Libri “C’era una volta un clandestino” është i bazuar në historinë e vërtet të dy viteve të para në Itali të Eltjon Bidës.
Saktësisht nga viti 1995 në vitin 1997.
Pra, ato shin vitet kur emigrimi shqiptar ishte i përditshëm, dhe kriza në Shqipëri kishte arritur pikën e kulmit.
Nga Vlora, niseshin dy, tre gomone natë për natë për në Itali.
Eltjoni në atë kohë sapo kishte mbushur 17 vjeç.
Duhej të nisej. S’rrihej më.
Motivi i parë ishte sepse ai djalë vuante nga një gurë që kishte në një veshkë.
Në Shqipëri, mbasi me të atin kishin qenë në spitalet e Fierit, Vlorës dhe Tiranës, u kishin thënë që duhet të operohej. Lista e pritjes ishte tepër e gjatë. Por, me një shumë të mirë lekësh, ç’do gjë mund të rregullohej, u kishin thënë doktorët shqipëtar. Familja e Eltjonit nuk kishte lekë. Plus, ato ishin vite skandal për shëndetësinë. Eltjoni kishte frikë të operohej nga doktorët tanë.
Motivi i dytë për nisjen e tij ishte, sepse ai shtatëmbëdhjetëvjeçari, në Shqipëri nuk shihte një të ardhme. Nuk kishte punë, kishte varfëri dhe trazira të përditshme. Banda rrugeçësh të bllokonin rrugën dhe të vidhnin.
Kështu, babai i Eltjonit shiti dy lopët dhe delet që kishte dhe bëri lekët për të kaluar djalin në Itali. Ai u nis në një natë të ftohtë shkurti. U nis me gomone.
Në fillim ai bëri një tentativë për të arritur Italin me anije, me dokumenta fallso, por dështoj.
Por, po atë ditë, sapo e kthyen në Vlorë, ai nuk shkoj në fshatin e tij Bashkim, por i tha të jatit që do kalonte detin me gomone. Kishte shumë frikë, nuk e mohon, edhe sepse shpesh dëgjohej nga lajmet apo gazetat që kishte dhe nga ato gomone që s’arrinin dot Italinë por përfundonin në mes të detit. Edhe dy kushërinjë të Eltjonit, dy djem të rinjë, punëtor, ishin mbytur në detë pak ditë para nisjes së Eltjonit. Edhe ata kishin kërkuar të arrinin Italinë me gomone.
Pra, shkrimtari në librin e tij tregon motivin e nisjes, çfarë ndodhi atë natë: marrëveshjet me kontrabandistët dhe skafistët, tregon atë udhëtim përmes dallgëve të tmerruara të detit.
Tregon si u prit dhe si e trajtonin në Itali.
Si skafistët tanë bashkëpunojnë me kontrabandierë italianë.
Rrëfen sa të mirë u treguan italiantët tek ajo familje ku ai u strehua që e shëruan, edhe se nuk kishte dokumenta.
Sa të mirë u treguan mjekët italianë me të.
Flet për vëllain, që si dhe Eltjoni u nis me gomone, por kur arriti në Itali, u zhduk.
E ëma e qante me lot dhe Eltjoni u nis për ta kërkuar.
Në “C’era una volta un clandestino” ai vë në krahasim traditat tona me ato italiane.
Në çdo fjalë në librin e tij shkrimtari pasqyron jetën e emigrantit, vështirësitë, vuajtjet, gëzimet.
Eltjoni shkuan edhe për një marrëdhënie që kishte me një vajzë italiane. Flet për dashurinë e tyre, dhe jo vetëm, ai tregon në detajë edhe raportet e tyre intime. Pra ëshë një libër edhe me sfondin rozë. Prandaj që është i ndaluar moshës nën tetëmbëdhjetëvjeçare.
Këtë shkrimtari e bëri sepse ai librin e donte sa më tërheqës, e donte të veçant, unik.
Eltjoni tregon kur flinte në vagonat e trenave dhe hante bukë në qëndra bamirësie.
Ato vagona të ndryshkur, të ftohtë dhe pa ajër që për të edhe shumë emigrant ishin shtëpitë e tyre.
Shkruan si dy shokë të tij, filluan të vidhnin në vilat e italianëve nga dëshpërimi: ata nuk gjenin dot punë dhe babai i tyre ishte futur në borxhe të rënda për t’i dërguar në Itali.
Pra është një libër plot me aventura. Libër që lexohet me një frymë. Eltjoni në historinë e tij na tregon se si me sjellje të mirë, dhe po të punosh me nder, italianët të duan dhe nuk ta mbyllin derën në surrat.
Ka më pak se 9 muaj që libri është botuar, dhe shpesh ka intervista në gazetat italiane që shkruajnë për të.
Eltjonin e kanë intervistuar edhe disa radio, plus edhe RAI. Intervistat e tij kanë qënë në gazetat më të shitura në Itali, si: Avvenire, pastaj edhe, Il Fatto Quotidiano, MilanoToday, e ka intervistuar i madhi Maurizio Costanzo, Valentina Furlanetto di Radio 24, Eleonora De Nardis, Patty Torchia, Camilla Marconi, etj. Në Shqipëri ka qënë i intervistuar nga mediat më të rëndësishme të vendit. Dhe shpejtë do të dalin edhe intervista të tjera.
10 % të fitimeve nga shitja e librave, shkojnë në bamirësi.
Në datën 14 shtator 2019, Eltjonit i është dhënë çmimi: Books for Peace.
Pas më shumë se dyzet vjetësh në ekzil, shkrimtarit të njohur çek, i natyralizuar më vonë si francez, Milan Kundera, i është kthyer shtetësia nga autoritetet çeke.
Petr Drulak, ambasador i Republikës Çeke në Francë, i tha televizionit publik se e ka vizituar shkrimtarin 90-vjeçar në banesën e tij në Paris të enjten e kaluar për t’ia dorëzuar certifikatën e shtetësisë çeke.
“Ky është një gjest shumë i rëndësishëm simbolik, një kthim simbolik i shkrimtarit më të madh çek në Republikën Çeke. Ai ishte në humor të mirë, vetëm e mori dokumentin dhe më falënderoi”, tha ambasadori.
Kundera, autor i veprave me famë ndërkombëtare, ishte përjashtuar nga Partia Komuniste e Çekosllovakisë së atëhershme në vitin 1950 nën akuzën për veprime anti-komuniste. Ai ishte bërë figurë e urryer nga autoritetet e asaj kohe dhe ishte vendosur në Francë në vitin 1975. Në vitin 1979, shkrimtarit iu mor shtetësia çeke dhe dy vjet më vonë e fitoi shtetësinë franceze.
Veprat e tij më të famshme, përfshirë librin “Shkëlqimi i padurueshëm i qenies” dhe “Libri i qeshjes dhe harresës” i shkroi në Francë dhe ato u shpallën libra të ndaluar në atdheun e tij deri në fundin e viteve të tetëdhjeta. Romani i vitit 1988, i titulluar “Pavdekësia”, ishte romani i fundit që e shkroi në gjuhën çeke, ndërsa që nga ajo kohë i ka shkruar edhe katër romane të tjera në gjuhën frënge.
Romani i tij më i ri është “Festivali i parëndësisë”, i botuar në vitin 2014. Kundera tash jeton larg vëmendjes së publikut dhe asnjëherë nuk flet me gazetarë. Ai e kishte vizituar atdheun për herë të parë pas largimit në vitin 1996 dhe besohet se prej asaj kohe ka bërë edhe vizita të tjera, por larg vëmendjes së mediave, shkruan “The Guardian”, transmeton Gazeta Express.
French historian and diplomat François Charles Hugues Laurent Pouqueville (1770-1838), born in Le Merlerault (Orne) in Normandy, was educated in Caen and Lisieux and studied medicine at the Sorbonne in Paris under Antoine Dubois. As a physician, he took part in the French expedition to Egypt. On 25 November 1798, on his way back to France, he was captured by pirates and sent to Navarino in the Peloponnese, where he was imprisoned and held for ransom by the Turks. He spent two years in prison in Istanbul and returned to France in 1801. It was in prison that he began writing his first travel memoirs, which were dedicated to Napoleon and published in the three-volume edition: “Voyage en Morée, à Constantinople, en Albanie et dans plusieurs autres parties de l’Empire othoman pendant les années 1798, 1799, 1800 et 1801,” Paris 1805 (Travels in the Morea, to Constantinople, Albania and several other parts of the Ottoman Empire in the years 1798, 1799, 1800 and 1801).The book, translated into German, English and Italian, was exceptionally successful and attracted the attention of the French government, which appointed him as consul general in Janina, to the court of Ali Pasha Tepelena. He remained in Epirus from 1806 to 1815, had a close personal relationship with the “Lion of Janina” and was able to travel widely in the region. The following extract from the English translation of his “Travels in Epirus, Albania, Macedonia, and Thessaly,” London 1820, offers a detailed description of his impressions of Epirus and southern Albania in early 1806. The modern placenames have been added here in square bracket.
Voyage along the Coast of Albania and Epirus, from Ragusa to Port Palermo
Immediately after our arrival in Ragusa we dispatched a Tartar by land, to acquaint Aly, Pasha of Janina, with our position, and to solicit his instructions and assistance in repairing to his court. By Tartars, or more correctly Tatars, are meant messengers, couriers, or guides on horseback, employed over the Turkish dominions. The first persons so employed having been in fact Tartars, the name is still applied to their successors, of whatever country they may be. Thus in France the porters at the gates of palaces, public offices, hotels, &c. are still styled Swiss, because in former times natives of Switzerland were usually selected for porters, on account of their characteristic fidelity and attachment to their masters. With great difficulty and delay, on account of the snow and other obstacles, our Tartar accomplished his mission; and Aly, foreseeing that we strangers should encounter many more impediments and dangers in traversing the country, dispatched a vessel to carry us to one of his own ports. But the vessel was wrecked on the coast, and the crew had to hire barks to convey them to Ragusa, where our long residence seemed at last to create some uneasiness in the ruling powers. We learned also that the Turkish governors would most probably oppose our journey through their territories, on our way to their hated neighbour Aly of Janina. While in this embarrassing situation a French privateer put into Santa Croce, or Gravosa, an excellent haven on the north side of Ragusa. Embarking in that vessel on the 22d of January, 1806, we sailed in company with another French privateer for Port Palermo, the nearest port belonging to Aly, seven leagues to the northward of the island of Corfu. In the evening we observed the sun to set between the summits of Mount St. Angelo, formerly Mons Garganus, in Apulia in Italy, distant west-south-west forty leagues. Our course lay first south-east until we came off Durazzo, the ancient Dyrrachium and Epidamnus, a port and fortress memorable in various periods of history, particularly for the operations in its vicinity between Cæsar and Pompey, previous to the decisive action of Pharsalus. There the Albanian coast runs southward to the entrance of the bay of Valona [Vlora], where the Sirocco, or south-east wind setting in strong, we came to anchor under the protection of Saseno [Sazan], an island lying before it. The wind threatening to continue for some time, as it generally does in winter in the mouth of the Adriatic, we passengers landed in a small sandy bay on the north-east part of the island, the only spot where it is accessible. Knowing it to be uninhabited we carried on shore an old sail, with which we constructed a sort of tent. We had also on shore our Tartar and a Wallachian of Epirus, whom Aly had sent along with him, to serve as our guide and interpreter when we should land in his territories. We soon, however, discovered that we were not alone in Saseno. Smoke rose up in several places, and in a little time appeared a number of Albanians in arms, observing us with keen attention. The strangers were shepherds from the adjoining coast, who are in the habit of transporting to the island large numbers of sheep and cattle in winter. Intercourse being opened with them through our interpreter, we procured some sheep for ourselves and for the people on-board the privateer; and a fire being kindled the Albanians with admirable dispatch fitted one of the sheep for the spit. In the night the south-east gale grew tempestuous with heavy rain and long and vivid lightning; well reminding us of the Ceraunian or thunder-stricken mountains in our near vicinity. It was with the greatest difficulty that our vessel kept her place.
The island Saseno, the Sazon, Sason, or Saso of the ancients, is situated in the entrance of the bay of Aulon, or Valona, distant from the north point twice as far as from the south point Cape Linguetta, or Glossa, the famous Acroceraunium of antiquity, situated in 40 deg. 26 min. 15 sec. north latitude. The island is about a league in length from north to south, and the distance across the Adriatic from it to the nearest part of Italy (the narrowest part of the entrance of that sea) is fourteen leagues one-third. Saseno is divided lengthwise by a range of seven hills, of which one rises to an elevation sufficient to contradict the epithet humilis, assigned to it by Lucan (Pharsalia, V. 650); unless he be supposed to compare it with the mountains on the continent, distant however above a league. While the Venetians possessed the adjoining continent Saseno was inhabited, and the walls of a ruined church assisted in protecting our tent. On the east side of the hills are considerable fragments of a brick structure, probably of the Augustan age. After a delay of six days in a very uncomfortable situation, especially considering the rude, we may say ferocious character of the Albanian shepherds on the island, a heavy fall of rain terminated the gale, and we proceeded on our voyage along the inhospitable Ceraunian coast, truly characterized by Horace:
“_________th’ Acroceraunian rocks For frequent shipwrecks infamous.”
This part of the coast is, however, interesting in as far as relates to the final contest between Caesar and Pompey: for on it landed the former from Brundusium, in pursuit of his antagonist, when the dissensions in the Roman state had at last induced an appeal to arms.
Calms and the setting of the currents into the gulf of Valona, compelled us to use our great oars to draw off from the land, so that I could not make the remarks on the coast which I had projected. I resolved therefore to return at another time to survey that country as much as possible by land. I could, however, see that, for eight leagues from Cape Linguetta, the Acroceraunian coast presented only a range of barren mountains, absolutely deserted, excepting in winter, when it is visited by a few goat-herds with their flocks, who retire in spring, abandoning the country to vultures and reptiles of various sorts. The only vegetable productions seemed to be a few stunted pines and thorns.
In the evening of the 31st of January 1806, the south-east wind again setting in, we stood out to sea until we came near to Fano, the Othonos of antiquity, and the supposed abode of Calypso, celebrated in the Odyssee of Homer and the Telemachus of Fenelon. Fano, then occupied by the Russians, is situated in north lat. 39 deg. 50 min. 2 sec. and east long. from Greenwich 19 deg. 19 min. 50 sec. It is distant fourteen and one-third marine leagues, very nearly due-east from Cape St. Maria, the southernmost extremity of the heel of Italy, in north lat. 39 deg. 47 min. 30 sec. and east long. 18 deg. 23 min. 20 sec. Being placed in the middle of the fairway into the gulf of Venice, the accurate ascertainment of the position of Fano is an object of no small importance to mariners of all nations. Returning to the coast we were carried by the currents back nearly to the place where we had left it; and taking to our oars we continued our course to the southward. We soon came in front of a broad torrent from the mountains, called by the Italian seamen Strada bianco, a translation of the Epirote name Aspri rouga, the white way. A mile to the southward we had a view of Palæassa [Palasa], the representative of Palæste, where Cæsar landed his legions when in pursuit of Pompey, as related in the third hook of his Commentaries of the Civil War. Three miles farther on we came before Drimadez [Dhërmi], a small town situated in the midst of precipices and fragments of rock, through which shoot out a few pitch pines. A mile to the east I remarked the chapel of St. Theodore, on the summit of an eminence surrounded by olive-trees. This tract of the coast, though not very lofty, was steep over the sea, which our line showed to be from fifty-five to seventy-four English fathoms deep in various places, not far from the land. The ground consisted of coral rock. The highest part of the Ceraunian mountains we then estimated to exceed 700 toises, or 746 fathoms, or 4,476 feet in elevation above the sea. It was covered with snow, through which appeared broad lines of dark green firs. Beyond St. Theodore half a mile, opened into the sea a river which never runs dry, in a deep rocky channel; and a mile farther we doubled a point of land, which on the north-west covers the creek and road of Vouno [Vuno], now little frequented. A league more to the southward brought us opposite to Chimara [Himara], which has succeeded to the antique Chimæra, and now gives name to the district of the formidable Chimariotes. Chimara, as our interpreter told us, still stood out against Aly of Janina, as did all the villages of its district. The side of the hill on which the town is seated, broken into terraces, terminates on the shore in a white beach, to the southward of which is the bay of Gonea, which receives the waters, as I was informed, of what was styled the Royal Fountain. Two miles beyond Gonea we came before a tract of sandy beach, where fishing-boats are usually drawn up. This beach is probably formed by the waters of the river Phoenix, which, rising in the upper mountains, hurries down to the sea over precipices, forming numerous cascades, of which advantage is taken to draw off water to several mills on the banks. The Phoenix is now called the river of Chimara, as passing by that town; and two miles farther on the coast is the road or bay of Spilea [Spileja], formerly protected by two towers, but now containing only some decayed storehouses. Night was now coming on; the wind freshened; and we were within sight of Corfu, occupied by the Russians: it was therefore with no small satisfaction that we at last discovered the white tower of Palermo, and at six in the evening of the 1st of February we entered the bay. Being recognized by Aly’s officer in the tower, he saluted us, not with guns, but with musketry, which we did not understand, and therefore kept over to the north shore. There, on the other hand, we were assailed by the Chimariotes with sharp rounds of musket-ball, which however did no harm. Returning again to the south shore, we came to anchor near the tower, and received a visit from the commandant, who for a month past had been in attendance, to welcome us on the part of his master. Having accepted his invitation to sup and sleep in the tower, or fort, he entertained us with a sheep roasted whole, and maize bread baked under the ashes; our drink was drawn from a skin of turpentined wine, and a tinned goblet served every guest in his turn. Our beds were the straw mats, neither new nor clean, on which we sat at our meal.
Porto Palermo, Fortress of Ali Pasha (Photo: Robert Elsie, June 2001)
The bay or port of Palermo [Porto Palermo] is in circuit about five miles; having an opening of a quarter of a mile in breadth between rocky points on which the sea beats with violence. The bay might therefore be well secured against an attack from without. The depth of water varies from five to twenty fathoms; but in one spot near Aly’s tower, we found it seventy-five fathoms. The ground is said to be in general rocky: but as the bay abounds with fish of the stationary as well as of the migratory kinds, that information is probably erroneous. On all sides it is surrounded by high mountains, from which occasionally proceed severe squalls of wind: but in several parts vessels may be moored with perfect safety. The tower or fort stands on the southern point of the entrance, connected with the continent by a low narrow isthmus. It consists of a square with bastions, having a few guns, of no service either to command the entrance or to protect the shipping at anchor. Near it are some warehouses, a custom-house, and a Greek church. Upon the whole, the bay or port of Palermo might, in ancient times, and even at present, be properly denominated Panormos; for in one part of it or another vessels might be well secured against the sea.
Acroceraunia, or the Mountainous Region of Chimara
It was already said that the state of the weather did not permit me to survey the coast of Acroceraunia from the sea, with that minute care which it was a special object of my mission to employ. After I had been fully established in my official station with Aly in Janina therefore, I obtained permission and means of protection, to enable me to visit that and other regions of his territory, hitherto very imperfectly known, and indeed scarcely accessible by strangers. My survey of Acroceraunia was not all performed at one visit. Laying aside therefore at present the correct chronological order of my observations, I shall condense the whole into one continued narrative; connecting it with my remarks during my voyage along the coast. This will be more satisfactory to the reader than to be obliged to recur to the same scenes at different times, in the order of the periods when my observations were made.
The Acroceraunian, or more properly the Ceraunian mountains, were so named by the ancients, from the Greek term keraunos, signifying thunder; because, from their elevation, and particularly from their position on the sea, they were much exposed, and frequently observed to be struck by lightning. Their northern extremity, the proper Acroceraunium on the bay of Valona, is situated in north lat. 40 deg. 26 min. 15 sec. and in east long. 19 deg. 14 min. 30 sec. The southern extremity of the country (not of the mountains which extend towards Butrinto) is at Port Palermo, of which the entrance lies in north lat. 40 deg. 2 min. 45 sec. and in east long. 19 deg. 48 min. 40 sec. The line of coast along the Adriatic therefore extends from north-west to south-east twelve marine leagues. Ceraunia is the country supposed by some commentators to be indicated by Circe in her instructions to Ulysses, where he was to find Aornos, there to invoke the shade of Tiresias, to consult him respecting his ultimate proceedings. If Homer selected the mountains of Chimara for the scene of infernal intercourse, on account of the pestilential vapours with which, in his day, they abounded, things must have greatly changed in the course of three thousand years. For, in the present time, no part of the coast of Epirus possesses air of greater purity and salubrity than the western slopes of the mountains of Chimara. In that clear atmosphere are found examples of longevity much more frequent and remarkable than in any neighbouring districts. But the advantages of health and long life enjoyed by the Chimariotes are more than compensated by the nature and appearance of the country allotted to them. Naked mountains intersected by tremendous gulfs and inaccessible precipices announce a region of incurable sterility. But these precipices and gulfs and rocks are regarded by the natives as their main defence against all enemies. Hence the insuperable attachment of the Chimariote to his native deserts, in whatever quarter of the world his fortune may lead him to pass his days. The internal parts of Acroceraunia are of a description much more attractive to the husbandman.
From Port Palermo to the town of Chimara the natives reckon an hour’s journey on foot: but the coasting-barks count five miles along the shore to the landing-place belonging to the town. At that place landed my brother when he came to join me at Janina in March 1807; and to him I owe many of the observations introduced in this work on the whole coast of Albania northward to Durazzo and the river Drino. From the beach he mounted for half a league, by an artificial sloping road, up to the town of Chimara, where he discovered no vestiges of antiquity: but in the neighbourhood is to be seen an inclosure, evidently of very great age, probably the remains of the Chimaæra of Homer, near which Pliny places the Royal Fountain. This ancient fortification is named by the natives “the old castle of the queen,” on account of the coins frequently found in it, bearing the figure of a female, with a Pegasus on the reverse; emblems generally ascribed to Apollonia farther north on the coast. The queen alluded to by the Chimariotes was perhaps the princess Anna Comnena, who mentions Chimara in her history of the contest between her father Alexis and the Normans, in the end of the eleventh century. On the overthrow of the old city the surviving inhabitants founded the present Chimara, containing about 500 families, all Christians. Two leagues farther to the north-west is Vouno, occupied by 1,200 Christians, near to a level tract on the side of the mountain, remarkable for its fertility, the probable site of some town; but no vestiges have been discovered. An hour’s journey beyond Vouno, on the left, is the village Liates, and a league and a half farther on, over a succession of torrents and ravines, is Drimadez, seated on the heights, where the inhabitants point out a well of excellent water, a valuable treasure in such a country, and which may perhaps be the royal fountain of antiquity. From the town a rapid torrent rushes down the precipices to the sea. From Drimadez to Palæassa the distance is a league, and from the latter village to the sea the distance is four miles. The name of Palæassa recalls the Palæste of Cæsar, where his troops were landed on this coast, when pursuing his antagonist Pompey. But the “quiet station for ships amidst the rocks and other dangers of the Ceraunian coast,” mentioned in the Commentaries (B. Civ. III. 6.) is not so obvious: nor does Palæassa offer any antique monument. A league and a half north-west from that place is the torrent of Strada bianca, or Rouga aspri, formerly noticed, beyond which is the bay and road of Daorso, called by the Italians Val d’Orso. On a height near the shore is an inclosure of the most remote, or what is termed Pelasgic construction: but still no rocky haven is there to be discovered. A league still farther northward, however, is Condami, a port sheltered and commodious, when once vessels have got within the shoals and sandbanks. There Cæsar might well have landed his troops; for during the eight years in which the French occupied Corfu, that station was constantly resorted to by their seamen, to watch the motions of the British cruizers in the entrance of the Adriatic. The distance from Palæassa to this haven is certainly considerable; but Cæsar may have considered the port as belonging to Palæste, as being within its territory and knowing no other designation for it.
The eastern or inland portion of Acroceraunia is now called Japoria, a corruption of the Japygia of Epirus, so named by colonies from the Japygia of Italy. In order to penetrate into this portion from Palæassa, you ascend for half a league to the summit of Mount Tchica [Çika], and then descend north-north-east for an equal distance in a valley through which runs a stream, which, passing by Ducates [Dukat], falls into the bay of Valona near Porto Raguseo. The ancient proper name of this stream is unknown to me; but it is probably the Salnich of the later geographers. From thence in an hour and a half, the traveller arrives on the broad summit of the lofty stormy Mount Longara [Lungara]; the only vegetation consisting in a few sweet acorns, the rhamnus paliurus, and the evergreen oak, which produces the kermes used in dyeing scarlet. North from the summit, five leagues through the mountains is Ducates, the capital of a small independent tribe, wholly addicted to robbery and plunder. The inhabitants of the place, composing 250 families Christian and Mahometan, live in a state of ferocity, violence, and barbarism, of which it is impossible to form a conception. Although they pretend to certain forms and usages of religion, yet, their morals are of the most debased character. They cultivate a little maize only; for to raise wheat or any other grain, would require more labour and time than they will bestow. Cattle also they possess; but they are ignorant of the art of separating the cheese from the butter, which they keep in skins. Necessity alone compels them to manufacture the rude coarse cloth of the natural wool, with which they are clothed; and the genius of evil has suggested to them the art of producing gun-powder, which is made in almost every family for its own use. As the Ducatians live only to rob and assassinate, so they labour the ground solely for their own consumption. Yet it is singular that they have never, like the Mainotes of the south of Peloponesus, or the pirates of the gulf of Volo in the north of Greece, ventured to extend their depredations on the sea. If ever the Ducatians turn their eyes towards the Adriatic, it is only to discover whether any vessel has been driven on their shores, that they may aid in her destruction, and plunder and massacre the unhappy crew. A league and a-half north from Ducates are found the ruins of Oricum, still called Ric or Deric, a place of great antiquity, and, on account of its harbour, of importance in all periods of Grecian history. The inhabitants and garrison placed in the town by Pompey, voluntarily submitted to Cæsar, who, in the exercise of his characteristic celerity, traversed the rugged Ceraunian mountains, and arrived before the place in the evening of the very day in which he landed in the bay of Palæste. A peculiar evidence of the position of Oricum still exists in the box-trees, which grow on the mountains of Ducates behind its site; the only quarter of all that coast in which that tree is found; and the box of Oricum is celebrated by various ancient authors. Although Oricum be now no more, the haven is still frequented and known among the Greeks, by the Italian name Porto Raguseo: by the Turks it is called Liman-padisha, or the imperial port. It is the most spacious and commodious in the bay of Valona, and the only station for ships-of-war between the bay of Cataro and the mouth of the Adriatic. A league north-east from Ducates, a stream crosses the path, which dries up in summer, and mounting up for a league more you come to Dragiates [Tragjas], a Christian village on the slope of a hill, commanding a view of the bay of Valona. The intervening ground, in breadth five miles to the sea, is cultivated and cheerful, on to the entrance of a deep narrow pass on the south-east, opening into a valley which widens in the direction of the river Voioussa [Vjosa], the Aous of antiquity. Going round the coast of the bay, at a league’s distance north-east from Dragiates is Radima [Radhima], belonging to the district of Canina [Kanina], and the first village in the country of Musachia [Myzeqeja], the Taulantia of former times. A league and a-half farther is Mavrova, now rich in flocks, but formerly rich by its sea-marshes, producing salt of an excellent quality and colour. Nearly another league farther on is Crio-nero [Ujë i ftohtë], a place so named from a noted fountain, where ships resorting to that part of the bay take in water, which is rare on that coast. Three quarters of a league beyond Crio-nero, along the plain, is the fortress of Canina, built on a rock; and half a league farther you arrive at Valona. This town, the Aulon of former times, is still called Avlon by the Greeks, whence the Italians, by prefixing their article, have formed La Valona. It is situated half a league from the shore, and by the arcades under the houses, which line the streets, and other characters, announce the residence of the Venetians in former times. Near the town are the remains of two forts, blown up when they were compelled to surrender the place to the Turks in 1691. While in the power of the Venetians, Avlon was a place of considerable trade: but now it contains only about 6,000 inhabitants, Mahometans, Christians, and Jews; the latter banished from Ancona by Pope Paul IV. It is no longer counted among the episcopal sees of the east. The environs of the town, covered with olives, intermingled with country-seats and sepulchres, are bounded by a range of gypseous hills, from which issues the Artatus, which, having filled the ditches of the citadel, falls into the bay on the north of the rocks and fortress of Canina. So unwholesome are the vapours from the adjoining marshes, that the town is deserted by the inhabitants in summer; a few Jews only remaining behind; and parties of Christians in the environs, to cultivate the maize and the rice sown in the low grounds. That part of the district of Avion or Valona, which stretches for eight miles northward to the river Aous, now Voioussa, is not less fertile nor less unhealthy than the immediate environs of the town.
Three hours’ journey towards the north-east, brings the traveller from Valona into the district of Coudessi, comprehending a portion of the ancient territory of Apollonia, and the celebrated mines or quarries of bitumen, applied to all the purposes of vegetable pitch. The bitumen is found in the angle formed by the influx of the Suchista [Shushica] into the Voioussa, on its left or south side. The beds of bitumen seem to reach to a considerable distance towards the south-east, and might furnish a sufficiency of pitch to supply all Europe. In the environs of the mines is found abundance of sulphur, combined with various substances, never yet satisfactorily analysed. The country-people report that, almost every night, bluish flames are seen to hover on the surface of the ground; a circumstance noticed by Aristotle and other ancient writers, and indicating the Nymphæum described by Plutarch in his life of Sylla. “Near Apollonia, (six leagues south-east,) is situated the Nymphæum, a consecrated place, whence perpetual springs of fire flow forth, without consuming the herb in the midst of a verdant valley and pasture.” But the streams of fire, the inflammation of the incense offered to the nymphs of the springs, the oracular responses are no longer known by the oppressed Musachians, who dig the bitumen from the ground. The Suchista, which may contend with the river of Argyro-Castron for the name of Celydnus, rises in the mountains ten leagues to the southward. Near Nivitza Malisiotes, (Nivitza of the mountains,) on the course of the Suchista, are seen the remains of the ancient Amantia; distant, according to Scylax, 320 Greek stades or thirty-two miles from Apollonia. This space agrees with the present road; for from the remains of that city, up the Voioussa to the influx of the Suchista, is a distance of eighteen miles; and thence fourteen miles along the latter river reach up to Nivitza or Amantia. Below Nivitza, on the Suchista, stands Coudessi, the chief place of the valley and district; and a league and a half south from the bitumen-mines is situated Carbonara [Karbunar], on a bend of the Voioussa. On the right or north-east bank of this river, nearly opposite to Carbonara, on an eminence are the vestiges of an ancient city now called Gradista [Gradishta]; but which I am inclined to think belong to Byllis or Bullis. The remains are spread over a space of three miles in circuit. I perceived among them walls, constructed in the Pelasgian or most antique manner, but repaired with Greek and Roman work. In tracing the foundations of the suburbs, without the ramparts, I discovered the vestiges of a theatre, and the cella or body of a temple. Near this ruin, on the face of a rock, was a Latin inscription in which could be read the word BVLLIDEM, which left me in no doubt that I had found the Bullis of history; a town which, with Apollonia, Amantia, occupied by the partisans of Pompey, and the whole littoral tract of Epirus, voluntarily submitted to Caesar when he landed on the coast. Bullis is indeed styled a maritime town: but when the Voioussa is in the fulness of its stream, ancient ships might mount up so far. It is besides situated on the coast of the Adriatic, with respect to the great range of mountains which occupy the interior of the country, separating Epirus from Macedonia.
Four leagues up the left or south bank of the Voioussa, is Lunetzi, near which village are the remains of a fort, erected by the Latins in their wars with the Greeks in the middle ages. Three leagues higher up is Liopesi [Lap-Martalloz?], and a league to the southward is the bridge over the river Bentcha [Bënça], near the ruins of St. Severina, now called by the Albanians the Castle of Jarre; half a league still higher up stands Tebelen [Tepelena], the birth-place and favourite palace and treasure-house of Aly of Janina. In a journey undertaken by his desire, from Tebelen across Acroceraunia, in the direction of Port Palermo; a tract of country altogether unvisited by strangers, and indeed into which the people of the neighbouring tracts rarely venture to penetrate; I discovered near to Cosmari [Gusmar], the Roman road which led from Apollonia by Bullis and Amantia to Buthrotum. From the highest point of this road went off branches pointing towards the positions of Oricum, Palæste, and Panormus. In surveying this tract, it was Aly’s purpose, to restore the Roman road, in order to obtain access to the forests of ship and house-timber in the environs of Cosmari. Circumstances however obliged me to quit Epirus before my survey was terminated. Nor could I discover the silver mines in the same district, in ancient times so rich, of which I had seen specimens in Aly’s hands and had found a few in the torrents which descended from the mountains. To say the truth, I should have been very unwilling to disclose the situation of those mines, to add to the sufferings of the already oppressed people, by labouring to feed that insatiable desire of riches, by which Aly is incessantly agitated. The country of Acroceraunia produces wheat, barley, lupins, vetches, but in small quantities; for the inhabitants live wholly on maize. Their exports are wool, wax, kermes, fir, deals, pitch, firewood for Corfu, butter made of ewe milk; and with the money, in return, are procured the few foreign wares they need. The remainder of the money, such is the state of confidence amongst themselves, is buried in some secret place, and frequently wholly lost by the death of the owner. Along the sea-coast are found the usual vegetable productions of such a latitude; in the upper vallies, the slopes are clothed with pine and fir, maple, hasle, box: but in the plains along the Voioussa, are seen fruitful arable lands and plentiful pastures. Still the farmer, the shepherd, the peasant, have all a manifest air of misery, if not of poverty, the natural fruits of the tyrannical dominion, and the unsocial manners by which the country is borne down. The inhabitants, dreading to seem to be rich, rather than for its preservation, bury the greatest portion of their grain in ambaria or granaries dug deep in the ground. All ranks of men, without distinction, are constantly loaded with arms of various sorts; and their countenances openly declare the deplorable state of alarm and mutual distrust in which they pass their days.
Coast of Albania, from the Voioussa or Aous, north to the Drino or Drilo, by which it is separated from the Country of Scutari or Scodra. — Apollonia. — Berat. — Rivers Aous, Apsus, Genusus. — Durazzo. — Croia. — Alessio
Availing myself of the liberty assumed in the opening of the preceding chapter, I shall here combine my topographical remarks on the coast, from the Voioussa to the Drino, without regard to the chronological order of the several parts of the survey. With my own observations on this portion of Albania, I shall also combine those of my brother, who landed at the custom-house of Valona or Peloros, as that town is called by the Albanians. Proceeding for eight miles northward over the fertile but unhealthy plains of Valona, he arrived on the south bank of the Aous, now the Voioussa. On the opposite bank of the river, stood the handsome village of Fierè [Fier], and a mile to the westward was the monastery of the Virgin of Pollini, on the site of the antique Apollonia, the sole inhabited spot of the soil once sacred to Apollo. “Behold the monuments of the city, founded by the golden-locked Apollo, towards the borders of the Ionian sea.” Such, according to Pausanias, (Eliac. v. 22.) was the inscription engraved in ancient characters on the pedestal of the statue of the god of day. By a church surrounded by some monastic cells, and the whole inclosed by walls, furnishing accommodation for twelve monks, is now represented the once great and venerable Apollonia, a favourite city of Julius Caesar, and the chosen place of education of his grand-nephew Augustus. The era of the devastation of this celebrated city is unknown. The name is unnoticed in the writings of Anna Comnena, in the close of the eleventh century, and in every other Byzantine historian; although that princess, in describing the military operations of her father Alexis and the Normans, had frequent occasion to mention the Voioussa under its present name, and the towns on both sides of Apollonia. A bishop of this Apollonia, however, appears in the council of Chalcedon held in 451. It is first mentioned under the corrupted name of Pollina, by Castaldus, three centuries ago. It is amazing, but it is true, that it is equally impossible to ascertain the inclosure or limits of the city, which, we learn from Strabo and other writers, began at sixty stades, (seven and-a-half Roman or seven English miles,) up from the sea at the mouth of the Voioussa, where is now the dangerous harbour of Poros [Poroja]; and ten stades (one and-a-quarter Roman or one and an eighth English mile,) from the north bank of the river. Within the space certainly occupied by Apollonia, are to be seen eminences consisting of broken columns, friezes and capitals, with bricks on which are marked the number of the Roman legions by which they were made. The words “Philip Amyntas farewell,” indicate the adorned monument of some Greek of distinction. On an adjoining height stands a single column of the Doric order; nearly thirteen English feet in circumference, and in other respects suited to the proportions of that simple order. This is the only part still erect of a temple 128 English feet in length by fifty in breadth. Among the ruins of this edifice was dug up, in 1813, a statue of Diana; and some years earlier was discovered, in the same place, a bas-relief representing Apollo mounted in a car drawn by the Hours, a scene introduced by Poussin in one of his pictures. The numerous medals discovered in the ruins of the city have almost always the laureated head of Apollo, with a cornucopia, vine-leaves and grapes. Cornalines have also been found, representing Apollo with his lyre. Such is the desolation of a city, once the renowned abode of science and wisdom; the resort of all who courted instruction: but now visited by rude Albanian shepherds alone, in their migrations with their flocks, between the mountains of Candavia and the plains of the Adriatic.
The Voioussa is traversed in a ferry-boat, between the caravanserails erected on each bank. For several days no passage had been practicable across the river, when my brother arrived at the ferry, on account of the floods: it was therefore with the greatest difficulty that he effected his passage. From the stony bank of the Voioussa the road for Berat, on the Apsus of antiquity, twenty-eight miles up from the sea, leads for half a league across a plain, covered with sabine and agnus castus, shrubs which abound in all the flat moist lands of Albania. Thence it enters a tract of cultivated ground a league broad. The next league traverses a range of meadow-pastures, which stretch westward towards the sea. In all that extent of plain the eye discovers only some knolls crowned with the huts of the wandering tribes, who guard the sheep and cattle, assisted by dogs of the most ferocious description; a race which abound all along the eastern coasts of the Adriatic. In the same plains are raised a race of horses, the finest for shape and swiftness of any produced in European Turkey. From time to time the traveller also falls in with camps of Tzingari, or gypsies, who seem to consider the plains of Musachia (as this country is now called) as their native land. According to the proper inhabitants of the country the gypsies have been constantly resident in it for these eight centuries back. And it is observable, that this period coincides with the reign of the Greek Emperor Nicephorus, in which that unsocial and rejected class of men first appeared in the east. An hour and a half’s journey beyond the pastures, in the midst of low hills, is a large village called Novesela [Novosela], where, notwithstanding the repeated but untrue relations of the hospitality of the orientals, my brother and his guides were obliged to employ force to obtain shelter from the heavy rain, in the cottage of a Christian Albanian. On going out of Novesela, the road leads along the sides of a valley watered by the Glenitza [Gjanica], which falls into the Apsus; and from an eminence may be traced the course of the latter river all the way westward to the sea. From the same eminence are seen the snowy summits of Mount Tomoros, six leagues eastward, and the winding course of the Apsus, which descends from the glaciers of that mountainous range. The Apsus is crossed by a stone-bridge constructed on a sort of natural piers of rock, out of one of which projects a fountain of excellent water, of great service to the people of the village, when the river is troubled by the rains, or the melting of the snow. From this bridge downwards to the sea, a course of sixteen miles, the Apsus is called Ergent, or Argent: Anna Comnena, and some other writers of the Byzantine history, call it Charzanes. From the bridge upwards to Berat, a distance of twelve miles, the Apsus is called Beratino. The castle of Berat is perceived from a great distance, being seated on the summit of a hill, very high indeed, but commanded by another summit near it, on which another work has been raised for the protection of the castle. In the back-ground is the range of Mount Tomoros. The walls of the castle form a sort of parallelogram 512 yards in length, with flanking bastions, where the ground has permitted them to be constructed. But the strength of the castle consists chiefly in its position, on a lofty summit of rock nearly perpendicular, where it impends over the Apsus, or Beratino. This inclosure certainly formed the strong city built by Theodosius the younger, in the beginning of the fifth century, and named Pulcheriopolis, in honour of his sister Pulcheria. Being taken by the Bulgarians, they translated the name into their own equivalent Beligrad. By the Turks the town was styled Arnaut-Beligrad, to distinguish it from the important city Belgrade, on the Danube: now it is called Berat. Within the walls are the seraglio, or palace of the vizir or governor, and 250 houses inhabited by Albanians of the Greek church. The lower town is a straggling place in a deep bottom, seldom free from thick fogs, rising off the Apsus, which divides it into two parts; both inhabited by about 6,000 people, of whom one-third at most are Mahometans. In the town are several wealthy landed proprietors, and some merchants who resort to the ports and fairs of Italy. The governor or vizir, in my brother’s time, was Ibrahim Pasha, two of whose daughters were the wives of two of Aly’s sons, Mouctar and Veli. These alliances were not, however, sufficient to secure Ibrahim from the hatred and machinations of Aly, who at last made him his prisoner, and shut him up for life in a dungeon in Janina. Berat has the rank of an archiepiscopal see in the Greek church; but the archbishop resides in Moschopolis, or Voschopolis [Voskopoja], once an important, but now a decayed town in the Gueorcha [Korça], or Candavian mountains, near the sources of the Apsus.
Here the reader must be warned that my personal observations on the low coasts of the Adriatic must terminate. What is added respecting the tracts between the rivers Apsus and Drilo, near Scutari [Shkodra], is the result of information carefully collected from inhabitants and other persons, equally competent and trust-worthy, with whom I found means to open and maintain intercourse, generally personal, notwithstanding the hostilities carrying on between the pashas of Janina and Berat, during the years of my residence in Epirus. The most recluse parts of the mountains and forests were the usual scenes of our intercourse; and as far as notices collected in such a way, by a person not unpracticed in similar investigations, can be satisfactory, the reader may rely on their accuracy.
Continuing the journey northward to Durazzo, the celebrated Dyrrachium of Cæsar and Pompey, the road from Berat traverses the spacious and fertile plains of Musachia, watered by the Apsus, or Argent, which, in its very irregular course to the sea, scoops out for itself every year new channels, and forms new islands, from the trees, rocks, and gravel hurried down by the torrents and melted snows of Mount Tomoros. The western or maritime part of Musachia is termed Maille-castrat [Malakastra], signifying in the Albanian language “camps situated on eminences;” in allusion probably to the camps of Cæsar and Pompey, of which the remains may be traced on the banks of the Apsus. This conjecture naturally springs from a view of the ground.
From Berat a carriage-road is opened over the plain, varied however, by cultivated low hills for eight miles to Grabova, on a river which falls into the Apsus. Half a league beyond Grabova is a khan or inn, frequented by the fishermen employed on the lake Treboutchi, and by those who deal in the salt drawn from the vicinity of Meschino on the coast. Farther on is Daulas, a village preserving the remains and the name of Daulia, distant in a right line four leagues to the north-west of Berat; but erroneously placed by Ptolemy on the river Aous. Continuing his route the traveller arrives on the bank of the river Genusus, called by the Albanians Tobi, by the modern Greeks Scombi, and by the Byzantine historians Scombos. Springing from several sources in the Candavian range the Genusus traverses in its whole length the valley of Elbassan, and passing through the district of Pekini [Peqin] falls into the Adriatic. Very justly does Lucan notice the rapidity of this river, when he says that
“First saw the Romans met in hostile camps The land which Genusus, with headlong tide, And gentler Apsus, fit for barks, inclose.” Pharsal. V. 461
If the Apsus were navigable from the sea in Lucan’s time, great changes must have occurred in its embouchure, now quite inaccessible through sands and shoals. Perhaps the poet mistook that river for the Aous.
Bazaar in Elbassan (Photo: Dayrell Oakley-Hill, 1930s)
At the distance of nineteen miles up from the sea, in the valley of the Genusus, stands Elbassan, the successor of Albanopolis, a town first mentioned by Ptolemy in the second century. Situated on the north bank of the river, under a branch of the Candavian mountains, which separates that valley from the valley of Trana or Tyranna [Tirana], on the north; Albanopolis must always have been one of the most important places in Macedonian Illyricum. Such, under proper regulation and discipline, might still be the present Elbassan. Placed in a valley of great natural fertility, watered by the rapid though very winding Genusus, abounding in trees of various sorts, scattered over the meadows and pastures, and fully inhabited in a number of villages, notwithstanding the political evils of the town, it still retains a portion of its due value. A romantic and picturesque country, a pure and wholesome climate, every natural advantage, empower the inhabitants to lead a life of tranquillity and comfort; would they only renounce their predatory habits, and apply themselves to agriculture and commerce. That industry and its blessings are the objects pursued by the people of Elbassan, the stranger would naturally be induced to conclude, from the external appearance of the valley: but if he raise his eyes to the inclosing ranges of hills, a long line of towers and fortified posts, planted on the least accessible pinnacles, will announce to him the wretched state of hostility and alarm in which the unhappy Elbassanians pass their lives. Sentinels, small parties, and detachments of warriors, posted in those towers, watch over the lower grounds, to give notice of the appearance and approach of the surrounding tribes, against whom they are perpetually in arms. At the first signal of danger every man is ready for the field; and this state of apprehension and agitation, more injurious than the actual but occasional warfare of European nations, has had a most malignant effect on the population. Hence, instead of the 8,000 families or 40,000 inhabitants, formerly reckoned in Elbassan itself, the whole people of the town do not exceed 4,000 beings, distinguished even in that country by their ferocity and poverty. This wretched condition, the never-failing consequence of misgovernment, far from tempering the conduct of the Turkish lords of the valley, only embitters their natural brutality, and renders them unjust and cruel to the Greek Christians, borne down under their tyrannical yoke. The envy and hatred, natural in the heart of the Mahometans, rankle with double violence at the sight of a Christian Greek, more favoured by nature than themselves. A well-garnished mustachio, flowing ringlets of hair, handsome features, provoke the malignity of a decrepit Aga, enraged that heaven should bestow such graces on a race of beings born only to cringe and serve. Hence it is that the Raia (1) stoops as he walks, with his eyes on the ground, in the presence of the lordly Turks; halts when they approach, dismounts as they pass by; happy if the tyrant content himself with disdaining to notice him. Such is the condition of the Christians, in their original native land, in which they can acquire no real property, whom the vilest Turk may insult, and outrage with impunity. Should he even shed the Christian’s blood, the assassin is sure of protection from the judge; should the relatives be so imprudent as to complain; for he also is governed by the same national fanatical prejudices, against all whom he regards as infidels.
The position of Elbassan is most favourable for commercial intercourse, for it commands the most commodious opening over the Candavian Mountains, on the most direct road between the Adriatic and the gulf of Thessalonica. It is distant twelve leagues north from Berat; ten leagues south from Croia [Kruja]; eighteen leagues west from Ochrida; and twelve leagues east from Durazzo; which formerly was, and still might be made a convenient port. But ideas and projects of renovation or even of preservation, never enter the heads of Turkish administrators. The rulers of Elbassan content themselves with collecting the revenue of the eight districts attached to it; supplying, by exorbitancy and extortion, all deficiencies. For their objects are only two; to purchase protection by bribes among the members of the Divan of Constantinople, and to pass their time in their government, in idleness, sloth, and voluptuousness. The population of the pashalik, or government of Elbassan, is estimated at 14,000 families, or 70,000 persons. The revenue is reckoned about half a million of Turkish piastres, or 25,000 l. In time of war, 7,000 men may be armed; counting one for every Mahometan family. The products of the country are wheat, maize, oil, wine, fruit, among which the quinces are of a prodigious size. But the principal riches of the people consist in their flocks and herds, and in a breed of mountain-horses of extraordinary fleetness. Seven miles up the course of the Genusus, from the sea, is Pekini, the chief place of a district called Scauria, by the historians of Scanderbeg. The inhabitants are all Christians, excepting those of Pekini itself, which is distant three and-a-quarter leagues from Cavailha [Kavaja], and five from Durazzo, both to the northward.
Having crossed the dangerous ford of the Genusus, (Scombi or Tobi), for the only bridges are in the valley of Elbassan, a course of an hour and-a-half brings the traveller opposite to Bosti, a large village on the slope of a range of hills, which run northwards to the valley of the river Drino. To the westward are seen the Adriatic and its inhospitable shores, with a few towers and villages. Towards Bosti, are numerous hamlets and extensive olive-grounds. The deep furrows of the cultivated lands evince the strength of the vegetable soil, and the peasants by their stature and vigour declare themselves to be those intrepid Guegues, the boast of Albanian warriors. In that quarter all have a rude ferocious mien; all are in arras: the women themselves, disdaining the veil or the spindle, are never seen without a pair of overgrown pistols or other arms. Every thing there, indeed, announces the extreme barbarism of the inhabitants. A league beyond Bosti, leaving Courtchiari in the same line, the road conducts, after three miles more, to Cavailha before-mentioned, a small town built on an eminence, connected with the hills which extend eastward to the Candavian range of mountains. Cavailha, as was already said, is distant three and-a-quarter leagues from Pekini, seven from Elbassan, six from Tyranna, and three from Durazzo: the town contains nothing worthy of the attention of the traveller. The district under the government of a voivode and a cadi contains thirty-five Mahometan villages, and forty-six inhabited by Christians, of the Latin or Roman church. These last, however, do not exceed 6,000 persons, while the former amount to 12,500, besides the colbans or shepherds. These colbans wander over the country, from mountain to mountain, free from all tribute or tax, and repair to the towns and villages, only for the purpose of exchanging their property for such few articles as they require. The territory of Cavailha is fertile and productive.
From Cavailha, two roads lead to Scutari [Shkodra] or Iscodar, formerly Scodra, the capital of Gentius king of Illyricum, and now of the sangiak or government of Upper Albania or Guegaria: it is situated at the southern extremity of the Lacus Labeatis, where its waters are discharged by the river Boiana [Buna], the ancient Barbana. One of these roads goes straight northwards in the direction, and on the vestiges of a Roman way. The causey or pavement may be traced at intervals on to Seraso. But as the torrents from the hills have greatly injured the road, it is seldom employed, excepting in summer when the marshes may be traversed in safety, or by the caravans of merchants having business in the valley of Croia. In other times of the year, travellers who employ relays of post-horses, (menzil-hané) take the road from Cavailha to Durazzo, and then follow the coast on to Alessio, the representative of the Lissus of antiquity, on the Drino. At twenty minutes journey north-west from Cavailha, the traveller comes to the Ululeus now Spirnatza, a small stream which rises in Mount Eridanus, now called Mount Iscamp, still preserving the name of Scampes, a town mentioned in the Roman Itineraries. Having forded the Spirnatza, which dries up in summer, the road points due-north for five miles; and on the right are many villages, shepherds’ tents, and long ranges of forest of oak, fit for ship-building. Then bearing to the westward for a league you enter Durazzo, the capital of a district, subject to a vaivode. No town in this quarter of Illyricum has been more frequently noticed than Durazzo, under its former names of Epidamnus and Dyrrachium. But the two most memorable epochs of its history, are those of the contest between Cæsar and Pompey, forty-eight years before our era, and of the Greek Emperor Alexis, and the Normans under Robert Guiscard, in the end of the eleventh century. Of the former operations the only satisfactory and authentic relation is found in the third book of Cæsar’s Commentaries of the civil war of Rome: of the latter in the Alexiade, or history of her father, written by the Princess Anna Comnena. Converted into a Roman colony by Augustus Durazzo became the ecclesiastical metropolis of all Illyricum, and was erected into a duchy by the Emperor Michael. Taken and occupied by the Normans, and again subdued by Bajazet II.; severely afflicted at different periods by earthquakes, sieges, and wars; Durazzo still preserves considerable evidences of its former grandeur. The walls, inclosing the original town, as well as the fortifications, constructed when it was enlarged, may still be traced. This double inclosure existed in the end of the eleventh century; for Anna Comnina states that Robert Guiscard, while besieging Durazzo, as it existed in his days, occupied a position within the ruins of the antique Epidamnus. Both towns were built on a promontory, advancing into the Adriatic, and beaten by its waves; against which shipping in the port, though a place of great resort, had no other defence than a very insecure anchorage. In this manner is Dyrrachium described by Lucan in his Pharsalia, vi. 22, &c.
“A fortress this, invincible by steel: ‘Tis nature’s work alone. It’s strong defence The rugged cliffs, that spurn the dashing surge. A slender neck it to the land conjoins; On rocks, the seaman’s terror, rise the walls. The fierce Ionian gulf, when Auster storms, Temples and palaces in foam involves.”
The present Durazzo, built on the ruins of Dyrrachium, of which the remains, are frequently discovered, is surrounded with a wall mounted with cannon, all in the Turkish fashion; and containing 400 Mahometan families, commanded by a vaivode, at the head of a corps, of Janissaries. By that vis inertiae, that resistance to change, which still maintains the Ottoman empire in existence, Durazzo, like all the other Turkish towns on the coast of Greece, continues to be numbered among the fortresses of the grand-seignior. But it is also like too many of such towns, the theatre of insubordination and confusion, a nest of pirates, a den of assassins, and the polluted receptacle of criminals who escape from the shores of Italy. On the outside of this modern Poneropolis, (city of the wicked; a name assigned to Philippopolis of Thrace, because many of the first inhabitants had been guilty of sacrilege,) is a varochi, or suburb, occupied by 600 Roman Catholic families. Their church, under the invocation of St. Roch, was repaired in 1809, by means of contributions, collected under the authority of a French general in the country. The edifice, originally erected by the Normans in the twelfth century, was the see of the Latin Archbishop of Durazzo. But through the persecutions of the Turks, the present incumbent was compelled, at the hazard of his life, to relinquish his place and withdraw to Corbina, in the adjoining pashalik or government of Croia. There he has taken refuge near the Mirdites, a tribe, who, while they preserve inviolate their fidelity to the Ottoman government, have also resolutely defended their Christian profession and their civil rights, against the tyranny, spiritual and temporal, of their Mussulman rulers. The revenue drawn from the three voivodeliks or districts of Durazzo, Cavailha, and Pekini, which are farmed out in Constantinople for 400 purses, or 8,400 l., (a purse being twenty guineas,) is computed to exceed three times that sum, through the exorbitant operations of the beys in office. From the port of Durazzo the Sclavonians from the northward draw corn, oil, tobacco, Turkey-leather, and timber. In exchange they furnish scarlet-cloth, serge, steel, glass, and fire-arms, from the manufactory of Brescia, in the north of Italy.
In going from Durazzo to Scutari, you return on the road from Cavailha, for above two miles, to the edge of a marsh, which is crossed in its narrowest part on a decayed wooden bridge. This marshy lake is formed, not by the Apsus, as some writers, misunderstanding Lucan, have supposed, but by the waters of the Spirnatza or Ululeus; which in winter inundate the low grounds; but in summer the ground becomes sufficiently dry to allow maize to be sown and reaped. Beyond the marsh, the road winds for a league and-a-quarter to the river Lisana or Isanus [Lana], over which a Roman bridge is still sufficiently entire for use; and above five leagues farther is the river Matis [Mat], called by the Greeks Madia, but by the Albanians Bregoui-Matousi. There begins the district of Croia [Kruja], called by the Byzantine historians Croas, but by the Turks Ak-serail, the white palace. This town, situated on a hill of difficult access, was founded in 1388 by the chief of the district then called Scouria, now that of Pekini, on both sides 9f the Genusus. By its position Croia was secure from any sudden effectual attack; and by its abundant springs of water, from which it acquired its name, the town could not easily be reduced. Its chief renown, however, arises from the heroic and patriotic exploits of George Castriote or Scanderbeg, of whose states Croia was the capital. Although much decayed, the town still contains 1,200 Turkish families. Of 100 villages under its jurisdiction, sixty are occupied by Christians of the Roman church, under the Bishop of Alessio. The revenue of the pasha amounts to 300 purses or 6,300 l. and he would willingly augment it: but the warlike habits and reputation of the people have hitherto restrained him within reasonable bounds. The Mirdites, already mentioned, inhabit a multitude of villages, spread over the fertile valley of the Matis, twenty-four leagues in extent from the sea to its springs: their chief place, Orocher [Orosh], is distant sixteen leagues from Alessio. Two leagues up the river from the sea, is situated Ischmid, in the tract of country called the Red Plain, mentioned in the adventures of Scanderbeg. The road to Scutari traverses a forest two leagues in extent, following the tract of a Roman way, which leads to the bank of the Drino, a little above Alessio. Here ends Macedonian Illyricum; and here ends my description of the north of Greece along the coast of the Adriatic. I now return to Port Palermo, to continue the journey to Janina.
Route from Port Palermo by Delvino to Janina. — Excursion from Delvino to Butrinto, the ancient Buthrotum
On the 1st of February 1806, we arrived in the bay of Port Palermo, and on the following morning we commenced our journey to Janina, the residence of Aly. Our baggage was sent on before us, and at two in the morning we mounted our horses, accompanied by the boulouk-bashi, or commandant, heartily tired of his post, and in the hope of obtaining some mark of his master’s favour, through our testimony of his good services and attention. Recommending therefore to the people of the place the care of the fortress, but in a special manner the care of his sheep and goats, he took the lead of our caravan. Climbing up the mountains which cover the bay on the south, we directed our course to the south-east; our horses, although bred to similar paths, having no small difficulty to pursue their course among the sharp rocks. The country seemed, as far as the moon enabled me to discover, to be wholly desert, only a few plants of the euphorbia, or prickly-pear, shooting up among the rocks. After an hour’s progress we descended into a deep wooded valley, containing some sheep-folds, guarded by shepherds fully armed, and by dogs of the Albanian race, which assailed us with inconceivable fury. Our road then led for 200 yards through a gallery opened in the solid rock, and turned east, over a tract of land supported by ranges of dry stone-walls, to retain the water abundantly employed in the cultivation of maize. Soon after we came to the shore, at a vast height over the water, where was a watch-tower, inclosed by groups of shepherds round their fires.
Our guides foreseeing an approaching storm we pushed forward away from the coast, over a very rugged tract to the river Epari, which we luckily found low enough to be forded. The storm now in fact came on; the moon disappeared, and the lightning, which flashed with incessant vigour, alone pointed out our path. Confused by the gleams, however, we missed our way, and wandered about until, by the dashing of the waves, we found that we were again on the brink of a precipice over the sea. The rain pouring down in torrents; we alighted for safety; but after some time we discovered the entrance of the valley of Borchi [Borsh]. Fording the river which the people call Hadgi-agas-potami, then hurrying along, trees torn off by the violence of the rain, we mounted up half a mile to a khan or inn, defended by a tower occupied by a party of Albanians. After some questions we were admitted by people, who were Christians; and a plentiful wood-fire, lighted from the lamp always burning before the picture of the Virgin, with some maize-bread and brandy, soon restored us to a comfortable state. Notwithstanding all their attention, I could perceive that our guides and postillions seemed full of apprehension. Every motion and look of the Chimariotes was watched with peculiar care; and I concluded that we were in a post of the mountain-robbers. It must, however, be acknowledged that we received all attention and service with good-will from the suspected mountaineers, as far as their means enabled them. When day appeared I went out of the khan to view the country. The town of Borchi is placed at the west end of a fertile valley, which reaches east two leagues up the country, abounding in olive and other good trees. A torrent rushed down to the beach, where a number of fishing-boats lay a-ground. In front lay Corfu; to the west and north-west I saw Fano and Merlere, with three Russian men-of-war at anchor within a mile of the tower. Our whole night’s journey had not exceeded ten miles; and it was our purpose to reach Delvino in the evening: we therefore set off early. Proceeding for a mile along the beach we came to the valley of Paron, but the village lies a league up the country; riding at times up to the saddle in the sea; and three miles farther we came to the valley of Pikerni [Piqeras]. The intervening hills were covered with lentiscus or mastick-trees, laurel, vallona oaks, &c. From one eminence I observed a vast fall of water, forming a succession of five cascades, down the face of a mountain clothed with pines. The rain had now ceased, the air was clear, and our attendants made the hills resound with their songs, in honour of the high martial deeds of their master Aly. I observed, however, that their voices gradually fell as we drew near to Loucovo [Lukova], a small town, of which the inhabitants might probably have answered in a manner any thing but complimentary to that hero. Loucovo is situated on the round summit of a well cultivated hill. The slopes towards the sea are laid out in terraces, ornamented with fruit-trees and other valuable vegetable productions; the whole appearing an Eden in the eyes of persons emerging from the rude barren wilds of Acroceraunia. The inhabitants forming 400 families of Christians, lately subdued by Aly, manifested an appearance of prosperity and comfort, far from common among the peasantry of Epirus. On the sight of Aly’s people the Loucovians shut their doors; the peasants of Corfu, who pass over every year to labour on the continent, retired from the fields as we drew near; and we could bear, as we passed along the streets, certain expressions of vengeance, to which our guides thought it proper to yield a deaf ear.
From Borchi to Loucovo is a course of seven miles; and on leaving the last place we entered on a region offering a melancholy contrast with that we had just left. Nothing is to be seen but a naked plain covered with stones and slate, intermingled with stunted bushes of kermes-oak and paliurus. To the north and east the view was bounded by ranges of lofty mountains loaded with snow: but our course was to the south-south-east for a league, following the tract of blood from animals recently devoured by the wolves. Half a league farther we descended to a deep torrent, a mile beyond which I saw a country-house of Aly just built, in the midst of Oudessovo, a village destroyed by him in 1798. The impression made by that destruction seemed unabated in the mind of a papas or Greek priest, who spoke to us on the subject. From this place we mounted four miles south by east, to the summit of a mountain, where we found a fountain, and a portion of a paved road, ascribed by the peasants to Bajazet Ilderim, but which may with greater probability be regarded as a work of the Romans; being a continuation of the way which, traversing Acroceraunia from north to south, passed by Phanoté and Cassiopia to Nicopolis, on the gulf of Prevesa, founded by Augustus, in memory of his final victory over Antony and Cleopatra. Four hundred yards farther we arrived near the ruined village Agios Vasili (Saint Basil). On the hill behind the village ruins are said to be discovered near the chapel of Panagia Kronia, (the Virgin of Cronia) a name which perhaps bears some allusion to a temple sacred to Saturn. There we found a sort of fortress, regarded by the Albanians, and for some time by Aly himself, as the key of the Ceraunian mountains. Seating ourselves in the sun against a wall, we dried our clothes, and took our repast, whilst our horses were refreshed. Round the fort a new village of fifty Christian families promised to become a place of importance. Two miles beyond St. Basil we saw on the right Nivitza-Bouba [Nivicë-Bubar], a village reviving from its ashes; and the adjoining coast throws out a promontory, Kephali, into the channel of Corfu. From this place we followed an ancient causey, broken through in several places by the torrents, for a league and a half. The country around seemed deserted by the inhabitants, for we could discover only the pyramidal huts of the shepherds. When we had proceeded half a mile from this causey or paved road, repaired at different periods by the Turks, we went down into the valley of Delvino [Delvina], in which we forded the Pavla (Paula) often very dangerous for passengers. This river, which descends from Mount Tchoraides, in the southern slopes of Acroceraunia, runs in general from north to south, and discharges its waters into the lake Pelois, now the Vivari, at Butrinto. Nearly a mile beyond the river we saw, on our route south-south-east across a plain, an aqueduct of modern construction, but broken by the floods, and near it a ruined chapel; beyond which 400 yards, we halted under the shade of a plane-tree, reckoned to be one of the noblest trees of Epirus.
Aly’s officer in our company desired us to halt there until he should procure information concerning the state of Delvino, and whether war or peace prevailed in the country; an advice in which we the more readily acquiesced, because we heard several smart discharges of musketry on the hills to the southward. About sun-set our spy returned with the information that Aly’s troops were masters of the town, and that consequently we might go forward. To prevent, however, any possible inconvenience from those disorderly bands, he brought with him the country dresses in which M. Bessières and I disguised ourselves, and advanced to Delvino, distant a mile. There was still light enough to exhibit the beauty of the situation and scenery of the town: but on ascending an eminence on the north side I discovered, in a hollow below me, the devastation produced by the soldiers of Aly, who had set fire to the bazar or market-house, in order to conceal the thefts they had committed in it. The cries of the sufferers were heard at a distance, and the flames illuminated that part of the town where we were to be lodged, in the house of a bey, a partizan of Aly; a house destitute of furniture, and open to every wind. Supper was, however, provided for us, in which proper care had been employed that we should not be exposed to suffer from repletion; and our beds were duly adapted to our repast. Such a moment, it will readily be conceived, was far from favourable to my exploratory purposes: the following observations on Delvino, the river Pavla, and Butrinto, were therefore collected in the course of a posterior tour. Delvino reckons scarcely 600 houses, scattered over a space of a league in extent, on the slopes of several hills, which, covered by plantations of olive, lemon, and pomegranate-trees, afford views of singular beauty. In the midst is a hollow, containing the bazar and the varochi, or suburb of the Christians, in which is the humble mansion of the Bishop of Chimara and Delvino. The castle is seated on a detached height, accessible by a single very narrow path, bordered by precipices; it commands the hollow ground of the bazar, through which runs a stream, which above two miles off falls into the Pavla. The hills on the east of the town are adorned with a number of pleasant houses; but the adjoining plain is open and bare. Two leagues to the west, on the sea-shore, in the village Lycouria, are seen the remains of Onchesmus, or Anchiasmus, consisting of some ancient Greek tombs and fragments of architecture. The town was destroyed by the Goths under Totila about 552, along with many others on the coast of Greece. About a league to the north of Delvino, among the hills, is a place called Palæa-Avli [Palavlia] (the old court) surrounded by olive-trees, of remarkable growth, on which account it is probably the successor of Elæus. For independently of the etymology of the ancient name, as alluding to olives, it has been remarked that those trees are never found at a greater distance than sixty geographic miles from the sea, or from some spacious lake. The fragments consist chiefly of foundations of walls of Cyclopian construction, without the least vestige of architecture, Greek or Roman. Elaeus had never therefore been restored after the horrible devastation inflicted by the renowned precursor of the Goths, Æmilius Paulus, who, in one day plundered and laid waste seventy cities of Epirus, and carried off 150,000 of the inhabitants.
The ruins of Finiq (Photo: Robert Elsie, May 2000)
Four miles to the southward of Delvino the Pistritza [Bistrica] flows under a bridge which rises like a triumphal arch in the midst of the plain. Near that part of the river, in December 1807, I had the fortune to discover an ancient city, for which, misled by the erudition of Meletius, I had in vain sought in other quarters. Driven by a hail-storm to shelter myself in a shepherd’s hut, on the right bank of the Pistritza, from it I observed near me considerable remains of walls, which my landlord called Pheniki [Finiq], a castle of the Hellenians, the name by which the ancient Greeks are constantly designated in modern times. Thus the position of Phoenicè corresponds with that assigned by Strabo, who places it above and not far from Buthrotum. Phoenicè is mentioned by Polybius (II. 5.) in describing the attack made on it by the Illyrians, and its rescue by the spontaneous exertions of the surrounding Epirates. It was situated on a river, and was one of the principal cities of the country. To judge by the present vestiges the town was built round an eminence crowned by the acropolis or castle, which commands the bridge seemingly of the age of Justinian, the centre arch being what is called Gothic. The town spread out from east to west as far as the river Pavla, which is probably the nominal Xanthus of the Trojans of Buthrotum. To the east the buildings seem to have been extended nearly a mile along the right or north bank of the Pistritza. The ruins in that quarter are an aqueduct, supported on brick arcades with buttresses. Among the ruins of houses are some probably public buildings, surrounded by columns not circular, but cut into eight faces. Similar octagonal columns I have never seen in any other part of Greece. Among the ruins are also found Gothic capitals, like those of Nicopolis, near Prevesa; evidences of the fixed abode of the nations from the north of Europe. According to the opinion of the monks of the adjoining monastery of St. Nicolas, founded on an ancient MS. history of Epirus on parchment, preserved at M….., Phoenice contained 60,000 people. The Pistritza, supposed to be the nominal Scamander of antiquity, rises in the hill called Condo-Vouni, five leagues east-south-east from Phoenicè. A league from its source it passes by Machaladez, a small town inhabited for a great part of the year by the principal beys of Delvino; and half a league lower down it receives on the right a stream from the salt-springs of Drovi [Dhrivi], from which the Epirotes still extract salt by ebullition. Nearly four leagues still lower the Pistritza receives the Navaritza [Navarica], from the valley of Gardicaki on the north; beyond which, three miles, it passes under the bridge of Pheniki; and thence running between south-west and south, for three and-a-fourth leagues, nearly parallel to the Pavla, both discharge their waters by separate mouths, into the lake Pelois, through a marsh, the common resort of numerous buffaloes nearly wild. This part of the lake is still called Laspes or the mud, a name of equal signification with the Peloïs of antiquity. On the south side of the channel, communicating between that lake and the sea, is constructed the modern Venetian fortress of Buthrinto, and on the opposite side are the ruins of old Buthrotum, on the right bank of the Simoïs of the Trojans, at the point where it issues from the great lake. These ruins show an acropolis or citadel, and the Roman town inclosed within a double wall, containing fragments of both Greek and Roman architecture. But, in the walls of the acropolis are still preserved foundations of the highest antiquity, consisting of vast blocks without cement. Between the hill Megalongi and the mouth of the Simoïs is the road-stead of Geroviglia, which, if we can depend on Appian, (Bel. Civ. v.) not always to be trusted in the topography of counties which he had not visited, was the lake Pelois of Antiquity. The road of Geroviglia, nearly two English miles broad and long, is cut asunder in the middle by a barrier of strong reeds, to inclose the fishing grounds, leased out yearly together with the lakes and the customs. In the bottom, on the north side, is the mouth of the Simois, often interrupted by a bar of sand, above which the depth of water in the river itself varies from twelve to eighteen feet, and the mean breadth of the channel is about fifty feet. The other fishing station of Armyros, probably the ancient Posideum, on the north of the river, is in length from south to north about one and-one-eighth English miles, and in breadth one-third of a mile. The Anchisa, or Pelois proper, now lake of Vivari, is in length two leagues from north to south, on a medium breadth of two miles. The air of these lakes, and consequently of Buthrinto, is now as pestilential as that of the famous Pontine marshes of Italy. The effects of this air are dreaded even across the sea in Corfu, when the wind blows from that part of the continent. The fish caught in the lakes are from the same causes unfit for food during the heats of summer. — But to return. In continuing our journey from Delvino for Janina, we set out early, lighted by the moon, but chilled by the wind from the snowy mountains to the north. The season was nevertheless advanced; for the almond-trees were already in leaf: but as we proceeded, we approached to the climate of Mount Pindus. Rising up a short way from Delvino, we travelled for half a league on a paved road, winding along the slopes of the hills. At last, at the end of three hours, we entered the valley of Kardicaki [Kardhikaq], in which we saw a very fine cascade on the side of a green hill. From a height beyond the valley, I took the bearing west half a point north, of the castle of Delvino and the white tower of Santi-quaranta [Saranda], erected on the summit of that part of the Acroceraunian range, which commands the port of Onchismos [Saranda]. Proceeding a mile farther, I discovered the whole course of the Pistritza, till it was lost in the marshy lakes of Buthrinto. Rising still higher on the mountains, we came in with several travellers, and Albanian women spinning with the distaff while they tended their sheep. Other women were on their way to their village bearing heavy loads of wood, and twirling their spindle with as much ease as if they carried no burthen whatever. Not in the least embarassed by our appearance, they answered our questions with great readiness. At last we arrived on a summit, from which we looked down into the valley of Drynopolis or Argyro-castron [Gjirokastra], watered by the Celydnus, which flowing northwards falls into the Aous near Tebelen. Here we alighted to descend a winding road down the side of the mountain, with a deep torrent on our left hand, and arrived at a khan near the village of Graspi [Grapsh]. Nearly opposite to us east-north-east, was situated Liboôvo [Libohova], and to the north-west we saw Argyro-castron. Travelling towards north-east across the valley for about two miles, we crossed two rivers, and at last came to the Celydnus, a furious stream fertilising or laying waste by turns, the lands through which it pursues its capricious course. Ascending for half an hour the mountain on the east of the river, we reached the village and khan of Palæo-Episcopi, in the midst of a multitude of springs which burst out of the lower region of Mount Mertchica on the north. Here also I examined the snuff-manufactory and the mills in which it is pounded. Proceeding for one hour and-a-quarter east-south-east over uneven ground, we came to a fountain well kept up, at the highest point of the road. Here I was again convinced that the ranges of mountains rise as it were in stages, all the way from the shore of the Adriatic to the lofty central range of Pindus, which separates Epirus from Macedonia and Thessaly. This fountain is the limit between the country of Drynopolis on the north, and that of Pogoniani on the south. Descending into the valley of Xero Valtos [Ksirovaltos], we travelled by the side of a lake half a league long, which, drying up in summer, furnishes excellent soil for a crop of maize. Passing over a succession of low hills, we came opposite to Delvinaki, a large village in the district of Pogoniani. On the right we saw vast ranges of forest, clothing the mountains which divide Chaonia on the north from Thesprotia on the south. Here again we found ourselves on the banks of the Celydnus, in its way down from Mount Mertchika. Over the river are the remains of a stone bridge, ruined by the current, which, as may be judged by the breadth of the channel, must at times be very violent, although here near its sources. Passing over into the valley of Pogoniani, we came to the lake of Dgerovina, the origin of the great river Calama, the Thyamis of antiquity, which, traversing Thesprotia, flows southward into the channel of Corfu. From the lake in half an hour we arrived at Monchari, a country-house and tchiflik or farm of Aly, where our lodging was fixed for the night. One of the apartments had been re-furnished for our use, and the oekonoma or house-keeper, an Albanian woman, lighted up an abundant fire, which was most acceptable, on account of the snow on the mountains. At the same time, the soubashi, or magistrate of the village, appeared to receive our orders, which however were given of his own accord by the officer who accompanied us. We soon after heard a proclamation in the village, commanding that, “each family was to furnish a load of wood to the seraglio; that the village altogether was to supply two lambs, fowls, milk, cheese, butter, eggs, wine, bread.” All of this provision, it is plain, was not meant for our use alone. A quantity of food for our horses equally extravagant was ordered, one-half of which was not employed. For supper we had a lamb roasted whole, bread baked under the ashes, and wine served up in a broken pitcher; table-cloths, napkins, glasses, &c. were not to be had in the village, nor in the palace. Sheets for the bed were equally unknown. When we were preparing for our repose, our fellow-traveller from Port Palermo set forward to Dzidza where Aly was, to enquire where we were to be presented to him. Next morning early I went over the palace, in which I saw but one good room, containing a basin of white marble twelve feet square, with a jet-d’eau in the middle. The ornaments consisted in arabesques and representations of Turkish towns, one of which we were told was Constantinople; for it exhibited the sea, and ships, and fish, and mosques, all in admirable confusion. At noon, our officer returned with the information that his master would admit us to his presence at Dzidza. Going down from Mouchari, we passed by the powder-mill of Crio-nero, and afterwards crossed by a stone bridge the Thyamis or Calamas, which bent round to the south, and then returning to the north, formed the cascade of Glizani, where it falls over a precipice thirty feet high. Night came on before we arrived at Dzidza: but people placed on the road conducted us to our lodging in the monastery of the Prophet Elias. Scarcely were we alighted, when we were invited to repair to Aly, without ceremony as we were. We accordingly went down from the monastery. The gates of the seraglio grated on their hinges: crossing a silent court we ascended a dark stair; a trap-door at the top rose up; a curtain was held aside, and we found ourselves in the audience-hall of Aly, who received us standing. Having saluted us and embraced M. Bessières, he fell backwards, as if by accident, in the corner of his sofa. Of me he took no notice; but a hideous spectre in black, with a white beard, told me by a slight motion of the head that I was welcome. A Greek secretary lay prostrate before the vizir in an attitude of terror. The hall was inlightened, if so it could be said to be, by a taper of yellow wax on the floor. The private drogman or interpreter of Aly being introduced, the conversation began by a series of questions on his side, pronounced with a volubility quite uncommon among Turks of quality. Gloomy as was the hall, I could remark the lightning of his eyes, his starting convulsive twitches; I observed his discourse apparently vague, but full of purpose and artifice. He was in continual motion, he laughed, he talked: yet, notwithstanding the abundance of his discourse, not one word fell from him without a meaning. From time to time he darted at me a look, to penetrate my inmost mind: at last he dismissed the spectre in black, and the secretary, and after two hours continued questions and answers through the interpreters, we were allowed to retire, and return to our monastery; where we were somewhat more kindly treated by the monks than we had been by their lordly master.
The monastery of the Prophet Elias occupies the rounded summit of a little hill, from which may be seen the upper valley of the Thyamis, and the narrow pass through which the river enters Thesprotia. On the north, the horizon is bounded by Mount Mertchica, and on the east by the range of Pindus. Below lie the vineyards and corn-fields of Dzidza. The monks placed their establishment only 400 years back; although its appearance led me to ascribe to its foundation a much earlier date: but the egoumenos, or prior, was amazed when I inquired concerning ancient MSS. in his possession. The worthy father, a man of excellent qualities, was much more addicted to the culture of his vineyard than to that of literature. His name was Gregory: but had it been Barnaby, he would not have been misnamed. To show, however, that he was a true Gregory, he would watch from sunset to sunrise, provided he had a boon companion to assist him in his lucubrations. His reputation as a jovial spirit was established for twenty miles round the monastery. His only rival was the hearty abbot of Patères, in the neighbourhood, of whom he always spoke with singular respect. The exploit on which, however, the egoumenos principally plumed himself, was the victory he had achieved over Mouctar Pasha, Aly’s eldest son, who, in the matter of wine, is just as correct a mussulman as his worthy father. Very early next morning, we were summoned to a second audience of Aly; and the prior would accompany us. Armed with his long staff, bent down at the top in the genuine pastoral fashion; his snowy beard agitated by the breeze; his long flowing locks spreading over his shoulders and ample garments; the smile of benevolence on his countenance, all rendered father Gregory one of the most engaging figures I had seen. Passing by a large watering-place for cattle, the peasants requested their pastor to intercede for them with Aly, to obtain some alleviation of their burdens. “I will pray these strangers,” answered he: “they are Frenchmen and Christians, for whom our master has great regard, to intercede for you. In the mean time let us trust in heaven for relief.” When we had gone on a little; “my friends,” said he, “let me beg of you to ask no favours of the vizir on our account. He will promise whatever you request, and afterwards he will punish us for disclosing our oppression to strangers.” Drying up his tears, we all entered the palace. Two heads fresh cut off, and planted on two stakes in the middle of the court, drew attention from my friend and me alone: the spectacle was probably no rarity: yet the crowd was great of clients and petitioners to his highness, in anxious expectation of admission to his presence. A sort of ushers with long staves, speedily opened a passage for us through the multitude, and once more we stood before the tremendous Aly. He seemed to be then (in February 1806,) about his sixtieth year. His person, not exceeding five feet seven inches English in height, was deformed by his excessive corpulency. His features however, full of wrinkles, were not entirely effaced. The extreme suppleness of the motions of his countenance; the fire of his little blue eyes; impressed on me the alarming idea of deep cunning, united with ferocity. Notwithstanding his hoarse guttural bursts of laughter, his conversation was not destitute of grace. His avidity he was unable to repress, at the view of the presents laid before him by M. Bessières, and throwing off all constraint, he exhausted his powers in protestations of amity and good-will. We were his dear friends, his brothers, his children; and as if now for the first time I had been presented to him, he condescended to promise to me his special protection in the exercise of my public functions. Last of all, it was resolved that we should depart after noon for Janina. Being engaged in a hunting party, his highness set off before us; and in a moment we saw the neighbouring hills covered with Albanians on horseback, driving in the game and collecting it in the place where their master was stationed. Having beheld this amusement for some time, we proceeded on our journey for a league eastward to the village of Protopapas, which we left a little to the left, and entered a winding hollow ground, half a league in length. Coming out, we turned southward for a mile and-a-half, along the bank of the lake Labchistas, the lower lake of Janina, on to Kenourio Khan, from which the road leads along the plain, for two good leagues, to the city of Janina. Night was coming on, when our guides directed us to halt, at the head of the proper lake of Janina, within the barrier of the city, near the church of St. Nicolas. There we found a boat waiting for us, which rowed us over to the castle of Chatirwan, where our lodging was prepared. A large fire, pages, servants, the whole parade of eastern pomp, made abundant atonement for the many hardships we had sustained on our journey; but by entering the castle, we in some measure ceased to be our own masters.
It had been settled that we should remain in that place until I should receive from Constantinople the usual barat or exæquatur, necessary for my entering on my duties as consul-general of France, within the territories of Aly. In the mean time, however, by assuming the dress of the country, we were allowed to make a few excursions on the borders of the lake, without being recognised by the public. My excellent friend M. Bessières, having obtained permission from his highness, left me on the 3d of March on his return to France, to proceed northwards through Macedonia and Romelia, to Boukarest and thence to Vienna.
Dodona. — Valley and Strait of the River Aous, now the Voioussa. — Valley of the Celydnus. — Tebelen. — Argyro-castron
The confirmation of my appointment being received from Constantinople, and the necessary ceremonies for my installation being performed, I was removed from my situation in the castle, to my own residence in Janina. There, as my headquarters, I passed ten of my best years, in the midst of vicissitudes and dangers, of which none but those who have had the occasion, the misfortune I may well say, to be connected with Aly, Pasha of Janina, or to live under his authority, can form any conception. As soon as propriety and the fear of exciting suspicion of my purposes would allow me, I entered on my projected series of tours, to various quarters of the highly interesting countries, in the centre of which it was my lot to be placed. Postponing therefore, for the present, my observations on Janina and its immediate vicinity, I shall enter on my tour through the great vallies of the Aous and the Celydnus, commencing with some conjectures relative to the position of the celebrated antique Dodona, which I am inclined to place on the southern slopes of the lofty mountains which inclose the lake and valley of Janina on the north. To explain the fable of the oracular doves and cauldrons of Dodona, is not my present business: it is enough for me to know that the scene of these fables did actually exist amidst the mountains and forests with which the lake of Janina is surrounded. The country of Molossis, before it acquired that name from the son of Neoptolemus and Andromache, was called Adonia and Pyrrhias. Bounded on the north by the country of the Atintanes, on the east by Perrhæbia, on the south by Cassiopaæia, it was so closely connected on the west with Thesprotia as to be often confounded with that country. Hence geographers ascribe Dodona sometimes to the Molossians, sometimes to the Thesprotians: by Æschylus, Dodona itself is placed in the Molossian territory, yet the temple of Jupiter at Dodona is said to be Thesprotian. As to the name Dodona of the Romans, or Dodonè of the Greeks, the latter people, in the fecundity of their imagination, derived it from at nymph or daughter of old Ocean. Others referred it to a river, of which neither the source, nor the course, nor the country, did they attempt to determine. In this uncertainty, the fancy of Palmerius (Græcia Antiq. ii. 8.) is just as plausible as any other. He supposes the name to have been suggested by the sound of the brazen vessel when struck. From Do Do might easily be formed Dodonè. Had the learned Palmerius heard the sound, and beheld the shape of the gong of the Chinese, and witnessed the excitement of its voice, his conjecture would have been strongly confirmed.
It is known that the oracle of Jupiter existed in Epirus prior to the deluge in the time of Deucalion, with a temple erected by the Pelasgians, that is, by the earliest inhabitants of Greece, who passed into that country from beyond the seas.
“O Jove, Pelasgian Jove, Dodona’s king! Whose temple winter’s killing frosts invest; Around thy fane thy Sellian priests abide, Who sleep not on the ground, nor lave their limbs.”
Thus speaks Achilles himself, a Thessalian of Larissa, who may have personally consulted the oracle. Iliad, xvi. 233, &c.
The temple was erected on Mount Tomoros, in a district called by Hesiod Hellopia, that is, the land of lakes. The temple itself, like those of Actium, Delphi, and Olympia, was merely a hieron, or sacred inclosure, open above, and surrounded by a grove, if not by a forest of oaks. Having consulted the ancient authorities, and the most respectable commentators and geographers on the subject, my residence in Janina, and my surveys of the environs, led me to conceive the valley of Janina to be the true land of lakes, the Hellopia of the ancients. For it is the only district in Epirus which correctly corresponds to the descriptions of that region.
The valley of Janina forms a plain of eight leagues in length, from north to south, on a medium breadth of two leagues, and is inclosed by mountains on every side. Pindus rises up in three stages on the east, of which the least elevated, called Mitchikeli, borders the plain on the east, and north. On the west and south, the hills are neither so lofty nor so abrupt. The higher summits and ridges which inclose the valley, give it the air of a parterre enamelled with flowers and verdure in a frame of frost and snow; of snow which never completely disappears until the greatest heats of summer arrive.
In going out of Janina by the gate of St. Nicholas, at the north end of the city, that by which I entered, you proceed over a plain between cultivated eminences on the west, and low pastures and a marsh on the east. Nearly three miles northward you come to the caravanserail of Khanopoulo; and a little farther on the right is the church of St. John Palæo-Lavrita. On the opposite side of the marsh are seen Strongia, the monastery of St. John Lycotrichi, and the village of Vragnia, along the foot of Mount Mitchikeli [Mitsikeli], surrounded with corn and vines.
Turning north-westward about two miles you ascend a cultivated slope to the monastery of Paraskevi of the images. Within the inclosure of this building, planted with cherry-trees, is a large stone sepulchre, bearing the epitaph in Greek of an obscure person, named Nearchus. From thence, continuing to rise up by the side of a torrent, you come on the highest summit of the southern portion of the mountain of Gardiki, which is completely surrounded by an inclosing work of what is styled Pelasgic, or Cyclopian, that is, of the very earliest structure, composed of vast blocks of rude stone, which preserve their position by their proper mass and weight, unconnected by any cement or mortar. This inclosure evidently appears to have been an acropolis or citadel on a summit, as the term imports, of the most remote antiquity. The rampart and the towers, or the buttresses (for the solid projections may have answered both purposes) are formed of irregular polygonal masses of rock, fitted the one to the other; but the exterior part is merely blocked out, and nearly in the state in which it was raised from the quarry. Such is the rampart, which has but one entrance open to the north. Within the inclosure, among the ruins of several buildings, is a tumulus, sixty feet square, sustained by a wall faced with rough stones, to the eastward of which is a hollow with vestiges of comparatively modern work. Going down into this place by a double stair, you come to two wells, of which one still affords water. The tumulus or elevated spot is, in my opinion, the hieron or open rustic temple, erected to Jupiter of Dodona. That such places of adoration, and in such situations, were formed in the earliest epochs of the world, is well known. The high-places of the sacred Scriptures were precisely of this description. The ruins within the inclosure, and around the tumulus or hieron, may perhaps be the remains of the habitations of the Sellian priests. The wells must have been necessary for the occupiers of the place at all times. Such, in my conception, has been the Cyclopian work of Gardiki, the temple of Jupiter Dodonæan, and the abode of the Sellians, visited by Herodotus nearly twenty-three centuries ago, when the wonderful prophetic oak no longer existed. That a temple of regular architecture was afterwards erected to Jupiter at Dodona, is evident from what is said by Polybius, in his Fourth Book, concerning the operations of Dorymachus. That “when he arrived at the temple of Dodona he burnt the porticoes, destroyed or carried away many of the sacred offerings, and threw down the holy edifice itself.” As the porticoes and their columns were burnt, they were perhaps of wood: and it is remarkable, that within the inclosure, in the midst of so many ruins, not the smallest morsel of marble has ever been found. It must also be added, that the persons who labour the ground within the rampart have never discovered an ancient coin or medal of any sort.
The ruins of Dodona (Photo: Robert Elsie, May 2007)
According to my survey of the supposed Dodona, on the hill of Gardiki, the rampart forms an irregular rhomboid, of which the long sides are, on a medium, 380 yards, or nearly a quarter of an English mile from north-west to south-east, and the short sides one half of that space. The inclosed area is therefore about fifteen acres. On the south-side the rampart runs along the brow of an inaccessible precipice: on the east and west sides the ascent is less abrupt, and at the north-east corner a winding path leads up to the entrance, the rise to which is facilitated by a ramp thirty-three feet in length, of the same construction with the rampart. The tumulus and hieron are placed opposite to the entrance, towards the northeast corner of the inclosure. The most entire part of the rampart reaches from the entrance along the east and south sides, nearly to the south-west corner. On the east side are foundations of three towers or buttresses, and on the south side of one.
Pursuing my route northwards, from Gardiki or Dodona, across the mountains, I entered the district of Zagori, so called by the Sclavonians, who regarded its position behind or beyond the mountains, which is the import of the term. From Homer we learn that among the tribes who furnished warriors against Troy, were the Peræbi, who dwelt in the neighbourhood of the wintry Dodona: they must, therefore, have occupied the mountainous Zagori. The country is separated from the vale of Janina by Mount Mitchikeli on the west, and by the chain of Mounts Lazaris and Panesti, from the district of Conitza [Konitsa] on the north. The loftiest summits of Pindus separate it from Macedonia on the north-east. The course of the Inchus, the river of Arta, is its limit on the south.
The last rays of the sun enlivened the rugged western sides of Mitchikeli when we attained the fountain of Skiapoto, situated in the upper region of that mountain; and we closed our day’s journey at Dovra, a village only four leagues north-north-east from Janina. The position of this village is perhaps unique: for it occupies the interior of a crater, surrounded by four summits, and into which you enter by a narrow gap. In the centre is a well, lined with antique masonry. Among a number of coins sold to me in the village was one bearing a thunderbolt within an oaken garland, and the word on the reverse, a pine-fruit. Whether these types may indicate the temple of the Thunderer amidst the oaks and pines of the Molossian mountains, may be a question: but the coin is the first written memorial of the existence of that people in this quarter. The old castle, as it is called, of Dovra, is of Cyclopian structure: but what town it represents I know not. By excavations coins might perhaps appear within the rampart; but not one inscription have I ever seen or known to be found within an inclosure of that sort. Inscriptions are of a much later date. As we entered the crater of Dovra by a sort of embrasure or gap between rocks, so we made our way out of it next morning by a similar aperture sixty feet wide. Continuing to advance towards the summit of the ridges which separate the vale of Janina from the valley of the Voioussa on the north-east, we discovered to the right that portion of Zagori which is watered by the Inachus on the east of Mount Mitchikeli, to the extent of six leagues, and well inhabited. Of those villages the most remarkable is Liaskovo, the school, the hot-bed of those empirics who, under the Greek name calo-iatri (good physicians) dispute with the medical practitioners of the island of Cefalonia for the business of all Turkey. Of the Cefalonians some certainly study their profession in the most celebrated universities of Europe: but the Zagorites of Liaskovo learn by tradition from their fathers and masters. Yet notwithstanding this strange mode of instruction, which perhaps is more nearly allied to the practice of the ancient medical school of Greece than we are aware of, it is next to incredible with what success these practitioners operate in certain cases on their patients. They excel, for instance, in the cure of the strangulated hernia; and whatever remuneration they are to receive for their services, they always stipulate for the part taken off, which they inflate and display at the end of a reed as at once a mark of their profession, and a proof of their success. Their services in this malady are unfortunately but too often in request in a country where the truss is scarcely known. Some Liaskovites even operate in lithotomy and the ocular cataract. Another village in these mountains, Djonkli, furnishes the race of bakers throughout Epirus, and to many parts of Romelia.
The Ottoman bridge at Konitsa (Photo: Robert Elsie, May 2007)
Continuing still northward our course across the mountains, we arrived at the summit of Mount Panesti, the limit between the districts of Zagori and Conitza, from which the eye penetrates into the deep gulf of Archista and the gloomy precipices of granite which inclose it on the south. Here we found it necessary to descend the steeps on foot, and after half an hour we reached that village, situated amidst broken ground insulated by torrents, but surrounded by orchards. Such, however, is the position of the place, that for several months in winter the inhabitants never see the face of the sun. Beyond this singular place we came to the Voido-Mati, a considerable stream which issues in full vigour from a cavern in the granite rocks of Zagori. It is crossed by a Gothic arch forty feet in width and thirty feet in height from the water, probably of the age of the imperial family of Comnenus. The heat of the day was now oppressive, and our caravan took the opportunity of the shady plane-trees of Voido-Mati to refresh ourselves and our horses. Sitting down therefore by the side of the river I was delighted and amazed by the multiplied music of the nightingales, who, finding in the deep gloom of the grove the shade and the silence of night, gave way to their natural melancholy song. From this spot our route lay along the side of Mount Lazaris on to Conitza. When we had proceeded a mile we came to the huts of Chelidonia, the temporary residence of the harvest-people, whose village is perched among the precipices of the mountain. The country was now well cultivated; for the soil was fertile, and the peasants were not yet so severely oppressed as those in some other quarters of Aly’s dominions. Their remote position, difficult of access, had hitherto saved them. Four miles farther towards north-east, we passed through Goritza, a tchiftlik or estate of Aly, beyond which, nearly two miles, we passed a limpid stream on its way to the Aous, or Voioussa, of which I began to discover the whitish waters. The base of Mount Lazaris, covered with wood, to which we were approaching, brought us to a branch of that great river. Following its left bank we came to Amari, a poor village, but noted for a spring of excellent water. Here we were obliged to climb up the side of the mountain, almost perpendicularly over the Voioussa, then dragging along floats of squared timber, destined for the construction of palaces erecting by Aly, at Premiti [Përmet] and Tebelen. This dangerous route conducted us for two miles to the bridge of Conitza, thrust in between the abrupt extremities of two hills. From between these hills the river bursts forth with a loud noise, to spread through the plain of which we had followed the southern side, all the way from the bridge of Voido-Mati. Eight minutes more led us up to the town of Conitza, where I was lodged in the house of the Codja-Bashi, or magistrate, who was prepared to expect me.
The river Voioussa, or the Aous of antiquity, which is crossed by a bridge before you go up to Conitza, rises in the mountains above Metzovo, where the road from Janina leads over Mount Pindus into Thessaly. The source of the Aous is there pointed out by the peasants in a plentiful spring, in the midst of hillocks, consisting of blackish sand. Strabo says (VII. 316.) that the Aous rises in the same mountain with the Inachus; as is in fact the case: for the former springs out of the western side of Mount Politzi, and the Inachus out of the eastern side of the same mountain. On issuing from its urn the Voioussa forms a stream similar to that of the Doria when it issues from the lake on Mount Cenis, on the road from Chambery to Turin; and trouts abound in the Pindan, as in the Alpine river. But the waters from the spring are soon augmented by two other streams from the same quarter. The Aous is afterwards much increased by several collateral streams, before it enters the upper part, or straits of the Aous. These narrow straits have been so variously situated by different writers, that modern geographers have been unable to assign to them any fixed position. Nothing therefore but a personal examination of that river, and of the country through which it pursues its course, can determine the disputes concerning the straits. Nor are either ancients or moderns agreed concerning the proper names of the river. Of the former, however, Aous, and of the latter Voioussa, are the most correct, and originally the same.
Ruins of the Sultan Suleyman Mosque at Konitsa (Photo: Robert Elsie, May 2007)
Conitza, or Gonitza, represents one of the cities of ancient Epirus; so, at least, may be supposed by the Pelasgic acropolis, placed on the west slope of Mount Konis, perpendicularly over the right or north bank of the Voioussa, and commanding the passage over the river. But what was its antique name is unknown. It may however be the town called Glabinitza, by Anna Comnena. The termination itza, used by the Sclavonians, is said to denote the position of a town in some narrow pass or defile. Such a position is termed by the modern Greeks Steno-choria, and by the Turks Derven-casabas. The present town of Conitza, for the acropolis is wholly deserted, rises up in steps or stages on the western side of the hills, and contain 600 houses, the larger half occupied by Mahometans, with two mosques and an equal number of Greek churches. It is a bishop’s see, and has been selected by Aly, as the final residence of the retired ladies of his family. Like the other towns of the Turkish dominions, Conitza is noticeable only for the irregularity of its buildings, and for the awkwardness of its narrow crooked dirty streets. The schoolmaster and the salaried physician of the place, my spontaneous guides, judged of Conitza much more favourably. For independently of its antiquity, which they carried back to Antigonus Gonatas of Macedon, they expatiated largely on the beauty of its situation, unmatched in that quarter of Epirus. The physician however, a native of Zante, who had been a surgeon on-board a Venetian galley, hinted to me in confidence that the air of Conitza was most unwholesome, the water very bad, and the Turkish inhabitants of the very worst description, until Aly, by becoming master of the town, had brought them under his exemplary discipline. The chief cause of the bad air of Conitza is the mud deposited and left by the Aous, when the waters, after they inundate the low grounds, return into their proper channel in summer. I was nevertheless inclined to attribute no small portion of the disorders among the Conitzians, to the repeated bleedings he prescribed, to promote the custom of a barber-surgeon in the town, in whose profits he had a share.
From Conitza, I could view the valley of the Aous, winding through it from south-east to north-west, on to the narrow pass of Caramouratades, a distance of four leagues. In the valley I could see a teke, or convent of howling dervishes, or Mahometan monks, who persuade themselves (or would persuade others,) that heaven is to be propitiated by screams and contorsions. I observed the influx of the Topolissa, which rising in Mount Sousnitza, flows east then north, and at last west to the Voioussa. At that extremity of the valley, the hills which incline to the west, with wooded slopes, present a number of villages on an extent of three leagues. On the descent of the hills of Voido-Mati, I saw the village of that name, and also Skia, intermingled with trees in a bottom presenting a beautiful object, when illuminated by the declining sun. The sunny valley inclosed by the snowy summits of Mertchika and the Candavian mountains, had a singular effect; and eastward the eye could penetrate into the vallies which lead into Macedonia. To the south shot up the peak of Kamila, in the country of Zagori, brilliant through its snows above all the other summits of Pindus. Near this peak are two vast glaciers, on the borders of which is situated the monastery of Stomio. The contrast between the dreary winter of the frame, and the flowery summer of the valley of the picture, was particularly striking: yet this view was beheld only in the beginning of April.
Having observed the environs of Conitza, I employed myself some time in determining its position with relation to Janina; a matter of importance for the topography of the country, particularly as Conitza has been erroneously placed by Gaetano Palma, in his map published in Triest in 1811. Yet his draught was sketched out under my directions in Janina. In that map, Palma lays down Conitza forty-six miles north from Janina; and he removes the course of the Voioussa thirty miles to the southward, and nearly twenty miles to the westward of Conitza, making the river describe a bend of great extent. From the particulars of my journey, it will be evident that some strange alteration in that quarter must have been made in his map. For, from the most correct observations applied to a map, it results, that the distance between the two towns, deduction being made for the indirect course of the roads, is only thirty-two miles and-one-third. Again, Conitza, instead of bearing due-north from Janina, bears between north-east and east-north-east: or about north 68 deg. east by the compass. Lastly, the Voioussa, which Palma removes to a great distance, making it describe a large imaginary curve, actually, in issuing from the rocks of the district of Zagori, washes the base of Mount Himnadi, and the lower part of the town of Conitza itself: from which point the river pursues a course north-west, to the entrance of the famous strait of Pyrrhus, now of Caramoutades. From these mistakes it follows that Metzovo, near the great pass over Mount Pindus, on the way between Janina and Larissa, is also wrongly placed by Palma; thus rendering the interior of his map extremely erroneous.
In order to determine the topography of the eastern parts of the district of Conitza, I ascended the Mount Himnadi for half a league, to a chapel of the Virgin, near which are several very abundant springs. This pass across the mountains was once a chosen post for robbers: but Aly Pasha has completely subdued the lawless dispositions of the inhabitants of Mount Caulonias in that direction. Now this spot serves to conceal the hunters, in winter when the snow covers the mountains, employed in shooting the bears and wild-boars driven by hunger down into the vallies. Proceeding north-east by a breach in the sweep of the mountains, I attained the chapel of St. Anastasius, erected in the heart of a thick wood of gall-oak. There I had a distinct prospect of the general course of the great rivers in different directions. To the southward I had the three summits of Mount Himnadi, of which that on the east called Helia, is itself commanded by that which gives name to the range of mountains, crowned on the west by Mount Konis, almost constantly involved in snow. The white summits contrast strikingly with the deep tracts of pine-forest which cover the middle region; and this last with the red rocks at the base, which confine the right or north bank of the Voioussa. From the sides of this mountain are washed down by the rains those masses of rock-crystal found in abundance even at the gates of Conitza. Having determined a number of positions, of great service in forming the plan of the country, I descended from the chapel of St. Anastasius for three quarters of an hour, to the bottom of the valley of Piklari, inclosed on the west by the mountains of Conitza, and on the north and east, at the distance of three leagues, by a continuation of the curving chain of Sousnitza. Thence going beyond the springs of the Topolissa, at the end of two leagues east-south-east I reached Zelitza, a village on the slope of Sousnitza; and higher up I saw Vranista. In this course I observed a stream bending to the north, to fall into the river of Saranta Poros.
I was now in a region of special interest for the historian: for by it must have passed the Roman armies employed against the latter kings of Macedon; particularly that under Quintus Flamininus, in pursuit of Philip in his flight to Mount Lingos. Across the same country, but by very different routes, marched the contending armies of the great rivals Cæsar and Pompey, from Dyrrachium to Pharsalus. But in the present day, I should only have to describe a country desert and wild, where the name Roman indicates the enchained Greeks, who adopted it when Constantine transplanted to the banks of the Bosphorus of Thrace, the eagles, the purple, the high honours, but not the fortune of Rome. Among the summits of the central range of the mountains, dividing Epirus from Macedonia, springs up Smolika, a peak so elevated, that from it, according to the people of the environs, may be seen the Adriatic, and even the island of Corfu. In my opinion, however, this must be a mistake or a fable: for independently of the projection of Mount Mertchika, which bounds the horizon to the westward, the distance of Corfu is too great to allow it to be discovered by the eye. In Strabo, (vii. 313.) we read, that, “Mount Hæmus extends towards Pontus, the greatest and the loftiest range of mountains in those parts, for it divides Thrace in the middle. From this range, as Polybius says, the sea may be seen on both sides. But in this he says what is not true: for the distance to the Adriatic is too great, and many objects intercept the view.” Had Strabo considered, that, under the name Hæmus, the great central range, extending between Macedonia and Epirus, and even Pindus itself, were comprehended; (by Lucan, even the field of Pharsalus is placed under Hæmus,) he would perhaps have been less ready to controvert the assertion of such a man as Polybius, who probably spoke from report and not from personal knowledge. Molitza four leagues north-east from Piklari, Staritachiani one league east-south-east, and Kerasovo, are the only noticeable villages in the valley of Saranta Poros, which rises above the last place five leagues from Conitza. Soon after its issue from the Haliacmon range, (still called by the Greeks Ora-Liaka,) the river runs first north two and-a-half leagues, then west six miles, and lastly north-west to the Voioussa. All that mountainous region, as well as the solitary valley of the Saranta Poros, abounds in springs and rivulets; agriculture might there consequently flourish: but hands are wanting. The laboured lands are far asunder, and in one day’s journey I met but ten persons on the different routes I followed. The peasants fled on the approach of our wandering caravan; and those Mahometan Albanians whom I did meet, were not in a humour to gratify my curiosity. Retiring towards Kerasovo, to pass the heat of the day, as I was engaged in making enquiries among the peasants, my guides began to suspect my intentions. They murmured at my asking the name of the hills, villages, &c. around, especially at my drawing mysterious lines on paper with a pen only without ink, (my pencil.) Fortunately, however, the chief guide, an aga of Tebelen, pacified them, but desired me privately to be more guarded in my perquisitions, and not, as he termed it, to write down the country. Hard as this advice was upon me, I complied with it, and we advanced to Chioniadez, where we put up for the night.
At every step we made into Illyricum, the traces of civilisation become less and less perceptible. After I left Conitza, I heard no more Greek spoken in the villages, so that my inquiries were conducted through an interpreter, neither very able, nor perhaps very willing to favour my views: my next resource therefore was, to advance to the head of our caravan, and, by means of a present, to procure the help of our postilions, who were Greeks and well acquainted with the country. From them I collected the names of many villages, mountains, rivers, &c. which I was afterwards enabled to correct from other information. Our route led up one-third of the height of Mount Smolika, from whence I could observe the populous village of San-Marina, a colony of Walachians, consisting of 800 families: it bore then from me north-east five leagues. The flocks and herds were now beginning to ascend towards the pastures, in proportion as the snow melted on the lofty fields of Mount Graminos, on the limits of Macedonia. The merchants were preparing to proceed to the fairs, which are held when the shepherds return to their summer dwellings in the upper regions. Along with the merchants went many persons in easy circumstances, to pass the season in a succession of amusements of the more tranquil sort, the delight and often the business of the generality of the orientals.
The district of Caulonias, to which I was approaching, might be considered as the key-stone of an arch of lofty mountains, which separate Epirus from Macedonian Illyricum; dividing the waters which fall into the Aous on the south, from those which direct their course to the Apsus on the north. When I arrived in Janina, it was my intention to follow the great central range of mountains northwards to Ochrida on the lake of Lychnidus. Aly, however, opposed so many difficulties to my project, and artfully suggested so many good reasons for so doing, that my project was laid aside. His true reason however was, that, as the French troops were then in the northern parts of Illyricum, he suspected my tour was intended to procure information, respecting a passage over that tract, to enable them to penetrate into his dominions. Being now on the borders of Caulonias, I could not resist the desire to obtain a general view, at least of that mountainous region. I had before conversed with people of that quarter; and although the inhabitants were Albanians, little removed from a state of barbarism, yet I succeeded in persuading my guides that we should be well received. By these means, and a few presents distributed among them, my object was attained. Proceeding accordingly from Podez of the district of Conitza, in an hour and-a-half we arrived at Barmachi [Barmash], the first Caulonian village, situated in a valley inhabited by 300 families, Christian and Mahometan, alike independent in their mode of life, and barbaric in their manners. The village is situated on the road followed by the traders from Janina to Ochrida, and is commonly their third station. The first day’s march conducts the caravan from Janina to Ravenia, eight hours to Lexovico [Leskovik], seven hours and-a-half; to Barmachi, five hours and-a-half. Along the valley which stretches west-north-west sixteen miles, runs the Levkaritza [Lengarica], which falls into the Aous; having its springs three and-a-half leagues to the east in Mount Barcetesios, mentioned by Ptolemy under the same name. Every thing hitherto favoured my scheme; and having surmounted the chain of Barcetesios on the north, we entered a second valley called by the Albanians Eriboé, and by the Greeks Ribas. A little way from our route I observed the remains of a Cyclopian inclosure or rampart, which suggested to me that it might belong to Eriboia, a city placed by Ptolemy among the Parthinians. The river, also called Eribea, rises, as I was told, among the higher mountains, and falls into the Aous near the bridge of Cleisoura [Këlcyra], or the straits to be afterwards mentioned. The Apsus, as I learned in the country, is there called the Ergent or Argent, and not only below the bridge where it is crossed in the road from Apollonia to Berat. This river, which descends from the Candavian or Caulonian mountains, after a course of three miles passes below Helmas, a village on its right bank; and a league lower down meets with the Ossouni [Osum], which rises five leagues north-east, in Mount Slobokoé, the most elevated summit of the mountains of Deabolis now Devol. The united stream then traverses the district of Tomoritza, where still exists Myli, a fortress in which the Emperor Cantacuzenus besieged the Normans. Leaving the country of Tomoritza, the Apsus passes through the lower town of Berat, and increased by another stream from Moschopolis, in the same Candavian mountains, it traverses the country of Musachia, under the names Beratino and Cauloni, to be lost in the Adriatic, five leagues to the northward of the ruins of Apollonia. While we were at dinner I observed my guides and guards in close conversation in the Albanian language, which I did not understand; and as soon as we were again on our route, they informed me, that, from what they knew of the inhabitants of the country before them, they were determined to advance no farther in that direction; for that my presence could not fail to create alarm in the minds of a race so rude and inhospitable. With the greatest reluctancy, I was constrained to relinquish the examination of a region the least known probably of Grecian lllyricum. Two leagues east from Staria [Starja], as I was told, near the village of Codras [Kodras], is Veré-Toubas or the cave of the tombs; and in the vicinity are the remains probably of Codrium, a town mentioned by Livy, (xxxi. 27). The cave, it was said, was full of little cells and tombs cut in the rock; and at the entrance are two colossal lions carved in the stone. I was now in front of a valley, which would have conducted me straight to Premiti on the Voioussa: but our baggage having been left in Conitza, I returned by Verbiani in the valley of Saranta Poros, and arrived, after a tour of seven very fatiguing days, at the place where the tour began. Severely mortifying as my expedition had been, I collected some useful topographic notices. From Staria to Gheortcha [Korça], the distance is reckoned six and-a-half leagues, and four from the latter town to Podgorie [Pogradec]; thence three hours’ journey to Starova; in all eighteen hours from Staria to the town of Ochrida. The population of the country of Caulonias is estimated at 6,400 persons, Christians and Mahometans, occupying twenty villages. Whether Mahometan or Christian the Albanians of that tract are equally independent and unruly. They pay neither capitation nor any other tax; nominally they acknowledge the authority of the Pasha of Berat; and by their bravery and their poverty they have hitherto escaped subjection to Aly of Janina. He has never, it is true, seriously attempted to subdue the Cauloniates; for among them he is sure always to find bands of robbers and assassins, ready for money to issue from their mountain-passes, to drive off the governors or other officers of the grand-seignior, who presume to approach too near to his dominions. From this state of things, however, this advantage arises, that a person under Aly’s special protection might securely visit the Barcetesian mountains, the country of Devol, (Deabolis of the Byzantine writers,) the springs of the Apsus and the cave of the tombs. A region ten leagues in extent from south to north, would thus be laid open to the antiquary and the geographer; nor, were I to judge from some specimens which came within my observation, would the mineralogist and the botanist have reason to regret the time employed in the research. The occupation of Caulonias, for a pasha master of Epirus, for a pasha like Aly, is of the utmost importance, on account of its relation to Monastir, the capital and chief residence of the Romeli-Valessi or governor of Macedonia. Caulonias is also the central point of the intercourse between Janina, Ochrida, and the upper and lower Dibra. When the snows of winter block up the pass over Mount Pindus above Mezzovo, the vallies and passes of Caulonias, less elevated, are practicable, and become the common route of couriers for Constantinople. Being less observed than the other routes across the mountains, it was by those of Caulonias that, during the time of my sufferings under Aly, I was able to carry on correspondence with Constantinople and other parts; and while Moschopolis subsisted, through Caulonias was opened the commercial intercourse with the northern parts of Albania, &c.
Often as the Aous is mentioned by the ancients, not one has traced its course; contenting themselves with indicating its springs in Mount Pindus, and its opening into the sea below Apollonia. Plutarch, for instance, tells us, in his life of the Consul Flamininus, that “the Aous, equal to the Peneus of Thessaly in magnitude and rapidity, flows through a deep and spacious valley, inclosed on both sides by great and lofty mountains.” Departing a second time from Conitza we crossed the muddy bed of the Topolissa, and at an hour’s distance we passed under Koutchouf. Halting for dinner under a group of oaks to the southward of Sanovo, I made observations on the bearings of various objects around me, by means of the compass, calculating as carefully as I could its variation, and then travelled down the Aous, to a stone-bridge of four arches across the stream, a little below the influx of the Voido-Mati, formerly mentioned. Then bearing northwards we entered the Stena (straits) in which we proceeded a mile to the village Melisso Petra, which is the limit of the districts of Conitza and Sesarates, as it is called by the Greeks, or Caramourataclez, as it is termed by the Albanians. On the opposite side of the Aous, a mile off, I saw Ostanitza, and the ruins of Pogoniani, a town restored, as it is said, by John Palæologus, on the site of Appo. Near our position was a tower, constructed for the defence of the narrow strait along the river. Two miles north from Melisso-Petra, along the margin of the stream, we came to an aqueduct for supplying several mills; and very soon afterwards we saw a bridge over the Aous on the road from Janina to Upper Albania, a little above the influx of the river Saranta-Poros, up the left bank of which we travelled to a bridge on the routes by Lexovico and Caulonias to Ochrida, and down the Aous, through the straits of Perseus into Musachia. By the number of bridges still remaining in this secluded quarter of Albania, we may form some notion of the communication and population of the country in former and better times. The mountains on the west side of the Aous here take the name of Mertchika; their upper parts, clothed with pines, commanded by lofty peaks, covered deep in snow; being those same summits which are seen from Janina and Lower Epirus. The first place on the left of the Aous, in the district of Cara-Mouratadez, is Mesareth, or Sesareth, probably the successor of the ancient Sesarethia. Proceeding, we observed several villages on the heights on both sides of the river, which filled in one channel the whole breadth of the strait. We had now ascended the mountain side, and were at a great elevation on a path much exposed in winter to avalanches, such as are so dangerous in the Alps, which not only stop or overwhelm caravans and travellers, but frequently block up the river. Half a league beyond Perati we passed above Seran, a large village; and on the side of Mertchika we saw Biovicha, a place inhabited by Turks and Christians. It occupies two eminences, separated by a deep ravine, which is unable, however, to interrupt the inveterate animosities which agitate two bodies of people, alike governed by ignorance and fanaticism. From our elevated road we proceeded half an hour to a bridge over the Tcharchof [Çarshova], which descends from the glaciers of Mount Chomi, three leagues and a half to the eastward. For three quarters of an hour we were then employed in winding- up, with great labour and difficulty, to a level space, commanding a view of Mounts Panesti, Kamila, Smolica, and the rugged summits of Caulonias.
The village where we halted was alarmed at our appearance; so much so, that it became necessary to exercise authority to obtain a lodging in the house of a Greek priest, the codja-bashi, or magistrate of the place. Although planted with vines, the environs of Tcharchof are deep in snow in winter, and then infested by wolves, who make their way even into the houses. Once a wolf penetrated into the chapel of the place, and devoured the consecrated bread; but the fear of profaning the sanctuary procured for the invader the means of his escape.
Setting out next morning with the sun, we steered northwards, descending to the valley of the Aous, there about three miles in breadth, and thrown into fields of corn, flax, and clover. At the Turkish village Stoiani, the Aous receives a river which is often so swelled by the rains as to compel travellers to mount up a considerable way to cross it. A league beyond this village, on our right, we saw Fourca, (the fork) a place which, from the remaining Latin name, denotes the spot where the road from Lower Epirus breaks off from that laid down in the Peutingerian table, which traverses the mountains of the valley of Saranta-Poros to enter the district of Greveno, in the southern quarter of Macedonia. Not then knowing that any objects of curiosity were to be seen in Fourca, I did not go up to the village: an omission I have since much regretted. There I should have procured a stock of useful information; for the people of that place were employed in furnishing cattle to supply the French garrison. From what I could observe and learn afterwards of the position of Fourca, it seems to occupy the site called by geographers Castra Pyrrhi, in which the Romans had a strong post. When we had advanced above a league in the plain we crossed by a bridge the river Ardès, and the commander of my escort was questioned by a man keeping sheep, but in full armour, mounted on a horse gallantly equipped, desiring to know who was the infidel he conducted in such state. Soon silenced by my chief, the stranger turned away, spitting and muttering expressions of abhorrence. This personage was an Albanian gentleman, or bey, who, although not in a condition to hire a shepherd, would yet have thought himself degraded had he performed the duty in person without the necessary appendages of his rank, his horse and his arms.
In our progress we came to a bridge of three arches over the Aous, at Petrani [Petran], where the road passes over to the west bank, a little above the influx of the Levkaritza [Leshica], coming down from the mountains to the northward. Continuing our route down the west bank of the Aous, we arrived in Premiti, where a lodging was provided for me. I had scarcely felicitated myself on my entrance once more into the society of men, when I was accosted in French by a venerable man, in a style and manner so unexpected, that it was some time before I could articulate an answer. He had travelled over Europe, and sojourned for years in Paris, where he associated with Diderot and the other eminent men of the last century. “Premiti is my birth-place,” said he; “I have frequented the most polished society of the most polished nations; yet a man of sense may be happy in every situation: of this I am myself a proof.”
Premiti [Përmet], on the west bank of the Aous, is altogether a new-town; and the walls, which encompass the summit of a rock over the river, seemed to me to belong to one of the citadels constructed by Justinian: but its name does not appear in Procopius’s list. The inhabitants amount to 700 families; two-thirds are Turks, one-sixth Christians, and the remaining sixth gypsies: the last, although professing to be mussulmans, detested by the true believers, and liable to the capitation in common with the Christians. In the town are two churches, two mosques, and a handsome new palace of Aly of Janina, erected within a fortress, commanding the passage of the Aous. Over this edifice I was conducted by the superintendent of the works, who turned out to be a renegado from Calabria, in the south of Italy. So far did he carry his civilities, that though now a Mahometan he would present me to his wife, the daughter of a bey or gentleman of the country. She had been bred in all the customs of Turkey; yet she made no difficulty, when the servants were away, to lay aside her veil. She was but a girl of fourteen, of small stature, lively, not ungraceful in her manner, and would pass for handsome in any part of the world. She presented to me her child four months old, and acquitted herself of her various duties as the mistress of the house, during my visit, with perfect ease and self-possession. Mount Mertchika impends so closely over Premiti that the sun is never seen by the inhabitants after he passes the meridian.
Having satisfied myself that the town has not succeeded to any place of note in antiquity, we proceeded on our route for Tebelen, crossing the Aous at Premiti by a stone bridge of seven arches. Going down the right or north-east bank of the river for a league, on the side of Mertchika I saw two hamlets, Lippa [Lipa] and Bouali [Bual], placed on two eminences, just without musket-shot of one another, which, until Aly subdued both, were continually in warfare together. The melancholy solitude was now in some measure varied by the appearance of shepherds in arms and beys on horseback, tending their flocks and herds. We also encountered companies of the Toxide Albanians, whose bold martial mien brought to my mind what we are told of the ancient Macedonians; and these Toxides seem to want only another Pyrrhus, another Scanderbeg, to restore their former military character. Two leagues and a half north-north-west from Premiti, on our right, we began, to discover some of the villages of the district of Dagli, and about an hour afterwards, in attempting to ford the Liocnitza, our horses, beyond their depth, were thrown down, and riders and baggage all plunged in the water, from which we escaped with oftly a thorough wetting — no great misfortune in the excessive heat which then beset us in the valley. After some time the Aous changed its course from north to north-west, and we came in front of a spacious valley which extended north among the mountains. This valley contains the road to Berat, on the Argent or Apsus. At the beginning of this valley the Aous penetrates to the westward, between gloomy impending precipices of great elevation, where the stream is scarcely to be seen. The place where the four vallies met was in abundant cultivation, whilst the surrounding mountains presented scenes of deep forest or naked pinnacles of the most picturesque contrast, scenes worthy of the pencil of a Titian or a Salvator Rosa. We came at last to a bridge over the Desnitza [Dëshnica], the river which comes down from Bousi, distant six leagues up the valley leading over to Berat. At this bridge ends the territory of Premiti, and begins that of Desnitza.
Having crossed the river Desnitza, I found myself opposite to the bridge of Melchiova [Malëshova] on the Voioussa, at the entrance of the celebrated narrow pass or strait, or Stenon, a Greek term which the Albanians have translated into Grouca. On the left or south bank of the Voioussa rose up a range of mountains, styled by Livy and Ptolemy Æropus, in later times Meropa, and now Mertchika. On the opposite right or north bank extended the extremity of Asnaus, now called Trebechina [Trebeshina]. In the account of the expedition of the Romans under Flamininus against Philip of Macedon, we are told by Livy (xxxiii. 6.) that “Athenagoras was sent by Philip across Epirus into Chaonia, to occupy the narrow passes at Antigonia, called by the Greeks Stena. Philip himself, some days afterwards, following with the body of the army, explored the country, and conceived the Stena to be a fit position for him to make a stand. For there the Aous, flowing in a narrow valley between two mountains, the Æropus on the one side, and the Asnaus on the other, furnishes but a very confined path on one of its banks. The Asnaus Athenagoras was ordered to occupy, with his light troops: on Æropus the king himself was posted.”
No sooner did I approach and enter this strait than I began to have an idea of the events recorded by the historians: I felt that I should now be able to supply some deficiencies in their relations. Before me, at the entrance of the strait on the right bank of the Aous, was situated Kleisoura [Këlcyra], a place mentioned by some Byzantine writers, the capital of the district of Desnitza.
Ruins of the fortress of Këlcyra (Photo: Robert Elsie, March 2008)
Advancing therefore, I entered the Grouca, the strait leading down towards Tebelen. The mountains on each side have really the appearance of having been torn asunder, to make way for the body of waters collected in the bosom of the Aous; just as Olympus and Ossa, in Thessaly, may have been separated to form Tempe, and open an issue for the Peneus. But the issue of the Aous is no Tempe. No murmuring brooks, no refreshing shades, no groves the resort of the nymphs, are found in the Grouca. Gloomy and forbidding, this strait is formed by the rugged sides of two parallel mountains, which afford between their bases a space, where the broadest not more than 130 yards wide, almost wholly occupied by the river. We proceeded down the right or north bank, along a narrow path, embarrassed by blocks of rock rolled down from Mount Trebechina on our right; and when we had advanced a short way into the strait I observed the issue of a subterraneous stream, which was lost in the Aous. A hundred yards farther on was another stream, which broke out from a cavern of great depth. The bluish waters of this stream, called by the Greek inhabitants catachthonia matia (subterrene springs) issue with such force as to propel those of the Aous, and to make their visible way into the middle of the river. When we had advanced about 850 yards within the strait, on looking upwards I observed one of the bastions of the castle or fortress of Kleisoura; a fortress which even without artillery might prevent all passage through, by rolling down blocks of stone on an enemy, rash enough to attempt to penetrate, without being master of the heights. The Aous now sinks so deep in its bed, that the tops of the lofty planes on the brink of the stream scarcely arrive so high as the very confined path on which we travelled. Three quarters of a league below the bridge of Melchiova, at the commencement of the strait, we came to the bridge of Mitchioiou, both of them of Roman workmanship, where the valley widens a little. On the south side are several cascades, and lower down issues another underground river. Sixty yards below the latter bridge we come to the tchiftlik, or farming establishment of Gruca, where we halted to dine on the provisions we had brought with us.
Here it may be necessary to mention that, in the Albanian tongue, gruca corresponds to the Greek trachis, a strait or narrow pass. Kleisoura was applied, under the lower empire, to villages or fortified posts, situated at the entrance, or rather at the narrowest point of stena or strait passes. While seated under a spreading walnut-tree, we were visited by some of the people of the tchiftlik, remains of the unfortunate inhabitants of Gladista, in the country of Souli, who, after the complete subjection of their nation to Aly, had been transported to this dreary and inhospitable region. Heart-rending were the complaints of these ill-fated people; nor could their lamentations and even execrations be restrained by the presence of Aly’s people in my company. On my return to Janina, I ventured to submit to Aly a brief representation of the miserable situation of the Souliotes of Gruca. “Let them perish,” was his answer; “it was not for the purpose of living at all that I sent them thither.”
Proceeding on our route, after I had bestowed a trifle on the deplorable Souliotes, we passed some substantial massy walls, which the Albanians said were the remains of a monastery, built by the French, not by the Franks in general; for they insisted on the term Frances, not Freng. Opposite to this spot the Aous took a bend to the south, and the breadth of the valley might there be half a mile. Nearly three miles below Gruca we traversed the ruins of a town now called Chamoli [Shëndellia?], but its ancient name is unknown. The objects of antiquarian research seemed to be confined to foundations of buildings, and a kind of aqueduct to convey water from the neighbouring hills. Here the Aous bears so close under the high ground on its north bank as to leave only a dangerous path for half a league on to Dracoti [Dragot], a large village which shuts in the western extremity of the Gruca or strait of the Aous. The houses I remarked to be all furnished with battlements and loop-boles, and inclosed by trees. The inhabitants, who came to their doors to see our caravan as we passed, seemed to be the stoutest and the handsomest of all the Toxide Albanians whom I had seen, and among whom they glory in being reckoned. Their bold air and mien, their gestures and equipment, justified the high reputation for courage and valour they have acquired in the country, and even among the Toxide tribes themselves. Among the men, numbers showed by the scars on their weather-beaten visages, that they had been in close quarters with their foes. Such warriors are called in Albanese boûre, and in modern Greek palicari. Going out of Dracoti we crossed a spacious burying-ground, and saw half a league off, beyond the river, Codras [Kodras] or Codrion, a village inhabited by Christians, originally removed from Caulonias, or the Candavian mountains.
The great range of Mertchika, which along the strait takes the name of Melchiovo [Malëshova], behind Codras, is termed Palesia; and the Trebechina, or the Omitchioto, on the north bank of the Aous, falling off northward, takes the name of Maile-Dam, or the mountain of Damesi [Damës]. Near Codras the Aous receives a small river, and a little lower down the Celydnus, or the stream which flows from south to north along the valley of Drynopolis, or Argyro-castron. From Dracoti we employed three quarters of an hour in descending the north bank of the Aous until we came in front of Tebelen, already mentioned in Chap. IV. The bridge over the Aous had lost two of its arches by the violence of the current, which, now much augmented by the accession of the Celydnus, bends northward. We had therefore to wait for the bark aground on the opposite bank, a confined square raft rather than a boat, without oars, and managed only by a pole. In this wretched machine we embarked with our baggage; whilst our cattle swam across fastened to the machine, and to one another. Pushing off from the bank we gained the course of the stream, deep and rapid, which hurried us down a great way to a place where we ran aground on the opposite shore, where we landed, and I proceeded to the palace of Aly, in Tebelen, where, by his orders, I was lodged and entertained by his steward, with all the cordiality which could be manifested to a Christian by a Mahometan.
Entrance to the Ali Pasha’s fortress of Tepelena (Photo: Robert Elsie, March 2008)
Tebelen [Tepelena] is said to occupy the position of Titopolis: but in my opinion it is wholly a modern town, which owes its importance to its having been the birth-place of Aly of Janina. The houses inhabited by Turks, the peculiar favourites of Aly; the seraglio or palace placed in a magnificent position; all announce the residence of the modern master of Epirus and of his assassins, the instruments and the partners of his fortunate crimes. The palace, covering a vast space, contains a saloon of extravagant dimensions, surrounded within by sofas covered with rich brocade, the manufacture of Lyons, in France, and the ceiling supported by columns, erected around a square bason lined with white marble, having in the midst a number of jets-d’eau. This saloon, with the apartment allotted for my use, was the only part of the palace then fit for occupation: all the other halls and chambers were either rebuilding or repairing. Arches were also constructing over the cellars and subterraneous store-rooms in which Aly deposited his money, heaped up, as he says, against the days of old age, without once reflecting that age which has already bleached his beard, already bends him toward the grave. But as the idea of his approaching end fills him with horror, he employs every artifice to hide the course of time from his imagination. Of Tebelen Aly speaks with delight, and to me he had described it as a second paradise. But for my part I could see nothing but a gloomy valley, bounded by mountains naked and forbidding; the birth-place of storms and tempests, which rage with such fury that it has never been possible to raise a tree round the place. The palace has the repulsive air of a prison. When the day declines the gates are closed and barricaded: armed guards repair to their assigned posts; dogs of the famed Molossian breed, turned loose in the courts, make the air resound with their howlings. (2) I was myself, in fact, immured in a chamber without windows, with my servants; and an Albanian slept on the outside of the door, with an order to accompany any of us who should desire to go out. In the abode of tyranny every thing is a cause of suspicion. Many times, during the long nights I passed in that place, did I hear the clanking of the chains of the miserable beings, groaning in the dungeons sunk, as well as the vaulted receptacles of Aly’s treasures, in the solid rock, under the magnificently furnished apartments prepared for his accommodation. In the mountains, on the south and west of Tebelen, even with an escort, I could make no considerable excursions: for the Japorians of the eastern districts of Acroceraunia were not then fully subdued to the rod of Aly.
From the best observations, however, which I could make on the surrounding summits, as well as from what I believed to be faithful information, Tebelen seemed to be situated at the vertex of a triangle, of which Valona and Berat, each distant twelve leagues, occupied the other angles. In front of Tebelen, toward the north-east, I observed the opening of the defile across the range of Trebechina, which communicates with Berat and Cleisoura, without piercing through the great strait of the Aous by Gruca. In the opening mentioned is situated Damesi, a fortress noticed in the time of the lower empire. This communication across Mount Trebechina to Cleisoura is of importance, because it fully explains the operation of Flamininus, when by a secret, or at least an unsuspected path, he sent on a detachment, which, turning Philip’s position on the Aous, compelled him to retreat.
Having, on my route from Port Palermo to Janina, traversed the southern or upper part of the course and valley of the Celydnus, I availed myself of my visit to Tebelen to survey the whole course of that river, from its influx into the Aous, three miles above that town, to Argyro-Castron, then still independent of Aly; but I had friends in the place, and therefore thought my journey thither might be accomplished without danger. In quitting Tebelen, I employed myself, but without success, to discover in its vicinity some trace of the existence of a town supposed to have existed in the Fauces Antigoniæ placed in that quarter. When, however, I had advanced a mile from Tebelen, near some springs issuing from the roots of Mount Argenik, my attention was called to certain terraces or banks and ditches, which, by their distribution, seemed to indicate the encampment of Flamininus. Two miles farther on, I came to the junction of the Celydnus, or the river of Drynopolis with the Aous. Travelling for three miles up the left or west bank of the Celydnus, in a very fine morning, the valley displayed itself with singular beauty, and the more so that I then arrived from the dreary valley of Tebelen. At the end of three hours’ delightful ride, we entered what is properly the valley of the Argyrians, now of Drynopolis; and to have time to make my remarks, I proposed to shelter ourselves from the powerful sun, under a cluster of planes near the bridge of the Soubashi, a league on the outside of the Fauces Antigoniæ, or the defile of Cormovo [Hormova], a place of note in the history of the internal warfare of Epirus. To the proposed halt my vigorous and active Albanians, but who like all the orientals delight in repose, readily acceded. While at breakfast, I opened my project of going to Argyro-Castro, a project which it required my utmost power to engage my conductors to adopt. To visit a town not subject but hostile to Aly; a town in which the different parties were actually in arms the one against the other, seemed to be an act of insanity. Showing, however, a recommendatory letter for Mourtaza-bey, one of the most powerful leaders, I despatched one of our postilions with it, and to advertise that chief that, without waiting for his answer, I meant to be with him before sunset. Remaining in the same place till three in the afternoon, we set forward for Argyro-Castro. When we reached some springs which break out from the rocks under that town, we found a party of Albanian soldiers dressed in jackets of velvet, embroidered with gold and completely armed, sent down by Mourtaza-bey to escort me to his house. The opposing parties in the town being then in open war, one of the escort passed on before me, to acquaint the several chiefs of my approach; and the firing ceased, not only during our passage through the town, but for the whole of the day. Mourtaza I found entrenched with his vassals in his castle, armed from top to toe, like the warriors of days of yore. The Greek bishop, who had been invited to meet me, did the honours of the house; for, as the worthy bey said, ” Such a person was fitter to entertain me than an Albanian, who had never seen any thing but his native mountains.” When Mourtaza had performed his prescribed evening devotions we went to supper, where I remarked, that, although a Turk, he from natural politeness yielded the post of honour to the Christian bishop, for whom he entertained genuine respect and regard. The supper was splendid for variety of dishes and of wines, of which Mourtaza made no scruple to share freely; and the conversation was equally agreeable and instructive. Had our host been bred in the most polished society, he could not have more gracefully mingled dignity with complaisance. The country called Dryopia of ancient Greece, I had endeavoured to discover in various quarters of Epirus; but always without success. Pliny having placed it in the vicinity of the Sellians of Dodona, I was led to look for Dryopia in the valley of Drynopolis, of which I had observed the remains on the east side of the Celydnus, on my way to Argyro-Castro, two leagues from that town. Argyro-Castro, which I found distracted with sanguinary and endless contentions, is situated on three spurs from the mountains on the west, ending abruptly over the valley of the Celydnus on the east. These precipitous promontories are separated by deep gullies hollowed out by torrents. On these rugged summits are erected the houses, some even adhering to the precipices like swallows’ nests. Solidly built of stone, the dwellings are pierced with loopholes, and, according to the wealth of the masters, inclosed within embattled walls flanked by towers. The more difficult of access, the more a house is valued. Bridges are thrown over the ravines for communication; others to support some projecting part of a building. The strange assemblage of towers, extravagant edifices, houses suspended in the air, or on the edges of rocks and precipices, well accorded with the state of hostilities in which the people live. “How is it possible,” said I to myself, “that human beings should be so devoid of relish for enjoyment, as to choose for their habitation a spot destitute of all vegetation, on a soil calcined by the action of the sun, and exposed to the contradictory fury of the elements?” But I recollected, that where no law but that of brutal force exists, a regard to self-preservation is the governing principle among men. The principal houses have cisterns for collecting water, and in the town are a few fountains supplied by an aqueduct from the springs of Sopoti. I learned from the bey, that, on account of the natural strength of the town, it now contained a population of 2,000 Turkish families: but the bishop added, with deep concern, that in the varochi, or Christian quarter, now pushed down towards the bottom of the valley, he reckoned only sixty families, in oppression and poverty. Such is the corner of the land now allowed to be occupied by Christians, in a city founded by their progenitors, in consequence of Mahometan intolerance. The revenue of the bishop, once very considerable while the several flocks under his care were numerous and productive, do not now exceed 250 l.
In my walks in and about the town I could discover no vestiges of antiquity. I was assured, however, that formerly existed remains of a great church with columns, in the quarter called Colorsa, where, since 1813, when Aly became master of Argyro-Castro, he has constructed a palace of great extent. On that spot I found no vestiges whatever, but I found myself in a position most favourable for commanding the approaches to the town. From the same position I was able to determine the bearings of many towns and villages in the valley, which are always erected on eminences, on account of the moist aguish air of the plain. Proceeding on my journey along the hills on the west of the valley, in two hours I reached Gorandgi or Goranis [Goranxia], a village celebrated in the country for a cavern, described to be of vast extent, probably natural, but much altered by art. At the entrance on the side of a hill, I saw a capital of a column, but the base and shaft were gone; a few years before it was entire. By means of torches of resinous wood, we descended into the cavern by a sloping passage, leading to a sort of stair formed by steps cut in the rock, as far asunder as a man can stretch his leg. The roof seemed to be about twelve feet high, supported by pillars hewn out of the rock. This passage and stair ended at a body of water, which, as I was told, is so much diminished in the end of summer as to uncover eighty-six steps, a depth of 220 feet. At that depth are seen columns, a large stone table, and a subterraneous river, which afterwards breaks out on the mountain side near Argyro-Castro.
The breadth of the valley from Gorandgi, over the valley to Liboôvo [Libohova], formerly seen on the road from Delvino, is about four miles; and from the same place to the pass of Moursina [Muzina], the distance is two leagues. In this space may be counted eight villages ranged along the side of the hills, separated by as many torrents, rushing down to the Celydnus. Continuing our route, we at last came to Grapsi [Grapsh], where we resumed the road formerly followed on my journey from the sea-coast to Janina, as described in chap. vi. of this work.
On the eastern side of the valley of the Celydnus, is situated Liboôvo, the second town of the district of Drynopolis, in an advantageous position in the midst of a fertile tract on the side of Mount Mertchika. The town was among the earliest of Aly’s conquests, and there he built a palace on a large scale, now the usual residence of his sister Chaïnitza, the haughty and relentless mistress of Dryopia. In the town are reckoned 6,000 Albanian Mahometans, and some hundreds of Greeks employed in various trades. Nearly a league to the northward of Liboôvo is Liabovo [Labova], near the entrance of the valley of Socachos [Selcka], which conducts the traveller up to the northern level plain of Mertchika, called Londgiaria [Lunxhëria], or the land of forests. This tract, which comprehends the summit of Mount Æropus, on the south bank of the Aous in the strait of Gruca, is bounded by the districts of Cleisoura, Premiti, and Palaeo-Pagoni. In this tract, near the village Stepopolis, are to be seen the ruins of an ancient town, now called Gionaksat [Dhoksat?], and the monastery Spileon, founded and endowed by the emperor Alexis Comnenus. The inhabitants of this tract are Albanian Christians, in number about 1,450 persons. In this country exists an association of original Epirotes, who, from very remote times, have in the eastern empire exercised the profession of souterazzi or souterazzici, or conductors of water; a term formed from two Turkish words, sou water and terazzi equilibrium or level. This profession belongs originally to the inhabitants of the classic regions of Greece Proper. It appears, that, when the best days of Greece were at an end, the people of Mount Æropus calculated and applied to a new system of aqueducts, the law by which fluids in a confined tube or channel will rise nearly to the level of their source. Their object was to substitute for aqueducts supported in a horizontal position on arcades, others conducted under-ground. According to the Albanian Christians of Londgiaria, to their ancestors were the people of Nicopolis, the monument of the victory of Actium, indebted for their aqueduct, partly above and partly below the surface, which conveyed the waters of the springs of St. George, distant fifteen leagues. They were also the conductors of the waters furnished by Adrian, from the heights of Stymphale to Corinth, and of the aqueducts of Constantinople. Whatever may be thought of these claims, certain it is that, of all the incorporated bodies of artificers established in the Greek empire, the water-conductors perhaps alone were maintained by the Turks; and that they still continue, from father to son, to exercise the same profession in the capital and other principal towns of Turkey. Various modern works attest the skill of the Londgiarians, among which is the aqueduct on arcades in Santa Maura, constructed while the Turks were in possession of that island, the aqueducts of Janina, Elbassan, Tebelen, Argyro-Castro, &c.
The Turkish term raia, denotes a person of the lowest rank, whatever be his profession or mode of life; subjected to the caratch or capitation-tax, and to other impositions without measure or mercy; exposed without remedy to the insults, extortion, and injurious treatment of every Turk; incapable even of appearing as a witness in any court of justice against a Mahometan. Such is the horrible condition of the Christian subjects of the grand-seignor; of those Christians of the East, of whom travellers seem to delight to display the defects and failings, without once considering or inquiring, as they ought certainly to do, into the humiliations and degradation to which they are so cruelly and so universally exposed. The custom of dismounting before the nobles of the land, that is before the men of the sword, who in all parts conceive themselves superior in rank to persons of every other profession, was however established among the Greeks of the Lower Empire. Hence the Turk requires, and the Christian complies with a mark of slavish submission, introduced by the degenerate Christians of Constantinople themselves, among their fellow-citizens of the same religious profession.
The Molossian dogs, the companions of the Meliboeus and the Menalcas of antiquity, are the trusty guardians of the flocks which encamp in the open air all the year round. The vigilant care of these animals is not more remarkable than their furious ferocity. Hence are they the terror, not of the peaceful traveller alone, but of the nightly wolf and the robber. The Molossian race are distinguished among all the dogs of Epirus, Albania, and Dalmalia. They are known by their extraordinary size, by their pointed muzzle, and by their long white hair, a defence equally against rain and cold. The Molossian grey-hounds differ from those of the west of Europe by their superior fleetness, and by a tuft of hair at the extremity of the tail. Dogs of the Molossian and the Spartan kinds are particularly recommended by Virgil to the attention of the husbandman.
“Nor least of all thy cares the faithful hound, The Spartan swift, or the Molossian fierce. Feed them with strengthening whey; guarded by them Nor nightly wolf, nor robber, need’st thou fear, Nor unsubdued Iberian’s dark assault.” Georg. III. 404.
[Extract from François Pouqueville, Travels in Epirus, Albania, Macedonia, and Thessaly (London: printed for Sir Richard Phillips and Co., 1820), p. 7-66; reprinted by James Pettifer in Classic Balkan Travel Series (London: Loizou 1998).]
Now he aventured on a shore unknown Which all admire, but many dread to view.
“Ja tek e pa veten në breg të panjohur, nga të gjithë admiruar, kur shumëkush tutet duke e vështruar”… Me këto vargje nis Kënga e dytë e Çajld Haroldit dhe tërë ajo vazhdimësi strofash magjepse që do pavdekësonin shqiptarët, tek kishin nevojë për pavdekësi. Duhen lëçitur e rilëçitur ato faqe për të ndjerë thellë entuziazmin që i ngjallte Bajronit Shqipëria dhe shqiptarët; por, para atyre këngëve me burim hyjnor, ne vazhdojmë të parapëlqejmë letrat, shënimet, kujtimet, gjithçka që, e shkruar nga penë më familjare dhe më pak e përpunuar, shfaq më shumë gjendjen shpirtërore të Lord Bajronit.
Ballkani gjëmonte në atë kohë nga emri i një shqiptari i cili, bujar i thjeshtë, kishte arritur aq fuqi sa të kërcënonte seriozisht praninë e turqve në Evropë. Lavdia e Ali Tepelenit ishte shtrirë madje gjer në Perëndim; kështu mbreti Gustave-Adolphe, duke shkuar për në Jeruzalem, ktheu rrugë enkas për t’u pjekur me të. Lord Bajroni, në një letër drejtuar së ëmës (Letra nga Preveza, 13 tetor 1809), flet për udhëtimin e tij nëpër Shqipëri dhe pritjen që i bëri atij Aliu i Tepelenës: “Përshkova brendësinë e viseve të Shqipërisë për të vajtur e për t’i bërë vizitë pashait. Shkova në Tepelenë, vendlindja e Lartësisë së tij (his Highness’s birth-place) rreth njëqind e pesëdhjetë milje larg që këtej, ku ndenja tri ditë. Pashai quhet Ali dhe është njeri me shumë zotësi; qeveris krejt Shqipërinë, domethënë: Ilirinë e lashtë, Epirin dhe një pjesë të Maqedonisë”.
Përshtypja e atij udhëtimi gjithë magjepsje, përmes maleve të Shqipërisë, me bukuri të zymtë dhe madhështore shfaqet kryesisht tek poema e Çajld Haroldit. Ai i tregon së ëmës vajtjen e tij në Janinë: “Kur mbërrita në Janinë, kryeqyteti i tij, pas një udhëtimi prej tri ditësh, mësova se Veziri ishte në Iliri, me ushtrinë e tij, për të rrethuar Ibrahim pashën në kështjellën e Beratit. Kishte marrë vesh se një anglez i shquar kishte ardhur për të vizituar shtetet e tij dhe kishte dhënë urdhra që, me të mbërritur unë, të më gatitnin një shtëpi dhe të më jepnin falas gjithçka që do të ishte e nevojshme. U bëra disa dhurata shërbenjësve, por as që bëhej fjalë që unë të paguaja gjithë sa konsumoja për vete”. Dhe më tej: “U hipa kuajve të Vezirit dhe vajta të shoh sarajet e tij dhe ato të nipërve; janë gjithë shkëlqim, por si shumë zbukuruar me ar e mëndafshe.” Nuk do vonojë dhe ai do rifillojë udhëtimin me kalë përmes udhëve të gjata, monotonia e të cilave i shpërblehet me hijeshinë e trevave që përshkon, “me bukurinë më fshatarake” që ka parë mëndonjëherë. Pas nëntë ditësh, sos në Tepelenë. Ja se si e tregon pritjen që iu bë: “Më shpunë te një sallon i shkëlqyer dhe vjen sekretari i pashait që më pyeti për shëndetin. Aliu më priti të nesërmen. Kisha veshur një uniformë të plotë oficeri të shtatmadhorisë dhe mbaja një kordhë të hijshme. Salla ishte e shtruar me mermer: një shatërvan mes saj lëshonte ujët, ndërsa muret ishin veshur me qilima të kuq otomanë. Veziri më priti në këmbë, veçori e madhe nga ana e një myslimani, dhe më uli në krahun e tij të djathtë. Kisha marrë me vete një terxhuman për raste të veçanta, por këtë herë, një mjek i Aliut, i quajtur Femlario, dhe që e kuptonte latinishten, përmbushi funksionin e duhur. Kërkesa e parë e pashait ishte se përse unë kaq i ri, isha larguar nga vendi im. Shtoi pasandaj se ministri anglez, kapiteni Leake, i kishte thënë se unë vija nga një familje e madhe; dhe m’u lut të përcillja nderimet e tij për time më, dhe unë po ua paraqes ato në emër të Ali Pashait. Më tha se ishte i bindur që unë isha njeri nga sërë e lartë, ngaqë i kisha veshët e vegjël, leshrat me bukle dhe duart të holla e të bardha; nuk e fshehu që sjellja dhe kostumi im i kishin pëlqyer. M’u lut ta konsideroja si një baba, për aq kohë sa do të isha në Shqipëri, duke më siguruar se më shihte si birin e tij; në fakt, më trajtoi si një fëmijë, duke më dërguar njëzet herë në ditë bajame, sherbete, fruta dhe gliko”.
Shfaqja e maleve të Shqipërisë, “me epërsi të dukshme në bukuri, krahasuar me peizazhet më tërheqëse të Greqisë”, veçoria e zakoneve, karakteri kalorësiak i shqiptarëve, kostumi i tyre “më i shkëlqyeri në botë”, gjithçka do t’i bëjë Bajronit përshtypje të tillë që do t’i mbetet në mendje përgjithnjë. Admirimi dhe simpatia që ushqen për “bijtë krenarë të Shqipërisë” shfaqen në fjalën më të vogël që thotë. Dhe domosdo, nuk do të ishte me interes të paktë po të tregohej – përkrah kësaj simpatie dhe këtij admirimi për shqiptarët -, përbuzja e fshehur keq që i ngjallte “greku gënjeshtar e hileqar” (Child Harlod’s piligrimage, II, pasim – dhe gjetkë.) Në thellësi të zemrës së tij, lord Bajroni nuk mund t’ua falte grekëve zhgënjimin që pësoi; i mbushur tejet me kujtime nga lashtësia klasike, kishte fluturuar ai vetë në ndihmë të Greqisë gjithë entuziazëm; por kushedi sa iu desh të vuante me idealin e plagosur, kur gjeti, në vend të Akilejëve e Tezejëve siç pandehte, Tartaninë, madje pa mendjen e Tartarinit; kur gjeti, në vend të perëndive, bij të Fidias, majmunë dhe marioneta (kukulla teatri); në vend të njerëzve, papagaj; në vend të gojartëve të një gjuhe që do duhej të kishte brishtësinë e lirave dhe shkëlqimin e cimbaleve, skatostomë që venë e flasin shatra-patra një nga zhargonet më të llahtarshme, tek e quajnë edhe atë vetë lordhosss Viroonnn (Lord Bajron) – gjë që me siguri duhet ta ketë nervozuar e ta ketë bërë njëkohësisht për të qeshur; kur gjeti, në vend të athinasve të dikurshëm, banorë të rëndomtë të Athinës. Ky zhgënjim, që gati nuk bie në sy në poemat e tij, shfaqet më ndonjë rast në letërkëmbimin e tij në mënyrë krejt të hapur. Kështu, duke bërë të vetën një distikë greke kundër grekëve: Ώ Αθηα πρωτη χωρα / Τι γαϊδαρους τρεφεις τωρα –O Athinë, truall i parë në botë, / Ç’gomerë vete e ushqen ti sot!*” (*Po e jap të traskriptuar ashtu siç e lexoj tek lord Bajroni, pa theks, pa shpirt. Letër nga Athina, nga kuvendi franciskan, 7 mars 1811, në përmbledhjen e përmendur. Shënim i autorit Faik Konica), ai e shoqëron gjithë këtë me komente aspak mikluese për grekët. Nga ana tjetër, duke i goditur paraprakisht në pretendimet e tyre zonjat greke që kërkonin të rifitonin famën e modeleve të Fidiasit dhe të Praksitelit, ai thotë: “Gratë shqiptare janë shumë më të bukura nga gratë greke, dhe kostumi i tyre është shumë më piktoresk”.
Lord Bajroni shpreh edhe më qartë përshtypjet e veta në letrën e gjatë që ai i shkruante së ëmës nga Preveza, paragrafë të së cilës po i përmendim: “I dua shumë shqiptarët; nuk janë të gjithë muhamedanë, ka mes tyre edhe fise të krishtera; por feja që kanë, nuk bën dallim të madh nga zakonet dhe mënyra e tyre e të jetuarit. Janë trupat më të mira të ushtrisë turke. Në udhëtim e sipër, kalova një herë dy ditë dhe më pas tri ditë, në një kazermë në Salonë, dhe asnjëherë nuk më kanë zënë sytë ushtarë aq të durueshëm e bindur sa ata, edhe pse kam qenë në garnizonet e Maltës e të Gjibraltarit, ku kam parë mjaft trupa spanjolle, franceze, siciliane e angleze. Asgjë nuk më vodhën dhe gjithnjë kam qenë i mirëprituri i tyre, duke ndarë me mua ushqimet dhe qumështin që kishin”. Më pas, Bajroni flet për një shqiptar i cili, pasi e bujti dhe e mikëpriti në vatrën e vet, atë dhe bashkudhëtarët e tij, nuk pranoi të shpërblehej me para; dhe kur Bajroni këmbënguli që të pranonte të paktën disa sekenë ari, shqiptari i dha një përgjigje të tillë, bukuria e së cilës do shpërfillej veç prej shpirtrash gatuar me tregti: “Dua që të më doni, e jo të më paguani”.
“I dua shumë shqiptarët”, i shkruante Bajroni së ëmës, duke shprehur njëkohësisht shkakun e një simpatie të tillë, me qëllim që edhe e ëma të ushqente dashuri për ta. Dhe ndjeni tani ironinë dhe urrejtjen e këtyre fjalëve që ai i shkruante mikut të vet Drury: “I dua grekët; janë kopukë qerratenj, me tërë veset e turqve, por pa guximin e tyre” (Letër drejtuar Drury, 3 maj 1810). Të interesuarit janë të lutur të kontrollojnë këtë thënie, ashtu sikurse edhe ato të mëparshmet.
Ja pra, si shprehej lordhosss Vrioonnn duke folur për grekët; dhe këto fjalë mund të shërbenin si pikënisje për një studim interesant e të thellë që ndoshta do nxirrte si konkluzion se, duke luftuar për një popull të përbuzshëm e të përbuzur, lord Bajroni nuk kishte në mendje veçse ata helenë të dikurshëm, krijues të Bukurisë, raca hyjnore e të cilëve prehej, e bërë hi, mbi dheun e Helladës së ripopulluar, dhe ata malësorë të Shqipërisë të cilët, të padjallëzuar në heroizmin që i karakterizonte, kishin pleksur kauzën e tyre me atë të grekëve të rremë.
Albania 1 .
Kemi përmendur kohët e fundit një fjalë të lord Bajronit për grekët modernë, me anë të së cilës poeti i madh i ka karakterizuar këta të fundit si “kopukë qerratenj”. Një lexues nga Rumania na shkruan duke na u lutur që të paraqisnim pjesën ku shprehet kjo ide. Me shumë dëshirë! Por ne do dëshironim ta paraprinim pjesën e cituar nga një vërejtje. Praktika e kërkon që të jepen vëllimi dhe faqja çdo herë që përmenden autorë pak të njohur, libra të veçantë apo të rrallë. Kurse veprat e lord Bajronit, të shumëfishuara nga botime të panumërta dhe të përkthyera në shumë gjuhë hasen në tërë bibliotekat; prandaj dhe nuk e pamë të arsyeshme të bezdisnim lexuesin me citime, dhe korrespondenti ynë fare mirë do e kishte kursyer mundin për të na shkruar nëse do të kishte konsultuar botimin më të parë që do t’i binte në dorë të veprave të plota të poetit anglez.
Lord Bajroni i konsideronte grekët si “kopukë qerratenj që i kanë tërë veset e turqve por pa guximin e tyre”. Ja teksti në anglisht: “I like the Greeks, who are plausible rascals, – with all the Turkish vices, without their courage”. (The Works of Lord Byron. Ed. Joh Murray, Londres, 1898. – Letters and Journal. Vol. I, f. 266).
Ky është mendimi i Lord Bajronit në moshën njëzet vjeçare, dhe për të qenë më të përpiktë në këtë datë: 3 maj 1810. Trembëdhjetë vjet më vonë, më 28 shtator 1823, pak para se të vdiste në Misolongji, i neveritur nga poshtërsitë dhe shpirtvogëlsitë e grekajës [zuzarisë greke], poeti u jepte grekëve cilësimin “gënjeshtarë me nam”: “The worst of them, shkruante ai, is that (to use a coarse but the only expression that will not fall short of the truth) they are such damned liars; there never was such an incapacity for veracity shown since Eve lived in Paradise.” [E keqja më e madhe tek ta është (duke e thënë copë si e vetmja shprehje që i afrohet së vërtetës) se ata janë gënjeshtarë me nam; kurrë nuk ka pasur mungesë të tillë ndaj së vërtetës qëkurse Eva jetonte në parajsë]. (Botim i përmendur, vëll. VI, f. 247).
Albania, Viti 9, Nr. 8, 1905.
Përktheu nga frëngjishtja e përgatiti për botim për Tirana Observer: M. Maneshi
Bijë e dashur, thoshte ajo, po të shkruaj tani se jam ende në gjendje të shkruaj lexueshëm. Po përpiqem me të gjitha mundësitë të kursej për ty këto para që më kanë mbetur. I kam mbajtur deri tani vetëm sepse dua që t’i përdorësh kur të të lipsen më shumë. Janë të gjitha për ty. Nuk do të humbin, as nuk do t’i prekë kush. Gjithsej janë pesëqind stërlina. Nga sa kam fituar deri më sot nuk kam mbajtur asgjë për vete. Në të ardhmen, po të jem gjallë, do të më duhet të mbaj ca… fare pak… sa për të ardhur deri tek ti. Dhe do të vij. Dua të të shoh edhe një herë.
S’më besohet se ti ke për t’i lexuar këto radhë ndonjëherë. Zoti më paska harruar. Dua të të shoh- e megjithatë vdekja për mua do të ishte melhem. Po të të bjerë t’i lexosh këro radhë, të porosis ta fillosh duke thënë një falënderim, sepse ardhja e letrës do të jetë lajmi i vdekjes sime, dhe po të vdes bëj mirë. Bijë e dashur, po më vjen fundi.
Parafjali tjetër fillonte me fjalët: Po më lënë sytë…
Atë ditë ajo nuk lexoi më. Dora që mbante letrën afër syve u var me ngadalë dhe trupi i brishtë në një fustan të thjeshtë të zi shkoi si i ngrirë te dritarja. Sytë i kishte të thatë; nga buzët e saj nuk doli as klithmë pikëllimi, as pëshpëritje falënderimi për të shkuar drejt qiellit. Me gjithë përpjekjet e dashurisë së tij, jeta për atë grua kishte qenë tepër e rëndë, ia kishte shuar cdo ndjenjë. Por për herë të parë në tërë ato vite, barra e jetës, mjerimi dhe hallet e varfërisë, poshtërsia e një lufte prej qeni për të fituar një kafshatë, u davaritën. Edhe përfytyrimi i të shoqit dhe i fëmijëve të saj u duk sikur shkanë larg, ikën prej saj, u tretën në muzgun e përhimtë; vetëm fytyrën e të atit shikonte, sikur i kishte ardhur pranë për herë të fundit, por me dicka më madhështore e më të butë në pamje.
E futi letrën e palosur në mes të dy kopsave të krahnorcës së thjeshtë të zezë, e mbështeti ballin në xhamin e dritares dhe mbeti atje derisa u err, pa lëvizur. Gjithë kohën që i mbetej, ia kushtoi atij. Kishte ikur! Si ishte e mundur? Goditja kishte ardhur e zbutur hapësirat e pafundme, nga vitet e ndarjes. Kishte pasur raste që për ditë të tëra ajo as e kishte menduar- s’kishte pasur kohë. Po e kishte dashur, e ndjente se thellë-thellë e kishte dashur.
VOAL – Romanet e Joseph Conrad, të konsideruar si një nga autorët kryesorë në kapërcyellin e shekujve XIX dhe XX, janë histori të detit dhe aventurës: histori të burrave që jetojnë mes dallgëve, të tërhequr zvarrë anijeve që përballen me vetminë e jashtëzakonshme të ujërave, të pabesë , botë e pafund, gllabëruese, një pre e vazhdueshme e rreziqeve. Dhe me të vërtetë, para se të ishte një romancier, Conrad ishte pikërisht një detar: jetim nga nëna dhe me babanë e tij të burgosur për arsye politike (familja vinte nga një pjesë e Polonisë së aneksuar nga Rusia), ai u rrit me ëndrrën të lundronte detet në liri dhe larg tokës që i kishte shkaktuar, që nga fëmijëria, aq shumë dhimbje.
Joseph Conrad, pseudonimi i Teodor Jòzef Konrad Korzeniowski, pavarësisht se ka lindur në Poloni (te Berdicev më 3 dhjetor 1857), në fakt konsiderohet një shkrimtar anglez. Familja e tij i përkiste fisnikërisë feudale të Polonisë, në atë kohë nën sundimin rus. Babai i tij, një patriot dhe një njeri i ditur, vdiq në 1867, pas shumë vitesh mërgim politik (nëna e tij kishte vdekur tashmë në 1865). I besuar mbrojtjes së një xhaxhai, Conrad i ri përfundon studimet e tij të mesme në Krakow.
Në moshën shtatëmbëdhjetë vjeç, i nxitur nga një thirrje e papërmbajtshme për jetën e detit, ai u nis për në Marsejë, ku u fut si një detar i thjeshtë. Lundrimi do të thotë që ai të dijë mbi të gjitha botën detare që u identifikua edhe në trafik, kontrabandë, njerëz që u nisën për të shpëtuar nga një lloj faji. Me pak fjalë, do të thoshte të takoje botë që jo vetëm gjeografikisht ishin në antipodet e Evropës civile. Pas një përvoje të gjatë ai shërbeu në detarinë tregtare franceze dhe, nga 1878, në atë britanike, ku ai arriti gradën e kapitenit. Më 1886 ai u bë një shtetas anglez.
Për njëzet vjet ai udhëtoi pothuajse në të gjitha detet, por veçanërisht në arkipelagun Malajzian. Vëmendja e marrë nga romani i tij i parë Almayer’s Folly (1895), dhe inkurajimi i disa shkrimtarëve (Galsworthy, Wells, Ford Madox Ford, Edward Gamett) e çuan atë të largohet nga marina dhe të vendoset në Angli, për t’iu përkushtuar tërësisht veprimtarisë letrare.
Më unike sesa e rrallë, Conrad bëhet një mjeshtër i letërsisë duke shkruar në një gjuhë jo të tijën, të mësuar kur ai ishte tashmë një njeri i pjekur. Tema themelore është vetmia e individit, në mëshirën e goditjeve të verbër të rastit, për të cilin deti shpesh zgjidhet si simbol. Heroi i vetëm i Joseph Conrad është pothuajse gjithmonë një i arratisur ose i dëbuar, i shënuar nga fatkeqësia ose pendimi, një i afërm i engjëllit të rënë të dashur për romantikët, i cili pushton identitetin e tij duke përballur me stoicizëm provat që fati i ka rezervuar atij.
Ndër kryeveprat e tij të shumta, ne kujtojmë Almayer’s Folly (1895); An Outcast of the Islands (1896); The Nigger of the ‘Narcissus’ (1897); Heart of Darkness (1899); Lord Jim (1900); The Inheritors (with Ford Madox Ford) (1901); Typhoon (1902, begun 1899); The End of the Tether (written in 1902; collected in Youth, a Narrative and Two Other Stories, 1902); Romance (with Ford Madox Ford, 1903); Nostromo (1904); The Secret Agent (1907); Under Western Eyes (1911); Chance (1913); Victory (1915); The Shadow Line (1917); The Arrow of Gold (1919); The Rescue (1920); The Nature of a Crime (1923, with Ford Madox Ford) The Rover (1923); Suspense: A Napoleonic Novel (1925; e pambaruar, botuar pas vdekjes)
Në këto vepra Conrad heton fazat evolucionare të pavetëdijës, të cilat nganjëherë duket se parashikojnë teknikën e “rrjedhës së vetëdijës”, të cilën më pas Virginia Woolf dhe James Joyce do ta shndërrojnë në një zhanër letrar.
Një shkrimtar unik, një hetues si pakkush nga shpirti njerëzor, Joseph Conrad vdiq nga një sulm në zemër më 3 gusht 1924, në Bishopsboume Kent (Ukrainë).
Per keto lote te kthjellet dashurie per kete dhembshuri shpirti, per ata qe vuajne, per kete trishtim akull qe shpirtin po ma ngrin, per kete lumturi te vrare thelle, dhe per ato lot, per ato britma uleritese dhe pergjerimi, per tere ato shpirtera neper bote qe gjalle o vdekur nga qiejt e Tu, drejt qiejve Tuaj pergjerohen,
me ndroje dhe sinqeritet, dhe perkushtim dhe lote, plot me dashurine qe nga Ju ka dale sepse pjese
e Jotja eshte, Nje kenge pergjerimi dua te kendoj!
Ju o Hyjni madheshtore, pa fillim dhe fund, pa skaj, ju Perandori drite qe dashuri dhe perkushtim dhe durim dhe perdellim drite Jeni, Ju pjese e Universit ku gjithçka merr kuptim dhe Shembelltyren e te Vertetes Keni,
Perandori shndritese dhe bukurie ku loti i lumtur veç habitet.
Shtrije doren Tende te madherishme mbi popullin tone te vuajtur, Shihi Bijte e Tu te hutuar, te vrare, te brengosur, Shihi o Perendi nga ku buron gjithçka madheshtore: Drite e Pafunde ku çdo zemer entuzjazmohet nga perdellimi, kopsht ngazellues ku zemra lodron nga hareja e drites, furi lumturuese ku shpirti shkrihet me Universin Tend plot habi,
e cila: drite eshte pa fund, pjese perberese e elementit Dashuri.
Kini meshire per te tremburit e popullit tend. Me lot,
po, me lot dhe me dashuri, dhe me perkushtim, ngado,
degjoje o Hyjni e Madherishme.
Drejt Qendres Tende gjithçka eshte persosmeri e skajshme,
dhe perdellimi, me i larti hyjnor emocjon.
Oh Ju Sublimuesi i Fundit, I cili per askend nuk ka nevoje!
Grimca te Shpirtit Tend jemi,
therrmija universi qe embrionin e drites Tende kemi
edhe pse ecim me syte e mbyllur,
Meshirmadhi, Meshirploti, Madheshtori,
pranoini keto lote dashurie, ne pergjerim po i kerkojme!
Po vuajne shqiptaret, O Hyjnori, te Cilit askush nuk i afrohet, shpresoj aq shume qe keto fjale te arrisin Veshin Tend,
Po. Ju qe gjithçka dini ne kohe reale.
Per kete dashuri mishi qe ne lote shprehet per Ju, per
kete dhembje mishi per ata qe u vrane, per ata qe te trembur vuajne,
per ata qe pa strehe mbeten, per te pafajshmit,
per te fundit, per te tallurit, per te ofenduarit, vetem nese deshiron,
ndale Doren Tende. Oh dashuri hyjnore! Gjithçka e Jotja eshte,
me qiej dhe toke, me natyre dhe pasuri, me jete dhe tere bukurite e Jetes.
Oh per engjejt e Tu, per shenjtoret e çdo feje shihe popullin tend. Ja plaget e mjerimit, qe larg duken.
Na Ndihmo te shterrojme lotet e dhembjes.
Hyjni plot Drite, e Vetmja. Force Madhore e Universit,
pa skaj, pa kufi, me Sublimja Bukuri e Drites,
oh burim i çdo jete, Krijuesi i boteve, i Cili jete i dha materies
dhe me fryme te shenjte e mbushi bukurie token, nga lulja ne lule,
nga krijesa ne krijese, nga zjarri ne uje, nga toka ne ajer.
Ngazellim pa fund, lumturi pa fund, oh fryme hyjnore
e cila e pashtershme gjithkund buron, pranoji ne driten tende te vraret!
Ju forca gjigande e cila mbi gjithçka sundon; per te pasterit, per te drejtet,
per hyjnoret e Tu, ndale zemerimin Tende.
Oh Ju pergjerohem, per dashurine e cila duhet te kete nje kuptim,
meshire, meshire, Urdherin Tend, Bekimin e atdheut
e duam, ne gjunje lutem, Hyjnori, I Perjetshmi, Meshirmadhi.
VOAL – Shkrimtari, i lindur më 2 qershor 1740 në Paris, Donatien Alphonse François De Sade, i njohur si Marquis De Sade, është njeriu që do të jetojë dhe të ndjejë metamorfozën e një France, e cila me 1789 hyn në historinë botërore të revolucioneve shoqërore.
Një familje aristokratike, ai u regjistrua në moshën katërmbëdhjetë vjeç në një shkollë ushtarake të rezervuar për fëmijët e fisnikërisë më antike.I emëruar nënkolonel në moshën pesëmbëdhjetë vjeç, ai mori pjesë në Luftën e Shtatë vjetëve kundër Prusisë, i dalluar për guximin, por edhe për një shije të caktuar ndaj tepërimit.Më 1763 u ul në gradën e kapitenit dhe filloi të bëjë një jetë mashtrimesh dhe argëtimiesh të pakursyera, duke iu vardisur aktoreve të teatrit dhe kurtizaneve të reja.
Më 17 maj të po këtij viti ai u detyrua nga babai i tij të martohej me Renee Pelagie de Montreuil, një vajzë që i përkiste një familje të fisnikërisë së vonë, por shumë e pasur. Sipas disa burimeve, qëllimi i babait ishte ta bënte të vinte kokën në vendin e duhur; sipas të tjerëve do të kishte për qëllim vetëm sigurimin e trashëgimisë familjare të vajzës, duke pasur parasysh situatën e pasigurt ekonomike në të cilën ndodhej familja De Sade në atë kohë.
Sidoqoftë, ajo që është e sigurt është se martesa nuk e bën atë të braktisë zakonet e vjetra. Në të kundërt: Disa muaj pas dasmës ai u burgos për pesëmbëdhjetë ditë në burgjet e Vincennes për shkak të “sjelljes së jashtëligjshme” në një bordel. Kjo do të jetë e para nga një seri e gjatë qëndrimesh në burg.
E dyta do të jetë më 1768, kur ai do të burgoset për gjashtë muaj për rrëmbimin dhe torturimin e një gruaje. I liruar me urdhër të mbretit ai u kthye të përkushtohej në profesionet e tij të preferuara. Ai organizon festa dhe vallëzime në fermën e tij në La Coste dhe fillon të udhëtojë në shoqëri me motrën më të vogël të gruas së tij, Anne, me të cilën ka rënë në dashuri dhe me të cilin ka pasur një marrëdhënie seksuale për ca kohë.
Më 1772, vit në të cilin u realizua për herë të parë një vepër e tij teatrore, ai u akuzua për helmim. Gjatë një orgjie në të cilën ai kishte marrë pjesë së bashku me katër prostituta dhe shërbëtorin e tij Armand, ai në fakt u kishte dhënë grave ilaçeve të ëmbla të adhuruara, të cilat, në vend të efektit të shpresuar për afrodiziak, u kishin shkaktuar atyre sëmundje të mëdha. Ai arrin të shpëtojë duke u arratisur në Itali. I dënuar me vdekje në mungesë, ai arrestohet nga militantët e Mbretit të Sardenjës dhe burgoset në burgun e Milanos. Ai arratiset pas pesë muajsh. Pastaj, pas pesë vitesh orgji, udhëtimesh dhe skandalesh, më 1777 u arrestua në Paris. Në burgun e Vincennes ai filloi të shkruante drama dhe romane. Ai transferohet në Bastijë, ku ai shkruan 120 ditët e Sodomës dhe fatkeqësitë e virtytit. Në korrik 1789, dhjetë ditë para se të merrej Bastija, ai u transferua në një azil. Ai është i detyruar të braktisë bibliotekën e tij me 600 vëllime dhe të gjitha dorëshkrimet.
Më 1790, siç është rasti për shumicën e atyre që u burgosën nën Ancien Régime, liria e tij u rivendos. Ai kthehet të jetojë me gruan e tij, por kjo, e lodhur nga dhuna e tij, e braktis. Fëmijët, të lindur më ’67, më ’69 dhe ’71, emigrojnë. Ai më pas lidhet me Marie Constance Quesnet, një aktore e re që do të mbetet me të deri në fund.
Ai përpiqet të na bëjë të harrojmë origjinën e tij fisnike duke milituar në grupin revolucionar të lagjes së tij, por ai nuk ia del me sukses dhe, më 1793, arrestohet dhe dënohet me vdekje. Fati duket se e ndihmon. Për një gabim administrativ ai është “harruar” në qelinë e tij. Ai arrin të shmangë gijotinën dhe do të dalë në qarkullim në tetor 1794.
Më 1795 është botuar “Filozofia në Boudoir”, “Gjystina e re” (“Gjystina ose gabimet e virtytit” ishte botuar në mënyrë anonime katër vjet më parë) dhe “Zhyljeta”. Ai akuzohet nga shtypi se është autor i “romanit famëkeq” “Gjystine” dhe, pa asnjë gjykim, por vetëm me një vendim administrativ, në 1801 u internua në azilin e Charenton. Protestat dhe thirrjet e tij nuk do të vlejnë asgjë dhe, gjykuar i çmendur, por krejtësisht i kthjellët, ai do të kalojë 13 vitet e fundit të jetës së tij këtu. Ai vdiq më 2 dhjetor 1814, në moshën 74 vjeç. Tridhjetë prej të cilave kaluan në burg. Punimet e tij do të rehabilitohen vetëm në shekullin XX./Elida Buçpapaj
Sa herë më dilte para shqyeja sytë. E gjatë, e thatë, me fytyrë të acaruar, me duar eshtake e gishta kanxha të frikshme, më gozhdonte figura e saj. Edhe kur nuk me hakërrohej s’më bënin këmbët të ecja tutje. Kalamajtë thoshin për te se të rrëmben e të tretë prapa bjeshkëve. Gjyshja ishte e sigurt se është fantazmë që e nxori varri jashtë. Babai kërcëllonte dhëmbët dhe na e përsëriste: nuk e dini kush është kjo shtrigë, dheu mos e tretë. Nëna na këshillonte të ruheshim prej saj si prej dreqit. Ajo jetonte e vetme në një shtëpi në periferi të qytetit. Askush nuk guxonte t’i afrohej oborrit të saj, askush nuk ia kishte parë dhomat. Pëshpëritej se është e armatosur deri në dhëmbë si në kohë lufte. Ndonjëherë shkrepte breshëri plumbash kot me kot në pikë të natës.
Gruan e frikshme Vidna gjithnjë e lidhja me fundin e djaloshit, emrin e të cilit kurrë nuk e mësova, por rrëfimin për te e kujtoja çdo natë. Babai na e tregoi një natë dimri të acartë si atëherë kur hynë partizanët. Historia për këtë grua që na e fuste frikën në palcë, shpesh me linte pa gjumë, jo rrallë zgjohesha i larë në djersë, me pamjet e gishtit tregues në këmbëzën e mitralozit që villte zjarr.
-Atë mëngjes dimri që ta ngrinte gjakun ndër deje, hynë me zhurmë e britma partizanët në Katundin e Ri, i mbështeten burrat ndanë gardhit, me ta e rreshtuan edhe çunin trembëdhjetëvjeçarë, – tregonte babai, ndërsa më bëhej se fushëpamjen time e mbulonte figura e çunit të lemerisur në rreshtin e burrave të katundit, në këmishë e të linjta të bardha, përballë togës së pushkatimit. Rrëfimi vazhdonte:
-Hiqeni atë kalama, – tha dikush, para se të shkrepte mitralozi.
-Lëreni mirë është, – tha partizania Vidna, prapa mitralozit të rëndë me syrin në shënjestër e gishtin tregues në këmbëzën e armës së ftohtë.
– Është fëmijë, – i tha dikush me zë lutës.
-Pa qenë fëmijë nuk bëhet i rritur, – ia ktheu partizania e sertë.
Ajo nuk i shihte fytyrat e frikësuara të katundarëve të sapo zgjuar nga gjumi, ajo shihte të njëzetë e gjashtë shënjestrat që do t’i godiste pas disa çastesh. Fatkeqit këmbëzbathur e të lidhur duarsh dy nga dy, me nga një copë teli a spango, prisnin e dridheshin. Dy-tre fëmijë në gjirin e nënave dridheshin e nisën të qanin. Nëna e djaloshit të rreshtuar për pushkatim çakërdisur sysh, u përpoq ta nxirrte nga rreshti të birin e llahtarisur, por një partizan e goditi në kokë me kondak pushke. Ajo ra pa ndjenja, dy partizanët tjerë e tërhoqën zvarrë tutje.
Gratë qanin pa zë, të mpira nga tmerri.
Partizania Vidna, prapa mitralozit, u drejtohet grave fatkëqija, që ia turbullonin pamjen: “Hiquni prej rruge kudra!” Ato nuk dinin nga të shkonin. Në atë rrëmujë dy nga burrat e rreshtuar për pushkatim, të lidhur njëri me tjetrin, shpëtuan për një fije floku, duke kërcyer gardhiqet pupthi, megjithëse tre partizanë u shkuan prapa me krisma pushkësh deri në fund të katundit, por nuk i kapën.
Trembëdhjetëvjeçari i lemerisur para se të binte nga plumbat, i tha tatës pranë: “Po tutna!”. Tata nuk bëzajti, ia shtrëngoi dorën. Partizanët kishin krijuar gjysmëharkun, që të mos u ikte asnjëri, ndërsa tytat ua drejtonin shënjestrave.
I pushkatuan para grave e nënave. Partizania Vidna nuk e hoqi gishtin nga këmbëza e mitralozit edhe një kohë pasi ra viktima e fundit. Koka e djaloshit kishte rënë në prehrin e të atit. Qetësia e mpiu Katundin e Ri. Kufomat i lanë ndanë gardhit. Në borën e bardhë gjaku shquhej thekshëm, trupat e ngrohtë ende avullonin, ndërsa brigada partizane me Vidnen në krye vazhdoi tutje. Ishte mëngjesi i hershëm i janarit.
Pas kësaj masakre emri i shoqes Vidna, sikurse e quanin, ua ngrinte zemrat katundarëve të Luginës së Drinit e të Lumëbardhit. Ajo mbolli vdekje ngado që shkoi.
– Në qytet pushkatimet nuk i bënin ditën me diell, por i ekzekutonin natën, – tregonte babai, kurse ne e dëgjonim dhe nuk bëzanim. Kodrat sipër qytetit të Pejës u mbushën me varre. Prapë përmendej emri i partizanes Vidna me mitralozin gjerman.
Askush nuk kishte dëgjuar më parë për të. Dinin se zbriti nga shkrepat e Malit të Zi me brigadën partizane të Bokelit: vajzë e heshtur, e zymtë, me pantallona të zhgunit ngjyrë kafe e opinga të lidhura me spango.
Burrat që mbeten gjallë tregonin skena makabre në Lugun e Baranit, kur Vidna me partizanët e brigadës së Bokelit silleshin rreth viktimave të pushkatuara, duke vallëzuar. Dukej si vallja e fantazmave në dritën e hënës.
Këtë titull – Populli e di kë ka cub kë hero – do të kisha parapëlqyer për poezinë e vitit 1989 të autorit Qerim Ujkani ‘Populli i di të gjitha’, një ndër më të bukurat e kësaj teme në poezinë shqipe. Të më ndjejë lexuesi, përpara se të kaloj në interpretimin artistik brenda dhe jashtë tekstit, do të doja të bëj këtu shkurt historinë e lidhjes sime me këtë poezi.
Për herë të parë poezinë ‘Populli i di të gjitha’ ia kam propozuar lexuesit po atë vit, kur e botonim, madje me një zgjidhje grafike tejet të posaçme, në faqen e parë të gazetës ‘Drita’, organ i Lidhjes së Shkrimtarëve dhe Artistëve të Shqipërisë. E merrnim nga revista letrare e Prishtinës, ‘Jeta e re’, ku sapo ishte botuar.
Krijimi dhe botimi në Prishtinë, pastaj në Tiranë, përkonin me një periudhë tejet të ndjeshme dhe tejet vendimtare për atdheun dhe kombin tonë. Në qiellin tonë, deri poshtë nëpër frymët tona, endeshin retë e zeza të heqjes së autonomisë së Kosovës, akti i parë makabër që kurorëzonte Beogradi i Millosheviçit. Kishte tetë vjet që Kosova ndodhej në gjendje të jashtëzakonshme, herë të shpallur e herë të pashpallur, tetë vjet që serbomëdhenjtë e kërcënonin me heqjen zyrtare të autonomisë së vitit 1974. Koha provoi se heqja e autonomisë së Kosovës ishte debuti i kryekasapit Millosheviç në kuadrin e goditjes së tij vendimtare ndaj federatës, ishte kobi që iu paraprinte kasaphanave në zemër të Evropës për vite të tëra në mbarim të Shekullit XX e në prag të Shekullit XXI dhe Mijëvjeçarit të Tretë, kobi që do të përmbyllej plot dhjetë vjet më vonë, pikërisht në Kosovë, pas bombardimeve 79 ditore nga NATO, pra, me një kolonë zanore të paparë në histori.
Furia e verbër serbomadhe e mishëruar në të sëmurin e saj më kobzi, Millosheviçin, kishte bërë mëkatin fatal – duke goditur të drejtën e shenjtë të Kosovës, kishte goditur edhe vizionin e shenjtë të Evropës së Bashkuar, ‘fantazma’ e së cilës endej tashmë në kontinent, me shembjen e perdes së hekurt, dhe kjo i ngutte hordhitë në krye të Beogradit për të kryer punë shpejt me krjimin e Serbisë së Madhe, çka do të kishte pasë shënuar edhe funeralin e Evropës së Bashkuar.
Në fillim të 1989 Kosovës i hiqej autonomia, në mbarim të atij viti, më 23 dhjetor, krijohej Lidhja Demokratike e Kosovës dhe populli i Kosovës vinte në krye të tij Ibrahim Rugovën, vizionarin gjenial të Kosovës së pavarur dhe sovrane, pa të cilën nuk mund të ketë Evropë paqësore, nuk mund të ketë Evropë të Bashkuar. Realizohej kështu profecia e parë e poezisë së Ujkanit – Populli e di kë ka cub kë hero. Për herë të parë në histori, idesë Kosovës së pavarur dhe sovrane i printe një simbol i Evropës, Ibrahim Rugova, antitezë totale me njeriun që i printe idesë së Serbisë së Madhe, Millosheviçin, varrmihësin e Evropës së Bashkuar. Sa ishte shpëtimtare për Evropën ideja e Rugovës, aq ishte fatale pë Evropën ideja e Millosehviçit.
Kur lexuesit ia propozoja përherë të parë, nëpërmjet gazetës Drita poezinë ‘Populli i di të gjitha’, isha i sigurt që poezia i kushtohej asaj pjese të popullit që nuk shkon kurrë pas politikanëve që e sundojnë, shkon gjithmonë pas liderëve që ai i nxjerr nga gjiri i tij, nga kuota më e epërme e lartësisë më të madhe të vetëdijës së tij. Isha i sigurt që poezia përkonte edhe me psikologjinë e kohës në Tiranë dhe në krejt Republikën bunker të Shqipërisë, ku gjendjes sonë të ngujimit i ishte mbaruar edhe bombola e fundit e oksigjenit.
Rreth 24 vjet më vonë lexuesit, poezinë ‘Populli i di të gjitha’, nëpërmjet gazetës sime online, ia ripropozoja më 1 dhjetor 2012, pa ditë pas kulmimit të festimeve të 100 vjetorit të pavarësisë së Shqipërisë, në atë atmosferë ku populli kishte zbritur në sheshe i tëri për të festuar, ndërsa sundimtarët e tij, gjoja elitë politike apo tjetërfare, i çirreshin nëpër tribuna, secila palë duke parë tek vetja heronjtë, ndërsa tek të tjerët duke parë cubat. Nëse më 1989 ‘Populli i di të gjitha’ kishte tingëllim kushtrues sa dhe profetik në Kosovë dhe në trojet tona të tjera në ish Jugosllavi, në Republikën e Shqipërisë ajo kishte një jehonë të mirëfilltë vetëdijësuese. Më 2012 dhe më 2013, ndërkaq, poezia ka një tingull krejtësisht aktual si në kohën kur është shkruar, edhe pse në rrethana të tjera. Tej cipës festive, ato janë të ngarkuara rëndë me sfida, nga të cilat përfitojnë sundimtarët dhe fundoset populli, pikërisht ai popull që nuk shkon pas sundimtarëve dritëshkurtër, ai populli që është në kërkim të prijësit vizionar, ai popull që ka misionin për ta nxjerrë liderin.
Poezia e Qerim Ujkanit, në tërësi, është poezi e foljeve. Kjo do të tingëllonte si akuzë, kur dihet sa guxim kërkon përdorimi i foljeve në poezi, sidomos përdorimi i tyre në pozicione fundore (në rima) apo në pozicione logjike. Në fakt, në kulmin e guximit të tyre, në kulmin e trallisë së tyre, poetët, edhe formalistët më të skajshëm, ndodh që përqafojnë pikërisht foljet. Janë foljet, pra, ato që ngërthejnë në vetvete tharmin hyjnore. Nga Bibla dihet se e para ishte fjala. Dhe ajo fjalë ishte pikërisht folje – Të bëhet. Prandaj edhe vetë fjala, nga vjen kalku shqip i ‘folje’, pra ‘verb’, me burim indoevropian dhe përdorur në shkrime për herë të parë nga latinët, ka kryehere në të vërtetë ngarkesën kuptimore ‘fjala e Zotit’, ka kuptimin e mesazhit hyjnor. Në gramatikë ka kuptimin e pjesës së ligjëratës që shënon veprimin në trajtën e kryer nga dikush dhe të pësuar nga ai vetë apo dikush a diçka tjetër.
Poezia e Ujkanit, poezi e veprimit, në misionin e saj kushtrimtar, ka në qendër parimin i përshkallëzimit artistik, zbritës apo ngjitës apo zbritës-ngjitës e anasjelltas. Dhe parim realizohet detyrimisht nëpërmjet foljeve. Tej formave klasike, ajo nuk ka strofa, nuk ka rima, është e organizuar në katër kapituj (katër kaptina) të shënuar me shifra romake. Secili kapitull përbëhet nga dy paragrafe (kryeradhë) dhe paraprihet e përmbyllet nga një varg refren. E gjithë poezia ka 64 vargje. Secili kapitull përmban 16 vargje, ku secili paragraf ka nga 7 vargje. Që këtu merret vesh sensi formalist i poezisë.
Mungojnë krejtësisht shenjat e pikësimit. Madje, pasi ka lexuar poezinë, sekush është e pamundur të mos dalë me mendimin – sa kot që janë shpikur shenjat e pikësimit. Një përfundim më se i përligjur në këtë kontekst. Edhe kjo e përforcon përfundimin e sapoarritur pak më lart.
Në tërësinë e vet krijimi i përmbahet përshkallëzimit artistik. Nga logjika ai është zbritës, nga tonaliteti, nga kumti është ngjitës. Diçka karakteristike kjo për poezinë e Ujkanit. Ky përshkallëzim, ndyshe nga poezitë e tjera të tij, ku realizohet përmes disa foljeve, këtu realizohet tek e njëjta folje, ‘di’, pra, një përshkallëzim i brendshëm. Folja ‘di’ zbërthehet nga paragrafi në paragraf nëpërmjet kundrinorëve dhe kallëzuesorëve që merr, pra nëpërmjet fjalëve ku bie veprimi i saj ose nëpërmjet fjalëve që e ftillojnë kuptimin e saj. Ky përshkallëzim kalon nga “i di të gjitha”, “di të flasë”, “di të heshtë”, tek “i di të gjitha”, “di të jetojë”, “di të vdesë”, tek ‘i di të gjitha’, “di kë ka mik kë armik”, duke i finalizuar me “i di të gjitha”, “di kë ka cub kë hero”.
Siç shihet më lart, përshkallëzimi realizohet nëpërmjet kontrastit, ku çdo paragraf ka çiftin kundërvënës, pra nëpërmjet përballjes së antitezave “të flasë-të heshtë”, “të jetojë-të vdesë”, “kë ka cub-kë hero”. Nëpërmjet këtyre kundërvënieve të pjesëshme realizohet edhe kundërvënia e madhe, ajo midis popullit dhe sunduesve, kundërvënia midis koncepteve filozofike kontrastuese që shprehin dhe mesazheve hyjnore kontrastuese që mbartin. Populli del kështu me privilegjin dhe barrën e madhe të përjetësisë. Ndërsa sunduesit dalin me ndëshkimin e përkohësisë sa mizore dhe fatale. Sa më larg misionit të tij të jetë populli, aq më e gjatë do të jetë përkohësia e sunduesve. Sa më i pakuptuar të jetë misioni i popullit, aq më mizore pamëshira e sunduesve. Kjo brengë e poetit shprehet filozofikisht nëpërmjet një paradoksi në fund të çdo paragrafi. Paragrafi i parë (kapitulli i parë) – ‘kur flet populli’ – përfundon me vargun e papritur – ‘sundimtarët janë të qetë’. Paragrafi i dytë (kapitulli i njëjtë) – ‘kur hesht populli’ – ‘sundimtarët i merr gjumi’. Kjo e përforcon në tejskaj edhe kontrastin e nënkuptuar, nga del se sundimtarët përbëjnë përbindëshin me shumëkokë dhe shqisa shumëfishe që e përgjojnë popullin. Ndërsa populli përbën të pafajshmin që, kur hesht, ndryn në vetvete të panjohurën, kijametin, së cilës ia kanë frikën për vdekje sundimtarët, ndërsa kur flet – nuk është më enigma, është vetëm përditshmëria e rëndomtë, prandaj kjo i qetëson sundimtarët.
Secili paragraf bazohet në figura të përqëndruara kryesisht në një varg të vetëm a në pak vargje, ku vargjet e tjera vetëm sa sjellin detaje dhe rrethana plotësuese, garnitura. Tek paragrafi i parë (kapitulli i parë) këtë e kryejnë “gurëve të varreve u hyn shpirti dhe lëvizin”, e “të nisurave iu shfaqen fundit”. Tek paragrafi i dytë këtë e kryejnë “Si gryka malesh i kapërdin rrufetë/Mes dhëmbësh kërcëlluar i shkrepëtijnë vetëtimat/ Gjëmimet i ndryn në vete”. Kështu sundimtarët paralajmërohen se populli është vetëtimë që nuk bubullon, është vetëtimë që vetëm zharit.
Kapitulli i dytë shënon edhe ndërkohën lirike të kësaj epike, teksa shënon kontrastin jetë-vdekje, shënon prehjen para stuhisë. Këtu vetëm sa përligjet emërtimi nga unë i pjesëve të poezisë me terma që përdoren në llojet e gjinisë epike, sidomos në romane. Kapitulli i tretë është edhe kapitulli më filozofik i poezisë. Përballë mikut ai është përballë besës – prandaj mikun nuk e provon kurrë në ditë të mirë, e ruan për ditë të vështirë. Përballë armikut ai është përballë pabesisë, prandaj populli “Njësoj shikon prapa si përpara/ Rreziku që i bie ndesh është një herë rrezik/ Rreziku prapa shpine dy herë”. Duke qenë përjetësia populli është edhe përvoja gjithëjetësore e njerëzimit. Prandaj nuk ia fal vetes përqindjen sado të papërfillshme të gabueshmërisë. Mbi këtë filozofi ai e ndërton edhe triumfin ndaj armikut, njëherësh triumfin ndaj përkohësisë.
Poezia e Ujkanit është poezi e vargut të bardhë. Kjo, megjithatë nuk përbën rregull rigoroz për të. Kur vjen natyrshëm rima, kur e shikon të domosdoshme, poeti nuk e shmang atë. Në kapitullin e katërt, në paragrafin e parë, poezia ka vargjet “Në një mijë ngjyra/ Të lyhet e të ngjyhet/ Në një mijë fytyra/ Të shtiret/ Ai cubin e njeh/ E hedh në pleh”. Për të përftuar ironinë dhe sarkazmën, poeti nuk i shmang, përkundrazi i fton rimat e puthitura dhe të alternuara, asonancat, aliteracionet. Kjo ngarkesë vetëm sa e dendëson mesazhin artistik dhe filozofik të poezisë.
Ndërkohë përthyerjet e tyre janë një asimetri tejet e domosdoshme dhe tejet e mirëpritur në një simetri nga më të përkryerat në poezinë e tij të natyrës epike, të toneve madhështore dhe mesazheve kushtruese, ku formalizmi i skajshëm dhe përmbajtja e fuqishme janë vënë në një harmoni mjeshtërore.
Me të drejtë, poeti dhe kritiku dhe poeti i madh bashkëkohor amerikan John Hollander, e konsideron poezinë kryesisht një çështje të ritmit, të riorganizimit të gjuhës dhe të vizioneve, në një mënyrë thelbësisht të ndryshme nga ajo e prozës. Qerim Ujkani është poet i ritmit të vizioneve, ritmit të ideve, të figuracionit, herë nëpërmjet përsëritjes, herë nëpërmjet numërimit, herë nëpërmjet eliptimit të tyre.
Pikërisht gjallëria e ritmeve, figuracionit, theksave logjikë, madje disi edhe e theksave ritmikë bëjnë që ‘Populli i di të gjitha’ të jetë poezi e një komunikim të gjerë, pra për lexim të heshtur, poezi për lexim artistike (në shkollë, në radio, në ekranin e vogël), poezi për recitim artistik (në skenën e teatrit poetik).
Autori i “Populli i di të gjitha”, Qerim Ujkani, nuk i ka munguar poezisë shqipe që nga vitet ’50. Gjithnjë besnik ndaj temës së tij, që e bën ndër krijimtarinë e tij ndër më të angazhuarat e poezisë sonë, poeti nuk ka hequr dorë kurrë nga mjeshtëria, nuk ka rënë rob i ideve të tij. Drejtvizor sa dhe kërkues brenda vetvetes në udhëtimin e tij krijues, Qerim Ujkani mbetet një zë i rëndësishëm, i pashpërfillshëm në poezinë tonë.
Në pajtim me misionin e artit të tij dhe të ideve të tij, Qerim Ujkani, qoftë me poezitë, qoftë me esetë e tij nuk pranon të heshtë përballë dukurive të papranueshme të kohës sonë.
E shkruar më 1989, poezia e Qerim Ujkanit “Populli i di të gjitha”, nuk mund t’i shpëtonte krejtësisht autocensurës. Në këtë kontekst, me “sundimtarët” gjithnjë kiheshin parasysh “pushtuesit”. Megjithatë kjo censurë e detyruar e bën poezinë të tingëllojë krejtësisht aktuale tek shqiptarët, qoftë atje ku ka ende pushtues, qoftë atje ku ka ende sundimtarë. Mjerisht, kombi ynë heronjtë i ka në varre, ndërsa cubat i ka në piedestalet e pushtetit.
Qerim Ujkani (Selimaj) u lind më 1937 në Pejë. Shkollën fillore dhe të mesme i kreu në vendlindje, kurse në Beograd studioi shkencat juridike. Ishte njëri nga redaktorët më të spikatur të emisioneve letrare nga proza dhe poezia në Radio Prishtinën e dikurshme. Ka shkruar poezi dhe prozë si dhe është marrë me përkthime letrare nga serbokroatishtja në gjuhën shqipe. Ka botuar mbi 20 libra me poezi dhe prozë. Ka përkthyer shumë poetë dhe prozatorë jugosllavë dhe botërorë nga serbokroatishtja. Është prezantuar në antologjitë dhe panoramën e poezisë bashkëkohore shqiptare në gjuhën shqipe, serbokroate dhe disa gjuhë botërore, ndër të cilat në italisht, spanjisht, frëngjisht, polonisht, anglisht etj. Ndërsa në kuadër të “Letërsia e shekujve”, vëllimi XXXIII, Milano, u prezantua në mesin e 15 poetëve shqiptar të të gjitha kohërave. Zgjedhja dhe përkthimi italisht, Namik Resuli. Qerim Ujkani vdiq në Prishtinë në moshën 78 vjeçare, më 12 mars 2015.
Titujt e veprave
Hullinat – 1963,
Përralla e votrës – 1964,
Tingujt e vendlindjes (vjersha për fëmijë) – 1967;
Deti ose poema e shqetësueme, “Rilindja” 1968;
Pagëzime, “Rilindja” 1969;
Antisonete, “Rilindja” 1972;
Pasthirmë, “Rilindja” 1974 e ribotuar më 1981;
Lartësi toke, “Rilindja” 1979;
Gjaku im (vjersha të zgjedhura) “Naim Frashëri”, Tiranë 1980;
Hije e këputur, “Rilindja”, 1982,
Dielli që po e krijoj (vjersha të zgjedhura – zgjedhja dhe parathënia, Hysni Hoxha), “Rilindja”, Prishtinë, 1983;
Përrallë erërave, “Rilindja”, Prishtinë 1986;
Mesjetarë të përjetshëm, “Rozafa”, Prishtinë, 1977;
Kthimi i ushtarit në shtëpi, “Rozafa”, Prishtinë 1997;
Mëkatet e errësirës, Lidhja e shkrimtarëve e Kosovës, Prishtinë, 1997;
Malli i atdheut, (Antologji e poezisë shqipe me temën e mërgimit, koautor me I. Prokshin) Shoqata për kthimin e të Shpërngulurve në trojet e veta, “Dukagjini”, Pejë, 1995;
Elegji mëngjesore, “Nositi” Prishtinë, 2009,
Qyteti i zi, Prishtinë, 2011.
Në gjuhën serbokroate ka botuar:
Krstenja (Pagëzimet) vjersha të zgjedhura, “Jedinstvo”, Prishtinë, 1975;
Dolazak u jedan grad (Ardhja në një qytet), vjersha të zgjedhura, parathënia dhe përkthimi i Hasan Mekulit, Veselin Maslesa, Sarajevë, 1980.
Nga serbokroatishtja ka përkthyer:
Gurë dhe ëndrra, vjersha të zgjedhura të Jure Kashtellanit, “Rilindja”, 1977;
Ujëvara, vjersha të zgjedhura të Dobrisha Cesariqit, “Rilindja”, 1979;
Çështje të romanit (bashkë me M. Kërnjën), “Rilindja”, 1980.