So after the drive to Pristina, I ended up having dinner and drinks in the hotel’s lovely little rooftop restaurant and chatting with the bartender about all of the markers I saw by the side off the road marking the spot where someone died during the Kosovo war. The bartender then told me his own story. Turns out he was 15 ½ when the Kosovo war started. His brother escaped to London, while he stayed behind with his parents. When it became clear that he had to flee the Serbs, he was able to secure a fake Italian ID and left in the middle of the night. He ended up crawling through farm land and walking through forests at night in order to evade the Serbian soldiers. He ultimately made his way to Holland where he was able to reach London to stay with his brother. In the mean time, his parents made their way to Scopje, Macedonia. He only knew they were safe when he saw his parents crying on T.V. Let that all sink in. 15 ½!
Anyway, after that sobering story I finished dinner and got some sleep. Today was going to be a lot of touring in and around Pristina. First up was a drive south of the city to the Battle of Kosovo Monument also known in Serbian as Gazimestan. The drive took about a half hour in the morning traffic. When we arrived, the site was deserted except for a lone police officer who required that we hand over our passports in order to visit the site. Since the site honours Serbian bravery in the battle against Ottomans, there is extra security around the monument.
Now the monument is a third iteration of a memorial to the 1389 Battle of Kosovo that took place between an army led by the Serbian Prince Lazar Hrebeljanović and an invading army of the Ottoman Empire under the command of Sultan Murad Hüdavendigâr. Both sides were decimated in the battle, and both leaders were killed. In fact the Serbian side lost so many soldiers that the battle opened the way for the Ottomans to take over the Serbian empire.
The new monument up a small hill is in the shape of a medieval tower and was built in 1953 under the authority of Yugoslavia. The monument contains a Serbian curse in Serbian script that apparently reads as follows:
Whoever is a Serb and of Serb birth
And of Serb blood and heritage
And comes not to the Battle of Kosovo,
May he never have the progeny his heart desires!
Neither son nor daughter
May nothing grow that his hand sows!
Neither dark wine nor white wheat
And let him be cursed from all ages to all ages!
Anyway, after the visit we retrieved our passports and left the monument. We then moved on to the Tomb of Sultan Murad Hüdavendigâ, the leader of the Ottomans in the Battle of Kosovo, which was a few streets away. The tomb apparently contains the internal organs of Sultan Murad while his body was buried in Turkey.
The tomb was actually quite lovely and one of the caretakers greeted us, provided me with a headscarf and opened the door to the tomb. Once we removed our shoes, we were permitted to enter. The Tomb was housed in an Ottoman style mausoleum that was apparently constructed in the 14th century by Murad’s son. It is one of the earliest Ottoman style designed buildings in Kosovo.
Inside the building there was a single above ground crypt covered in a burgundy blanket and surrounded by windows. The caretaker instructed us to walk around the tomb once to pay our respects. We then took a walk around the lovely gardens before leaving the site and driving east to the town of Gračanica.
Gračanica is a Serbian dominated area best know for the Gračanica Monastery. Now the Gračanica Monastery was actually constructed in the 14th century on the ruins of an older 13th-century church of the Holy Virgin, which itself was built on the ruins of a 6th-century early Christian three-naved basilica. And the monastery was actually built by the same Serbian King Stefan who also constructed Visoki Dečani Monastery, which I had visited the day before.
The monastery was surrounded by the town, and a very busy road ran right past the site. We walked through the stone arched entryway and once I donned a robe to cover my knees (I was wearing shorts) we walked to the church. Inside, the church was dominated by frescoes with older frescoes dating to the 14th century and new frescoes dating to the 16th century. Th older frescoes were higher up the walls and quite frankly much more attractive than the older frescoes.
Now one site I saw that I found astonishing was a fresco of a half naked woman riding a snake with the snake carrying a body of a man in its mouth. I tried to snag an elicit picture since the scene was so unusual, but the caretaker “reminded” No Pictures, so I missed out (despite the fact that folks in the group he was leading around were snapping pictures all over the place). Oh well.
Gasi left me to wander around the site without much explanation. He told me that because he was Albanian, the caretaker would not give me a tour so I was left to my own devices. Fortunately, I had read up on the site before the trip to the monastery. However, I quite frankly did not find the site that attractive despite its UNESCO World Heritage designation.
So we left through the arches of the monastery reaching the busy road surrounding the site and headed to the nearby ancient Romans ruins of Ulpiana located in what had been the Roman region of Dardania. The ruins are located in the middle of farmland and were first uncovered in 1954. However, it wasn’t until 1990 when the archeological excavations started uncovering significant ruins. The ruins are concentrated in three areas: the northern necropolis area , the southern portion that included the main city and a small site south of the main area where a basillica and baptismal chamber where uncovered.
Once we reached the site, we wandered around the small central portion of the city that included the remains of the sewage system, a 6th century basillica with crypt, Roman baths with the remnants of mosaics, a pagan temple that was believed to be from the 2nd century and the northern gates.
The site was relatively small in comparison to what I had seen in Macedonia. We then took a walk north through the cornfields in the blazing sun (another not a cloud in the sky day) to the northern settlement and necropolis. Here, the most impressive ruins were the Memoriumi, a small rectangular structure that housed several sarcophagi, including a large and very impressive marble sarcophagus dating to the 3rd or 4th century.
We walked around to the other side of the site where we were greeted by two men, one of whom gave me and book and pamphlet about the site. It appeared that they were part of the excavation team that was working at the site. The fellow spoke limited English so I did not find out for sure if he was part of the team (and Gasi had no idea).
We then wandered past some antiquities uncovered at the site including a completely intact stelae of a older woman. There were also the remains of a pillar and some pieces of stone with lettering, which I could not read.
We then moved on to the far corner of the site where the remains of a villa had been uncovered that predated the necropolis. The most interesting part of these ruins for me was the ancient well that had been uncovered.
We walked back through the cornfield past new archeological excavations that are ongoing, past the main part of the city and then through the parking lot to the newer basilica and baptismal chamber. Men were working on the site reconstructing the ruins so we did not stay long.
It was now time to drive back to Pristina and visit the main sites of the city. We drove through the never ending traffic into the old part of Pristina and eventually found a parking spot. We then walked to Mother Teresa Square, which was actually not a square at all, but a large pedestrian only boulevard.
We passed by the Monument of Skanderbeg dedicated to the Albanian nobleman and military commander who led a multiple rebellions against the Ottoman Empire in what is today Albania, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia. Skanderbeg never managed to expel the Turks from the region, but he is admired for being a persistent foe of the Ottoman Empire who racked up numerous victories.
We then walked past a memorial to those missing from the 1998-99 war in Kosovo. From there we reached the end of the pedestrian boulevard, walked across the street past the Carshia Mosque, which was being renovated to the Museum of Kosovo.
Now the weird thing about the museum was that the doors were wide open, but no one was around. And after seeing the ancient relics inside, it scared the bejesus out of me. Talk about trusting.
Anyway, we explored the two floors of the museum with the first floor dedicated to the Early Neolithic period, the Neolithic period, the Bronze period, the Iron period and Roman period. Now in the area near Kosovo they have uncovered a large number of statutes from the Neolithic period that look like aliens. Gasi told me the statutes are called the “Beauty of Kosovo”. However, others apparently call it Goddess of the Throne. I just call it one amazing depiction of what we would call an “alien”.
Anyway, we wandered around and saw a myriad of artifacts that had been recovered from Ulpiana including perhaps the most important finds at the site: a partial stone statute of Herm of Dionysos, a marble bust of a woman and a marble bust of Emperor Phillip II the Arabian. The statues date to the 2nd century and were really well preserved and quite spectacular. My only concern was that the building was rather warm so I hope they have plans to regulate the building temperature to preserve those priceless works of art.
There was also a great deal of pottery, jewelry and weapons found. But the three other major finds on display really surpassed everything else. There was a lead sarcophogus dating to the 2nd century in which the remains of a woman and various funeral objects were found. There was the marble head of Eros (the son of Aphrodite) found at Ulpiana and dating to the 2nd century. Finally, there was a marble bust of a Dardanian goddess dating to the 2nd or 3rd century.
Once we completed the first floor, we climbed to the second floor where we were greeted by an amazing mural of Mother Teresa made out of staples. Seriously.
Sadly, that might have been the highlight of the second floor. The remainder of the floor included display after display of weaponry and uniforms associated with the 1998-99 Kosovo war. There was really nothing tying the displays together and it was all very haphazard. And it was really weird that the museum literally skipped over a 1,000 years of history and went straight to the Kosovo war.
Perhaps the most important artifact on the second floor was a replica of the Kosovo Declaration of Independence dated February 17, 2008 and housed in a little room off the main gallery surrounded by flags of the nations that recognize Kosovo as an independent country (100 out of 193 UN member countries). Serbia does not recognize Kosovo and still believes it to be part of Serbia.
Anyway, after the visit to the museum we retraced our steps along Mother Teresa Square (Boulevard) and actually came across a smattering of little tents with locals selling their wares. There were a number of women selling produce, honey and home made jams. I actual bought a jar of raspberry lemon juice and it was delicious.
We also encountered an elderly man who made wooden plates, boxes, and even a recorder like flute. After I bought something from him, he even played us a tune on his own flute. We also met a woman selling hand made knit sweaters, which were simply gorgeous, for a virtual song. Of course, I bought one.
We ended the walk with a visit to two monuments. The first was called Heroinat (heroine) and was dedicated to the suffering of the women of Kosovo, including the 20,000 plus women who are believed to have been raped by the Kosovo soldiers. (You read that number right. That is approximately 50 women a day for the entire duration of the war.) The monument is built of 20,145 medals and is in recognition of the dignity, dedication, education, care, courage and endurance of all ethnic Albanian women.
The second monument was the famous “NEWBORN” typographic sculpture. The sculpture was unveiled on February 17, 2008, the day that Kosovo formally declared its independence from Serbia. It is apparently quite the attraction and I was lucky enough to snap a picture without anyone in front of the sculpture.
So with our visit done to Pristina done (although I do want to go see the Bill Clinton statute in the morning), I said goodbye to Gasie and spent the late afternoon relaxing at my lovely hotel. I grabbed some fruit from the local market and ended the day with a little walk around the neighborhood, which happens to be in the embassy district of Kosovo so there is a massive armed presence. I’m sure my Mum is very happy about that!