternoon our horses arrived, accompanied by their owners, two of whom were Wallachs, of which nation a considerable number lead an agricultural life in the neighbourhood of Berat. In this they differ from their countrymen of the Pindus, who are settled at the foot of the passes which lead from Yanina to the plains of Thessaly, and monopolize the carrying trade of that part of Turkey. Here they are called Rumuni or Romans, which is the only national name that they acknowledge, that of Wallach having been given them by foreigners. Their language is a corruption of Latin, very similar to Italian in its pronunciation, and this they speak among themselves, though they are compelled in self-defence to know the Albanian also. We proceeded southwards along a tributary of the Usumi, to which our guide gave the name of Planasnik [Plashnik], up a clayey valley, from various parts of which rose remarkable pyramidal heights. Late at night we found ourselves scrambling up a steep mountain side, on which we lost our way, and were obliged to dismount and lead our horses as well as we could, until at last, after wandering into a village by mistake, alarming the dogs and awaking the inhabitants, we reached a countryhouse of the Bey of Tepelen, to which the Pasha had ordered us to be conducted. In the absence of the Bey we were entertained by his cousin - a sort of country cousin, or humble relation, he appeared – and for one night we slept on cushions instead of hay. It was a small, neat and solidly-built residence, situated at a great height above the valley: one-half of it was shut off from the rest, and appropriated to the Bey’s harem; the room on the other side, in which we were lodged, was large and clean, garnished round the walls with long guns, and lighted by very small apertures for windows.
The village in the neighbourhood of this place was called Jabokika [Zhabokika], a name derived from jabuka, the Slavonic for “an apple.” The frequent occurrence of Slavonic names throughout Albania (we have just noticed Berat as an instance of this, and Goritza [Gorica] and Planasnik are others) points to the time when a large Slavonic element existed in this country. Nevertheless at the present time this element in the population has entirely disappeared, and while Wallachs are found in several districts, we look in vain for Bulgarians. For the explanation of this phenomenon we are left altogether to conjecture; and though the probability is that here, as in Greece, the Bulgarians settlers were after a time assimilated by the earlier inhabitants of the land, yet in this case the problem is a more difficult one. For whereas the superiority of the Greek race, both in respect of intellectual power and of national institutions, rendered it comparatively an easy task for them to hellenize others, the Albanians, on the other hand, were not so advanced in either of these respects, when compared with the Slavonic peoples, as to account for their overpowering their nationality, and amalgamating them with themselves. Yet this would seem to have been the case, for that they were either exterminated or expelled there is no reason to believe.
The track which led from this mountain eyrie to the top of the pass was, as our Albanian companion described it in delightful Greek, “all ups and downs and chokefull of stones” (ὅλο ἀνήφορο κατήφορο καὶ γεμάτο ἀπο πέτραις). The ridge bears the name of Glava [Gllava]. The view from the summit is strangely wild. Vast barren mountains rise in every direction, and on both sides of the pass sloping grey clayey hills are seen, seamed with watercourses; to the north some very distant mountains appear, even beyond those of Elbassan and Croia; to the south the eye rests here and there on scattered stone houses, scarcely distinguishable in colour from the soil on which they rest, and showing the wild life of the inhabitants by their resemblance to fortresses, the windows being few and high up in the building; to the west we obtained our first glimpse of the Adriatic. After a long and bad descent, about midday we reached a khan, pleasantly situated in the midst of plane trees, by the side of the stream of the Luftinia [Luftinja], a tributary of the Viosa. The building itself was of solid construction, but its occupants were clad in rags, and showed signs of great poverty; the same was the case with the people whom we met at very rare intervals as we continued our course down the valley: and this, even more than the dreariness of the scenery, impressed us with a strong feeling of loneliness and desolation during this part of our journey. At the distance of three hours from the khan we reached the banks of the Viosa, the largest and swiftest river of Albania – “Laos, fierce and wide,” as Byron calls it – which flows in a north-western direction. The path which we followed from this point along the river side was the only place in our whole journey which could really be called dangerous. In some places it was carried along the edge of a precipice nearly overhanging the water, and at some of the turnings the ground was so much broken away that the horses had difficulty in finding any footing. Fortunately we passed it before nightfall, and forded the river just below Tepelen. The process of fording was not altogether easy, owing to the swift current of the stream; the baggage horse required to be supported across by our four attendants, two of them keeping him up on either side. The distance from Berat is twelve or thirteen hours.
Having on a former occasion visited Yanina, the centre of Ali Pasha’s power, and the island in the lake, where he met his death, we were naturally anxious to see Tepelen, his birthplace and favourite residence. It was a fortified city of small extent, occupying a triangular plateau which runs out from the foot of a steep and lofty mountain, so that its base is washed by the Viosa. The fortifications, which follow the line of the cliffs in a rude triangle, on one side overhang this river, on another the Bendscha [Bënça], a smaller stream, which flows into it. Though part of them are ruined and the battlements broken, yet they are well and strongly built, and the angles are defended by polygonal towers. The interior is a place in which to moralise over the fall of human greatness. Hardly one house is inhabited, and a scene of more blank desolation can scarcely be conceived, for the ruins being comparatively new, are unrelieved by weeds and creepers, and have nothing of the venerable look which time bestows. At the angle which overlooks the junction of the rivers is Ali’s palace, the scene of all the magnificence and display which Byron describes in ‘Childe Harold.’ Now the arched halls are bare, - except here and there, where the frescoes still remain upon the walls, - and all is ruinous and dismantled. A few white-kilted Albanians were grouped upon the western wall, but elsewhere we rambled about without meeting a soul. The surrounding views are in harmony with this scene of destructions, - above, huge, wild mountain heights, as barren as can be imagined; below, the shingly riverbeds, through which in winter the water must rush in an immense volume, and the piers of a fine bridge which has been destroyed by the river. On one occasion, we were told, a ferry-boat was upset here with forty-five persons and three horses; the latter swam ashore, but all the human beings perished. Outside the walls, close to an aqueduct, which conveyed water into the city from the mountain side, is a small Albanian village of fifty families, who now form the entire population of the place. It is at first sight extraordinary that a barbarous chieftain like Ali should have so much attracted the attention of Europe, and have become an important historical personage; and it would be curious to trace how much of the interest which Englishmen have felt in him may be referred to Byron’s visit, and the magnificent verses in which he has described it. But, if we put out of sight Ali’s own character, a disgusting mixture of cruelty, perfidy, and selfishness, there is a strong romantic and dramatic element in his history. Still no doubt Mr. Finlay is right when he says, “that the reason why he has merited a place in history is, that circumstances caused him to be the herald of the Greek revolution.”
The road from Tepelen to Argyro-Castro [Gjirokastra] follows the left bank of the Viosa as far as its junction with the Dryno [Drino]. At this point we saw, on the opposite side of the valley, a deep gorge between lofty mountains, from which the Viosa emerges. This, which is now called Stena, was in old times the Fauces Antigonenses, near which Philip, son of Demetrius, who was defending the pass, was defeated in a great battle by the Romans. The Dryno, along the banks of which we ascended, is a clear rushing stream of green water, and, with the trees which clothe its steep banks in many places, presents some beautiful scenery. The mountains on the opposite side were terraced and cultivated below, but terminated above in bare grey ridges furrowed by gullies and watercourses. After about three hours we reached the khan of Su Bashi, hard by which a picturesque ivy-clad bridge of one steep arch spanned the stream. Here the head of the valley opens out into a plain of some size, running from north-west to south-east, on the western slopes of which stands the town of Argyro-Castro. The neighbourhood appeared populous from the numerous villages upon the mountain sides which enclose it, but the ranges themselves resemble gigantic ridges of brown sand. The town, which is said to contain 10,000 people, has a scattered look from a distance, but as you approach its appearance is striking, as it is situated partly on the semi-circular slopes which intervene between them. Many of the houses here are of stone, and strongly built, having been intended to serve as private fortresses, for the system of vendetta rages nowhere more furiously than here. Though it has ceased now, it even survived the time of Ali Pasha, who in other places was so successful in putting down the local feuds and local chieftains, that he may be said to have first brought Albania into subjection to the Porte. The inhabitants of these large dwellings form the nobility of the district, and are the proprietors of the farms which are scattered over the plain.
At this place we meet with a new element in the population. To the northward of Argyro-Castro the inhabitants, as we have seen, are almost entirely of the Albanian race; to the south, however, Greeks are found in considerable numbers, especially in the more inland districts. Even if we had not heard the Greek language spoken all round us at the khan, there was no mistaking the quick, lively, inquisitive people whom we met. Strange to say, the line of demarcation runs across the centre of the plain, and is so sharply drawn that the northern half is Albanian, and the southern Greek, and the two populations do not intermingle with one another. The city itself is inhabited by Albanians and the Greeks who are found there are regarded as strangers. The women here wear a white veil or towel, wound round the head, and hanging down behind. The morning after our arrival, having sent our dragoman to the Pasha to ask for horses, we thought it right to pay him a visit in his serai, which is situated within the castle built by Ali on the highest of the spurs on which the town is placed. From this castle the people of the neighbourhood seem usually to call the place “the Castro” (το κάστρο), omitting the first part of the name, as Constantinople is called “the city.” The fortifications here, as elsewhere, are dismantled; the Pasha has a few guards in his service, but with the exception of a very few small bodies of this kind there is no military force nearer than Scodra or Monastir, to maintain the authority of the Turkish Government throughout Central Albania. He received us with profuse civilities, and complained of our not having taken up our abode with him, instead of going to the khan. It is quite possible for an English traveller, especially when provided with a firman, to be entertained in state at the houses of the Turkish dignitaries; but, if he is wise, he will content himself with a humbler style of travelling, for otherwise he will lose much time in not being his own master; he will greatly increase his expenses, from the numerous presents he is expected to make to the great man’s servants; and last, not least, he will have far fewer opportunities of intercourse with the people of the country.
The Pasha offered to provide us either with horses or mules, but recommended the latter, on account of the steepness of the road over Mount Sopoti, which intervenes between this place and Delvino. We followed his advice, and, mounted on these, made our way up a blinding pass, partly through a river bed, partly among fragments of broken limestone, over the mountains which rise behind the town. When at last we reached the summit, we obtained an extensive view, though the atmosphere was hazy, over the level country below, the lake of Butrinto lying close to the sea, and the shores and headlands of Corfu, divided from the mainland by a winding strait, while to the right the mountains of Chimara rose conspicuous. A rugged zigzag path along the mountain side brought us, after a steep descent of some hours, to a grove of chestnut and other trees, which afforded most grateful shade. Below this was a fountain, where we saw a scene that reminded us of patriarchal times; a number of women from a neighbouring village, picturesquely dressed in the costume of the country, with high head-dresses, white veils, and the hair in large braids at the sides of the face, were disputing with some men of another village about the right to drawing water; and the upheld their rights manfully. From thence again we descended through more cultivated country to Delvino, a scattered and somewhat decayed town, prettily situated on verdant slopes, in the midst of plane-trees and running streams.
The last day of our journey was occupied partly in wading for several hours through streams and marshes, by the side of the river Vistritza [Bistrica], which flows into the lake of Butrinto, partly in making a detour to avoid the lake, over low hills, thickly covered with thorn-bushes, and thistles, often rising to the height of ten feet. The palluria, which grows all about here is a most formidable bush, as it is covered all over the tenacious hooked prickles; it is said that if a sheep gets regularly entangled in it, it can never be extricated. The river is bordered throughout a great part of its course by rich woods of alder and willow, the shade of which, together with the abundance of water, was refreshing and pleasant; occasionally, however, the watercourses were worn into holes, which had an awkwardly adhesive bottom. In one of these our dragoman’s horse lost his footing and subsided into a mud bath, in which his rider and the saddle-bags partially shared. Further on, when we reached the higher ground we found a village called Kinurio or Newplace, where we halted for some little time. The appearance of the people whom we met in these parts bordering on the coast, and especially the straw hats they wore, were decidedly of an Ionian character, and betrayed the influence of the neighbouring islands. The farms, however, as elsewhere in Albania are built with a view to defence, being massively constructed of stone, with no windows in the lower portion, and those above of small dimensions. An aperture also appears sometimes above the entrance, opening downwards from a projecting piece of masonry, as in feudal castles, whereby communication may be held with a visitor before admittance, and something warm dropped upon him if need be. We proceeded for some distance through thick undergrowth, but, notwithstanding the excellence of the cover, we saw no game. Towards evening we arrived at a village called Livari, a corruption, it is thought, of Vivarium, from the fisheries in the lake, which here finds an outlet into the sea by means of a river. By the people of the place the lake is also called Boïdoporos, or Oxford. At Corfu the village is known as Butrinto or Vutzindro, but in the country itself we found these names unknown, a source of confusion which caused us much difficulty. On the opposite side of the water is a rocky height, with remains of walls, which mark the site of the ancient Buthrotum, the celsam Buthroti urbem of Virgil.
As we were embarking to cross to Corfu, I said to a Turkish official who was standing by, “Now we are leaving Turkey,” “Yes,” he replied, “now you are going to Europe.” He spoke the truth; Turkey has no claim to be reckoned among European nations.
Scodra and the Mirdita
Bazaars and City of Scodra – Vendetta – Turkish Toleration – Turks and Montenegrins – Ismael Pasha – The Castle – View from it – Sieges – Departure for the Mirdita – The Drin – First Impressions of the Mirdita – Night-bivouac – Mirdite Dress – Extensive Oak-forests – The Priest of St. George – Religious Views of the People – Their Fanaticism – Rivers of the Country – Arrival at Orosch.
The mountains of Mirdita
(Photo: Robert Elsie, October 2013).
On landing from our boot we at once entered the bazaars of Scodra, which are built at a distance of two miles from the modern city, in a low and unhealthy position by the river side, at the foot of the castle hill, – a steep isolated mass of rock, which rises finely from the plain with a striking outline. Our first thought was to purchase saddles and other equipment for our journey into the interior. And here I may remark, for the information of future travellers, that it is not advisable to use English saddles in Turkey, because, whether rightly or not, the people of the country have the strongest objection to them, believing that they injure the backs of their horses. It is far better to purchase a padded Turkish saddle in the first large town on your route, taking care to select one with the slightest peak that you can find, together with a surcingle, as well as girths and a crupper. It is well, however, to take stirrups and stirrup leathers from England, as the Turkish ones are often awkward and untrustworthy. A number of rough horse-hair saddlebags of various sizes will also be found extremely useful, and can be met with everywhere in Turkey. In the larger ones you can stow your luggage, by which means an infinity of trouble is saved in loading your baggage-horse; and the smaller ones, which can be thrown across the peak of the saddle, serve to carry provisions and any other etceteras. After providing ourselves with these and a few other articles, we proceeded over dilapidated roads and by the sides of broken bridges, which once spanned the numerous watercourses, to the city, if that name can properly be applied to a place where the houses are built so far apart, and so embowered in trees, that more than two or three can seldom be seen in one view. Yet Scodra is said to contain a population of 27,000 and is by far the most important place of all this part of Turkey. It can even boast a very fair Locanda.
An old kulla at Perlat in Mirdita
(Photo: Robert Elsie, October 2013).
In the course of the day we visited the British Consul, Mr. Read, who gave us a good deal of information about the state of the country, and kindly assisted us in arranging our plans for the next stage of our journey. He described the continual vendetta as being the bane of this whole district. Though the condition of things is not as outrageous as formerly, yet with an average of one murder every week in the city and its neighbourhood, arising from this cause, it can be conceived how little real security there is to human life. The authorities do what they can to prevent it, but in all probability no method would be effectual short of exiling the whole family of the murderer. From time to time, when the confusion becomes intolerable, it is a custom, handed down from ancient times, for a general truce to be proclaimed, when the persons who have the right to exercise the vendetta are required to appear before the heads of their tribes or the local governors, and swear that they will abstain from vengeance. M. Hecquard, who was formerly French Consul at Scodra, mentions that in 1857, in consequence of no truce having been proclaimed for thirteen years, no less than 500 persons belonging to the city of Scodra alone were wandering about in the neighbouring plain and mountains as being compromised. But even the alleviation of the evil which is produced in this way is, as may be supposed, but partial and of short duration.
Mr. Read expressed his belief that the Turkish authorities here are anxious to carry out a system of religious toleration, and mentioned, as a proof of this, that whereas until lately the only place where the Christians of Scodra were allowed to meet for worship was a field in the suburbs, a church is now in course of erection in the plain. My companion enquired whether the evidence of Christians was received in the courts of justice. He replied in the negative; the Pasha, he thought, was a fair man, and wished them to be heard, but as soon as he proposed it, the Cadi would retire, and without his signature the verdict becomes void. The same is the case in the medjlis, or council. Within a few years the Pasha has nominated amongst its members two Christians, one a representative of the Latin, the other of the Greek community; but from fear of ill-usage they are absolute cyphers, and wholly unable to prevent injurious measures. Whatever political influence is exercised by any foreign power on the Christians of North Albania is in the hands of Austria, from which country almost all the Roman Catholic bishops come: the priests who are introduced from that country he regarded as being injurious, from the political ferments which they occasionally cause, and the jealousy they arouse among the native priests. As to the relations of the Turks and Montenegrins, he seemed to think they were in a very precarious position, and that war might break out any day. There were faults on both sides. The Turks were unreasonably hard in pressing points with regard to the frontier line, and similar questions, and if the British embassy at Constantinople were to urge them to a more conciliatory course, it was highly probably they would consent. On the other hand, the Montenegrins were ever ready to take up the matter, however slight, and make it a cause of quarrel. Not long before this the Austrian Government had made them a present (not a very judicious one) of 1500 rifles, immediately after which a movement was felt all along the frontier, and though nothing ultimately came of it, yet it was enough to cause an uneasy sensation. The Turks maintain that according to the last convention Mirkho has no right to live any longer in the country, whereas he is dignified with the offices of President of the Senate and Commander-in-chief of the Army.
In the company of Mr. Read, we paid a visit to Ismael Pasha, the governor of this province, who was one of Omer Pasha’s officers, an able and strong-headed man, and in good repute even among the Montenegrins. We found him sitting with the Russian consul in the garden of his serai, where he welcomed us in a very friendly manner, and entertained us with coffee, sherbet, and the never-failing cigarettes. Like most Pashas, he is excessively fat, and had the strongly-marked features of the Osmanli. He is confident, we were told, that in case of a war he could easily penetrate to Cetinjé, and subdue the Montenegrins; but when I looked at his portly frame, and thought of the passes above Rieka [Rijeka], I felt not a little doubtful whether he would accomplish the task in person. He was proud, and with reason, considering the time of year, of the flowers in his garden; they were mostly nasturtiums and other gay plants, for the Turks delight in gaudy colours. The soil of this plain is excellent, both for flowers and vegetables; the violets and other wild flowers in spring are described as magnificent; but owing to the ignorance of the people, very few kinds of vegetables are grown, except gourds; and their potatoes, as I have said, are imported from Montenegro. Ismael’s brass band was in attendance, and played a number of airs, partly Italian, partly Turkish, very fairly; but as no Turk has any ear, their style of playing was better suited to the latter, which has that peculiarly raw, half-discordant sound which is characteristic of all Oriental music. How cleverly Beethoven has imitated it in his Turkish March in the ‘Ruins of Athens!’
On our expressing a wish to visit the castle, the Pasha sent one of his aides-de-camp to accompany us. We found the fortifications in a ruinous state in many parts; they are, in fact, those of the old Servian fortress, dating from the time when Upper Albania, under the title of the province of Rascia, formed a part of the Servian kingdom. But, from the isolated position of the lofty rock on which it stands, the view is a very remarkable one. To the north extends the wide expanse of the lake, its eastern shore bounded by level land or gradual slopes extending to the foot of the mountains of the Hotti and Clementi, while on the opposite side rises the grand rocky wall that separates it from the sea, the last spurs of which sink into the plain at our feet on the right bank of the Boyana, thus terminating the long limestone chain which skirts the Adriatic throughout the whole length of Dalmatia and Montenegro. The river, - which, as it passes the bazaars, is spanned by a long ricketty wooden bridge, - winds away through level ground in the direction of the Adriatic, whose waters may be seen far off through an opening in the hills; and just after it has skirted the castle hill, it receives the combined streams of two other rivers. One of these, the Chiri [Kir], flows on the south side of the city, and is a source of continual anxiety to the inhabitants from its winter inundations, which threaten sooner or later to sweep away the whole place. The other is a branch of the Drin, which broke away from the main river two years before our visit, and taking a northerly course forced its way as far as this point. So seriously may the face of a country be injured, where barbarism and neglect prevail! At the foot of the castle on the south side, and separated from the bazaars by a rocky hill, are the half-ruined houses of the old town of Scodra; while the modern city stretches over a considerable part of the plain to the east, having the appearance of a sea of trees, with minarets and other lofty buildings rising out of it, a most picturesque sight. Far away to the south-east appeared the snow-capped mountains of the Mirdite Albanians; and directly to the east, rising over the nearer ranges, a group of striking peaks in the direction of Ipek [Peja], one of them pyramidal in form. Of these peaks, which were the Bertiscus of ancient times, we shall hear more as we proceed.
The castle height on which we are standing was the site of the original town of Scodra, for this name, which has been transformed into Scutari by the Italians, signifies “on the hill.” At different periods of history it has been a place of considerable importance, and has sustained numerous sieges. The first of these is mentioned by Livy, who describes the place as difficult of access, and the best fortified town in the country, and surrounded by two rivers, the Clausula (Chiri) on the east, and the Barbana (Boyana) on the west, the latter of which flows from the Palus Labeatis (lake of Scodra). On this occasion Gentius, the last king of Illyria, having provoked the hostility of the Romans by his piracies, was attacked and besieged by the Roman Praetor Anicius, and after an unsuccessful sally, compelled to surrender at discretion; after which Illyria became a Roman province (B.C. 168). To pass over a number of minor sieges, it was again the scene of an important conflict in the year 1478, when the Venetians, to whom it had been ceded by Scanderbeg by a secret convention which came into force after his death, were blockaded there by Mahomet II. for nine months, and only yielded it to him in consequence of a treaty of peace being signed. And to come nearer to our own times, it was the headquarters of Mahmoud Pasha, or Mahmoud the Black, as he is more commonly called, who in the latter half of the eighteenth century held a similar position in Northern Albania to what which Ali of Yanina afterwards held in the south; and who, after long defying the Ottomans from whom he had revolted, and cutting in pieces the detachments which they sent against him, was ultimately defeated and slain by the Montenegrins under their Vladika Peter I., into whose mountains in an evil hour he had penetrated (A.D. 1796). One of his successors, Mustapha, a man of less ability, but for a time not less formidable, again declared himself independent of the central government, and taking advantage of the time when Sultan Mahmoud’s power had been weakened by his war with Russia and the unpopularity of his internal reforms, induced a large number of the neighbouring chieftains to join his standard, and marched against the Turkish forces. But the general who was sent against him, Mehemet Reschid Pasha, though the forces at his command were considerably inferior, was a man or far greater capacity. Mustapha was first defeated in the field, and then forced to shut himself up in his fortress, where, after sustaining a siege and bombardment, he was compelled to surrender by the explosion of his powder magazine (A.D. 1832). Since that time the Ottoman flag has waved peacefully over its battlements.
The next point that we intended to make for in our journey was the country of the Mirdites, whose mountains I have mentioned as visible from the castle. They have the reputation of being the fiercest and most warlike of all the Albanians, and have never been subdued by the Turks, of whom they are absolutely independent, being governed by a Prince of their own, who is a descendant of Scanderbeg. They are the hereditary enemies of the Montenegrins; and it was strange to think that within so short a distance we should visit two Christian peoples so strongly contrasted with one another, differing in race, political organization, and even religion, for the Mirdites are all Roman Catholics. We were doubtful before arriving at Scodra whether it would be possible for us to enter their country, but as the Prince has a residence in that city, Mr. Read had become acquainted with him, and undertook to provide us with an introduction. He found on enquiry that a servant or messenger of Bib Doda (such is the Prince’s name) was about to start on the morrow for Orosch [Orosh], his mountain residence, with despatches from Ismael Pasha and other commissions; and accordingly it was arranged that this person should accompany us and act as guide. We hired four horses of an Albanian carrier called Nicola, a fine-looking middle-aged man, and in every respect a most capital fellow, far superior to the ordinary run of carriers and muleteers: in the first instance we agreed to take him as far as Prisrend [Prizren], but, as we found his horses very fair, and himself all that we could desire, we ultimately went though with him all the way to Salonica.
Shortly after midday we left the city. Our path ran in a south-easterly direction along a plain near the foot of a range of mountains, and was bordered by agnus-castus bushes, pomegranates, palluria, and other shrubs, festooned here and there by the wild vine: the land on both sides was fairly cultivated, in some places corn being grown, in others vines and mulberry trees, and in one spot I saw a patch of tobacco. In two hours and a half we reached the main stream of the Drin, from which the branch that has made its way to Scodra separates lower down: at this point it is from 100 to 150 yards wide, a rushing turbid current, very different from the pellucid river which, on our former journey, we had seen issue from the Lake of Ochrida. About halfway between these two points it receives the waters of the White Drin, which rises in the mountains of Ipek and flows from north to south, after which the combined streams take a westerly course towards the sea. From the appearance of its bed it must have a wider stream in the winter. Here there is a ferry, and considering that this is the high road between Scodra and Prisrend, the ferry-boat is of a most primitive description. It is composed of two boats of no great size fastened together, each of which is made out of one piece of wood (monoxyla the Greeks call them), and is paddled for some distance up the stream with instruments more resembling spades than oars, and then drifted across to the other side. When horses are ferried over they are arranged crosswise, with their fore-feet in one boat and their hind-feet in the other. Above the ferry the rocks close in and form a narrow gorge, which extends for a distance of not less than sixty miles up the course of the stream, with such precipitous sides that it is impossible for any road to follow in that direction. We were informed that it had been explored in the previous year by Von Hahn, with the object of discovering whether it could be rendered navigable, but that he found the rapids so numerous and so steep as to make the attempt to utilize it hopeless. In consequence of this, the high road to Prisrend has to pass for several days’ journey over excessively steep and rugged ground some way to the south of the river, having on one side the wild tribe of the Ducadjini, and on the other the Mirdites, part of whose territory it traverses in the most difficult portion of the route. This is one great source of the influence of that people, and a cause of their independence, for no sooner have they a grievance to complain of, or any difference with the Turks, than they infest this road and render it impassable, thereby destroying commerce, cutting off supplies, and, what is still more important, hindering reinforcements being sent from the interior in case of a war with Montenegro. This route has been described by Dr. Grisebach, who passed this way in 1839.
After crossing the river we stopped by a solitary khan on the opposite bank to wait for our Albanian guide, who had left Scodra later than ourselves, and was to overtake us here. We made our dinner off provisions which we had brought with us, having been warned beforehand that we should find nothing, except perhaps coffee and spirits, at the miserable hovels which are built at intervals along the main road, and form the only accommodation for the traveller between Scodra and Prisrend. Nevertheless, as this is the only line of communication by which the produce of a large inland district can be brought to the sea, the amount of traffic is very considerable, as we could see from the number of well-laden horses bearing merchandize which passed us on the way. When Bib Doda’s messenger arrived we again started, and followed the track until it began to ascend into the mountains, near which point was a small Christian church with some pretensions to architecture and rough ornamental stone-work. Here we left it, and skirted the edge of the plain of Zadrima, which stretches southwards in the direction of Alessio, forming the boundary of the Mirdita on this side. We soon found our native guide indispensable, for the slight traces of a path vanished when we came to the broad shingly bed of a river called Djadri [Gjadër], which we followed upwards, frequently crossing and recrossing the shallow stream, which from the appearance of this channel must at times be swelled into a furious torrent. On one side the rocks were of limestone – the last of this formation which we saw until reaching Orosch – on the other they appeared igneous, which, according to Grisebach, is the character of the greater part of this mountain mass south of the Drin. These last, as well as the débris that had fallen from them, were of a deep red colour, so that, as evening approached, the shadows that were thrown along them by the trees on their sides assumed a rich purple hue. We were now within the territory of the Mirdites, and the wildness of the scenery harmonized well with all that we had heard of the character of the natives. Here and there, however, gentle nooks appeared, where bright green poplars, with patches of maize and small vineyards, gave an aspect of cultivation; and the cows coming up from the water, and the sheep following the shepherd, as in the parable, suggested thoughts of rural life, though these were somewhat marred by the long gun which the shepherd carried on his shoulder. At one point, where the river makes a considerable bend, an armed party suddenly appeared from behind a mass of rock which projected above the valley, and, after hailing us, enquired where we were going. Our guide was not with us, having made a detour into the mountains to avoid wading the stream, but Nicola satisfied them by shouting that we were on our way to visit the Prince. At last, about nightfall, we left the river and mounted to a small upland plain, in which was a solitary house, where our Albanian proposed that we should stop: but as it had been arranged that he should take us to the priest’s house in the village of Castagneti [Kashnjet], which was said to be not far distant, and our time was precious, we resolved to proceed thither. Having mounted him on one of our horses, we stumbled along behind him by the light of the stars, over very rough places, while he extemporized a way so cleverly and with such perfect nonchalance, that we were deceived into the idea that he knew where he was going, until suddenly he disappeared, horse and all, down a bank five feet high. On reappearing unhurt he confessed that he was wholly out of his reckoning, and condescended to go off in the direction of a light which we saw at no great distance, and which proved to proceed from a shepherds’ encampment. From them we learnt that Castagneti was in a wholly different direction, and that we had no chance of reaching it that night: so we unloaded our horses and turned them loose into the neighbouring grass, and having lighted a fire and partaken of a scanty supper, lay down to rest under a spreading ash-tree, and were son fast asleep.
On waking the next morning we found at our heads a large cross carved on the bark of the tree, a sure sign that we were among Christians. Around us was a pretty glade, surrounded by oak brushwood and dwarf pines, and hard by ran a narrow stream, down the steep side of which our man had tumbled the night before. The shepherds were an uncouth-looking set, and, like all the Mirdites, excessively plainly dressed, in which respect they are a great contrast to the other gay Albanians, and especially to those of Scodra, in whose rich costumes there is a tasteful mixture of white and red, while the women wear a large crimson cloak with a covering for the head, reminding one of the costume which old women used to wear in England. Amongst the Mirdites the dress of the men consists of a long white woollen coat, which serves also for a shirt, fastened round the waist by a red belt; underneath this are white pantaloons of the same material, tied with ornamented bands about the ankles: their feet are protected by shoes of hide, and their heads by a close-fitting cap of white felt. Their women present a more picturesque appearance, as, in addition to a coat similar to that of the men, they wear red trousers, an embroidered apron with a fringe eighteen inches long, and a blue handkerchief twisted round the head. They are a wire, active people, but small in stature; indeed they appeared to us quite pigmies after seeing the Montenegrins: their faces are sharp and keen, with a rough expression, but by no means an unpleasant one, for they are less wild and cruel-looking than the other Ghegs. They shave all the head except the back part, where the hair is allowed to grow to its full length (ὄπιθεν κομόωντες); and from this and other customs of theirs, which are generally characteristic of the Mahometan races in Turkey, the stranger finds it hard at first to persuade himself that they are Christians.
The undulating country over which we passed after leaving our night’s resting-place was covered with oak-trees, which are the characteristic vegetation of the north and west of the Mirdita. It is described by Dr. Grisebach as being universally found in the neighbourhood of his route, and the dense masses of it which we saw extended as far as the eye could reach; nowhere else in Europe, in all probability, are such extensive oak forests to be found. After gradually ascending for three hours, we reached San Giorgio, where there is a church and a priest’s residence; in former times, when the inhabitants of this district had reason to fear hostilities from the Turks, – in fact, until quite lately, – this was the seat of the Bishop of the Mirdites; of late years, however, since they have been on good terms with their neighbours, he has removed to a place in the plain of Zadrima, not far distant from Alessio. The little church is of the rudest description; the sun shines through the rafters, and not only is there no church furniture, but there is not even a regular altar, the place of which is taken by a ledge of stone in a tiny apse which is scooped out of the eastern wall; outside the west end there is a similar ledge, where the service is celebrated on great festivals, such as St. George’s day, when two or three thousand people are gathered together. This was once the metropolitan cathedral. We betook ourselves to the priest’s house, which stood on a little eminence hard by, but the doors were barred, and all our shouting and knocking elicited no responses except the loud barking of dogs. When we were on the point of going away in despair, the priest himself, Don Nicola Bianchi, appeared, having come in from the fields where he had been working. Don is the title applied to all the priests throughout the country. He was a jolly, broad-shouldered, bustling little man, dressed in a costume anything but ecclesiastical, which however is the regular dress of the Mirdite priests – a red fez cap, a cloth jacket, and full blue trousers gathered in below the knee, like those worn by Greek sailors. He spoke Italian, like all the priests of this country, who learn it in Scodra, a circumstance which we found extremely serviceable, as we could in this way hold direct communication with them. He expressed himself greatly delighted at seeing us, and in a surprisingly short time had washed this floor, made coffee, killed a lamb, and prepared a good dinner, for which the mountain air had duly qualified our appetites. Of this he did not himself partake, as it was the vigil of St. James’s day, but he greatly enjoyed the bread, cheese, and tobacco, which we had brought with us from Scodra, for his own bread was of maize and roughly baked, and his tobacco of a very coarse description. He was proud of his wine, which he said the Prince himself had praised, and of his water, which he considered the lightest and best in the Mirdita. The room in which he entertained us had a decidedly martial aspect, from the number of guns and pistols hung about the walls; these apparently are not unnecessary, for when he showed us round his premises, he described how, a few years ago, he was obliged to cut down all the trees and bushes in the neighbourhood of the house, on account of the robbers who concealed themselves there. Besides this sitting-room he had a kitchen and a bedroom, in which were several books of devotion; all these were on the upper storey, for the lower part was occupied by stables and outhouses. In the garden close by, a large bell is suspended in a frame, and serves to call the people to church.
Don Nicola had served as Chaplain-General of the Mirdite forces under Bib Doda, in the campaign in Bulgaria, at the commencement of the Russian war, when he led 1200 men to the assistance of the Sultan, – as auxiliaries, however, for, unlike the rest of the Albanians, the Mirdites never serve as mercenaries. He was present at the battle of Giurgevo and the siege of Silistria, where he remembered the heroic Captain Butler. For these services he had received a decoration of the 3rd order of the Medjidie, which he showed us, together with a firman from the Sultan, written in gilt letters. “Ah! you should have seen me,” he said, “as I charged at the head of my men, with the cross in my hand!” “And a sword, perhaps, in the others?” I suggested. He laughed, but would not plead guilty to the soft impeachment. He expressed himself anxious to get an English Crimean medal, for though he had not been in the Crimea, yet he had taken part in the war, and he knew others who had received them in different parts of the country. The Prince was evidently a great object of admiration with him, and he described him to us as a bravo giovine.
In answer to our enquiries our host informed us that there is a large quantity of metals in the country, – lead, iron, and silver; also coal, though it had never been worked, but some of the surface coal was so good that they could boast that a steamer had once made a voyage with it. Besides this, the resin which is extracted from their pine-trees might be made an article of commerce, together with the timber, of which they have so inexhaustible a supply; yet none is exported except the scodano, which is used in dyeing. As to his own profession, he told us that there are thirteen priests in the country, all of whom are native Albanians, except one, who is an Italian. The number of course is extremely small for a scattered population of more than 20,000 souls, but the churches are more numerous, and services are held from time to time in different places. These the people attend in great numbers, and they are careful in observing the fasts and festivals, but how superficial their Christianity is may be gathered from a fact which I heard at Orosch, that many of them are accustomed to pray to our Lord to intercede for them with St. Nicholas, who is the leading saint of the country. Having touched on their religion, I may as well take the opportunity of saying a few more words about that subject. They are an extremely fanatical people, and will not under any circumstances allow a Mahometan to settle among them, nor is any insult offered to their religion suffered to pass unavenged. M. Hecquard relates, that at the time when the Pasha of Scodra opposed the building of a Roman Catholic seminary for priests, which was being constructed in that place under Austrian auspices, and caused the walls that had been partly raised to be thrown down, the Mirdites prepared to descend into the plain to destroy a mosque, in requital of the wrong done to their faith, and that he himself met a body of 300 of them starting on such an expedition, and with difficulty persuaded them to abstain, by pointing out to them the persecutions they were likely to bring on their fellow Christians in the plains. At what exact time this country finally attached itself to the Latin Church it is hard to say, for having belonged first to the Byzantine empire, and then to the Servian kingdom, and, on the other hand, from its proximity to Italy, having at an early period had sees founded in it from Rome, Upper Albania was for many centuries the scene of continual struggles between the eastern and western communions, and swayed backwards and forwards from one to the other, according as force or policy required. Roman Catholic writers fix the date at which the change took place at A.D. 1250, quoting two letters of Innocent IV., in which he states that the whole of the province of Albania, following the example of their bishop, had joined the Catholic Church; but there is evidence to show that the Greek Church exercised a powerful influence in these parts until a much later period. Even at the present day a number of Greek observances remain embodied in the Latin rite, the most remarkable of which is the communion of both kinds.
San Giorgio is by the barometer 2070 feet above the sea; and from its commanding situation the view is one of the finest in the country. Far away to the north-west the castle of Scodra and its lake were clearly visible; the rest was a grand mountain panorama, the chief points in which were the conical Monte Veglia [Vela] to the west, on the other side of which lies Alessio, and to the south-east the lofty peak of Mount Dyia [Deja], patched with snow, the highest summit in the Mirdita. The whole was harmonized by the soft blue of a midday haze.
Seeing a chestnut tree close by the house, I enquired whether any were found at Castagneti, the place where we were to have passed the previous night. Don Nicola answered that there were several there, and that, as I had supposed, the name of the village was almost certainly derived from the Italian name for the tree. It is one of many instances of the way in which words and names in that language have filtrated into the Albanian; thus prift, the Albanian for “priest,” comes undoubtedly from that source, and our host’s surname had distinctly an Italian sound. Speaking of Castagneti he also told us that in the neighbourhood of that place is the site of Castri, the birthplace of Scanderbeg, from which he derived his name of George Castriote.
Having taken an affectionate farewell of our hospitable entertainer, who would hardly hear of our not passing the night with him, we pursued our way through a country of exquisite beauty, at one time penetrating into the loveliest dells imaginable, at another crossing the uplands, from which the eye ranged over a wide extent of mountains, whose sides and slopes seem clothed with velvet from their unbroken covering of oak foliage. Shortly after leaving San Giorgio we first caught sight of the village of Orosch, some twenty miles distant in a direct line to the east, and appearing like a white spot in the midst of a triangular patch of cultivation lying in an open gully, which seamed the side of the distant mountain chain. From this point we descended first to the river Sperthoz [Shpërdhaza], and again, after crossing an intervening range of hills, to the greater Fandi [Fan], the main stream of the country, which receives the waters of all the other rivers of this part of the Mirdita, except those on its northern frontier, which fall into the Drin. The Fandi in turn drains into the Matja, which flows from the district called the Mat, on the southern confines of the Mirdites, and enters the sea some way south of Alessio. By the fords of the Sperthoz and the Fandi we saw remains of bridges, testifying to the existence of more frequent communication in former times. After the passage of the latter of these rivers a very long and steep ascent succeeds, where a winding-path leads up the face of a rocky wall; when this is surmounted, as we descend again towards the deep valley of the lesser Fandi, the trees become less numerous, and vegetation continually decreases as we follow its stream upwards in the direction of Orosch. At last we struck up a side valley through the bed of a tributary stream, and about nine o’clock saw a bright light gleaming from the palace. Towards this we made our way, stumbling along over a rugged track, in the midst of the flashing light of numerous fire-flies, until at last we passed through a gateway, and entering a courtyard found ourselves in front of the dwelling of Prince Bib. While our letter of introduction is being read, and preparation made for our reception, let me endeavour to describe it.
The palace or castle of Orosch is an ideal residence of a mountain chieftain, and both the building itself and the life enacted within it carried our thoughts back in many respects to the wildest times of the Middle Ages. The walls are massively constructed of stone, with loopholes at intervals, for purposes of defence, and the whole structure forms an irregular oblong, one end or wing of which is occupied by the Prince and his family. This part we did not enter, for the women are kept in as complete seclusion as in a Turkish harem; of the rest, the ground floor is taken up with stables, while a flight of stone steps leads up to a large hall, open to the air in front, which occupies the greater part of the upper storey. From the roof of this was suspended an iron frame, containing pieces of resinous pine-wood, whose bright flame sent forth the light that we had seen on our approach. The walls on three sides of it were hung with long guns, richly set with silver and beautifully polished, for this is the occupation of the men, while the women perform the more menial offices. At the back of this are large unfurnished chambers occupied by the retainers and guards, who, from their fierce look and long locks that streamed from the backs of their heads, appeared some of the wildest of the human race; and its sides are flanked by two good-sized rooms, one of which formed the dining-hall, while the other was appropriated to our use as a bedroom. Both of these are roofed with the pinewood of the mountains, which was fragrant as cedar and beautifully carved. Round the walls, about a third of the way down, runs a cornice of the same material, below which stand handsome buffets for containing valuables. The windows are small, and carefully guarded with iron bars, and the hearths are open, the chimney not commencing until near the roof, which in consequence is blackened with smoke.
The Mirdita (continued)
The Mirdite Prince – History of his Family – Political Constitution of the Mirdita – Administration of Justice – Fraternal Friendships – Ravages of the Vendetta – The Prince’s Hospitality – Derivation of the name Mirdite – Excursion to the Monte Santo – View from it – Topography of the Country – Capture of Wives – McLennan on ‘Primitive Marriage’ – Prevalence of the Custom of Exogamy – Bride-racing – Mirdita Wives Mahometans.
As we were almost the only Europeans who had visited Orosch within the memory of its inhabitants, we were received with great distinction. Having been ushered into the dining-hall we found the Prince waiting to welcome us, which he did with profuse offers of hospitality, and apologies for the roughness of the entertainment we should meet with. He excused himself from supping with us, as it was a fast-day, and after a time retired, leaving us to the care of his aide-de-camp, Ali Bey, a Hungarian by birth, and an officer in the Turkish army, and his secretary, Dr. Theodore Finzi, an Italian. Here again, as in Montenegro, we were fortunate in falling in with educated people, who could furnish us with the information we required, for both these gentlemen spoke Italian, and M. Finzi French also. Of the latter gentleman in particular I may say, that he was not only an agreeable companion, but remarkably well informed about the circumstances and statistics of the country. The party was completed by Don Giorgio, a rather sinister-looking man, the priest of a neighbouring village, who was staying there on a visit.
The palace of Prenk Bib Doda at Orosh in Mirdita
(Sketch by Henry Tozer, 1865).
Prenk Bib Doda is a powerfully built man of about forty years of age, with a dark olive complexion, prominent bony features, and an unintelligent expression of countenance. He is described by those who are acquainted with him as one to whom fear is unknown, and he has greatly distinguished himself in several campaigns in which he has assisted the Turkish Government–in Southern Albania, against the Montenegrins, and finally in the campaign on the Danube in 1854, where the prowess of the Mirdites was conspicuous. In recognition of his services on this last occasion he received from the Porte the title of Pasha, a dignity, however, which is rather lightly esteemed in his own country, though he wears the dress of an officer of that rank. The title of Prenk, which is prefixed to his name, though it is in reality a Christian name, being another form of Peter, has come to be regarded, even among his own people, as equivalent to Prince. “Vous le trouverez un peu barbare,” M. Finzi observed to us, apologetically; and it is true that he can neither read nor write, and speaks no language by his native Albanian, though he understood a good deal of what we said in Italian; but he is reported to have a good influence in the country, while a more civilized man might very possibly have no influence at all.
The palace of Prince Prenk Bib Doda at Orosh
(Photo published by Spiridion Gopcevic, 1914).
Under the same roof where we were quietly passing the night, a series of domestic tragedies had been enacted not very long before, hardly unworthy of the palace of Atreus at Mycenae. To give the read some idea of these, it is necessary to go back to the early history of the existing family. The ancestor to whom they principally refer as the head of their dynasty was Gion Marcu (John Mark), a renowned warrior, who lived in the first half of the eighteenth century, and having gained great fame by his success against the Turks, lent his assistance, for which a high price was paid, to the native Pashas in their resistance to the central government. It was he who first established his residence at Orosch. After his death he was succeeded by his eldest son, Prenk Lech I. (Peter Alexander), who like him made war his profession and was killed in battle, leaving three sons, Prenk Lech II., Dod Lech, and Lech Sii (Alexander the Black); it is with these, as the ancestors of the existing members of the family, that we are most directly concerned. And here I may notice how often the shortened form of the name of Alexander occurs in these records, as it does also in the names of Lesendria, the island in the Lake of Scodra, in Alessio, and in other names found in these parts. In some cases this is probably to be referred to the national recollection of Scanderbeg.
Prenk Lech II., the eldest of the three, who succeeded his father as chief of the Mirdites by right of birth, at first allied himself with Mahmoud the Black of Scodra, and was with him in Montenegro at the time of his death. At a later period, he put his arms at the disposal of Ali Pasha of Yanina, and when Mustapha Pasha of Scodra became a formidable rival to that potentate, at Ali’s instigation he became a thorn in his side, continually ravaging the plain of Zadrima, and pillaging the villages of the Mussulmans, until at last he was bought off by the payment of a sum of money. Like most of his race, he died of the wounds he received in fight, leaving his command to his son, Prenk Doda, the grandfather of the present Prince. This chieftain is reported to have shown himself intelligent and humane as well as brave, but his tenure of power was of short duration, for after fighting in the Morea at the time of the Greek revolution, he was poisoned by a Turkish woman at Scodra, and is buried at Cattaro, to which place he had gone in hopes of obtaining medical aid. His legitimate successor was his brother Nicola, but as he was a minor, the command was for the time entrusted to his uncle, Lech Sii, the youngest son of Prenk Lech I., and the fiercest and darkest character of his race. After some years, however, this Alexander the Black was exiled to Yanina by order of the Grand Vizir, Mehemet Reschid Pasha, against whom he had sided with Mustapha in his war against the Porte, and was forced to surrender along with that despot at the siege of Scodra. He thus disappears for the present from the scene, and his nephew assumed the command.
Prenk Bib Doda (1858-1919)
who was six-years-old when Tozer met him
(Photo: Klishe Bali).
It was at this time that the furies of the vendetta were let loose on the devoted house, and, as it is said, not without the co-operation of the Turkish authorities, who were only too glad of an opportunity of weakening a powerful neighbour. The sons of Alexander the Black, having seen their father in power, were jealous at the chieftainship having passed into the hands of their cousin, and at the instigation of their father, whom the Pasha of Scodra had promised to recall from exile, laid frequent plots against his life. But Nicola was aware of their machinations, and when he had several times parried their attempts, and at last saw no way of escape for himself except by anticipating the blow, had all three put to death in one day. Directly after this occurrence, the sentence of banishment against Lech Sii was annulled, and he reappeared on the scene, thirsting for vengeance. At first, at the earnest entreaty of the clergy, he consented to be reconciled to his nephew; but a Mirdite never really forgets that blood has been shed, and accordingly it was not long before he watched an opportunity of taking Nicola unawares, and killed him one day when his back was turned, as he washed his hands before dinner.
The moment had now arrived when the women of the family should take their share in the bloody work. Within a year after this treacherous deed, the murderer himself was slain in the night-time by the wife of his victim; and on this followed a massacre, set on foot by the wife of Lech Sii in default of any male avenger, from which the present Prince only escaped by being removed from Orosch in the darkness, concealed in a chest. At last, when the family was on the eve of extinction, a truce was established, and as the number of deaths on both sides was found to be equal, they agreed that the past should be forgotten, – that Bib Doda, being the representative of the eldest branch, should be recognised as chieftain, – and that the rest of his relations should dwell with him in the palace which had been the scene of the drama. They are but three in number, two of them being of the second branch, descendants of Dod Lech, the second son of Prenk Lech I., while the third is the son of Alexander the Black, and is said to inherit the ferocity of this father. Together with them live the two murderesses, the wives of Nicola and of Lech Sii. Such was the happy family into which we were now introduced.
The grave of Prenk Bib Doda in Shkodra
(Photo: Robert Elsie, July 2011).
On leaving my room the next morning, I found M. Finzi outside, and proceeded with him to a small kiosk or summer-house, which projects from the front of the hall, and commands an extensive view, reaching almost to the sea, of the deep valley to the west, while close in front the sloping green maize fields, interspersed with walnut and other trees, and a few cottages, form a refreshing object to the eye. Behind the house the mountain side rises steeply; and in consequence of its western aspect and the gully in which it lies, the place only sees the sun for a few hours in winter, while in summer the heat is excessive during the afternoon. Both in the kiosk, and in a tent which had been set up in the court at the side of the house, I had long conversations with the Secretary at different times of the day: from these the information about the country which I have to communicate to the reader is mainly derived.
The constitution of the Mirdita is a sort of military aristocracy; for though there is a hereditary chief, and an assembly, in which the whole people is represented, yet the power is really vested in the heads of the chief families. All the relatives of the Prince have the title of Captain, and command the divisions of the army under him in time of war; but they have no direct political influence in the country. Each district has its bayrakdar, or standard bearer, under whom are the senators. These are the heads of their respective clans, so that the office is hereditary, and a child may be a senator, only in that case his functions are administered by his guardian until he is of age. No measures can be taken without the consent of the bayrakdars and senators; and when matters of the greatest importance have to be discussed, a council of the whole nation is called – that is to say, a representative is sent from each family; but these have practically no influence in the deliberations, and are only summoned in order to give weight to the general decision. When called together by the Prince, this senate meets at Orosch; but they have also the power of meeting on their own account, in which case their rendez-vous is a church of St. Paul in another part of the country, which belongs to no parish, but serves for an independent central point for the whole Mirdita. Only two days before our visit one of these parliaments had been held at the palace; on which occasion three oxen and several sheep and goats had been killed, and great feasting had taken place at Bib Doda’s expense. This kind of hospitality is always expected of the chief; and when he is at Scodra, he keeps open house for any of his tribe who come there, and a sheep is killed every day for the entertainment of the lower classes.
Justice is administered in the different districts by the senators according to the original laws of the Ducadjini, from which tribe, though it has now become Mahometan, the Mirdites consider themselves to be descended. The rigour of these is extreme, and in some cases barbarous, as was shown by an instance that had lately occurred, where a woman who had murdered her husband was sentenced, according to the law, to be burned alive. At the late meeting of the senate the Prince had endeavoured to persuade them to change the punishment and abolish the savage custom, but he did not seem as yet to have carried the point. In many similar ways he appears to be exerting his influence on the side of humanity; thus the custom of salting and keeping the heads of enemies killed in battle, though it existed later here than among the Montenegrins, is now forbidden. “But you must not think,” observed Mr. Finzi, “that severity, not to say violence, is otherwise than necessary in dealing with this wild people. This was forcibly impressed on me by an occurrence that happened shortly after I entered the Prince’s service. It was at Constantinople, to which place he had gone to receive from the Sultan the title of Pasha, taking with him a number of his retainers. One of these, a groom, stayed out very late several nights, contrary to order, and was sharply reprimanded by his master for so doing. One night, however, he repeated the offence, and on his coming in, the Prince was greatly enraged, and at once ordered him to receive one hundred blows of the bastinado on his feet. This punishment was inflicted in a room adjoining that in which I was sleeping, and I was horrified at being waked by the shrieks of the miserable creature piercing the stillness of the night. On learning what was going on, I was extremely disgusted at such barbarity, and determined to send in my resignation to the Prince the next morning. About daylight, however, two hours after this had happened, I visited the sufferer, and to my surprise found him sitting up and drinking a cup of coffee. As soon as he saw me, he hobbled across the room to me on his mangled soles, kissed my hand, and entreated me – not, as I had expected, to procure him his escape from such treatment, but – to intercede for him with his master, that he might not be discharged from his service.”
The custom of forming fraternal friendships, and having adopted brothers (pobratim), is common among the Mirdites, as it is also among some of the other races of European Turkey. According to this, two young men engage to support and aid one another during their lives in all contingencies, whether of war or peace. This relationship, which reminds us of some of the passionate attachments of ancient history, such as those of David and Jonathan, of Achilles and Patroclus, is regarded as of the most sacred and inviolable character, insomuch that in some places, according to M. Hecquard, the children of those who have contracted the alliance are not allowed to marry one another; and the same writer mentions the ceremony of initiation observed by some, in which the two persons, after receiving the Communion together, have a small quantity of their blood mixed in a bowl of wine, which is drunk by both when they have sworn an oath of fidelity, - a primitive form of contract mentioned by Herodotus as existing among the Lydians and Scythians, and by Tacitus, as practised by the Armenians and Iberians. It used even to happen that alliances of this sort were formed between persons of different sexes, but this is now of rare occurrence, for “messieurs les prêtres,” said the Secretary, appealing for confirmation to Don Giorgio, who was standing by, “find that it often leads to concubinage, and use all their influence to put it down.”
The account he gave of the vendetta confirmed all that we had already heard of its ravages. Rightly, indeed, has it been called “the web of murderous feuds at which the barbarian sits all his life weaving, and which he bequeaths to his children.” The following instance which he mentioned may give an idea of its interminable character. Fifty years ago two men of this country quarrelled, and fought so desperately, that both of them died of the wounds they received. Time rolled on, until it might have been thought that the event was forgotten. But it had happened that as they lay wounded on the ground, one of them had managed to deal the other a blow over the head, which caused him to die first. The recollection of this circumstance had been preserved, and only the other day a descendant of the one who died first presented himself before a descendant of the other, and reminded him of the fact, threatening at the same time to burn his whole village unless he gave him one hundred goats by way of satisfaction. The Prince heard of the affair, and, sending for the man, persuaded him to delay his vengeance; but beyond this he could not proceed, for the laws of blood are superior to every other law. Thus the matter stood at the time of our visit. This state of things has given rise to an institution, the existence of which forcibly realises to us the value of a similar establishment among the Jews. A number of the Mirdites who had fled their country as compromised persons from fear of assassination, formed themselves into a colony, and settled in the plain near Prisrend, where they work as labourers. They have since been joined by many others who have left their homes for the same reason, and in this way the place has become a complete city of refuge.
At ten o’clock we breakfasted with the Prince in the dining-hall: the party consisted of the Prince, his aide-de-camp and secretary, Don Giorgio, and ourselves. The entertainment had decidedly a martial appearance, for though the guests were not expected to “carve at the meal with gloves of steel,” yet the dishes were handed to us by fierce-looking warriors (among them was one of the captains), with their belts full of pistols and daggers. A German butler, a Prussian by extraction, acted as major domo, so that the room contained a curious mixture of nationalities, - Italian, Hungarian, German, English, and Albanian. Before we took our places it was carefully inquired which of us was the elder, that he might be seated on the Prince’s right hand: and when breakfast was half over, a boiled lamb’s head was brought in on a dish and placed before our host, who immediately transferred it to my plate, to my no slight astonishment, until it was explained to me that this is the highest compliment in Albania, and is given to the man whom the chief “delighteth to honour.” His idea of hospitality consisted in ordering that we should be helped to as much as possible, and that the silver tankards which were placed before us should be continually refilled with the light wine of the country. Though he often apologized for the roughness of our reception, the viands were excellent, if not much varied. On one occasion he tumbled on to my plate with his own hands half a dishful of mulberries, a fruit which is scarce in these parts, indeed I was surprised to find them at all at such an elevation, for Orosch is 2360 feet above the sea; but there was a fine mulberry-tree growing in front of the building. The quantity of meat forced upon us at length became embarrassing, until we were told that this profuse hospitality was the custom of the country, and a compliment, so that we should give no offence by leaving what we were not inclined for. All this was truly patriarchal, and our thoughts naturally reverted to Benjamin’s mess, the size of which seems at first sight rather a questionable token of fraternal affection when all the party had as much as they could eat. The Prince’s possessions are of an equally patriarchal character, consisting of 800 oxen and cows, 1300 sheep, and a number of horses and other cattle besides. Before the end of the meal, the Prince’s son was introduced,—a tall fat boy of six years’ old, with a round, heavy face, and dressed for the occasion in richly embroidered clothes. We rose to receive him, but his father requested us to be seated, and made him kiss our hands.
Hearing us mention the name of Scanderbeg, he told us he could show us a likeness of his reputed ancestor. Accordingly he ordered a book to be brought, which proved to be a life of that hero in Italian; and, after turning over a number of the pages, holding the volume upside down, he had the satisfaction of displaying to us the grim (though not genuine) portrait. Passing from the domain of history to that of philology, he proceeded to explain the derivation of the name Mirdite, according to the tradition of the country. This relates that, on the morning of the battle of Kossova, Sultan Amurath meeting the chief of their tribe, who had brought an auxiliary force to his assistance, was saluted by him with the words mire dite (“good day” in Albanian); and that in consequence of this, when the battle was over, and he undertook to guarantee the rights of his valiant allies, he gave them the name of Mirdites, in commemoration of the words of good omen which he had heard in the morning. Though this explanation is inadmissible, yet it has some plausibility in it; for it will be remembered that in the Russian war the English and French soldiers who fraternized, used commonly to know one another only by the names of “I say” and “Dis donc;” and readers of French history are aware that the regular name in French for the English at the time of Joan of Arc, was derived from an expression (not a very pious one) which was frequently in their mouths.
In the course of the day it was proposed to us to make an expedition to the highest point of the mountain behind Orosch, which is called the Monte Santo [Mali i Shejtit]. We were accompanied by Ali Bey with six attendants, three on horseback and three on foot, one of whom, an excessively wild-looking fellow, though clad in the ordinary costume of the country, was a captain; he is said to be a lion in battle, and one would not, I think, be far wrong in recognising in him the son of the ferocious Lech Sii. As soon as we were outside the palace, a feu de joie was fired, the guns being discharged at random, and the bullets flying in all directions about the valley. Our cavalcade mounted the hill-side diagonally by a steep path, until a depression in the mountain-chain was reached; from this we proceeded upwards over grassy slopes to a spring by the side of a cavern, in which in former times was a chapel of St. George, though now it has been destroyed by a fall of rock. While we were resting at this place, a little diversion was caused by an accident happening to my saddle, which nearly resulted in the loss of that important part of a traveller’s equipment. One of the Albanian attendants, wishing to make fast his horse, had attached his saddle to the stirrup-leathers of mine. The horse became fidgety, and at last by continual pulling dragged the saddle over the hindquarters of my horse, a process which the bad girths of the country render comparatively easy; and then, finding himself encumbered with this unusual appendage, took fright, and galloped off across country at full speed with the unhappy saddle trailing behind him. After he had gone about three-quarters of a mile, he pulled up, and one of the men was sent to secure him: meanwhile I had requested to be mounted on another horse, and we proceeded up the mountain. At last we reached a very steep part of the path, called the Scala Santa, where the rock was broken in steps (it was curious to hear the Italian words mutilated by the Albanians); and on reaching the top of this we found a rude stone church, dedicated to St. Benedict, with the ruins of an old Benedictine monastery, close to which rose a clump of finely grown elms, the only ones which I saw in the country. Of the history of the place we could learn nothing.
View of Prizren (Photo: Auguste Léon, 1913).
From this point we were taken to a spot about a quarter of a mile off, where was a deep hole, descending for some distance into the bowels of the earth, which was regarded with great wonder by the natives, from the booming sound it emitted when a large stone was cast down, and bounded from point to point of the narrow passage. A story of course was attached to it, and a very rigmarole one it was—how that a similar cavern existed in another part of the Mirdita, where the reverberations of any sound produced in this place were heard; and that once a shepherd, who had been robbed of his flock, by casting a stone down this hole sent tidings of his misfortune to his brother, who was feeding his sheep near the mouth of the other. It is an example of the small amount of consistency that a half-savage people require in a legend. A shooting match was then proposed, and, as a mark, I pointed out the broken stump of a fir-tree about five feet high, peeled and white, some 300 yards off, on the other side of a gorge. My companion borrowed an European rifle from one of the party, and hit it in the middle, sending the splinters flying all about. Then came an Albanian with his long thin-stocked gun, and grazed the edge; another followed, and missed; last of all came the fortunate possessor of the rifle, and struck it full. Evidently the native weapon is not constructed for precision. At last we mounted to the grassy summit, which is 4890 feet above the sea, and a salvo was fired in honour of our arrival. On hearing this, the party we had left below returned the salute, and as they aimed their pieces in the direction from which the sounds had come, we heard their bullets whizz over our heads, or spatter against the rocks below us, in a manner not wholly agreeable. From this elevation almost the whole of the Mirdita is visible, together with a great part of the rest of Upper Albania. The wild Captain was here of the greatest service to us, for he proved to have a far more accurate knowledge of the geography and of the positions of the neighbouring tribes than any one else in the company. By means of his explanations, and by the aid of Kiepert’s map of European Turkey, which gives, on the whole, a remarkably faithful delineation of this district, we were able to identify most points in the view. The country of the Mirdites forms nearly a square, as it extends about 35 miles in a direct line from north to south, between the territory of the Ducadjini and that of the Mat; and 40 miles from east to west, between the mountains of the Dibra and the plain of Zadrima. The elevated ridge on which we are standing forms a well-marked backbone of considerable breadth, running directly north and south, and rising in the latter direction first to the striking summit of Mount Cunora [Kunora], and then to the lofty peak of Dyia. The mountains to the west, including those which we had traversed, though extremely irregular, take the same direction on the whole as the main chain, but are intersected by the numerous river-valleys which radiate like a fan from a point in the neighbourhood of Alessio. The aspect of the country from this point readily explains the unwillingness which the Turks have always felt to attack it. To turn to the more distant objects—to the south-west appeared the mountains of Croia, the scene of Scanderbeg’s most brilliant triumphs; a little north of west the Monte Veglia, beyond which the Adriatic was seen between Dulcigno [Ulqin] and Antivari [Bar], about 80 miles off; the Lake of Scodra was concealed by the nearer mountains, but on the sea-side of it rose the Mount Rumia on the confines of Montenegro, and on the other the fine peaks of the Clementi [Kelmendi]; to the north-east were seen the serrated ridges which overlook the plain of Jacova [Gjakova], while the whole eastern horizon was bounded by the long line of the Schar-dagh or Scardus [Sharr], even at this season still patched with snow, between which and us lay the deep valley of the Black Drin.
The Levishka Church in Prizren converted into a mosque
(Photo: Auguste Léon, 1913).
The mountain-side directly behind Orosch is a mass of granite, abutting against the precipices of the Monte Santo, which, like the rest of this central chain, and the greater part of the country eastwards as far as the Drin, is composed of limestone. The igneous rock of which so great a part of the Mirdita is composed has here disappeared. The vegetation is also changed, for the oaks are no longer seen, and from the level of Orosch to the summit there are numerous pines and firs. At this point, too, we take leave of the flora of the Adriatic, which, to some extent, we had found reaching up the interior valleys; many of these plants and shrubs we shall not see again until we reach the Aegean. After lingering long over this most instructive view, we at last began to descend to Orosch, where Bib Doda was expecting us to dinner. On the way we recovered the truant saddle, and, thanks to its padding, and the grassy slopes over which it had been trailed, though covered with scratches, it was practically unhurt, except for a broken girth, which had been repaired in the interval. Great was the satisfaction of Ali Bey, who remarked to me with some naïveté, “È molto curioso il nostro Principe — and as he had specially entrusted you to my care, I might have got into an awkward scrape, if anything amiss had happened to you or your property.”
There was one object which we regretted being unable to see at Orosch, and that was the parish church, which contains an ancient cross of very rich workmanship, which is said to be Byzantine, and to date from the time of Scanderbeg. The ministrations of this church have been from time immemorial performed by the abbot, who was once a personage of considerable influence in the country; but the office is now shorn of most of its privileges. The present holder was banished some years ago for causing political disturbances, but, after a time, returned and gathered his party round him; in consequence of which, when he was again expelled, the Prince communicated with the Turkish Government, who put him in arrest at Constantinople, to which place he had fled for refuge. One result of this is that his church is placed under a sort of interdict, and no person is allowed to enter.
One other custom of this people remains yet to be noticed, viz., their habit of capturing their wives. The Mirdites never intermarry; but when any of them, from the highest to the lowest, wants a wife, he carries off a Mahometan woman from one of the neighbouring tribes, baptizes her, and marries her. The parents, we were told, do not usually feel much aggrieved, as it is pretty well understood that a sum of money will be paid in return; and though the Mirdites themselves are very fanatical in matters of religion, yet their neighbours are reputed to allow the sentiment of nationality to prevail over that of creed; so much so that at Easter the Mahometan shepherds undertake to guard the flocks of the Christians, while at the Turkish Bairam the Christians do the same for the Mahometans. Prince Bib himself won his present spouse in this way. My reader will naturally enquire, as I did on hearing this strange statement, what becomes of the Mirdite women? The answer is, that they are given in marriage to the neighbouring Christian tribes. If any one considers this incredible in so large a population, he is at liberty to adopt the more moderate statement of M. Hecquard, who only speaks of this custom as existing among the chiefs; but I state the facts as they were stated to me, and since the ground of the custom was distinctly affirmed to be the feeling that marriage within the tribe is incestuous, and wherever in similar cases this belief has existed the custom of exogamy, as it is called, together with the capture of wives, has existed also. I feel very little doubt in my own mind that the stronger statement is the true one. As the Mirdites are the only people in Europe, as far as I can learn, among whom this practice exists. […]
Orosch to Prisrend
Departure from Orosch – A Native Guide – The Bertiscus Mountains – Mirdite Shepherds’ Encampment – Mode of Divination – Junction of Black and White Drin – A Nocturnal Visitor – Prisrend – The Kaimakam – Turkish Administration – The Castle – View from it – Churches – Visit of Dr. Barth – The Roman Catholic Archbishop – Population – Concealed Christians – Their Origin, History, and Present Condition.
Early the following morning we started from Orosch on our way to Prisrend. The Prince had risen to see us off, and we took our leave of him and our other friends at the palace with many expressions of gratitude on our part and regret on theirs. A guard of three men had been appointed to accompany us,—two of them on foot, and the other, one of the captains, who was the Prince’s financier or accountant, on horseback. At first we followed the same path which we had taken on the previous day, but when we reached the depression in the ridge, from which we mounted to the Monte Santo, we descended into a thoroughly Swiss-looking upland valley, with firs and beeches clothing its steep sides, from which the limestone cliffs cropped out at intervals. The meadows at the bottom were occupied by numerous herds of cattle, some of those, no doubt, belonging to Bib Doda, while in other places hay was being made. The pastoral look of everything, combined with the freshness of the air, which was as balmy as that of a May morning in England, made this part of our ride extremely pleasant. At last we reached a point where the valley comes suddenly to an end, and a precipitous descent commences over loose rocks and débris, difficult for horses, by the side of steep and richly-coloured cliffs. When we reached the lower country we found a considerable undergrowth of hazels, but the oaks did not reappear until the following day when we began to descend to the Drin valley. There were few dwellings in this part and little cultivation, but both here and elsewhere in the Mirdita we observed that there was no appearance of want or misery among the population, nor any beggars, though we had several times met with these in Montenegro.
At midday we rested at the village of Sedjin [Shëngjin], where notice had been sent on to the chief man to prepare for our reception. The clay floor of his best room was strewn with a luxurious bed of ferns and a large piece of beef had been dressed and a lamb roasted. The liver was served as first course; but the most remarkable part of the entertainment was the bread, which was baked in circular flat cakes a couple of feet in diameter; these were made of maize, which, when rudely ground and kneaded, is very heavy and heating food. When we had partaken, the rest of the company had their meal; but we observed that our host himself ate apart from his guests, and not until after they were served: this, we were told, is the custom of the country. During this time, one of the numerous storms which had been hanging about the mountains descended upon us, with thunder and lightning and torrents of rain; but after an hour it cleared up, and we were able to pursue our journey under the guidance of our host, who replaced our other guards, as they were to leave us at this point. This man, a wild Albanian, with shaven head and one long lock hanging down behind, looked at first sight like one who might take your scalp at any moment; but, despite his appearance, we found him not only a first-rate guide, but also a most agreeable companion—attentive, considerate, and polite. Our route lay along the mountain sides, through extensive forests of beech and fir, the general direction of our course, both on this and the following day, being towards the north-east. Before sunset we reached the only shelter that was to be found in the elevated region to which we had gradually ascended, a mandra or shepherd’s encampment on the slopes of the mountains facing the north, from which there was glorious view of the serrated, and in some places snowy, peaks of Jacova, which stretch along in that direction in a magnificent chain. These summits are described by Grisebach, who saw them from several points much nearer than this—on the road from Scodra to Prisrend—as presenting a superb spectacle, not easily surpassed in the Alps, from the aiguilles and pinnacles of limestone rock to which they rise. These, he says, form a striking contrast to the lower and less strongly marked shapes of the mountains of the Ducadjini, which, like those of the north and west of the Mirdita, are composed of greenstone, porphyry, and other igneous rocks. The long deep gorge of the Drin is caused by the meeting of these two different formations; and the limestone masses which tower above its northern side he regards as the termination of that system of mountains which, under the name of Carnian, Julian, Dinaric, and Turkish Alps, runs south-eastward from the end of the main Alpine chain. Here it is broken off and thrown up into lofty jagged peaks, exactly in the same way as the dolomite peaks of the southern Tyrol have been formed, and the mountain system terminated in that direction by volcanic upheaval. This range, together with the other mountains which intervene between Montenegro and the plain of Ipek, and are separated by the latter from the Schar-dagh, form the Bertiscus of Strabo, and by that name, as they have no distinctive modern appellation, we will in future call them.
Our resting-place was a rude hut, whose roof and sides were constructed of boards roughly put together, through the interstices of which the smoke from the fire escaped. This was divided by a partition into two rooms, one of which served for a dairy and nursery, and for the women’s apartments generally, while the other, a corner of which was given up to us, was appropriated to the men. Outside these was a kind of summer-house, roofed with branches and dead leaves, as a shelter from the sun; near this a number of calves were tethered; and all around extended a large enclosure, within which at nightfall the goats were driven, and milked and folded. While we were making our supper off the remains of a lamb which we had brought with us, the shepherds crowded round the wood fire which was lighted in the middle of the room to see us eating, which gave me the opportunity of observing that most of them had blue eyes. When we had finished they took up the transparent shoulder-blade and divined through it. This is done by observing the light and dark spots, which respectively denote good and bad fortune: a groove on the outer edge of one side is said to denote the death of the owner of the animal. I had often heard of this custom, and by several writers on Albania it has been brought forward as a proof of the gross superstition of the people: in the country, however, I was assured by more than one person that it was merely a fancy or amusement, and such it appeared to be on this occasion. When I asked one of the fellows what he divined, he answered, “that the Christians were stronger than the Turks”—a tolerably safe piece of augury in the mountains of the Mirdita. Still there can be no doubt that formerly great faith was placed in omens derived from this source, and it is probable enough that, in some parts of the country, it is so now. In Dr. Grisebach’s account of his visit to Afsi Pasha of Uskiub [Skopje], a native hereditary governor, in 1839, he relates that he found him in great dejection because a fortnight before he had discovered a groove such as I have described, and believed it to signify his impending death. Shortly after, however, when intelligence arrived of the death of Sultan Mahmoud, he cheered up, because he argued that, while the sheep had belonged to himself, both he and his were the property of the Sultan, and thus the omen had been satisfactorily fulfilled! In this view he was confirmed by the fact that the time of the sultan’s death closely coincided with the day on which he had observed the augury.
The number of the inhabitants of this rustic dwelling amounted in all to thirty-five, but only twelve, including ourselves, occupied our apartment. The fire was kept up all through the night; and what with the keen mountain air, the smoke, the noise made both by sleepers and watchers, and other causes easily intelligible, to get to sleep was no easy matter. At one period of the night there was a sudden barking of dogs, and two of the party outside came in to fetch their guns, as if they were going to reconnoitre; after a quarter of an house, however, they brought them back again. The following morning was damp and chilly, and we pursued our way in the midst of the clouds over the mountain tops, at a height of 5000 feet, or through the thick forests of beech and fir which clothe their sides. The path was rendered intricate by the tangled roots of trees and fallen trunks, but our guide showed extraordinary sagacity and knowledge of the country. At last, after following a north-easterly direction for several hours, during which all the surrounding country was concealed from our view, we began to descend to the valley of the Drin, at a point just below the junction of its two branches, where its waters are spanned by a lofty bridge. As we emerged from the clouds we saw before us, to the east, the upland valley of the White Drin which leads to Prisrend, while at some distance off to the south the Black Drin escapes from the mountains of the Dibra, as the district is called through which it flows from the Lake of Ochrida. The people of this district are the most famous carpenters in Turkey, and a large number of them make annual migrations in search of work. Notwithstanding that we obtained from this point an extensive view over mountains and valleys, what impressed us most was the apparent openness of everything as compared with the narrow valleys of the Mirdita. As we descended, the oaks, which we had not seen since leaving the valley of the Fandi, began to reappear, and the ground was covered with low box shrubs. The heat of the low ground, too, soon made itself felt, in contrast to the cold which we had experienced in the morning. Close to the bridge is a khan, called the Kiupri Khan, or “Bridge Hotel,” where we rested in the middle of the day: the height of this place is about 980 feet above the sea, which shows how considerable the rapids of the river must be in its descent through the gorge of which I have so often spoken. Here we took leave of our friendly Albanian, whom we with difficulty persuaded to receive a present of money.
Once more in Turkish territory, and on the main road between Scodra and Prisrend, we crossed the bridge, which is supported by two high arches of unequal size, with other smaller ones between them. It is extremely steep, like most of the bridges of the country, and as the stones with which they are paved are slippery, and the parapet hardly worthy of the name, and the horses are accustomed to mount them in zigzags, it is more pleasant to cross on foot, even for persons accustomed to precipitous places. This appears to be the custom among the natives, from the mounting stones which are placed at either end. For some distance the road follows the water upwards, until the meeting of the two rivers comes in view, when it cuts off the angle at which the White Drin flows in, and after reaching that stream, crosses its rapid torrent by a similar two-arched bridge. Here the valley becomes narrow, and the scenery Swiss-like and pretty, especially at the point where a tributary of some size—the Luma—flows in, and is surmounted by an arch of single span. The occurrence of so many bridges within so short a space is very unusual in Turkey, but they are rendered necessary by the amount of traffic, for we met a surprising number of carriers with strings of mules and horses. In most cases these men, not being themselves the proprietors of the goods they were carrying, did not know what their bales contained; but we learned that the principal exports are wine, wool, and resin. From this place we continued to ascend the bank of the White Drin in the midst of fine alders, with fertile land in the foreground, and moorland in the distance, resembling parts of Devonshire, until, after three hours and a half from the Kiupri Khan we arrived at our resting-place, which was pointed out by the unanimous consent of the persons we met as the best on the way to Prizrend. Bad, indeed, was the best, for it was nothing but a spacious stable, with no accommodation for human beings except the floor—the earth, I mean—where they were allowed to lie à discretion. Outside this I noticed a curious granary, in which the heads of the maize was stored; it was circular, and about ten feet in diameter, formed of branches plaited in and out of upright poles and thatched at the top with maize stalks. During the night, while I was asleep on the bed of hay that had been made for me in the middle of the stable, I became aware of some movement going on near me, and, on waking up, felt that my bed was being gradually pulled from under me. At first I was too sleepy to resist, but when I summoned sufficient energy to kick out, my leg encountered the head of a horse, who had broken loose, and having finished his own allowance of hay, had come to poach on mine. I believe I suffered most from the concussion, for he continued to feed on placidly until I called up Nicola with loud shouts, and he was at length reconducted to the manger.
The next day we continued to ascend the Drin until it makes a bend to the north in the direction of Ipek; here we left it, and crossed some low hills that descend from the mountains, near which is the village of Djuri [Zhur], the first place surmounted by a minaret which we had seen since leaving Scodra. So completely had we been in Christian lands, and so different is the condition of the Mirdites from that of the other Christians of Turkey! From the foot of these hills the wide plain slopes gradually upwards towards Prisrend, backed by the mighty range of Scardus, which appeared close at hand in one long line, though its summits were shrouded by the clouds. At last the city itself became visible—first, the castle on a buttress of Scardus, with the houses of the Christian quarter creeping up its side; and afterwards the wide extent of buildings which cover the lower ground, from among which the spiry forms of twenty minarets rise conspicuous.
On entering we found it quite the city of waters. It is divided in two parts by the rapid stream of the Maritza, which, issuing from a deep gorge in the side of the Schar-dagh, pours down through the place with a steep descent; and the eye is refreshed by runlets of limpid water flowing in many of the streets. When first we reached the river after following the main street, which runs through the heart of the town, its stream was clear and bright, but a heavy storm of rain having fallen shortly after our arrival, in the afternoon it was swollen to a violent and turbid torrent. The bridge by which it is crossed in this part, from its arched roof and the booths at its sides, reminded us of the Ponte Vecchio at Florence, though it is entirely of wood, and on a much smaller scale. The singularly picturesque bazaars, of which these booths form a part, have a gay appearance, from the bright-coloured handkerchiefs, waistcoats, and calicoes, which are hung about them; and the effect of this is increased by the costume of their occupants, for the dresses at Prisrend surpass in magnificence all that I have seen elsewhere, even in Turkey. They are of two different sorts; the one the richest form of the Albanian costume,—the white fustanella (kilt) and white shirt, with fez cap, gold-embroidered jacket, and broad belt, all of crimson; while the other substitutes for the fustanella full purple trousers reaching to the knee, with leggings of the same colour below. To our eyes they appeared truly superb, after having been accustomed to the simple dress of the Mirdites. Our khan, too, which lay near the opposite bank of the river, though not superior to the better style of khans which are found in the large cities of Turkey, appeared to us a luxurious abode, as it was provided with private rooms, or dens, opening out from the wooden gallery which runs round the whole of the inside of the building, and lighted from it through a grating of strong irons bars; furnished also with the usual rush mats, and arranged so that the door may be fastened with a padlock, which the experienced traveller carries about with him to ensure the safety of his property when he goes out. The scene which this place presented at all times of the day, but especially in the morning and evening, was one of truly Oriental somnolence. All about the gallery were people sitting cross-legged on carpets, either singly or in groups, smoking their pipes, and staring at the Frank strangers with large eyes of languid curiosity, while the plashing fountain at the further end of the court diffused a sense of repose over the whole place. It was exactly one of those scenes which Lewis represents so inimitably in his pictures of Eastern life.
Shortly after our arrival we paid a visit to Nazif Pasha, the governor of the district, to whom we had a letter of introduction from Ismael Pasha of Scodra. Though he bore the title of Pasha, we found that in respect of his office he is only a Kaimakam, or governor of the second rank, and is under the Pasha of Monastir, to whom the authorities of Calcandele and Uskiub are also subject. His house was on a rising ground in the outskirts of the city, and we found him in the midst of bricks and mortar, for he was building himself a new and commodious Serai. He was a weak-looking young man, and wore a blue silk overcoat trimmed with swansdown; but he appeared to be an observer of the good old customs, for he regaled us with chibouques of jasmine, instead of the inexpensive and almost universal cigarette. He spoke a few words of French, and professed to have known that language once, but excused himself for having forgotten it by long disuse since leaving Constantinople. Like most Turkish officials, he lamented the present state of things, and professed an ardent desire for improvement, propounding at the same time large schemes of his own, such as making the Drin navigable by a system of locks to counteract the rapids. When not even a carriage-road exists in the country, it may easily be understood how little such expressions mean. “A Turk in action,” Mr. Palgrave has truly said, “has rarely either head or heart save for his own individual rapacity and sensuality; the same Turk in theory is a Metternich in statesmanship, and a Wilberforce in benevolence. Video meliora proboque; Deteriora sequor, should be the device of their banner; it is the sum total of their history.” What traveller in Turkey has not often had occasion to feel what these words so forcibly express! One improvement, however, to which Nazif drew our attention,—namely, that the population under his jurisdiction were disarmed, —if fully carried out would be a real reform. This is the first requisite for an established order of things in Turkey, and a sine quâ non for securing the Christians from ill treatment; for while they are forbidden and the Mahometans allowed to carry arms, the necessary consequence is that the weaker party are exposed to continual outrages. As to this district, the Roman Catholic Archbishop afterwards told us that it is only within the city that the system of disarming has been carried out, and that in the neighbourhood the insecurity is so great, as to cause large parts of the country not to be cultivated. As he said to us, when speaking of this very point—“The Turkish theory is good, but nothing can be worse than their administration.”
Under the guidance of one of the pasha’s attendants, we next proceeded to visit the castle. Though it contains a few Turkish soldiers, yet, like most of these old castles, it is useless for purposes of defence, being commanded by a number of other heights from behind. In one part we noticed two Venetian guns, stamped with the lion of St. Mark, though whether they were brought here as trophies, or whether the Venetians ever occupied the place, we could not learn. Anyhow, considering the difficulty of transport from the coast, it must have cost no little trouble to bring them here. The view from this point is extensive, and extremely fine. The whole city lies extended below you, with the Maritza rushing through it in a winding course, bordered at the sides by willows and other trees, and spanned by half-a-dozen bridges, one of which is of stone. About the lower part, where the houses are larger and less closely built, the trees are thickly clustered, and beyond this the open country extends in a sea of green vegetation, which gives way after a time to uncultivated land, but reappears again in places, as the eye sweeps over the undulations of the vast plain that reaches as far as Ipek. The smoke of that place may be seen at the foot of the mountains to the north-west, more than forty miles off. The green appearance of everything, so striking a sight at this time of year, was accounted for partly by the height of this place above the sea, —1577 feet by the barometer, —and partly by the large rainfall there had been throughout Turkey during the previous spring. Above Ipek, and stretching for some distance along the far horizon, are the magnificent peaks of the Bertiscus: directly opposite to you towards the west, rising from the right bank of the White Drin, stands the grand conical form of Mount Bastrik; and to the south-west, on the opposite side of that river, just where the valley by which we had approached begins to close in, is Mount Koraphia (called Coridnik by Grisebach), part of a vast spur which is thrown out from Scardus at a point south of Prisrend, and bounds the plain in that direction. Again, as you look backwards the deep gorge is seen, through which the Maritza issues from the heart of Scardus, and rising from the middle of it an isolated rock, on which stands the castle built by the kings of Servia at the time when this district, which is now called Old Servia, formed part of their kingdom. At that period Prisrend was the Servian capital. The Archbishop informed us that it is thought this castle is on the site of the old Roman town of Ulpiana; but this view is probably erroneous, as that place seems to have been in the neighbourhood of the modern Pristina, which lies between thirty and forty miles to the north-east of Prisrend. It is not impossible that Theranda, which is mentioned as being on the ancient road running to Lissus (Alessio), from a point to the north of Scupi (Uskiub), may have been the same as Prisrend; and the partial similarity of name lends some probability to the supposition. But here, as elsewhere, the absence of Roman remains to the west of the Scardus shows how slight a hold either the domination or the civilization of Rome had on these parts, and how complete a barrier the mountains formed against external influences.
As we descended from the castle, we passed through the quarter of the Greek Christians, which is situated on the steep hill-side. So irregularly were the houses built in the upper part (for streets or lanes there were none) that even our Turkish attendants had some difficulty in finding a passage between them. In the midst of this district was a small and very ancient-looking church, built of brick, in the Byzantine style, which had attracted our notice from the castle. The original structure was a tiny place, oblong in form, with one cupola and no transepts; to one side of this another building of later construction had been added on. This is called the Church of the Agoghi, and is the only Christian church in Prizrend, though permission has lately been given for the erection of another and larger one in the lower town, the walls of which are now half built; but the work has been stopped for want of funds. By looking through the keyhole we could see a lamp burning before the image of a saint sheathed in silver, but we were disappointed of seeing the interior, as the people said the key was kept a long way off, and showed evident disinclination to help us in the matter, probably in consequence of our being accompanied by a Mussulman. We then descended, and made our way to the opposite angle of the city in the plain, where there is another and still more interesting church, which has been converted into a mosque. It was formerly the cathedral. This building is also Byzantine, having one central cupola, and four others in various parts, and, what is very unusual in Byzantine churches, a western tower surmounting the outer porch, or proaulion, on the top of which again a minaret has now been built. The architecture of the interior is extremely plain; the nave is composed of five bays, two of which are west and two east of the central cupola; there are aisles at the sides, and between these and the nave are two other extremely curious narrow aisles, not more than six feet each in width, the object of which it is difficult to conceive; but yet they appear to have formed part of the original structure. There are three apses at the ends of the nave and outer aisles; and over the proaulion there are chambers under the towers. The whole effect of the building has, as usual, been spoilt by its re-arrangement as a mosque. The guardian of the place informed us that another Frank had visited it not more than a fortnight before; and on further enquiry we discovered that this was none other than the distinguished African traveller Dr. Barth, who had left Scodra earlier than ourselves, and after passing through the confines of Montenegro, where he had nearly been killed in a dispute with a native, had reached this place, and started again with the view of exploring further south in Albania. How sad to think that he should have escaped this danger only to be carried off by an epidemic on his return to Germany in the autumn! His loss will be greatly felt by those who take an interest in the interior of Turkey, for he had made more than one journey through parts little known, and would probably have continued his investigations in subsequent years. His name will frequently occur later on in this narrative, where our route will meet that which he took in 1862, and of which he has published an account distinguished for its almost photographic accuracy.
Our day was concluded with a visit to the Roman Catholic Archbishop. He is a Dalmatian by birth, and consequently, like most, if not all, the prelates in Upper Albania, an Austrian subject: it was outside the Austrian Consulate that we met him (for that Power is represented even in Prisrend), and from thence he conducted us to his house, which was hard by. This was an unpretending structure, with a large courtyard on one side of it, the greater part of which was used as a Christian burial-ground. The chapel, which is the only Roman Catholic place of worship, might be called a very apostolical upper chamber, if it were not at the bottom of the house, and in part underground. It is a simple room, with a very low roof, and has been added to at different times; in consequence of this, the original chapel, which contains the altar, is in one corner of the present building. The Archbishop, who is a handsome man, and young-looking for his position, conversed with us for some time in Italian, with a vivacity and energy truly delightful from its contrast with Turkish languor; while his companion, a Franciscan monk, served us with coffee and cigarettes. He informed us that notwithstanding the importance of Scodra and Prisrend, no regular postal communication exists between them, and there are only occasional means of sending letters. Speaking of the general neglect that prevailed, and the absence of public works, such as roads and other facilities for communication, he remarked how little excuse there is for this, when the system of the corvée or forced labour exists, according to which the governors have the power of employing the people at their discretion on government works, without being required to make them any remuneration. The population he estimated at fifty thousand, a number the magnitude of which surprised me, both from the appearance of the city and the accounts given by other travellers; but his estimate seemed to have been carefully made, and he divided them according to their creeds, into 8,000 Mahometan families, 3,000 Greek, and 150 Latin. The numerical increase cannot be very rapid, if it is true, as he assured us, that from the prevalence of infanticide and want of care in rearing the children, from one-half to two-thirds of them die. Those who belonged to the Greek Church he described as being Bulgarians, but said that there were many Latin words interspersed in their language, from which I should gather that there must be a Wallach element amongst them, and this is confirmed by their church being called the Church of the Agoghi, as that name is applied to the Wallachs in Albania. It will be seen from the numbers here given that the Archbishop’s own flock in Prisrend is a small one; and when I enquired whether there were any Roman Catholics on the other side of the Scardus range, he answered that there were extremely few – only, in fact, a few merchants in some of the larger towns. In former times this would seem not to have been the case, for originally the Archbishopric was at Uskiub, and it was afterwards transferred to this place. He spoke warmly of the persecutions and indignities to which the Christians in these parts were exposed, and this applied to the Greeks as well as the Latins. Until a very few years ago, the Turks from a neighbouring slaughter-house used to fling all their offal into the burial-ground attached to the archbishop’s residence; which insulting practice was not put a stop to until M. Hecquard visited the place as Consul, and obtained leave from the governor that a high wall might be built round the enclosure. Numbers of the Mahometans, he said, both here and in the neighbouring districts, are in reality Christians, only from fear of persecution they profess the dominant creed: they observe the fasts of the Church and the Sunday, but this is done in secret, while in public they appear as Mahometans, and worship in the mosques. In the country they are known by the name of Lavamani, and we had already heard them spoken of both in Montenegro and at Orosch.
The origin of these people is a remarkable one, and would form an interesting episode in a history of persecutions. Like the Jews in Spain, they are an instance of the way in which ill-treatment may produce outward conformity, and even to some extent acquiescence in a new creed, while at the same time the old belief has never been extinguished, but continues to reassert itself in a variety of ways. Thus it is, for instance, that the Mahometans of Scodra, and in other parts of Albania, observe the festival of St. Nicholas. In that case, indeed, nothing more of Christianity seems to remain than traditional customs, though in all probability there is enough of association underlying them to be easily rekindled and fanned into a flame. But those of whom I am now speaking have a great deal more than this, and some of them have gone so far as to throw off the mask, and avow their real belief in the face of persecution.
[extracts from: Henry Fanshawe Tozer, Researches in the Highlands of Turkey, Including Visits to Mounts Ida, Athos, Olympus, and Pelion, to the Mirdite Albanians, and Other Remote Tribes (London: John Murray 1869), Volume 1, Chapter IX, pp. 195-217; Chapter X, pp. 218-233; Chapter XIII pp. 280-301; Chapter XIV, pp. 302-326; Chapter XV, pp. 327-345.]