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:
The climb had started before the border and continued after, but I was surprised how flat it was on the other side.
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.
We left the snow behind up high but not the views!
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).
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.
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):
and some İznik-style tilework at the semahane in the Halwati Dervish Tekke:
Prior to the Ottomans this area was (at least partly) Serbian. There are a number of churches around,
including the first UNECSO-listed one that we saw, Our Lady of Ljeviš:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
but I guess it depends on which corner you go around.
Time for another country. Here’s our lunch spot at Kulla Pass on the Kosovo-Montenegro border.