Who says Kosovo isn’t scenic? Yesterday I worked all day so I could still get a full paycheck and go to Paris for the long week-end next week. While I was working, Beth, who is a Resident Legal Advisor with OPDAT called and wanted to know if I wanted to go to a Monastery near Peja with her and a friend. Beth has an SUV and was going to drive so I told her to count me in. So today I explored. I was not familiar with the Monastery, which I learned is the Visoki Decani Monastery. It is a Unesco World Heritage Site and is located about an hour and a half drive west of Priština, near Peja, in the forests of the Decan Canyon. This is a very scenic and mountainous area; the mountains here seemed every bit as high as those in the Bitterroot Valley in Montana near where my father lived. If you traveled farther west from here you would cross over the mountains into Montenegro.
On the way to the Monastery we passed through the village of Isniq, Beth’s friend said that if we took a short detour we could see some of the historic buildings in the village. We drove past an old stone mill and further down the road we saw a couple good examples of Albanian Kullas. A Kulla is a two or three-story stone house, the first floor is for the family’s livestock and the people live on the second and third floor. The third floor as a room built off of the side which served as the “privy”. You did your business three stories up and it dropped through a hole in the floor and away in a trench dug out to the fields. The entrance to the Kullas was by steep stairs to the second floor and they have very small windows which help make the building more defensible. I took a couple of pictures of the mill and a Kulla.
We continued on to the Monastery and started into the mountains. The road is on the north side of a mountain and was still snow-covered. The Monastery is guarded by Italian K-FOR troops who were friendly and spoke English. It looked to me like they had pretty good duty. They wanted an ID which they returned to us when we left.
The Monastery itself is in a walled compound surrounded by orchards and vineyards. It was lovely. The Monks all wore long black robes and had long double-pointed beards. They seemed friendly, some spoke English, some did not. One sort of guided/watched us as we toured the church, he seemed to want to be helpful but didn’t speak English so couldn’t answer any questions. He left for a minute and returned with an English guide book and pointed out particularly interesting things in the church and the corresponding pages in the book, which was helpful.
The Monastery is Serbian Orthodox, so the monks are Serbs. That being the case it is probably not the place to test out your Albanian language skills. It was built between 1327 and 1335. The Church was the high point of the visit; the exterior was stone with some very elaborate carvings. It was a large building probably three to four stories tall, with a lead roof and light-colored stone making up the exterior. The interior was exquisitely painted; every square inch of the building was painted with some biblical scene or pictures of the Monasteries’ founder St. Stefan Uros III. The place is difficult to describe though the books available at the Monastery were well photographed and did a great job of explaining what all the paintings were and the history of the place. The altar and the large area behind it were beautifully carved wood there was a huge metal contraption, I would have to call a chandelier, over the altar which probably held 100 candles. The tomb of St. Uros was to the front of the altar. On the inside of the dome about four stories up was a large painting of Christ’s face looking down at you. You would have to see this to appreciate it. Unfortunately photos were not allowed inside. I heard the Monks have a special service on Thursday evenings with singing of traditional hymns which is supposed to be well worth the trip.
There is a small shop in one of the buildings at the monastery were the monks sell the wine, brandy, cheese, and honey they make there. There were also a number of other locally handmade items available, some very nice in quality. I bought a large pottery mug, a few of the ornately stitched leather coin purses and some wine and cheese. The items for sale here aren’t exactly what I would call a bargain, but there is no admission charged to see the place so I looked at the prices of the goods as my admissions fee. There were some cool beeswax candles there I wish I would have bought. This is place I would definitely go back to.
On the home we stopped for lunch at a little resort between Peja and Priština near the turn to Gjakova. It was a nice restaurant and the pizza I ordered was good but I had been there before and would have rather gone somewhere new.
Another high point of the trip for me was that we passed the ruins of an old fortress near the restaurant and on the way back to Priština we stopped and hiked up the hill to the fort and looked around. I have no idea how old the place was, some parts of it looked old enough to be Roman, but some of the buildings inside were probably built as recently as World War II or even later. The place was in ruins now and but the walls were still mostly standing. It was fun to look around and wonder about its history. I would love to have a metal detector to explore places like this. I will have to check a guide-book and see if it is listed.
The people I was with knew of some other monasteries, some more fortresses, Roman ruins and some caves all close to Priština. So I will have things to explore when I get the chance. I am very excited that there is more to do here than eat good food, watch DVDs and complain about the air quality…