An employee group with the U.S. Embassy occasionally sponsors trips to various locations. This week I received notice that the Embassy group was going to take a bus trip to Prizren on Saturday. So I signed up and paid my 10 Euros.
Prizren is a fairly large city by Kosovo standards. No one really seems to know what the population of the various cities in Kosovo is but I have heard that Prizren is estimated to be around 125,000. It seems bigger. I had been to Prizren briefly once before to visit the prosecutor and I thought it was the prettiest of the cities I have been to in Kosovo. Unfortunately most of Kosovo’s cities suffer from their recent eastern bloc past. You will see haphazardly planned expanses of large grey, poorly maintained concrete apartment buildings and utilitarian business and factory buildings in Kosovo. Prizren is no exception, but fortunately the center of Prizren is made up of older more historic looking buildings including a large Mosque (actually Prizren has a lot of Mosques) a couple of Serbian Orthodox Churches and a Catholic Church. A river flows through the downtown and there are several picturesque bridges and something resembling a square. A number of the non-church buildings look like they pre-date the communist era.
The bus left the Embassy for Prizren at 8:00 am, it was about a two-hour bus ride, much of which I slept through. When we arrived at Prizren our first stop was to a factory where they made silver filigree jewelry. It appears that Prizren is, or more accurately once was, known for its high quality filigree jewelry. We were led to a large communist era factory that looked to me like it spanned two stories and about 20,000 square feet. As we entered the factory the owner explained that they did not usually work on Saturdays but were opening to give us a tour. He took us into a small room at the front of the factory which had several display cases containing examples of some very pretty and intricately woven silver jewelry.
As we looked at it he explained that Prizren is the last place in Kosovo where this type jewelry is made, he said it can now be made by machine and although the quality is not as good now most people buy the less expensive machine-made jewelry. He said all the jewelry in his factory was made by hand. This factory was once a training center where young people spent four years learning to make this jewelry however after the war the school portion of the factory was closed and now no new people learn this craft anymore.
After showing us the completed jewelry we were taken to another small room. The room had a long work bench and about 10 chairs in it. He explained that this was the “factory” and that he now only employed 10 craftsmen to make the jewelry. He had one of the men come in and show us how they wove and soldered the jewelry. It was interesting but mostly sad to see how this factory and this art form was dying with little to no hope of being revitalized. The obvious quality and beauty of this jewelry makes me think there must be someway this could be saved and become a profitable venture again. Maybe I should call Woody Justice…
After leaving the filigree factory we headed downtown and were left to our own devices for a couple of hours. At the top of a mountain overlooking the town was a large fortress and myself and several others decided to go up and explore it, the trail to the fortress took us by the large mosque in the center of town and by the Serbian Orthodox church about halfway up the hill. We wanted to go into the mosque which was being restored but it was locked, so we proceeded up the hill toward the Serbian church, as we walked up the hill it became obvious most of the houses were abandoned and in a bad state of disrepair. One of the guys from the embassy said this was the Serbian part of town before the war and it was largely destroyed and abandoned during the fighting. The Church on the hill was surrounded by concertina wire and once I got close to it I could see it was destroyed except for the exterior walls.
The fortress appeared from the outside to be pretty much intact but once I entered the walls it was obvious it was also a ruin, it was apparent that the fortress ruins pre-existed the recent war and one could see attempts to excavate and refurbish parts of it were in progress. It was quite large and very interesting, no one seemed to know how long it had been there, I have heard some people say they thought its origins were Roman or Illyrian, it looks newer than that to me. I should do some research on
the things I am seeing here.
After exploring the fort, we walked back into town and walked around for a while before having lunch at a traditional Albanian restaurant. As usual the food was good. After lunch we walked by some old Turkish baths, that are currently closed, and to a museum.
Having been to the Louvre a few weeks ago, the contrast was somewhat depressing. But it was interesting, and I was glad to see an attempt by some of the citizens of Prizren to preserve of some of their history. The buildings the museum was in were interesting, white stucco with dark timbers. The curator there told us some of the buildings had been burned down by the Serbs during the war and had been rebuilt by volunteers after the war. As he told us about the struggles of the Albanians for independence over hundreds of years it was obvious he was proud of his heritage.
By the time we finished our tour of the museum it was about 1500 and time to head back home to Pristina, again I slept most of the way, no sooner did I get home that one of the other advisors called and invited me out to dinner. I wasn’t going to go until he told me they were going to a Serbian Restaurant outside of town called “Caio” I hadn’t been to Serbian restaurant yet so I decided to go. The restaurant was about 15 minutes southeast of town in a small Serbian enclave, the restaurant was similar to what one would find in Pristina, except pork was prominently featured on the menu. You generally can’t get pork in Albanian restaurants here (though there are some quiet exceptions) since Albanians are Muslims. Dinner was good; we all had some sort of pork dish. I had a pork steak rolled and stuffed with ham and then breaded and fried, it was very good if not good for me. The Serbian who waited on us was as polite and friendly as any Albanian waiter in Pristina.
I got to thinking about what a shame it is we can’t go back 3-4,000 years and fix whatever gene it was in some successful and apparently prolific warrior that makes so many of us do such horrible things to our neighbors for sure illogical things as having minarets on their buildings instead of steeples or visa versa.