We left my lovely little hotel in Pristina heading southwest for the second largest city in Kosovo, Prizren. However, before we left Pristina, I insisted on stopping at the Bill Clinton statute. (FYI – Bill Clinton is revered in Kosovo as are all Americans because of their assistance to Kosvo during the Kosovo War). Anyway, Gasie had a little trouble finding the site. For some reason he thought the statute was in Mother Teresa Square. He dropped me off, pointed in the vague direction of the square and said “there”. I got out and wandered around for about 5 minutes certain this was not the place. I eventually found a nice fellow who pointed in the opposite direction to the Clock Tower and told me to take a right and walk about 1 km.
I went back to the car, told Gasie he was wrong and that the statute was about a kilometer away. So we followed the guy’s directions and sure enough, there was a massive bill board (no pun intended) with a statute of Bill Clinton. In fact the road in front was named Bill Clinton Boulevard. With a couple pictures snapped, we were on our way.
The drive took us out of the city and onto the main freeway we had driven on when we were coming from Macedonia. There was not a lot to see, mostly farmland, although I did manage to snag a picture of a lonely Catholic Church up on a hillside with nothing else around. Apparently the area was a Catholic stronghold for whatever reason. As we approached Prizren, the Albanian Alps came into view and it appeared that there was massive fire on one of the hillsides. There was lots of smoke from at least two different locations.
Anyway, about an hour after we left Pristina, we were driving towards the old center of Prizren. It is believed that the area of Prizren was settled by the Romans in the 1st century, although remnants from the Bronze Age have been found nearby leading others to believe the area was settled long before the Romans.
We drove across the cobblestone road and passed the Old Stone Bridge, which is located in the old city core. The Lumëbardhi River divides the town into two parts, and historically, the Stone Bridge was integral to the development of trade and life in Prizren. While no one knows for sure, it is believed the Old Stone Bridge dates to the 15th century.
Now Prizren is tiny in comparison to Pristina (about 85,000 compared to a quarter million). And while the old town is incredibly atmospheric, there is not a lot to see in the town.
After we dropped off our luggage at the hotel, Gasie and I wandered around the old quarter. Many of the streets are pedestrian only so it made walking quite nice. However, I think the walk lasted all of an hour. Not a big area to visit.
We passed by the main mosque in Prizren, the Sinan Pasha Mosque that dates to 1615. The exterior of the mosque was made entirely of stone and had a huge omnipresent minaret that dominated the exterior. The mosque is apparently the most important in Prizren due to its continual presence in the old town since the 17th century. And mosques are an important part of everyday life in Prizren as over 80% of the population is Muslim. In fact, mosques dominate the skyline here.
Less than a block away, from the Sinan Pasha Mosque was the Church of St. George Runovic also known as Our Lady of Ljeviš. This 14th-century Serbian church is Prizren’s most important Orthodox Church, which interestingly enough was used as a mosque until 1911. Apparently in 2004, there was quite a bit of civil unrest in the area and locals set the Church on fire damaging many of the frescoes inside. The church was, unfortunately closed for restoration, so I did not get a look inside the UNESCO World Heritage site.
We continued to walk through old town surrounded by little cafes and shops, vendors selling candy and even a couple ice cream shops. We next stopped at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, a 1870ish Catholic Church with an absolutely beautiful clock tower. (I guess there was some competition with the minarets).
We then wandered back to the main boulevard along the river and past trees lining the boulevard covered in colourful crocheted designs. Seriously. I asked Gasie about the designs and he claimed to have no clue. So I stopped and took a closer look at a sign on one of the trees, and apparently the crocheted coverings on the trees were created by the Women’s Association of Prizren. The designs included spiderwebs, sunflowers, and doily designs you would expect to find in your grandmother’s house. I later found out that this is an actual thing called “yarn bombing”, which is like street graffiti only artists use yarn to crochet art installations on trees and other public spaces. Huh! I had no idea.
Anyway we wandered along the river and I eventually stopped and bought an ice cream cone. Gasie did not want one so once I purchased the cone, we continued through old town to our last stop, which was a local residence designated with a plaque reading “1878 Albanian League of Prizren”. Gasie explained that the League of Prizren was created by a group of Albanian intellectuals to resist partition Albania among neighbouring Balkan states, namely Greece, Montenegro, Bulgaria, Serbia and Macedonia, and to assert an Albanian presence by uniting Albanians in one nation with a common language and culture.
Now, this was actually the most animated I had seen Gasie since we met. It was clear to me that Gasie is a devout nationalist who believes Albanian lands have been stolen from his country and that all Albanians should be united under one flag. This suddenly explained so much.
Anyway, we finished the walking tour of old town and I left Gasie to walk around on my own. I ended up finding a cool little shop where a young woman was the proprietor. The lady was quite fascinating and showed me all of her designs she made on wood products using a a wood burning pen. She was quite talented, had been at it for about 5 years and had no formal training.
I ended up spending a bit of time in the shop, bought some of her products, including yes, hand made Christmas ornaments, and said goodbye. It was early afternoon and it was rather hot out so I decided to take a rest before climbing the hill to the Prizren Fortress to see the sunset.
So just before 5:30, I set off up the hill to the Prizren Fortress. Now Gasie had told me to just follow the road outside my hotel. Big mistake. The road ended about two blocks up the hill, and I found myself following a path STRAIGHT UP. There were times when I thought I was going to slide back down it was so steep. The trail took me past houses, and guys working on a rock wall. Eventually, I reached the end of the trail and could not figure out where to go. Fortunately, I heard voices over my head and figured there had to be another trail leading up to the entrance. I walked to the right where I could see a road and once past some bushes blocking my view, I found the road I should have been walking on all along. So not only was the hike up tough, it was made doubly tough by the fact I was hiking up a rocky path. Good Grief.
Anyway, about 15 minutes after I set out, and a lot of huffing and puffing, I made it to the fortress entrance. Now the first fortress on this site was built by the Byzantines. Later, Serbian kings expanded the fortress between the 12th and 14th centuries before the Ottomans took over.
The remains were not that remarkable, but did include a main gate, a mosque, secret passageways and lookout towers. There were also remains with semicircular openings, which I, for the life of me could not figure out what they were used for. Maybe storage areas? Who knows. There were no signs.
However, the real star of the show was the amazing views to Prizren below. I could see the Old Stone Bridge, the Sinan Pasha Mosque and the Church of St. George Runovic. The views were stunning and the little town below looked beautiful. The one downside? The smell of smoke permeated the air and cast a bit of a haze over the city (smoke from forest fire).
I ended up sitting on one of the fortress walls and watched the sun set. The shadows grew longer and the sky turned orange as the sun began to set behind the mountains. While the hike had been a little tough, the views made it all worth while.
Once the sun disappeared behind the mountains, I hiked back down on the cobblestone road, which landed me on the road on the other side of my hotel. Close Gasie, but no cigar!