Henry Fanshawe Tozer.

Researches in the highlands of Turkey; including visits to mounts Ida, Athos, Olympus, and Pelion, to the Mirdite Albanians, and other remote tribes (Volume 1) online

. (page 22 of 31)
Online LibraryHenry Fanshawe TozerResearches in the highlands of Turkey; including visits to mounts Ida, Athos, Olympus, and Pelion, to the Mirdite Albanians, and other remote tribes (Volume 1) → online text (page 22 of 31)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

concourse of people would be gathered together. His
sentence was, to be shot by the guards on the bridge, the
same spot where he had killed his victim, and that his
body should be exposed in the market-place for three

Other circumstances combined to give us an unfavour-
able impression of the people of Rieka. During our stay
we had obtained our meals from a small inn hard by the
Prince's residence, and when on our departure the next
afternoon a somewhat exorbitant charge was made, we
raised no objection, thinking that the guests of a prince
must be content to pay in princely style. No sooner,
however, had we reached the boat which we had hired to
take us to Scodra, — and which, owing to the shallowness
of the stream, was moored a quarter of a mile below the
village, — than the master of the inn, who had been absent

T 2

2/6 Montenegro. Chap. XII.

when our bill was presented to us, overtook us and
demanded double of what we had already paid. When
we steadily refused to pay, he flew into a violent passion,
and nothing could be conceived more truly diabolical
than the expression produced on his countenance by real
or pretended rage. It reminded me forcibly of some of
the most malignant faces of criminals in Gustave Dore's
illustrations to Dante's ' Inferno.' The worst of it was,
that the six boatmen who formed our crew, — partly, as it
seemed, from a disposition to take their countryman's
side, and partly from fear that they themselves should
not get their money, — at first refused to move, and then
demanded that they should be paid in full before starting.
We at once flung down in the boat the three Turkish
sovereigns for which we had bargained, and thereby re-
stored confidence ; but it was with no little satisfaction
that we found ourselves a few minutes afterwards floating
down the middle of the stream.

Our conveyance was one of the long clumsy boats
regularly used on the lake (Londra is their name), about
forty feet in length by seven wide, flat-bottomed and
without seats, for the rowers, except those in the bows,
stand up and push with the oar. The oars work in a
band which is attached to the gunwale, thus serving
instead of a thole : these bands are made of withies
rudely twisted, as we learnt from having to stop some
time by the side of a willow-bed to replace by fresh ones
the old bands which had become rotten. Shortly after
this our men stopped again by the other bank, to take in
a young fellow, to whom they had promised to give a
passage down to Scodra. He proved serviceable to us,
as he could speak a little Italian ; but the crew w^ould
hardly have taken him on board, had they known what a
bad character he rave both to them and to the Monte-

Chap. XII. Lake of Scodra. Q.'j'j

negrins generally who visit Scodra. He represented
them as great cheats, and as having a bad name in the
bazaars there for carrying ofif things for which they never
pay. This is likely enough, for the facilities are great,
and the temptation strong ; and, to say the truth, we
found them a lazy, rough, independent set of fellows, and
anything but agreeable companions. But no people
ought to be judged of from its boatmen, or from the
inhabitants of a frontier market town like Rieka.

The river for some way pursues a winding course
between wild mountains, and as these recede to a greater
distance, the sides of its wide channel are filled with
extensive beds of rushes, while numerous egrets, divers,
and other water birds, appeared on the surface. After
about three hours we reached the point where it opens
out into the lake ; near to this are several islands, Vranina,
Monastir, and Lesendria, the two latter of which have often
changed hands between the Turks and Montenegrins.
They are now in the possession of the former, who are
engaged, as the Pasha of Scodra afterwards told us, in
completing and strengthening the fine old castle which
covers almost the whole island of Lesendria. As we
looked back from here after sunset, the mountains of the
eastern part of Montenegro appeared extremely grand,
rising range behind range, and deep blue in colour, while
to the west of them the peak of Lovchen, with the chapel
on its flat summit, was visible over all. On the opposite
side of the lake were seen the lofty mountains inhabited
by the Hotti and Clementi, two of the fiercest and most
powerful of the Christian Albanian tribes. After night-
fall a slight head-wind arose, and our boatmen, who were
tired with rowing and singing innumerable picsnias (some
of Mirkho's, probably, for the word Grahova and the
name of the Sultan continually recurred), declared that

278 Montenegro. Chap. XII.

the boat could not live in such a sea, and put in at the
little village of Seltza on the mainland, close to the
frontier of Turkey and Montenegro. Here they moored
the boat, and very soon were all asleep.

The mode of catching the scoranzi, of which fish there
are great quantities in this lake, has been described by
Count Karaczay and other authorities, and the truth of
their accounts, strange as they are, was confirmed to us
at Scodra. The Count's description is as follows •} — " It
is about the size of a herring, and enters the lake in
autumn from the river Boyana : it is then found in asto-
nishing numbers. There are places in the lake which
have a smooth bottom, and present, besides, the appear-
ance of springs issuing from the earth. These places,
called oko, are visited by the scoranzi when the weather
becomes cold, because the temperature of the springs is
more elevated than that of the waters of the lake : their
number is then so great in these places, that an oar
pushed into the water remains fixed. The oko are the
property of a few individuals, chiefly Turks, and are, at
the beginning of the cold season, surrounded by nets, in
which an incredible quantity of fish is taken : they are
dried, and form a considerable article of commerce." I
have already mentioned that they are exported from

At one o'clock in the morning we roused our sleeping
crew, and once more got under way. The wind had
fallen, and, as there was no moon, the stars were wonder-
fully bright ; Venus in particular, which, hung in the
eastern sky, threw a broad trail of light across the water.
When daylight came, we found the western shore of the
lake, along which we were coasting, extremely bare, but

^ 'Journal of Geographical Society,' vol. xxii. p. 57.

Chap. XII. Pelicans. 279

some of the distant mountains of Albania, which rose to
the south-east, showed magnificent forms. At one place,
where a few rocks stood out from the middle of the
water at no great distance from us, we saw a number of
large birds singularly like pelicans ; and we were after-
wards told that this bird is found on the lake of Scodra.
One of our boatmen fired his pistol at them, and the
bullet fell in the water just below the rocks on which
they were resting, after which they flew lazily away.
The heat of the day had become intense, when about ten
o'clock we found that we had reached the exit of the
river Boyana, which in a short course of twenty miles
carries the waters of the lake into the Adriatic. We
passed a steamer belonging to the Pasha, which is in-
tended to play a prominent part in carrying troops, in
case of another war breaking out between the Turks and
Montenegrins, and, before reaching the landing-place,
made our way through a number of enclosures for catch-
ing fish, which intersect the stream in all directions at a
variety of angles, with huts erected at intervals above
the water, being supported from below on stakes, in
which the people live who superintend the fishery. They
brought forcibly to our minds the lacustrine habitations
of which such considerable remains have been discovered
in the Swiss lakes.

( 280 )



Bazaars and City of Scodra — Vendetta — Turkish Toleration — Turks and'
Montenegrins — Ismael Paslia — Tlie Castle — View from it — vSieges —
Departure for the Mirdita — The Drin — First Impressions of the Mir-
dita — Night-bivouac — Mirdite Dress — Extensive Oak-forests — The
Priest of St. George — -Religious Views of the People — Their Fana-
ticism — Rivers of the Country — Arrival at Orosch.

On landing from our boat we at once entered the bazaars
of Scodra, which are built at a distance of two miles from
the modern city, in a low and unhealthy position by the
river side, at the foot of the castle hill, — a steep isolated
mass of rock, which rises finely from the plain with a
striking outline. Our first thought was to purchase
saddles and other equipments for our journey into the
interior. And here I may remark, for the information of
future travellers, that it is not advisable to use English
saddles in Turkey, because, whether rightly or not, the
people of the country have the strongest objection to
them, believing that they injure the backs of their horses.
It is far better to purchase a padded Turkish saddle in
the first large town on your route, taking care to select
one with the slightest peak that you can find, together
with a surcingle, as well as girths, and a crupper. It is
well, however, to take stirrups and stirrup leathers from
England, as the Turkish ones are often awkward and
untrustworthy. A number of rough horse-hair saddle-
bags of various sizes will also be found extremely useful,
and can be met with everywhere in Turkey. In the

Chap. XIII. Scodra. 281

larger ones you can stow your luggage, by which means
an infinity of trouble is saved in loading your baggage-
horse ; and the smaller ones, which can be thrown across
the peak of the saddle, serve to carry provisions and any
other etceteras. After providing ourselves with these
and a few other articles, we proceeded over dilapidated
roads and by the sides of broken bridges, which once
spanned the numerous watercourses, to the city, if that
name can properly be applied to a place where the
houses are built so far apart, and so embowered in trees,
that more than two or three can seldom be seen in one
view. Yet Scodra is said to contain a population of
27,000 souls, and is by far the most important place
of all this part of Turkey. It can even boast a very fair

In the course of the day we visited the British Consul,
Mr. Read, who gave us a good deal of information about
the state of the country, and kindly assisted us in arrang-
ing our plans for the next stage of our journey. He
described the continual vendetta as being the bane of this
whole district. Though the condition of things is not as
outrageous as formerly, yet with an average of one murder
every week in the city and its neighbourhood, arising from
this cause, it can be conceived how little real security
there is to human life. The authorities do what they can
to prevent it, but in all probability no method would be
effectual short of exiling the whole family of the mur-
derer. From time to time, when the confusion becomes
intolerable, it is a custom, handed down from ancient
times, for a general truce to be proclaimed, when the
persons who have the right to exercise the vendetta are
required to appear before the heads of their tribes or the
local governors, and swear that they will abstain from
vengeance. M. Hecquard, who was formerly French

282 Scodra and the Mirdita. Chap. XIII.

Consul at Scodra, mentions that in 1857, in consequence
of no truce having been proclaimed for thirteen years, no
less than 500 persons belonging to the city of Scodra
alone were wandering about in the neighbouring plain
and mountains as being compromised.' But even the
alleviation of the evil which is produced in this way is, as
may be supposed, but partial and of short duration.

Mr. Read expressed his belief that the Turkish autho-
rities here are anxious to carry out a system of religious
toleration, and mentioned, as a proof of this, that whereas
until lately the only place where the Christians of Scodra
were allowed to meet for worship was a field in the
suburbs, a church is now in course of erection in the
plain. My companion enquired whether the evidence of
Christians was received in the courts of justice. He re-
plied in the negative ; the Pasha, he thought, was a fair
man, and wished them to be heard, but as soon as he
proposed it, the Cadi would retire, and without his sig-
nature the verdict becomes void. The same is the case
in the mcdjlis, or council. Within a few years the Pasha
has nominated amongst its members two Christians, one
a representative of the Latin, the other of the Greek com-
munity; but from fear of ill-usage they are absolute
cyphers, and wholly unable to prevent injurious measures.
Whatever political influence is exercised by any foreign
power on the Christians of North Albania is in the hands
of Austria, from which country almost all the Roman
Catholic bishops come : the priests who are introduced
from that country he regarded as being injurious, from

' Hecquard, 'La Haute Albania,' p. 380. This book, though frequently
inaccurate, as every one on the spot maintained, and we ourselves disco-
vered, comprises a great deal of valuable information, and is the only
authority on the subject. I have made considerable use of the historical
notices it contains. The large map which accompanies it is almost

Chap. XIII. Turks and Montenegrins. 283

the political ferments which they occasionally cause, and
the jealousy they arouse among the native priests. As
to the relations of the Turks and Montenegrins, he seemed
to think they were in a very precarious position, and that
war might break out any day. There were faults on both
sides. The Turks were unreasonably hard in pressing
points with regard to the frontier line, and similar ques-
tions, and if the British embassy at Constantinople were
to urge them to a more conciliatory course, it was highly
probable they would consent. On the other hand, the
Montenegrins were ever ready to take up a matter, how-
ever slight, and make it a cause of quarrel. Not long
before this the Austrian Government had made them a
present (not a very judicious one) of 1500 rifles, imme-
diately after which a movement was felt all along the
frontier, and though nothing ultimately came of it, yet it
was enough to cause an uneasy sensation. The Turks
maintain that according to the last convention Mirkho
has no right to live any longer in the country, whereas he
is dignified with the offices of President of the Senate and
Commander-in-chief of the Army.^

In company with Mr. Read, we paid a visit to Ismael
Pasha, the governor of this province, who was one of
Omer Pasha's officers, an able and strong-handed man,
and in good repute even among the Montenegrins. We
found him sitting with the Russian consul in the garden
of his serai, where he welcomed us in a very friendly
manner, and entertained us with coffee, sherbet, and the
never-failing cigarettes. Like most Pashas, he is exces-

2 The rights of the case are as follows. In the original draft of the
Convention of Scutari, in 1862, it was arranged that Mirkho should be
banished from the countiy ; but this article was subsequently modified, and
it was agreed that he should remain, on condition of his holding no office in
the State. See Ubicini, ' Les Serbes de Turquie,' p. 273, where the text
of the Convention is given.

284 Scodra and the Mirdita. Chap. XIII.

sively fat, and had the strongly-marked features of the
Osmanli. He is confident, we were told, that in case of
a war he could easily penetrate to Cetinje, and subdue
the Montenegrins ; but when I looked at his portly frame,
and thought of the passes above Rieka, I felt not a little
doubtful whether he would accomplish the task in person.
He was proud, and with reason, considering the time of
year, of the flowers in his garden ; they were mostly nas-
turtiums and other gay plants, for the Turks delight in
gaudy colours. The soil of this plain is excellent, both
for flowers and vegetables ; the violets and other wild
flowers in spring are described as magnificent ; but owing
to the ignorance of the people, very few kinds of vege-
tables are grown, except gourds ; and their potatoes, as I
have said, are imported from Montenegro. Ismael's brass
band was in attendance, and played a number of airs,
partly Italian, partly Turkish, very fairly ; but as no
Turk has any ear, their style of playing was better suited
to the latter, which has that peculiarly raw, half-discordant
sound which is characteristic of all Oriental music. How
cleverly Beethoven has imitated it in his Turkish March
in the ' Ruins of Athens ! '

On our expressing a wish to visit the castle, the Pasha
sent one of his aides-de-camp to accompany us. We
found the fortifications in a ruinous state in many parts ;
they are, in fact, those of the old Servian fortress, dating
from the time when Upper Albania, under the title of the
province of Rascia, formed a part of the Servian king-
dom. But, from the isolated position of the lofty rock on
which it stands, the view is a very remarkable one. To
the north extends the wide expanse of the lake, its
eastern shore bounded by level land or gradual slopes
extendincr to the foot of the mountains of the Hotti and

Chap. XIII. Viezv from the Castle. 285

Clementi, while on the opposite side rises the grand rocky-
wall that separates it from the sea, the last spurs of which
sink into the plain at our feet on the right bank of the
Boyana, thus terminating the long limestone chain which
skirts the Adriatic throughout the whole length of Dal-
matia and Montenegro. The river, — which, as it passes
the bazaars, is spanned by a long ricketty wooden bridge,
— winds away through level ground in the direction of the
Adriatic, whose waters may be seen far off through an
opening in the hills ; and just after it has skirted the
castle hill, it receives the combined streams of two other
rivers. One of these, the Chiri, flows on the south side
of the city, and is a source of continual anxiety to the
inhabitants from its winter inundations, which threaten
sooner or later to sweep away the Avhole place. The
other is a branch of the Drin, which broke away from the
main river two years before our visit, and taking a
northerly course forced its way as far as this point. So
seriously may the face of a country be injured, where
barbarism and neglect prevail ! At the foot of the castle
on the south side, and separated from the bazaars by a
rocky hill, are the half-ruined houses of the old town of
Scodra ; while the modern city stretches over a consi-
derable part of the plain to the east, having the appear-
ance of a sea of trees, with minarets and other lofty
buildings rising out of it, a most picturesque sight. Far
away to the south-east appeared the snow-capped moun-
tains of the Mirdite Albanians ; and directly to the east,
rising over the nearer ranges, a group of striking peaks
in the direction of Ipek, one of them pyramidal in form.
Of these peaks, which were the Bertiscus of ancient times,
we shall hear more as we proceed.

The castle height on which we are standing was the

286 Scodra and the Mirdita. Chap. XIII.

site of the original town of Scodra, for this name, which
has been transformed into Scutari '' by the ItaHans, signi-
fies " on the hill." At different periods of history it has
been a place of considerable importance, and has sus-
tained numerous sieges. The first of these is mentioned
by Livy, who describes the place as difficult of access,
and the best fortified tow^n in the country, and surrounded
by two rivers, the Clausula (Chiri) on the east, and the
Barbana (Boyana) on the west, the latter of which flows
from the Pains Labcatis (lake of Scodra).'* On this occa-
sion Gentius, the last king of Illyria, having provoked the
hostility of the Romans by his piracies, was attacked and
besieged by the Roman Prsetor Anicius, and after an un-
successful sally, compelled to surrender af discretion ;
after which Illyria became a Roman province (B.C. i68).
To pass over a number of minor sieges, it was again the
scene of an important conflict in the year 1478, when
the Venetians, to whom it had been ceded by Scanderbeg

^ I have all along avoided this foiTii of the name, in order to distinguish
this place from the better-known Scutari on the Bosphorus.

■• Livy, xliv. 31. The remainder of this passage is as obscm-e and con-
fusing, as the earlier part is clear:— "Duo cingunt earn flumina. Clausula
latere urbis, quod in orientem patet, profluens, Barbanna ab regione occi-
dentis, ex Labeatide palude oriens. Hi duo amnes confluentes incidunt
Oriundi flumini, quod ortum ex monte Scordo, multis et aliis auctum aquis,
mari Hadriatico infertur. Mons Scordus, longe altissimus regionis ejus, ab
oriente Dardaniam subjectam habet, a meridie Macedonian!, ab occasu
lUyricum." As the Drin is the only other river in this neighbourhood, and
rises in the Schar-dagh, or Scardus, the position of which, between Dar-
dania, in the neighbourhood of the Axius, and Illyricum, is so clearly
pointed out, it is reasonable to suppose that Oriundi, a word of suspicious
sound, is an error of the author or transcriber for Drilon, or Drinio, the
ancient name of that river, and that Livy made the mistake of supposing
that the Boyana fell into the Drin. Another authority, Vibius Sequester,
( ' De Fluminibus,' s.v. Barbana, quoted by Grisebach, ' Reise durch
Rumelien,' ii. 118), distinctly states that the Barbana flowed into the sea.
But it is curious that Livy should have so nearly anticipated the present
state of things when a connexion actually exists between the two rivers.

Chap. XIII. Sieges. 287

by a secret convention which came into force after his
death, were blockaded there by Mahomet II. for nine
months, and only yielded it to him in consequence of a
treaty of peace being signed. And to come nearer to
our own times, it was the head-quarters of Mahmoud
Pasha, or Mahmoud the Black, as he is more commonly
called, who in the latter half of the eighteenth century
held a similar position in Northern Albania to that which
Ali of Yanina afterwards held in the south ; and who,
after long defying the Ottomans from whom he had re-
volted, and cutting in pieces the detachments which they
sent against him, was ultimately defeated and slain by
the Montenegrins under their Vladika Peter I., into whose
mountains in an evil hour he had penetrated (a.d. 1796).
One of his successors, Mustapha, a man of less ability,
but for a time not less formidable, again declared himself
independent of the central government, and taking advan-
tage of the time when Sultan Mahmoud's power had been
weakened by his war with Russia and the unpopularity of
his internal reforms, induced a large number of the neigh-
bouring chieftains to join his standard, and marched
against the Turkish forces. But the general who was
sent against him, Mehemet Reschid Pasha, though the
forces at his command were considerably inferior, was a
man of far greater capacity. Mustapha was first defeated
in the field, and then forced to shut himself up in this
fortress, where, after sustaining a siege and bombardment,
he was compelled to surrender by the explosion of his
powder magazine (A.D. 1832). Since that time the Otto-
man flag has waved peacefully over its battlements.

The next point that we intended to make for in our
journey was the country of the Mirdites, whose moun-
tains I have mentioned as visible from the castle. They
have the reputation of being the fiercest and most

288 Scodra and tJie Mirdita. Chap. XIII.

warlike of all the Albanians, and have never been
subdued by the Turks, of whom they are absolutely
independent, being governed by a Prince of their own,
who is a descendant of Scanderbeg. They are the
hereditary enemies of the Montenegrins ; and it was
strange to think that within so short a distance we
should visit two Christian peoples so strongly contrasted
with one another, differing in race, political organization,
and even religion, for the Mirdites are all Roman Catho-
lics. We were doubtful before arriving at Scodra
whether it would be possible for us to enter their country,
but as the Prince has a residence in that city, Mr. Read
had become acquainted with him, and undertook to pro-
vide us with an introduction. He found on enquiry that
a servant or messenger of Bib Doda (such is the Prince's
name) was about to start on the morrow for Orosch, his
mountain residence, with despatches from Ismael Pasha

Online LibraryHenry Fanshawe TozerResearches in the highlands of Turkey; including visits to mounts Ida, Athos, Olympus, and Pelion, to the Mirdite Albanians, and other remote tribes (Volume 1) → online text (page 22 of 31)