Open Mosque Namazgah
The Open Mosque Namazgah (Kerek Xhamia) was actually the first Ottoman building in Prizren. It was constructed in 1455, just after the Turks had conquered the town.
The Namazgah is an outdoor mosque for prayers of large groups of people in the open. The place underwent massive repairs and renovations in recent years.
When we visited the place, the local guard was more than happy to see some tourists around. Even though he didn't speak a word of English he tried to explain us the history of the open mosque and the city of Prizren.
- Road Trip
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One modern building that really stands out is the Town Hall (at least I think it was the town hall). Look out for a tallish building with flags a-plenty outside. Close up, it becomes apparent that the flags belong to the growing list of countries that have formally recognised Kosovo as an independent republic. On the wall above, "Thank You" has been written to each of the countries in their national language. Only the top quarter of the wall is covered so far, room for many more...
Maskut Pasha Mosque and around
Continue upstream from the League of Prizren, and cross back over the river at the next bridge. Here, you'll find another old mosque, the Maskut Pasha mosque, next to which is an enormous tree and a monument to...erm...someone... and a couple of cafes next to the river. The riverside park continues upstream for quite some distance, leading to a big sports "tent" (these are all over Kosovo...heated football pitches apparently, but they look like aircraft hangars). Anyway, the area around the mosque is a popular place to walk or sit, and the district has many attractive houses.
On the nearby bridge, I spotted a slogan which is painted all over Kosovo. "Jo Negociata, Vetevendosje". Can anyone translate? My guess is "No Negotiations, Independence" or something like that, am I close?
Inside the League of Prizren
A little man lurks just inside the door, and shouts "Tickets! Tickets!" in a rather menacing voice to anyone who happens to wander in. We were sent to the smaller of the two buildings, and bundled through a door into what seemed to be an office where a meeting was taking place. We looked a bit embarassed at the rude interruption, as did the startled women inside, but eventually one of them twigged and got her ticket book out. After showing us a map of Greater Albania, we were bundled out again and sent over to the main building to look at the exhibits.
The exhibits...well, truth be told, there isn't much inside, and nothing is explained. Downstairs has the usual mannequins in period costumes doing things like peeling potatoes and making coffee for guests, while upstairs has lots of portraits and statues of the original members of the League. The last room looked to be interesting, with old photos on the walls (I love looking at old photos...) but we never managed to see them, as a troop of KFOR soldiers had taken over the room, and were being given a lecture on Albanian history in there. We waited a while, but the lecture went on and on and on, so we gave up in the end.
It was only on the bus back to Prizren that I read the more interesting exhibits are in the smaller building, upstairs above the office...oh well. Still, the buildings are beautiful, well reconstructed, and the courtyard is always busy with local tourists taking photos.
League of Prizren Museum
When Russia waged war against the Ottoman Empire in the 1870s, thousands of Albanians fled from Serbian and Montenegrin towns and ended up in Kosovo. The League of Prizren was set up to protect Albanians and muslims after the demise of the Ottoman Empire in the region, vowing to continue where the Ottomans had left off. The League was basically working towards a united Albanian state, and was originally supported by the Ottomans. Support was also sought after in the rest of Europe, but with little success as various Albanian cities were separated by new borders.
Well, the history is a little more complicated than that...but you get the idea hopefully. Anyway, the League of Prizren is immensely important to any Albanian, and the buildings (a collection of beautiful Ottoman houses around a circular courtyard with a mosque behind) are now a museum.
The buildings look old, but are in fact brand new, the originals having been burnt to the ground in '99 by the Serbs
I'm sure I read somewhere that this church was protected by UNESCO, although I can't seem to verify that. Anyway, hidden away in a backstreet, this red brick church looks fairly interesting, but unfortunately it was gutted in the 2004 riots, and is now fenced off. Renovation works are being carried out, according to signs outside, but there didn't seem to be much activity going on. The structure istelf hasn't been too badly damaged, and from a distance it looks in full working order.
Gazi Mehmet Pasha Hammam
Cross back over the stone bridge, and two modern buildings stand out as quite ugly...the Hotel Theranda and the Hotel Tirana, both grey and concrete and generally out of keeping. But this does not mark the end of the old town...take the road between the two hotels (a busy road with lots of traffic) and you'll soon see an enormous bath complex, the Gazi Mehmet Pasha Hammam. The baths no longer function, and it is supposed to be some sort of museum or gallery, although whenever I walked past it, the doors were locked so ic an't tell you anything much about it. Maybe you'll have better luck.
Views from the Castle/Kalaja
The views are stunning, and makes you realise just how big Prizren is...it may feel like a small town down below, but the old town is much much more than just the collection of old houses around Shadervan...it stretches on both sides of the river, and there are only a few communist piles which ruin the view. Snow-capped mountains appear in the distance if the clouds part, and from the back of the castle, there are great views up the Zhupa Valley and you can just make out another ruined castle a few kilometres away.
Kalaja (The Castle)
There's not an awful lot to see in the castle. In actual fact, if it wasn't for the gate as you enter, you would be hard pressed to guess it ever used to be a castle...there's not much left any more. You can still clamber around the outer walls though, and on a sunny weekend, the place is full of picnicking families and KFOR soldiers on leave.
At the back of the castle are a couple fo tunnels with very steep drops...those prone to accidents should maybe take a bit of care!
Climbing the hill
It might seem a little macabre and sick to include this in the What To Do section, but if you want to visit the castle, you can't really ignore it. What I'm talking about is the area of Serbian houses on the hillside which are gutted and now fenced off with barbed wire. As the path climbs, you get great views over Prizren's red-tiled roofs, minarets and church belltowers, albeit with burnt-out houses in the foreground. A little further up is Hrista Spasitelja Church (St Saviour), now without roof and used as a KFOR base. Photography is technically forbidden, although that didn't seem to stop anyone.
The Shadervan fountain and the surrounding square is the centre of Prizren's cafe life. A mosque on one side, a church on the other, a third side is formed by the river. Most of the old buildings around the square are cafes, and if they're not cafes, they're bars or restaurants, and on a sunny day, it is the best place to people watch. A legend has built up about the fountain, saying that those who drink from it will find it hard to leave Prizren. That's funny...they say exactly the same about the well of Totil in Kassala, and after sipping from the dirty bucket, I stayed nearly 2 years...not having two years to spare in Prizren (unfortunately), I preferred to quench my thirst in the cafes, but the fountain does seem to be a popular place for a quick drink of water.
Sinan Pasha Mosque
The large impressive mosque dominating any view of Prizren is the Sinan Pasha mosque, which dates from the 16th century. I'm sure it must look even more impressive without the scaffolding, and the interior is probably stunning too, but in march 2008 it was undergoing renovation work and was closed to tourists and worshippers alike.
Above the entrance, a large banner in Turkish, Albanian and Serbian reads "Congratulations for Independence".
If this was in England, health and safety would have the whole area fenced off and signs warning against falling masonry. Ropes and safety mechanisms would attach the builders to the sides of the building. However, this is Kosovo...you can sit on the step underneath the scaffolding if you wish to be covered in dust, and builders were strolling around on the domed roof.
I like bridges. Durham has three old stone bridges, huge things which attract buskers and tourists in warmer months. Prizren's bridge in comparison looks a little small and pathetic, but there's something very attractive about this simple old cobbled bridge over the Lumbardhi River. Apparently it was destroyed a few decades ago by flash floods and reconstructed, but you wouldn't know this isn't the 16th century original.
Ottoman Bath Houses
Located near the center of the city, but no longer in use, Prizren's bathhouses are worth a visit. Built in the 17th century by the Ottoman Empire, the baths are now a museum and are occassionally used as a photo/painting exhibition facility by various artists.
- Arts and Culture
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Sinan Pasha Mosque
Visit Sinan Pasha Mosque in downtown Prizren! The mosque itself is quite simply, but its history is facinating! Built in the 9th century, originally as a Catholic Church, the structure that is now a mosque was converted into a Serbian Orthodox Cathedral in 1100 AD, and finally converted into a Sunni mosque in 1615.
Entrance is free, the frescos are beautiful, and the Imam is extremely outgoing and will show you around. If you find yourself in Prizren, you MUST visit this mosque.
- Religious Travel