Bicycle touring Kosovo: Prizren and the Serbian Medieval Monasteries

Just like in Greece, Albania, and North Macedonia, Jeff and I only spent about a week in Kosovo. Some of these countries are pretty small, but we were also cutting corners as our route connected UNESCO sites in each country (Corfu, Gjirokastër, Ohrid; respectively, in the countries I just mentioned). Here in Kosovo it was the Medieval Serbian Monasteries.

I didn’t really know anything about Kosovo before visiting except for the war (over 20 years ago) and the NATO intervention (ongoing). It was an unexpected gem for tourists. We were welcomed with this view at the border village of Glloboçica:

20220423_160357 by bryandkeith on flickr

The climb had started before the border and continued after, but I was surprised how flat it was on the other side.

IMG_20220423_174803 by bryandkeith on flickr
20220423_185258 by bryandkeith on flickr

That’s the southern end of the large flat valley that extends all the way north to Priština, Kosovo’s capital. We didn’t go that way. Instead we went west and climbed another pass, Prevallë, to reach Kosovo’s cultural capital, Prizren.

IMG_20220424_094734 by bryandkeith on flickr
20220424_112203 by bryandkeith on flickr
20220424_144041 by bryandkeith on flickr

We left the snow behind up high but not the views!

IMG_20220424_153259 by bryandkeith on flickr
Monastery of the Holy Archangels by bryandkeith on flickr
Monastery of the Holy Archangels

The Ottomans sacked the historic 14th century fortified Serbian Monastery of the Holy Archangels (above) and used the stones to build Sinan Paşa Camii, the mosque in the historic center of Prizren (below).

IMG_20220424_193941 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20220425_120556 by bryandkeith on flickr

If you believe our self-appointed Turkish-speaking guide inside the mosque, the Ottomans paid the Serbs for those stones.

The must-visit mosque in Prizren is the Emin Paşa Camii, restored in 2015 with TIKA (Türk İşbirliği ve Koordinasiyon Ajansı Başkanlığı) money. I have never seen such detailed frescoes/painting inside a mosque before. After visiting St. Sophia in Ohrid about a week earlier, I wondered about the influence of the local churches on the mosque artwork in this peripheral area of the Ottoman Empire.

IMG_20220424_194551 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20220424_195316 by bryandkeith on flickr

Continuing on the Ottoman theme here’s the Gazi Mehmed Paşa Hamamı, now used as an art gallery (hosting an interesting collection of black and white photos from Kosovo while we were there):

IMG_20220425_111418_21 by bryandkeith on flickr

and some İznik-style tilework at the semahane in the Halwati Dervish Tekke:

IMG_20220425_105442 by bryandkeith on flickr

Prior to the Ottomans this area was (at least partly) Serbian. There are a number of churches around,

IMG_20220425_120951 by bryandkeith on flickr

including the first UNECSO-listed one that we saw, Our Lady of Ljeviš:

IMG_20220425_102827 by bryandkeith on flickr

It’s been locked up behind barbed wire since the 2004 ethnic violence in this region.

We took an extra rest day in Prizren, walked up to the fortress, and treated ourselves to a traditional Kosovar meal — lots of grilled meat.

IMG_20220425_131015 by bryandkeith on flickr
20220426_154134 by bryandkeith on flickr

The next day we started what turned out to be a two-day ride to cross only a part of the large Dukagjin (Metohija) Plain. This fertile agriculture area in the mountainous Balkans might be the main reason for so many centuries of fighting here.

20220427_100533 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20220427_120627 by bryandkeith on flickr
20220427_160044 by bryandkeith on flickr
20220427_161532 by bryandkeith on flickr

The next morning we were ready and waiting for the 9:30am daily opening of the Visoki Dečani Monastery. Experts will recognize the Italian architecture from the outside, I suppose.

IMG_20220428_115820 by bryandkeith on flickr

But it’s the 14th century frescoes filling in the interior that make this the most amazing building Jeff and I saw on our Balkan tour, among the most incredible churches I’ve ever seen.

IMG_20220428_111724 by bryandkeith on flickr

Prior to visiting I had read the brochure that states “the frescoes of the Dečani church are almost too vast to be taken in by the human eye.” Surely an exaggeration, I thought. Nope.

IMG_20220428_111858 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20220428_112019 by bryandkeith on flickr
20220428_111812 by bryandkeith on flickr

Photos can barely give an idea. One could travel to Kosovo just to see this church. We had a fantastic tour with Monk Petar whose task it is to make tourists happy. He succeeded and even offered us juice, water, coffee, brandy (rakija), and some börek-like pastries before we left.

Monk Petar by bryandkeith on flickr

Jeff and I pedaled on and on the same afternoon reached Pejë and the peaceful grounds of the Patriarchate of Peć, the next UNESCO-listed monastery. It is also full of frescoes, but we were still too overwhelmed by Dečani to appreciate it.

IMG_20220428_131424 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20220428_144913 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20220428_141947 by bryandkeith on flickr

Bicycle touring is slow enough that you’re usually ready for the next tourist site by the time you arrive, but these monasteries were too close together, I guess!

From our camp that night it looked like summer was just around the corner,

20220428_173008 by bryandkeith on flickr

but I guess it depends on which corner you go around.

IMG_20220429_095605 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20220429_121547 by bryandkeith on flickr

Time for another country. Here’s our lunch spot at Kulla Pass on the Kosovo-Montenegro border.

20220429_130009 by bryandkeith on flickr
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One Response to Bicycle touring Kosovo: Prizren and the Serbian Medieval Monasteries

  1. Mike Painter says:

    Wow! The monastery photos are great. Then whole trip, though, is very interesting to follow—another unknown part of the world.

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