We were in Berat on May the 30th.
Once back home, I found the following information on the web site of the French Embassy in Tirana :
A delegation led by Mr Xavier DE VILLEPIN, former President of the Commission of the Foreign Affairs of the Senate, and Jean- Dominique GIULIANI, President of the Foundation Robert SCHUMAN, also made up of Mrs. Pascale JOANNIN, paid a visit in Albania from May 31st to June 2nd. During this visit, the Delegation inaugurated a monument dedicated to Robert SCHUMAN, on one of the places of Berat, devoted to the father founder of EU.
The Delegation inaugurated, May 31, the statue and the place Robert SCHUMAN, in the presence of the civil authorities (prefect and mayor) and clergymen (métropolite) of the city, Mr BESNIK Mustafaj, deputy of the democratic Party, former Foreign Minister, former Ambassador of Albania in France, and ILIR Meta, former Prime Minister, former Foreign Minister, chair of the socialist Movement for Integration, of the two Vice-ministers of Culture and the Diplomatic corps, in front of the cameras of television and a particularly many and enthusiastic crowd.
During the inauguration, the symbolic importance of the homage given by Berat and Albania to one of the famous five fathers founders of Europe was outlined. With German Konrad ADENAUER (1876-1967), Italian Alcide DE GASPERI (1881-1954), French Jean MONNET (1888-1979), Belgian Paul-Henri SPAAK (1899-1972) and French Robert SCHUMAN (1886-1963) was one of those fathers founders of EU.
Too bad we missed that event for one single day!
TThe mountain slopes overhanging Berat are living. If you enlarge this photo, you will see that the zig-zag across the picture is actually a narrow path carved in the steep slope of the mountain. If you look carefully, you will see that it is currently used : in the upper parts, several herds of cows can be seen, walking down into the valley.
While we were parked at the entrance of the fortress, we were amazed to see two men carrying on a stretcher a heavy load of wastes taken out of the Kala district. That seemed to be very heavy and at one moment, they put their stretcher on the soil to have a rest (second photo). And a few minutes after, they took it again to carry it further away. From the sound, it seems that they unloaded it in some dumping ground, 100 m away.
These two photos were taken from our bus, in 1988. I thought they were from Berat but in 2007, I have been unable to spot these landscapes. I wonder if actually, they are not villages close to Berat such as Kuçova or Lapardha. Anybody knows?
Skrapar is the mountainous area to the south-east of Berat. Beautiful gorges, forests and wild streams can be visited in the region. Skrapar is also known as the one area in Albania that produces the strongest raki (to keep the mountaneers warm during the harsh winter :) Mount Tomorr is known in the local pagan mythology as a Baba Tomorr (Father Tomorr), a god-like figure that protects of punishes his hosts, according to the level of respect they show to him.
There is a separate legend, according to which three old women decide to take a picnic at Mount Tomorr at the end of March, wearing summer clothes feeling that the winter is over and the weather is warm enough. They celebrate marrily and sing songs about how Winter is dead and Spring is comming. Upon hearing their songs, Winter decides to borrow three days from February and give to March, which makes the weather cold and frosty and freezes over the three old women turning them into mountain rock. That's why according to the legend, February is short and the end of March is very cold, the last three days of which are known as the days of the old women.
In September, there a bektashi festival in Mount Tomorr, where poeple spend the night in the mountain, sacrificing lambs to the mountain (and eventually eating the roasted lambs sacrificed) and drinking lots and lots of raki.
We sit in the backyard in what could be the best seat in the district: Down below and in front of us, Berat is flickering the first lights of the evening. We have the coffee and our friend brings over a bottle of raki. Now, raki is something to be treated with respect: around here people almost never buy it, it's always made in the house and they take pride in the strength of their extract. His wife brings over some fried lamb bites, white feta, olives and a freshly killed watermelon, streaks of blood still running through its body. We raise a toast: to his children to have a long and happy life. As I down the clear liquid, I can feel a fire speeding down my esophagus, turning it incandescent and eventually melting my internal organs as it touches them.
I stretch out my hand in front of me, and viola ... magic happens: The whole town is now floating in the palm of my hand, thousands of lights dancing as if wanting to escape.
Yep, Drobonik is definitively not Dubrovnik!
Tomorri mountain seems closer from here, more menacing, yet more beautiful, covered with the bluish-reddish light of the end of the day. Down below, the Osum river looks like a giant silver serpent making its way slowly and silently through the fields. There is a quietness in the air, a relaxing and almost solemn stillness.
We survey the locked and abandoned church. A small, two story building. Over the portico there's some symbols, definitively not christian. A rusting sign indicates that "this church is a monument of culture and protected by the state." No other explanation. The structure seems like it will crumble and collapse upon the first person that will open the door. There is a local legend that Scanderbeg was married here in this very church, but that competes with another legend that has him marrying in Ardenica. Why the slavic name of Drobonik? Well, southern Albania was part of a large Bulgarian empire in the 8th through 10th century, but appart from weird toponyms like this, nothing else remains from that particular empire.
A villager passes by, walking past his donkey loaded ridiculously high with wet mountain tea. We ask him about the church. He shrugs and says that the church has always been closed. We exchange cigarettes. He's curious about us visiting the village and when I tell him about my grandma he points to a house almost at the edge of the village: "The last of them sold the house and moved out, years ago". He invites us over for a coffee.
His house looks plain from the outside, but is nice, spacious and newly renovated inside, italian tiles, modern furniture and all. We meet his wife and his children: a shy girl and a cute little boy, with a front tooth missing.
The location of this tiny village has always intrigued me. It's perched high up in a steep hill that faces Berat, commanding a strategic view over the city. Trying to locate it at night from Berat, I'd often mistake its lights for another constellation in the starry sky.
My grandmother was born there, so on my last trip to Berat I asked my cousin if we could visit it. To go to Drobonik, you first have to go to Goricë, and to go to Goricë you have to drive over the medieval bridge that has become one of the most recognizable landmarks of the city. The bridge was built in the 15th century, and almost every visitor that passed by since then, mentions a magnificent, seven-arched bridge. Well, I can't seem to locate the seventh arch, and driving over it I felt like a ballerina on a tightrope. Hardly anybody ever goes to Goricë - unless they live there - and that's a shame, because apart for the characteristic architecture, it has some fine churches and maybe some of the nicest views of Mangalem, the Shen-Mehill church and the imposing fortress above.
Halfway up the hill there is a posh restaurant/hotel - Castle Park Hotel. That's where the paved road ends and that's where Albania leaves behind any pretense at civilization and shows her true self: raw, wild and fatally beautiful. The road - a rather random collection of stones with the occasional patch of asphalt on top - snakes around the hill planted with olive trees, their unmistakable scent in the light, pure air of late afternoon. The village itself is small; a simple cobblestone climbs past houses and gardens, to what could hypothetically be the center of the place. On the left: a simple, white church; on the right, further ahead: a small cafee with some tables outside, some old men nursing their drinks. Further ahead: a flat area with some kids playing soccer. All around the village, hills planted with olive trees and vineyards.
The photos of this tip are not mine but have been borrowed to the Unesco web site Codex Beratinus where you will find full details on the Codex Beratinus
I give here a short summary of its content.
Two very old Gospels (codices) have been found in Berat, Albania: ?Beratinus-1?, dating from the sixth century, and ?Beratinus-2? from the ninth century. Both form part of the seven ?purple codices? which survive today. Two of the ?purple codices? are preserved in Albania, two in Italy and one each in France, England and Greece.
They are proposed for inclusion in the Unesco Memory of the World International Register.
?Beratinus-1? ? sixth century is a Gospel handwritten in uncial majuscules. It represents one of the three or four oldest New Testament archetypes and is an important reference point for the development of biblical and liturgical literature throughout the world. ?Beratinus-2? ? ninth century comprises Gospel manuscripts from the standard text period. Some paragraphs are semi-uncial. In terms of style and age, it is comparable to Greek Codex 53 (Saint Petersburg). It contains the four complete Gospels.
The two Albanian codices are very important for the global community and the development of ancient biblical, liturgical and hagiographical literature. The seven ?purple codices? were written one after the other over a period of 13 centuries, i.e. from the sixth to the eighteenth centuries. The two codices represent one of the most valuable treasures of the Albanian cultural heritage.
In the 1970s, in accordance with an intergovernmental agreement between Albania and China, they were sent to the Institute of Archaeology at the Chinese Academy of Science to be restored. Identical reproductions were then created so that they could be fully accessible to researchers. After being restored, both codices are kept at the Albanian National Archives in Tirana, in a strong-room financed by UNESCO.
Mount Tomor, 2416 m, has been considered a sacred mountain since ancient times. Albanians believed it was home of the godness, like Olympus in Greece. For the bektashian believers it's still a sacred place and every August it's the destination of a massive pilgrimage.
I hope to hike in Tomor this spring, some friends have been there and told me it's a great hike. So, this tip is to be continued...