12074680_10153163146693133_6740411999196815764_nVoskopoja is all about history and excellent food. Get some information about its history in 17th century and explore the remains of many beautiful monuments. Voskopoja is located 25 kilometers away from Korca, just an hour by car. There are buses, but if you take a bus, you cannot make a day trip out of it, due to the bus times! There are a couple of guest houses, but they are usually very busy during the summer and it is advised to make a booking, before your journey.













In the early 18th century, when the Industrial Revolution was just getting under way in Britain, Voskopoja was the largest city in the Balkans, even larger than Athens or Sofia, with a population of 35 000. It had the biggest printing press in the region and an academy where artists were trained to create frescoes and icons for the churches in Voskopoja and elsewhere. Voskopoja itself had no fewer than 24 churches, two in each neighborhood of the town, plus a basilica in each quarter. This past glory is remarkable. Towards the end of the 18th century the city was plundered and burned several times, and it was completely supplanted in importance by the rapidly growing Korca. Today, Voskopoja is a remote village, with a population of just a few hundred peasant farmers, mostly Vlach. Only seven churches have survived and some of these are in such disrepair that they are not even open to the public.

12187861_789304811196497_7295400543264120043_nOne of the four basilicas was the Church of Saint Nicholas, or Shenkoll, which was built in 1726 at the height of Voskopoja’s wealth and power. To find this church, follow the sign up to your left as you enter the village from Korca, past the commune council office. The church is usually kept locked, but the neighbors are used to foreigners trying to visit the church and will go and look for the priest if you request this. While you wait for the priest, you can admire the patterned brickwork of the exonarthex and the frscoes within it. These were painted by the two brothers Konstantin and Athanas Zografi (See the history of Albania), whose work was in great demand throughout the Balkans. The bell tower was added later – originally there was another church, to the left as you look from the fence to the bell tower, which joined Saint Nikolas to form a U shape.

12049217_789305134529798_6437706642264940712_nThe interior frescoes, painted by David Selenicasi (from Vithkuqi) are in better repair than those outside, with beautiful rich colors. The iconostasis is original – the damage from the fire, which can be seen on part of it, was caused during World War II – but the icons which were once set in it are now in the National Museum of Medieval Art in Korca. The ornately carved throne was given to the faithful of Voskopoja from the episcopate of Durresi in 1758, as can be seen from the inscription.

The basilica of Saint Thanas (Shen Athanas) was built in the year 1724 and is located down the hill, on the other side of the village, you will see its pale stone bell tower, before you see the shingled roof of the church, that is tucked into the lee of a hillock. This ‘technique’ of hiding the church was very common in the 17th century, when it was a condition imposed by the Ottomans (this is also the reason that the bell towers are often much newer than the actual church). Saint Athanas has a beautiful arcaded exonarthex with frescoes depicting scenes from the Apocalypse, painted by the Zografi brothers. Within, extending right around the walls of the naos, is an extended cycle of the martyrdoms of the saints, with lots of grisly detail.

Saint Mary of the Dormition (Shen Maria e Fjetjes) is one of the largest basilicas in Albania, holding up to a thousand worshippers; its size demonstrates how wealthy and powerful Voskopoja was at the time it was built (1699). The astonishing frescoes around its three-nave naos include a beautiful Pantocrator surrounded by saints, with the four evangelists at the four corners of the dome. There are more frescoes behind the iconostasis. There is a charge of 200 lek per person to visit these two churches.

High above, in the forest, above the village of Voskopoja, is the monastery of Saint Prodhromi, the oldest building in Voskopoja. The church was built in 1632, with various wings of the monastery added later and now mostly ruined apart from a 20th century section where the caretaker lives. The church is small, with a beautiful iconostasis; the entrance hall, or narthex, is reminiscent of a Bektashi teqe in its layout and furnishings. The monastery is sign posted from the center as “St John the Forerunner”. The road up to the monastery is in reasonable condition as far as the Akademia hotel; unless you are in a 4×4 vehicle, you should park there and walk the remaining few hundred meters.

If you are very interested in the Byzantine religious architecture, you should also visit Vithkuqi, which once rivaled Voskopoja in the level of its development. Like Voskopoja, it was destroyed several times, before it was finally supplanted by Korca.




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.

Albanian iso-polyphony is a traditional part of Albanian folk music and as such is included in UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage list.

Among Albanians, all four regions of Myzeqe, Toskëri, Çamëria, and Labëria have the polyphonic song as part of their culture. Among Albanians a related form of polyphonic singing is also found in northern Albania in the area of Peshkopi, the Albanian communities of Kaçanik in Kosovo, the areas of Polog, Tetovo, Kičevo and Gostivar in Macedonia and the region of Malësia in northern Albania and southern Montenegro.

The region of Labëria is a particular region for multipart singing. Songs can be of two, three, or four parts. Two part songs are sung only by women. Three part songs are more diffused and can be sung by men and women. Four part songs are a Labëria specialty. Research has shown that four part songs have come after three part ones and that they are the most complex form of polyphonic singing.

The Gjirokastër National Folklore Festival, Albania, (Albanian: Festivali Folklorik Kombëtar), has been held every five years in the month of October since 1968, and it has typically included many polyphonic songs.


map of Albania

map of Albania