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

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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 23 of 31)
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and other commissions ; and accordingly it was arranged
that this person should accompany us and act as guide.
We hired four horses of an Albanian carrier called Nicola,
a fine-looking middle-aged man, and in every respect a
most capital fellow, far superior to the ordinary run of
carriers and muleteers : in the first instance we agreed to
take him as far as Prisrend, but, as w^e found his horses
very fair, and himself all that we could desire, we ulti-
mately went through with him all the way to Salonica.

Shortly after midday we left the city. Our path ran
in a south-easterly direction along a plain near the foot
of a range of mountains, and was bordered by agnus-
castus bushes, pomegranates, palluria, and other shrubs,
festooned here and there by the wild vine : the land on
both sides was fairly cultivated, in some places corn
being grown, in others vines and mulberry trees, and in
one spot I saw a patch of tobacco. In two hours and

Chap. XIII. The Drin. 2S9

a half we reached the main stream of the Drin, from
which the branch that has made its way to Scodra
separates lower down : at this point it is from 100 to
150 yards wide, a rushing turbid current, very different
from the pellucid river which, on our former journey, we
had seen issue from the Lake of Ochrida. About half-
way between these two points it receives the waters of
the White Drin, which rises in the mountains of Ipek
and flows from north to south, after which the combined
streams take a westerly course towards the sea. From
the appearance of its bed it must have a wider stream in
the winter. Here there is a ferry, and considering that
this is the high road between Scodra and Prisrend, the
ferry-boat is of a most primitive description. It is
composed of two boats of no great size fastened together,
each of which is made out of one piece of wood {inonoxyla
the Greeks call them), and is paddled for some distance
up the stream with instruments more resembling spades
than oars, and then drifted across to the other side.
When horses are ferried over they are arranged cross-
wise, with their fore-feet in one boat and their hind-feet
in the other. Above the ferry the rocks close in and
form a narrow gorge, which extends for a distance of not
less than sixty miles up the course of the stream, with
such precipitous sides that it is impossible for any road
to follow in that direction. We were informed that it
had been explored in the previous year by Von Hahn,
with the object of discovering whether it could be
rendered navigable, but that he found the rapids so
numerous and so steep as to make the attempt to utilize
it hopeless.^ In consequence of this, the high road to

^ It is even said that in one part tliere is a waterfall 150 feet higli. Sec
the account given by a Turkish ofiicer in an Appendix to Von Hahn's
' Reise von Belgrad naclx Salonilv,' p. 207.


290 Scodra and the Mirdita. Chap. XIII.

Prisrend has to pass for several days' journey over exces-
sively steep and rugged ground some way to the south
of the river, having on one side the wild tribe of the
Ducadjini, and on the other the Mirdites, part of whose
territory it traverses in the most difficult portion of the
route. This is one great source of the influence of that
people, and a cause of their independence, for no sooner
have they a grievance to complain of, or any difference
with the Turks, than they infest this road and render it
impassable, thereby destroying commerce, cutting off
supplies, and, what is still more important, hindering
reinforcements being sent from the interior in case of a
war with Montenegro. This route has been described
by Dr. Grisebach, who passed this way in 1839.

After crossing the river we stopped by a solitary khan
on the opposite bank to wait for our Albanian guide,
who had left Scodra later than ourselves, and was to
overtake us here. We made our dinner off provisions
which we had brought with us, having being warned
beforehand that we should find nothing, except perhaps
coffee and spirits, at the miserable hovels which are
built at intervals along the main road, and form the only
accommodation for the traveller between Scodra and
Prisrend. Nevertheless, as this is the only line of com-
munication by which the produce of a large inland
district can be brought to the sea, the amount of traffic
is very considerable, as we could see from the number of
well-laden horses bearing merchandize which passed us
on the way. When Bib Doda's messenger arrived we
again started, and followed the track until it began to
ascend into the mountains, near which point was a small
Christian church with some pretensions to architecture
and rough ornamental stone-work. Here we left it, and
skirted the edge of the plain of Zadrima, which stretches

Chap. XIII. First Impressions. 291

southwards in the direction of Alessio, forming the
boundary of the Mirdita on this side. We soon found
our native guide indispensable, for the sHght traces of a
path vanished when we came to the broad shingly bed of
a river called Djadri, which we followed upwards, fre-
quently crossing and recrossing the shallow stream,
which from the appearance of its channel must at times
be swelled into a furious torrent. On one side the rocks
were of limestone — the last of this formation which we
saw until reaching Orosch — on the other they appeared
igneous, which, according to Grisebach, is the character
of the greater part of this mountain mass south of the
Drin. These last, as well as the debris that had fallen
from them, were of a deep red colour, so that, as evening
approached, the shadows that were thrown along them
by the trees on their sides assumed a rich purple hue.
We were now within the territory of the Mirdites, and
the wildness of the scenery harmonized well with all that
we had heard of the character of the natives. Here and
there, however, gentle nooks appeared, where bright
green poplars, with patches of maize and small vine-
yards, gave an aspect of cultivation ; and the cows
coming up from the water, and the sheep follozuing the
shepherd, as in the parable, suggested thoughts of rural
life, though these were somewhat marred by the long
gun which the shepherd carried on his shoulder. At one
point, where the river makes a considerable bend, an
armed party suddenly appeared from behind a mass of
rock which projected above the valley, and, after hailing
us, enquired where we were going. Our guide was not
with us, having made a detour into the mountains to
avoid wading the stream, but Nicola satisfied them by
shouting that we were on our way to visit the Prince.
At last, about nightfall, we left the river and mounted

U 2

292 Scodra and the Mirdita. Chap. XIIL

to a small upland plain, in which was a solitary-
house, where our Albanian proposed that we should
stop : but as it had been arranged that he should take
us to a priest's house in the village of Castagneti, which
was said to be not far distant, and our time was precious,
we resolved to proceed thither. Having mounted him
on one of our horses, we stumbled along behind him by
the light of the stars, over very rough places, while he
extemporized a way so cleverly and with such perfect
nonchalance, that we were deceived into the idea that he
knew where he was going, until suddenly he disappeared,
horse and all, down a bank five feet high. On re-
appearing unhurt he confessed that he was wholly out of
his reckoning, and condescended to go off in the direc-
tion of a light which we saw at no great distance, and
which proved to proceed from a shepherds' encampment.
From them we learnt that Castagneti was in a wholly
different direction, and that we had no chance of reaching
it that night : so we unloaded our horses and turned
them loose into the neighbouring grass, and having
lighted a fire and partaken of a scanty supper, lay down
to rest under a spreading ash-tree, and were soon fast

On waking the next morning we found at our heads a
large cross carved on the bark of the tree, a sure sign
that we were among Christians. Around us was a
pretty glade, surrounded by oak brushwood and dwarf
pines, and hard by ran a narrow stream, down the steep
side of which our man had tumbled the night before.
The shepherds were an uncouth-looking set, and, like all
the Mirdites, excessively plainly dressed, in which
respect they are a great contrast to the other gay
Albanians, and especially to those of Scodra, in whose
rich costumes there is a tasteful mixture of white and

Chap. XIII. Mirditc Dress. 293

red, while the women wear a large crimson cloak with a
covering for the head, reminding one of the costume
which old women used to wear in England. Amongst
the Mirdites the dress of the men consists of a long
white woollen coat, which serves also for a shirt, fastened
round the waist by a red belt ; underneath this are
white pantaloons of the same material, tied with orna-
mented bands about the ankle : their feet are protected
by shoes of hide, and their heads by a close-fitting cap
of white felt. Their women present a more picturesque
appearance, as, in addition to a coat similar to that of
the men, they wear red trousers, an embroidered apron
with a fringe eighteen inches long, and a blue handker-
chief twisted round the head. They are a wiry, active
people, but small in stature ; indeed they appeared to us
quite pigmies after seeing the Montenegrins : their faces
are sharp and keen, with a rough expression, but by no
means an unpleasant one, for they are less wild and cruel-
looking than the other Ghegs. They shave all the head
except the back part, where the hair is allowed to grow
to its full length (o-mdev Ko/j.6covTe<;) ; and from this and
other customs of theirs, which are generally characteristic
of the Mahometan races in Turkey, the stranger finds
it hard at first to persuade himself that they are

The undulating country over which we passed after
leaving our night's resting-place was covered with oak-
trees, which are the characteristic vegetation of the north
and west of the Mirdita. It is described by Dr. Grise-
bach as being universally found in the neighbourhood of
his route, and the dense masses of it which we saw ex-
tended as far as the eye could reach ; nowhere else in
Europe, in all probability, are such extensive oak forests
to be found. After gradually ascending for three hours,

294 Scodra and the Mirdita. Chap. XIIL.

we reached San Giorgio, where there is a church and a
priest's residence ; in former times, when the inhabitants
of this district had reason to fear hostihties from the
Turks, — in fact, until quite lately, — this was the seat of
the Bishop of the Mirdites ; of late years, however, since
they have been on good terms with their neighbours, he
has removed to a place in the plain of Zadrima, not far
distant from Alessio.'^ The little church is of the rudest
description ; the sun shines through the rafters, and not
only is there no church furniture, but there is not even a
regular altar, the place of which is taken by a ledge of
stone in a tiny apse which is scooped out of the eastern
wall ; outside the west end there is a similar ledge, where
the service is celebrated on great festivals, such as St.
George's day, when two or three thousand people are
gathered together. This was once the metropolitan
cathedral. We betook ourselves to the priest's house,
which stood on a little eminence hard by, but the doors
were barred, and all our shouting and knocking elicited no
responses except the loud barking of dogs. When we
were on the point of going away in despair, the priest
himself, Don Nicola Bianchi, appeared, having come in
from the fields where he had been working. Don is the
title applied to all the priests throughout this country.
He was a jolly, broad-shouldered, bustling little man,
dressed in a costume anything but ecclesiastical, which
however is the regular dress of the Mirdite priests — a
red fez cap, a cloth jacket, and full blue trousers gathered
in below the knee, like those worn by Greek sailors. He
spoke Italian, like all the priests of this country, who
learn it at Scodra, a circumstance which we found ex-
tremely serviceable, as we could in this way hold direct

•' The Bishop of Alessio seems also to have some authority in this,
country, but of what character it was we could not discover.

Chap. XIII. ' TJie Priest of St. George. 295

communication with them. He expressed himself greatly
delighted at seeing us, and in a surprisingly short time
had washed his floor, made coffee, killed a lamb, and
prepared a good dinner, for which the mountain air had
duly qualified our appetites. Of this he did not himself
partake, as it was the vigil of St. James's day, but he
greatly enjoyed the bread, cheese, and tobacco, which we
had brought with us from Scodra, for his own bread was
of maize and roughly baked, and his tobacco of a very
coarse description. He was proud of his wine, which he
said the Prince himself had praised, and of his water,
which he considered the lightest and best in the Mirdita.
The room in which he entertained us had a decidedly
martial aspect, from the number of guns and pistols hung
about the walls ; these apparently are not unnecessary,
for when he showed us round his premises, he described
how, a few years ago, he was obliged to cut down all the
trees and bushes in the neighbourhood of the house, on
account of the robbers who concealed themselves there.
Besides this sitting-room he had a kitchen and a bed-
room, in which were several books of devotion ; all these
were on the upper storey, for the lower part was occupied
by stables and outhouses. In the garden close by, a large
bell is suspended in a frame, and serves to call the people
to church.

Don Nicola had served as Chaplain-General of the
Mirdite forces under Bib Doda, in the campaign in
Bulgaria, at the commencement of the Russian war, when
he led 1200 men to the assistance of the Sultan, — as
auxiliaries, however, for, unlike the rest of the Albanians,
the Mirdites never serve as mercenaries. He was present
at the battle of Giurgevo and the siege of Silistria, where
he remembered the heroic Captain Butler. For these
services he had received a decoration of the 3rd order of

296 Scodi-a and the Mirdita. Chap. XIII.

the Medjidie, which he sho"\\'ed us, together with 2. finnan
from the Sultan, written in gilt letters. "Ah ! you should
have seen me," he said, " as I charged at the head of my
men, with the cross in my hand !" "And a sword, per-
haps, in the other.-'" I suggested. He laughed, but
would not plead guilty to the soft impeachment. He
expressed himself anxious to get an English Crimean
medal, for though he had not been in the Crimea, yet he
had taken part in the war, and he knew others who had
received them in different parts of the country. The
Prince was evidently a great object of admiration with
him, and he described him to us as a bravo giovinc.

In answer to our enquiries our host informed us that
there is a large quantity of metals in the country, — lead,
iron, and silver ; also coal, though it had never been
worked, but some of the surface coal was so good that
they could boast that a steamer had once made a voyage
with it. Besides these, the resin which is extracted from
their pine-trees might be made an article of commerce,
together with the timber, of which they have so inex-
haustible a supply ; yet none is exported except the
scodano, which is used in dyeing. As to his own pro-
fession, he told us that there are thirteen priests in the
country, all of whom are native Albanians, except one,
who is an Italian. The number of course is extremely
small for a scattered population of more than 20,000
souls, but the churches are more numerous, and services
are held from time to time in different places. These the
people attend in great numbers, and they are careful in
observing the fasts and festivals, but how superficial their
Christianity is may be gathered from a fact which I
heard at Orosch, that many of them are accustomed to
pray to our Lord to intercede for them with St. Nicolas,
who is the leading saint of the country. Having touched

Chap. XIII. RcligioiLS Viezvs. 297

on their religion, I may as well take the opportunity of
saying a few more words about that subject. They are
an extremely fanatical people, and will not under any
circumstances allow a Mahometan to settle among them,
nor is any insult offered to their religion suffered to pass
unavenged. M. Hecquard relates, that at the time when
the Pasha of Scodra opposed the building of a Roman
Catholic seminary for priests, which was being con-
structed in that place under Austrian auspices, and
caused the walls that had been partly raised to be thrown
down, the Mirdites prepared to descend into the plain to
destroy a mosque, in requital of the wrong done to their
faith, and that he himself met a body of 300 of them
starting on such an expedition, and with difficulty per-
suaded them to abstain, by pointing out to them the
persecutions they were likely to bring on their fellow
Christians in the plains.' At what exact time this
country finally attached itself to the Latin Church it is
hard to say, for having belonged first to the Byzantine
empire, and then to the Servian kingdom, and, on the
other hand, from its proximity to Italy, having at an
early period had sees founded in it from Rome, Upper
Albania was for many centuries the scene of continual
struggles between the eastern and western communions,
and swayed backwards and forwards from one to the
other, according as force or policy required. Roman
Catholic writers fix the date at which the change took
place at a.d. 1250, quoting two letters of Innocent IV.,
in which he states that the whole of the province of
Albania, following the example of their bishop, had
joined the Catholic Church f but there is evidence to

'' Hecquard, 'La Haute Albanie,' p. 225.

-'* Baronius, as quoted by Hahii, ' Albanesisclie Studien,' vol. i. p. 343,

«,7/,' 207,

298 Scodra and the Mirdita. Chap. XIII.

show that the Greek Church exercised a powerful influ-
ence in these parts until a much later period. Even at
the present day a number of Greek observances remain
embodied in the Latin rite, the most remarkable of
which is the communion in both kinds.

San Giorgio is by the barometer 2070 feet above the
sea ; and from its commanding situation the view is one
of the finest in the country. Far away to the north-
west the castle of Scodra and its lake were clearly
visible ; the rest was a grand mountain panorama, the
chief points in which were the conical Monte Veglia to
the west, on the other side of which lies Alessio, and
to the south-east the lofty peak of Mount Dyia, patched
with snow, the highest summit in the Mirdita. The
whole was harmonized by the soft blue of a midday

Seeing a chestnut tree close by the house, I enquired
whether any were found at Castagneti, the place where
we were to have passed the previous night. Don Nicola
answered that there were several there, and that, as I had
supposed, the name of the village was almost certainly
derived from the Italian name for the tree. It is one of
many instances of the way in which words and names in
that language have filtrated into the Albanian ; thus
prift, the Albanian for "priest," comes undoubtedly from
that source, and our host's surname had distinctly an
Italian sound. Speaking of Castagneti he also told us
that in the neighbourhood of that place is the site
of Castri, the birthplace of Scanderbeg, from which he
derived his name of George Castriote.

Having taken an affectionate farewell of our hospitable
entertainer, who would hardly hear of our not passing
the night with him, we pursued our way through a country

Chap. XIIL' Rivers^ 2g(^

of exquisite beauty, at one time penetrating into the
loveliest dells imaginable, at another crossing the uplands,
from which the eye ranged over a wide extent of moun-
tains, whose sides and slopes seem clothed with velvet
from their unbroken covering of oak foliage. Shortly
after leaving San Giorgio we first caught sight of the
village of Orosch, some twenty miles distant in a direct
line to the east, and appearing like a white spot in the
midst of a triangular patch of cultivation lying in an
open gully, which seamed the side of the distant moun-
tain chain. From this point we descended first to the
river Sperthoz, and again, after crossing an intervening
range of hills, to the greater Fandi, the main stream of
the country, which receives the waters of all the other
rivers of this part of the Mirdita, except those on its
northern frontier, which fall into the Drin. The Fandi
in turn drains into the Matja, which flows from the
district called the Mat, on the southern confines of
the Mirdites, and enters the sea some way south of Alessio.
By the fords of the Sperthoz and the Fandi we saw
remains of bridges, testifying to the existence of more
frequent communication in former times. After the
passage of the latter of these rivers a very long and steep
ascent succeeds, where a winding-path leads up the face
of a rocky wall ; when this is surmounted, as we descend
again towards the deep valley of the lesser Fandi, the
trees become less numerous, and vegetation continually
decreases as we follow its stream upwards in the direc-
tion of Orosch. At last we struck up a side valley
through the bed of a tributary stream, and about nine
o'clock saw a bright light gleaming through the dark-
ness, which we w^ere told proceeded from the palace.
Towards this we made our way, stumbling along over

30O Scodra and the Mirdita. Chap. XIII.

a rugged track, in the midst of the flashing Hght of
numerous fire-flies, until at last we passed through a
gateway, and entering a courtyard found ourselves in
front of the dwelling of Prince Bib. While our letter of
introduction is being read, and preparation made for our
reception, let me endeavour to describe it.

The palace or castle of Orosch is an ideal residence of
a mountain chieftain, and both the building itself and the
life enacted within it carried our thoughts back in many
respects to the wildest times of the Middle Ages. The
walls are massively constructed of stone, with loopholes
at intervals, for purposes of defence, and the whole
structure forms an irregular oblong, one end or wing of
which is occupied by the Prince and his family. This
part we did not enter, for the women were kept in as
complete seclusion as in a Turkish harem ; of the rest,
the ground floor is taken up with stables, while a flight
of stone steps leads up to a large hall, open to the air in
front, which occupies the greater part of the upper storey.
From the roof of this was suspended an iron frame, con-
taining pieces of resinous pine-wood, wliose bright flame
sent forth the light that we had seen on our approach.
The walls on three sides of it were hung with long guns,
richly set with silver and beautifully polished, for this is
the occupation of the men, while the women perform the
more menial offices. At the back of this are large un-
furnished chambers occupied by the retainers and guards,
who, from their fierce look and the long locks that
streamed from the backs of their heads, appeared some
of the wildest of the human race ; and its sides are
flanked by two good-sized rooms, one of which formed
the dining-hall, while the other was appropriated to our
use as a bedroom. Both of these are roofed with the


Chap. XIII. Palace of Oroscli. 301

pinewood of the mountains, which was fragrant as cedar
and beautifully carved. Round the walls, about a third of
the way down, runs a cornice of the same material, below
which stand handsome buffets for containing valuables.
The windows are small, and carefully guarded with iron
bars, and the hearths are open, the chimney not com-
mencing until near the roof, which in consequence is
blackened with smoke.

( 302 )


THE MIRDITA {continued).

"The Mirdite Pi-ince — Histoiy of his Family — Political Constitution of the
Mirdita — Administration of Justice — Fraternal Friendships — Ravages
of the Vendetta — The Prince's Hospitality — Derivation of the name
Mirdite — Excursion to the Monte Santo — View from it — Topography
of the Countiy — Capture of Wives — McLennan on ' Primitive
Marriage ' — Prevalence of the Custom of Exogamy — Bride-racing
— Mirdite Wives Mahometans.

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 23 of 31)