MIRDITA – ALBANIA
Mirdita is an enchanting blend of wild mountain scenery and centuries of unique and religious cultural history. The first of these unique features is the institution called the Captaincy, or Kapedania, a hereditary position which combined the roles of judiciary and Head of State. The chiefs of all of Mirdaita’s clans accepted the authority of the captain, not as first among equals, like the Bajraktare of the rest of the highland of Albania, but as their judicial authority and their head of State. Edith Durham attended a council of the Mirdita clans in 1908 and took a famous photograph of the highlanders gathered all armed to the teeth, on the lanns of Saint Paul’s church. The captain resolved legal disputes according to the traditional code, or Kanun-the version used in Mirdita was the code of Skanderbeg – and represented the region to the Ottoman authorities and, eventually those of independant Albania. The captaincy’s palaces were in Mirdita’s ancient capital, Oroshi.
Also in Oroshi was the seat of the Abbacy of Mirdita, with special Nullius status (the only one in Albania) which made it directly dependent on the Vatican not on any of the archbishoprics covering the rest of Albania. Mirdita has always been fiercely independent and it managed to keep the ottomans from establishing their authority over this area, dealing with them instead as practically an autonomous state. Because of this resistance, almost the entire population of Mirdita is still Catholic. Most of its churches, including the Abbey at Oroshi, were burned to the ground during the Atheism campaign of 1967 and have re-built since freedom of worship was restored in 1990.
There was some industrialization during the communist period, most of it linked to the copper mines in the area. At its peak, the copper industry employed 5000 people in Mirdita alone, there were small copper processing plants all over the district, feeding into the main plant at Rubiku. From there, the copper was sent on to Shkodra to be further processed into wire and other industrial materials. The mines are now closed and the plants which processed the minerals lie idol. Mirdita experienced very high immigration as a consequence of the lack of local employment but, thanks in part ot the job opportunities provided by the construction of the Durresi – Morina highway which cuts straight through Mirdita, people have recently began to return to their ancestral homes.
Until very recently, most of this district was very difficult to reach, but the inauguration of the new highway in 2010 and improvements to minor roads have meant that access to wild and beautiful parts of Mirdita is now much easier. Hotel accommodation is limited but it would be perfectly feasible for hikers or cyclists to base themselves in Rubiku or Rresheni and explore the district from there. Those with tents could of course base themselves in whichever remote corner took their fancy.
Getting to Mirdita and away
The new highway connecting Kukesi (and Kosova) with the Adriatic port of Durresi has transformed travel to and from Northeastern Albania. It begins at the Miloti roundabout on the main north-south highway about half way between Tirana and Shkodra and cuts pretty much due northeast, straight through Mirdita with “State of the Art” tunnels blasted through any inconveniently located mountains. Cyclists can avoid almost all of the highway, as far as Oroshi, by crossing the Fani river (See rivers of Albania) just after the Miloti junction and then using the old roads which run more or less parallel to it.
There is good public transport to the district capital, Rresheni, from Tirana and Lezha. In Tirana buses and mini buses leave from the Zogu i Zi roundabout, the journey takes about 1,5 hours. From Kukesi (130 kilometers) any bus heading for Tirana could drop passengers at the turnoff for Rreshni or Rubiku.
With bicycles or a 4×4 vehicle, an alternative route is the old road south from the district of Puka, following the Fani i Madh river. Until the Duressi Morina highway was constructed, this was the shortest or though not the quickest way from Rresheni to Kukesi, now all of the traffic whizzes up and down the new dual carriage way and this old road is almost deserted. The road surface is reasonable, it is a beautiful run of about 60 kilometers to Rresheni from Fushe Arrezi, in Puka. This would make a very attractive little circuit around a fascinating part of highland Albania for those who do not have the time or inclination to venture further north, it is also possible to cross into Mirdita through the Lura National Park from Peshkopia.
ACCOMMODATION IN MIRDITA OF ALBANIA
It is usually easy to find accommodation in most areas of Albania, what we have tried to do is to give you the many many options but to also give our own personal advise of the goods and the bad, as well as the exact location and the facilities of each accommodation choice. We would appreciate it if you would reserve your accommodation via this website and we will be there either in person or with a representative of ours to personally assist you while you are on your holidays in Albania.
ACTIVITIES IN MIRDITA OF ALBANIA
SIGHTSEEING IN MIRDITA
Rubiku: Rubiku is a pleasant little town with well maintained public areas and a commendable absence of litter. Above it stands a beautiful old church, which survived the Atheism campaign thanks to its age and the frescoes behind its altar. There has been a church on this site since the 13th century; in the 19th century, a monastery was built beside it, both the church and the monastery suffered great damage during World War II, because the hill on which they stand controlled the road. The monastery is still in ruins, the church, however, was re-roofed and repaired in the 1990’s. More recently, the road up the hill has been asphalted and the stations of the cross has been installed along it. The church is dedicated to Saint Anthony (Shen Ndout), to whom there is also a little shrine near the church.
Rresheni: Rresheni is the district capital about 20 minutes drive beyond Rubiku, is the only other town of any size in Mirdita. Rresheni has a small museum and a fascinating collection of the traditional costumes of Mirdita. It is also worth visiting the cathedral – new in ecclesiastical terms as well as architectural because, before World War II, Mirdita’s cathedral had been the abbey at Oroshi. It was only in December 1996 that Rresheni was made the seat of the diocese covering not only Mirdita but also the neighboring district of Mati, Bulqiza and Dibra. Construction began almost immediately and continued in defiance of the destructive civil unrest which overwhelmed Albania at the beginning of 1997. The new cathedral was consecrated in 2001.
Mirdita costumes are instantly recognizable because of the preponderance of red rather than the range of colors used elsewhere in highland Albania. The costume display is in the Cultural Center, just off the main square; it also has a collection of traditional musical instruments. The museum is at the other end of the time beside the Europa cafe. The displays are themed to illustrate the development of Mirdita as a state, the importance of Catholicism and the regions ethnological heritage.
Rreshini has a couple of good internet cafes and, for those heading for the Lura Lakes the last ATMs before Peshkopia. It is the main hub for public transport out to the rest of the district and for intercity buses or mini buses to Lezha, Tirana and Shkodra. The bus terminus is on Rruga Shen Vincenci i Paulit (Saint Vincent de Paul Street) near the cathedral.
Oroshi: Oroshi is the traditional capital of Mirdita, Oroshi was the seat of both its ecclesiastical and temporal powers: the Abbaci (Abacia), fist mentioned in vaticon documents of 1703 and the captaincy (Kapedania), Mirdita’s unique system of government. The captain was recognized by all other clan chiefs as the leader who could negotiate on Mirdita’s behalf with foreign powers, such as the Ottoman authoritis, and who was the last court of appeal in legal disputes, which were resolved according to the traditional code. The captaincy was a hereditary position, although it did not automatically pass to the eldest son (of course, it was always a man, Mirdita was not that different to the rest of Albania). The captain and his household has two palaces at Oroshi, one of them right next to the abbey.
The importance of Oroshi as a symbol of Mirdita’s unity and resistance meant that aspiring oppressors have completely destroyed it no fewer than three times. The first was during a sustained assault by the Ottomans in the 1870s described by Edith Durham in high Albania. The church was re-built by the energetic abbot Prend Doci, who also successfully negotiated with the vatican to be brought under the direct jurisdiction of the pope (as a territorial prelate or “prelait Nullius”). This meant that, from now on,. the abbots of Oroshi would report directly to the Vatican rather than via an archbishop – Oroshi was the only diocese in Albania which had this special Nullius status. The church and palace were burned down again during the second Balkan war, then demolished by the Albanian government in 1967. The church which now stands on its historic site in Oroshi was built in 1994-1995 using old photographs to create an exact replica of the building destroyed by the Atheism campaigners. The individuals that represented Mirdita’s traditional institutions were also eliminated by the communist government: Gjon Mark Gjonaj, the last captain of Mirdita led and insurrection against it and was killed in 1946; the abbot of Oroshi, Monsignor Frano Gjini, was shot in 1948, one of dozens of Catholics who were executed in Northern Albania who are now commemorated in Shkodra cathedral.
The village of Oroshi, scattered across the hillside across from the church and the ruins of the palace, is now home to 20 families. It is served by 2 mini buses a day from Repsi, seven to eight kilometers away. Further up in the mountains is Nenshejti, a beautiful village with a five hundred year old church, set in magnificent scenery. It is 23 kilometers from Repsi, but the road is so bad that it takes at least two hours to get there. There is no public transport and a 4×4 vehicle is essential. There is no accommodation in Nenshejti at the present, but it is a wonderful place to camp.
Spaci: In 1967, the Albanian government decided to use the copper mine at Spaci as a forced-labor camp for political prisoners. Over the next 24 years, thousands of men were imprisoned at Spaci, behind three rings of barbed wire fence which enclosed the whole twelve ha of the mine. An unknown number died, sometimes of exhaustion and malnutrition, sometimes shot. Not all the bodies were returned to their families – the guards would take corpses across the river and bury them in unmarked graves on the hillside opposite. The author Fatos Lubonja, who spent 11 years in Spaci survived (just) and has written about his experience in a book that has been translated into English as “The second sentence” (I B Tauris, 2009) Spaci was not the only force labor camp in Albania, but it was the only one which used exclusively political prisoners. There were also a few none prisoners employed at Spaci. Their job was to handle the explosives, which for obvious reasons were not made available to the prisoners. At any one time there was an average of 800 prisoners in the camp, when it closed, in 1991, 830 men were freed. They were kept, 30 to a room, in cells measuring 5 meters by 6 meters. The slightest breach of discipline could mean a stay in the isolation cell where prisoners were left for days with no food or blankets, the temperature at Spaci falls to -5 degrees C in winter.
A plan has been developed to restore this chilling place, in its bleak setting amid bare, harsh mountains so that it can be opened to the public as a museum, along the lines of Robben Island in South Africa. It is 14 kilometers from the highway at present, a 4×4 vehicle is needed although the road will be asphalted once the museum is opened. The camp is up the road, sign posted for Gurth-Spac, not Koder-Spac.
Caves and kulla: The easiest of Mirdita’s caves to visit is the Vali’s cave (Shpella e Valit), near the district boundary with Mati (a vali was a provincial governor in the Ottoman administration). The cave is 3-4 kilometers from the road and had stalagmites and stalactites. To the south of the cave, in Mati, is the Neziri cave. The caves have not been properly explored by speleologists, but it is thought that they may be connected by an underground passage. They are also linked by an overground track across the pass between them, so that both caves can easily be visited in the same trip, approaching them from either Mati or Mirdita. The Marub hotel near Rubiku and the villa Bruci in Burelli can organize excursions to these caves.
There are also caves in the commune of Fani, in the far northeast of Mirdita. Fani is the most traditional part of Mirdita, because it is completely surrounded by high mountains (nearly 2000 meters above sea level). Until recently, it was almost impossible to get to. Now, though, the main village, Klosi, is right next to the new highway and slip roads have been built along it to provide access for the villagers. These include exits on either side at the entrance to the Kalimashi tunnel, which is 5.6 kilometers long and cuts through the mountains to Kukesi district. Fani has 17 villages, many in spectacular settings, with traditional fortified houses still occupied. One which can be reached by an ordinary car Petoqi, 800 meters above sea level. The village of Domgjoni is less accessible, but has a forth century aqueduct system, a very unusual structure which provided water to the ancient settlement of Sukbukera.
THE HISTORY OF MIRDITA
Mirdita took its name from the widely used Albanian greeting, Good day. The people from the region of Mirdita, were known to have been pioneers of the Catholic resistance against the ruling Muslim Ottomans. During the 15th century, the Mirditas were under the leadership of George Kastrioti – Skenderbeg himself. The Mirditas are said to be the direct brothers of the Dukagjini tribe, meaning both regions were directed by one ancestor. The Mirditas were successful in uniting with Kurbin, Lezhë, Dukagjin, Pukë, Shkodër, and Malësia areas in order to preserve their culture, religion, and obtain autonomy from the Ottoman Empire.
Yugoslavia backed Marka Gjoni based on its interest of having another separatist region within Albania, weakening the newly created Albanian state and sharpening the religious antagonism. Marka Gjoni led his Roman Catholic Mirditë tribesmen in a rebellion against the Albanian regency and parliament established after the World War I. He proclaimed in Rrëshen the founding of an independent “Republic of Mirdita”. Marka Gjoni was the only president of the republic. As the republic violated the sovereignty of the Albanian state, Albanian government troops fought and eventually extinguished the republic. The minor level Government was run over by the Albanian government, though no real persecution fell on the main leaders. Marka Gjoni fled to Yugoslavia, but later returned to Albania and remained active in the political life of the highlands until his death in 1925.
The former territories of Mirdita Republic were shrunk in size and population by less than half, known today as Mirdita Region. Mirditë District would be created later. Other neighboring districts take stake to the annexed parts of “Old Mirdita” (Albanian: “Mirdita e Vjetër”), known by the locals only.
USEFUL INFORMATION ABOUT MIRDITA IN ALBANIA
UNIQUE CULTURE OF ALBANIA
The Albanian culture is an exotic blend of traditions that have evolved over thousands of years. From the ancient Illyrians and Greeks to the Romans and the Ottomans, the language, music, arts, and cuisine of the Albanian people are a rich and vibrant mix of many civilizations. Once you discover our culture, you are bound to fall in love with this new destination on the Mediterranean.
Hospitality is in our nature. Welcoming guests and ensuring their comfort is a hallmark of Albanian heritage and is epitomized by our very own Nobel Peace Prize recipient: Mother Teresa. The spirit of cooperation and friendship thrives in Albania, and it is not uncommon for guests to be invited to eat and drink with curious locals wishing to learn more about you.
Besa is a concept related to the Albanian code of honor and is an idea that is very important to the Albanian people. In the Kanun (a set of traditional Albanian laws), Besa is described as the highest authority, so essential to personal and familial standing as to be virtually a cult. Besa has been the subject of some stories and novels by Albania’s foremost modern novelist, Ismail Kadare, a Nobel Prize Candidate for Literature and winner of several international prizes. Kadare’s work has been published in over forty countries and translated into more than thirty languages, making Kadare the best ambassador of Albanian literature worldwide.
If we are speaking about the food and drinks of Albania, then we must mention the country’s deliciously-unique cuisine. It has many similarities to Turkish and Greek dishes, but offers a healthier, Mediterranean twist. Come try our wide variety of phyllo dough delicacies, including a melt-in-your-mouth sensation called byrek, or the original sweet treat known regionally as baklava.
Albania also has a long tradition of wine craftsmanship, which is lately being revived to its former glory. While you’re here, taste a sampling of our wine, produced from a rich soil that has been under cultivation since the ancient Greeks and Romans. Regardless of your culinary inclinations, we guarantee that our rich history and culinary traditions have created a menu of mouth-watering specialties for you to try.
Each region of Albania likes to specialize in its own brand of music, thus giving the music aficionado an incentive to explore the entire country in search of each community’s sense of style. For example, UNESCO has classified a type of music from southern Albania, known as Iso Polyphony, to have tremendous cultural value to humankind. Our music has even given rise to a few prominent artists of global acclaim, including opera lyric soprano, Inva Mula, and the distinguished violinist, Tedi Papavrami.
In regards to style, when you arrive in Albania, you will notice that the men take great pride in their appearance and will often don a suit and tie when in public. Even if their errands only involve a short trip to the grocery store, the men will dress to impress.
Depending upon the type of festival or time of year, you might even catch a glimpse of Albanian men in traditional folk attire. The National Folk Festival held in Gjirokastra is a prime example. This special autumn event is held once every four years and attracts artists from around the world.
The women of Albania also share a flair for style, especially at traditional Albanian weddings. At these events, the families of both the bride and groom will gather together in their finest dress and celebrate with great fervor. Weddings are often the ideal opportunity to witness the best of Albanian culture all in one event, and if you’re invited to one, the experience will undoubtedly be extraordinary.
Albanian culture is unique in many ways and we hope you’ll visit us to see it firsthand. We say ‘yes’ by shaking our head from side to side, both men and women greet each other with a kiss on either cheek, and our conversations are loud and passionate in an effort to entice others to join in. Visit Albania and discover why our culture is a new Mediterranean love.
MAP OF ALBANIA
PHOTO GALLERY OF MIRDITA
MAP OF MIRDITA