Travels in Epirus, Albania, Macedonia, and Thessaly
F. Pouqueville
 

TRAVELS IN EPIRUS AND ALBANIA

CHAPTER V.
Coast of Albania, from the Voioussa or Aous, north to the Drino or Drilo, by which it is separated from the Country of Scutari or Scodra. Apollonia. Berat. Rivers Aous, Apsus, Genusus. Durazzo. Croia. Alessio.
 

Availing myself of the liberty assumed in the opening of the preceding chapter, I shall here combine my topographical remarks on the coast, from the Voioussa to the Drino, without regard to the chronological order of the several parts of the survey. With my own observations on this portion of Albania, I shall also combine those of my brother, who landed at the custom-house of Valona or Peloros, as that town is called by the Albanians. Proceeding for eight miles northward over the fertile but unhealthy plains of Valona, he arrived on the south bank of the Aous, now the Voioussa. On


19
    Fieri. Apollonia.

the opposite bank of the river, stood the handsome village of Fierè, and a mile to the westward was the monastery of the Virgin of Pollini, on the site of the antique Apollonia, the sole inhabited spot of the soil once sacred to Apollo. "Behold the monuments of the city, founded by the golden-locked Apollo, towards the borders of the Ionian sea."Such, according to Pausanias, (Eliac. v. 22.) was the inscription engraved in ancient characters on the pedestal of the statue of the god of day. By a church surrounded by some monastic cells, and the whole inclosed by walls, furnishing accommodation for twelve monks, is now represented the once great and venerable Apollonia, a favourite city of Julius Ceesar, and the chosen place of education of his grand-nephew Augustus. The era of the devastation of this celebrated city is unknown. The name is unnoticed in the writings of Anna Comnena, in the close of the eleventh century, and in every other Byzantine historian; although that princess, in describing the military operations of her father Alexis and the Normans, had frequent occasion to mention the Voioussa under its present name, and the towns on both sides of Apollonia. A bishop of this Apollonia, however, appears in the council of Chalcedon held in 451. It is first mentioned under the corrupted name of Pollina, by Castaldus, three centuries ago. It is amazing, but it is true, that it is equally impossible to ascertain the inclosure or limits of the city, which, we learn from Strabo and other writers, began at sixty stades, (seven and-a-half Roman or seven English miles,) up from the sea at the mouth of the Voioussa, where is now the dangerous harbour of Poros; and ten stades (one and-a-quarter Roman or one and an eighth English mile,) from the north bank of the river. Within the space certainly occupied by Apollonia, are to be seen eminences consisting of broken columns, friezes and capitals, with bricks on which are marked the number of the Roman legions by which they were made. The words  "Philip Amyntas farewell," indicate the adorned monument of some Greek of distinction. On an adjoining height stands a single column of the Doric order; nearly thirteen English feet in circumference, and in other respects suited to the proportions of that simple order. This is the only part still erect of a temple 128 English feet in length by fifty in breadth. Among the ruins of this edifice was dug up, in 1813, a statue of Diana; and some years earlier was discovered, in the same place, a bas-relief representing Apollo mounted in a car drawn by the Hours, a scene introduced by Poussin in one of his pictures. The numerous medals discovered in the ruins of the city have almost always the laureated head of Apollo, with a cornucopia,


20

vine-leaves and grapes. Cornalines have also been found, representing Apollo with his lyre. Such is the desolation of a city, once the renowned abode of science and wisdom; the resort of all who courted instruction: but now visited by rude Albanian shepherds alone, in their migrations with their flocks, between the mountains of Candavia and the plains of the Adriatic.

The Voioussa is traversed in a ferry-boat, between the caravanserails erected on each bank. For several days no passage had been practicable across the river, when my brother arrived at the ferry, on account of the floods: it was therefore with the greatest difficulty that he effected his passage. From the stony bank of the Voioussa the road for Berat, on the Apsus of antiquity, twenty-eight miles up from the sea, leads for half a league across a plain, covered with sabine and agnus castus, shrubs which abound in all the flat moist lands of Albania. Thence it enters a tract of cultivated ground a league broad. The next league traverses a range of meadow-pastures, which stretch westward towards the sea. In all that extent of plain the eye discovers only some knolls crowned with the huts of the wandering tribes, who guard the sheep and cattle, assisted by dogs of the most ferocious description; a race which abound all along the eastern coasts of the Adriatic. In the same plains are raised a race of horses, the finest for shape anil swiftness of any produced in European Turkey. From time to time the traveller also falls in with camps of Tzingari, or gypsies, who seem to consider the plains of Musachia (as this country is now called) as their native land. According to the proper inhabitants of the country the gypsies have been constantly resident in it for these eight centuries back. And it is observable, that this period coincides with the reign of the Greek Emperor Nicephorus, in which that unsocial and rejected class of men first appeared in the east. An hour and a half's journey beyond the pastures, in the midst of low hills, is a large village called Novesela, where, notwithstanding the repeated but untrue relations of the hospitality of the orientals, my brother and his guides were obliged to employ force to obtain shelter from the heavy rain, in the cottage of a Christian Albanian. On going out of Novesela, the road leads along the sides of a valley watered by the Glenitza, which falls into the Apsus; and from an eminence may be traced the course of the latter river all the way westward to the sea. From the same eminence are seen the snowy summits of Mount Tomoros, six leagues enstward, and the winding course of the Apsus, which descends from the glaeiers of that mountainous range. the Apsus is crossed


21
    The Apsus. Berat, &c.

by a stone-bridge constructed on a sort of natural piers of rock, out of one of which projects a fountain of excellent water, of great service to the people of the village, when the river is troubled by the rains, or the melting of the snow. From this bridge downwards to the sea, a course of sixteen miles, the Apsus is called Ergent, or Argent: Anna Comnena, and some other writers of the Byzantine history, call it Charzanes. From the bridge upwards to Berat, a distance of twelve miles, the Apsus is called Beratino. The castle of Berat is perceived from a great distance, being seated on the summit of a hill, very high indeed, but commanded by another summit near it, on which another work has been raised for the protection of the castle. In the back-ground is the range of Mount Tomoros. The walls of the castle form a sort of parallelogram 512 yards in length, with flanking bastions, where the ground has permitted them to be constructed. But the strength of the castle consists chiefly in its position, on a lofty summit of rock nearly perpendicular, where it impends over the Apsus, or Beratino. This inclosure certainly formed the strong city built by Theodosius the younger, in the beginning of the fifth century, and named Pulcheriopolis, in honour of his sister Pulcheria. Being taken by the Bulgarians, they translated the name into their own equivalent Beligrad. By the Turks the town was styled Arnaut-Beligrad, to distinguish it from the important city Belgrade, on the Danube: now it is called Berat. Within the walls are the seraglio, or palace of the vizir or governor, and 250 bouses inhabited by Albanians of the Greek church. The lower town is a straggling place in a deep bottom, seldom free from thick fogs, rising off the Apsus, which divides it into two parts; both inhabited by about 6,000 people, of whom one-third at most are Mahometans. In the town are several wealthy landed proprietors, and some merchants who resort to the ports and fairs of Italy. The governor or vizir, in my brother's time, was Ibrahim Pasha, two of whose daughters were the wives of two of Aly's sons, Mouctar and Veli. These alliances were not, however, sufficient to secure Ibrahim from the hatred and machinations of Aly, who at last made him his prisoner, and shut him up for life in a dungeon in Janina. Berat has the rank of an archiepiscopal see in the Greek church; but the archbishop resides in Moschopolis, or Voschopolis, once an important, but now a decayed town in the Gueorcha, or Candavian mountains, near the sources of the Apsus.

Here the reader must be warned that my personal observations on the low coasts of the Adriatic must terminate. What


22

is added respecting the tracts between the rivers Apsus and Drilo, near Scutari, is the result of informations carefully collected from inhabitants and other persons, equally competent and trust-worthy, with whom I found means to open and maintain intercourse, generally personal, notwithstanding the hostilities carrying on between the pashas of Janina and Berat, during the years of my residence in Epirus. The most recluse parts of the mountains and forests were the usual scenes of our intercourse; and as far as notices collected in such a way, by a person not unpracticed in similar investigations, can be satisfactory, the reader may rely on their accuracy.

Continuing the journey northward to Durazzo, the celebrated Dyrrachium of Cæsar and Pompey, the road from Berat traverses the spacious and fertile plains of Musachia, watered by the Apsus, or Argent, which, in its very irregular course to the sea, scoops out for itself every year new channels, and forms new islands, from the trees, rocks, and gravel hurried down by the torrents and melted snows of Mount Tomoros. The western or maritime part of Musachia is termed Maille-castrat, signifying in the Albanian language "camps situated on eminences;" in allusion probably to the camps of Cæsar and Pompey, of which the remains may be traced on the banks of the Apsus. This conjecture naturally springs from a view of the ground.

From Berat a carriage-road is opened over the plain, varied however, by cultivated low hills for eight miles to Grabova, on a river which falls into the Apsus. Half a league beyond Grabova is a khan or inn, frequented by the fishermen employed on the lake Treboutchi, and by those who deal in the salt drawn from the vicinity of Meschino on the coast. Farther on is Daulas, a village preserving the remains and the name of Daulia, distant in a right line four leagues to the north-west of Berat; but erroneously placed by Ptolemy on the river Aous. Continuing his route the traveller arrives on the bank of the river Genusus, called by the Albaninns Tobi, by the modern Greeks Scombi, and by the Byzantine historians Scombos. Springing from several sources in the Candavian range the Genusus traverses in its whole length the valley of Elbassan, and passing through the district of Pekini falls into the Adriatic. Very justly does Lucan notice the rapidity of this river, when he says that

"First saw the Romans met in hostile camps
The land which Genusus, with headlong tide,
And gentler Apsus, fit lor barks, inclose."
Pharsal. V. 461.



23
    Elbassen. Albanopolis. The Genusus, &c.

If the Apsus were navigable from the sea in Lucan's time, great changes must have occurred in its embouchure, now quite inaccessible through sands and shoals. Perhaps the poet mistook that river for the Aous.

At the distance of nineteen miles up from the sea, in the valley of the Genusus, stands Elbassan, the successor of Albanopolis, a town first mentioned by Ptolemy in the second century. Situated on the north bank of the river, under a branch of the Candavian mountains, which separates that valley from the valley of Trana or Tyranna, on the north; Albanopolis must always have been one of the most important places in Macedonian Illyriciim. Such, under proper regulation and discipline, might still be the present Elbassan. Placed in a valley of great natural fertility, watered by the rapid though very winding Genusus, abounding in trees of various sorts, scattered over the meadows and pastures, and fully inhabited in a number of villages, notwithstanding the political evils of the town, it still retains a portion of its due value. A romantic and picturesque country, a pure and wholesome climate, every natural advantage, empower the inhabitants to lead a life of tranquillity and comfort; would they only renounce their predatory habits, and apply themselves to agriculture and commerce. That industry and its blessings are the objects pursued by the people of Elbassan, the stranger would naturally be induced to conclude, from the external appearance of the valley: but if he raise his eyes to the inclosing ranges of hills, a long line of towers and fortified posts, planted on the least accessible pinnacles, will announce to him the wretched state of hostility and alarm in which the unhappy Elbassanians pass their lives. Sentinels, small parties, and detachments of warriors, posted in those towers, watch over the lower grounds, to give notice of the appearance and approach of the surrounding tribes, against whom they are perpetually in arms. At the first signal of danger every man is ready for the field; and this state of apprehension and agitation, more injurious than the actual but occasional warfare of European nations, has had a most malignant effect on the population. Hence, instead of the 8,000 families or 40,000 inhabitants, formerly reckoned in Elbassan itself, the whole people of the town do not exceed 4,000 beings, distinguished even in that country by their ferocity and poverty. This wretched condition, the never-failing consequence of mis-government, far from tempering the conduct of the Turkish lords of the valley, only embitters their natural brutality, and renders them unjust and cruel to the Greek Christians, borne down under their tyrannical yoke. The envy and hatred, natural in the heart of the Ma-


24

hometans, rankle with double violence at the sight of a Christian Greek, more favoured by nature than themselves. A well-garnished mustachio, flowing ringlets of hair, handsome features, provoke the malignity of a decrepit Aga, enraged that heaven should bestow such graces on a race of beings born only to cringe and serve. Hence it is that the Raia [*] stoops as he walks, with his eyes on the ground, in the presence of the lordly Turks; halts when they approach, dismounts as they pass by; happy if the tyrant content himself with disdaining to notice him. Such is the condition of the Christians, in their original native land, in which they can acquire no real property, whom the vilest Turk may insult, and outrage with impunity. Should he even shed the Christian's hlood, the assassin is sure of protection from the judge; should the relatives be so imprudent as to complain; for he also is governed by the same national fanatical prejudices, against all whom he regards as infidels.

The position of Elbassan is most favourable for commercial intercourse, for it commands the most commodious opening over the Candavian Mountains, on the most direct road between the Adriatic and the gulf of Thessalonica. It is distant twelve leagues north from Berat; ten leagues south from Croia; eighteen leagues west from Ochrida; and twelve leagues east from Durazzo; which formerly was, and still might be made a convenient port. But ideas and projects of renovation or even of preservation, never enter the heads of Turkish administrators. The rulers of Elbassan content themselves with collecting the revenue of the eight districts attached to it; supplying, by exorbitancy and extortion, all deficiencies. For their objects are only two; to purchase
 

*. The Turkish term raia, denotes a person of the lowest rank, whatever be his profession or mode of life; subjected to the caratch or capitation-lax, and to other impositions without measure or mercy; exposed without remedy to the insults, extortion, and injurious treatment of every Turk; incapable even of appearing as a witness in any court of justice against a Mahometan. Such is the horrible condition of the Christian subjects of the grand-seignor; of those Christians of the East, of whom travellers seem to delight to display the defects and failings, without once considering or inquiring, as they ought certainly to do, into the humiliations and degradation to which they are so cruelly and so universally exposed. The custom of dismounting before the nobles of the land, that is before the men of the sword, who in all parts conceive themselves superior in rank to persons of every other profession, was however established among the Greeks of the Lower Empire. Hence the Turk requires, and the Christian complies with a mark of slavish submission, introduced by the degenerate Christians of Constantinople themselves, among their fellow-citzens of the same religious profession.


25
    Bosti.   Cavailha.

protection by bribes among the members of the Divan of Constantinople, and to pass their time in their government, in idleness, sloth, and voluptuousness. The population of the pashalik, or government of Elbassan, is estimated at 14,000 families, or 70,000 persons. The revenue is reckoned about half a million of Turkish piastres, or 25.000 l. In time of war, 7,000 men may be armed; counting one for every Mahometan family. The products of the country are wheat, maize, oil, wine, fruit, among which the quinces are of a prodigious size. But the principal riches of the people consist in their flocks and herds, and in a breed of mountain-horses of extraordinary fleetness. Seven miles up the course of the Genusus, from the sea, is Pekini, the chief place of a district called Scauria, by the historians of Scanderbeg. The inhabitants are all Christians, excepting those of Pekini itself, which is distant three and-a-quarter leagues from Cavailha, and five from Durazzo, both to the northward.

Having crossed the dangerous ford of the Genusus, (Scombi or Tobi), for the only bridges are in the valley of Elbassan, a course of an hour and-a-half brings the traveller opposite to Bosti, a large village on the slope of a range of hills, which run northwards to the valley of the river Drino. To the westward are seen the Adriatic and its inhospitable shores, with a few lowers and villages. Towards Bosti, are numerous hamlets and extensive olive-grounds. The deep furrows of the cultivated lands evince the strength of the vegetable soil, and the peasants by their stature and vigour declare themselves to be those intrepid Guegues, the boast of Albanian warriors. In that quarter all have a rude ferocious mien; all are in arras: the women themselves, disdaining the veil or the spindle, are never seen without a pair of overgrown pistols or other arms. Every thing there, indeed, announces the extreme barbarism of the inhabitants. A league beyond Bosti, leaving Courtchiari in the same line, the road conducts, after three miles more, to Cavailha before-mentioned, a small town built on an eminence, connected with the hills which extend eastward to the Candavian range of mountains. Cavailha, as was already said, is distant three and-a-quarter leagues from Pekini, seven from Elbassan, six from Tyranna, and three from Durazzo: the town contains nothing worthy of the attention of the traveller. The district under the government of a vaivode and a cadi contains thirty-five Mahometan villages, and forty-six inhabited by Christians, of the Latin or Roman church. These last, however, do not exceed 6,000 persons, while the former amount to 12,500, besides the colbans or shepherds. These colbans wander over the country,


26

from mountain to mountain, free from all tribute or tax, and repair to the towns and villages, only for the purpose of exchanging their property for such few articles as they require. The territory of Cavailha is fertile and productive.

From Cavailha, two roads lead to Scutari or Iscodar, formerly Scodra, the capita of Gentius king of Illyricum, and now of the sangiak or governtaent of Upper Albatiia or Guegaria: it is situated at the southerh extremity of the Lacus Labeatis, where its waters are discharged by the river Boiana, the ancient Barbana. One of these roads goes straight northwards in the direction, and on the vestiges of a Roman way. The causey or pavement may be traced at intervals on to Seraso. But as the torrents from the hilts have greatly injured the road, it is seldom employed, excepting in summer when the marshes may be traversed in safety, or by the caravans of merchants having business in the valley of Croia. In other times of the year, travellers who employ relays of post-hoeses, (menzil-hané) take the road from Cavailha to Durazzo, and then follow the coast on to Alessio, the representattve of the Lissus of antiquity, on the Drino. At twenty mitiates journey north-west from Cavailha, the traveller comes to the Ululeus now Spirnatza, a small stream which rises in Mount Eridanus, now called Mount Iscamp, still preserving the name of Scampes, a town mentioned in the Roman Itineraries. Having forded the Spirnatza, which dries up in summer, the road points due-north for five miles; and on the right are many villages, shepherds' tents, and long ranges of forest of oak, fit for ship-building. Then bearing to the westward for a league you enter Durazzo, the capital of a district, subject to a vaivode. No town in this quarter of Illyricum has been more frequently noticed than Durazzo, under its former names of Epidamnus and Dyrrachium. But the two most memorable epochs of its history, are those of the contest between Cæsar and Pompey, forty-eight years before our era, and of the Greek Emperor Alexis, and the Normans under Robert Guiscard, in the end of the eleventh century. Of the former operations the only satisfactory and authentic relation is found in the third book of Cæsar's Commentaries of the civil war of Rome: of the latter in the Alexiade, or history of her father, written by the Princess Anna Comnena. Converted into a Roman colony by Augustus Durazzo became the ecclesiastical metropolis of all Illyricum, and was erected into a duchy by the Emperor Michael. Taken and occupied by the Normans, and again subdued by Bajazet II.; severely afflicted at different periods by earthquakes, sieges, and wars; Durazzo still preserves considerable evidences of


27
    Durazzo.

its former grandeur. The walls, inclosing the original town, as well as the fortifications, constructed when it was enlarged, may still be traced. This double inclosure existed in the end of the eleventh century; for Anna Comnina states that Robert Guiscard, while besieging Durazzo, as it existed in his days, occupied a position within the ruins of the antique Epidamnus. Both towns were built on a promontory, advancing into the Adriatic, and beaten by its waves; against which shipping in the port, though a place of great resort, had no other defence than a very insecure anchorage. In this manner is Dyrrachium described by Lucan in his Pharsalia, vi. 22, &c.

"A fortress this, invincible by steel:
'Tis nature's work alone. It's strong defence
The rugged cliffs, that spurn the dashing surge.
A slender neck it to the land conjoins;
On rocks, the seaman's terror, rise the walls.
The fierce Ionian gulf, when Auster storms,
Temples and palaces in foam involves."


The present Durazzo, built on the ruins of Dyrrachium, of which the remains, are frequently discovered, is surrounded with a wall mounted with cannon, all in the Turkish fashion; and containing 400 Mahometan families, commanded by a vaivode, at the head of a corps, of Janissaries. By that vis inertiæ??, that resistance to change, which still maintains the Ottoman empire in existence, Durazzo, like all the other Turkish towns on the coast of Greece, continues to be numbered among the fortresses of the grand-seignior. But it is also like too many of such towns, the theatre of insubordination and confusion, a nest of pirates, a den of assassins, and the polluted receptacle of criminals who escape from the shores of Italy. On the outside of this modern Poneropolis, (city of the wicked; a name assigned to Philippopolis of Thrace, because many of the first inhabitants bad been guilty of sacrilege,) is a varochi, or suburb, occupied by 600 Roman Catholic Families. Their church, under the invocation of St. Roch, was repaired in 1809, by means of contributions, collected under the authority of a French general in the country. The edifice, originally erected by the Normans in the twelfth century, was the see of the Latin Archbishop of Durazzo. But through the persecutions of the Turks, the present incumbent was compelled, at the hazard of his life, to relinquish his place and withdraw to Corbina, in the adjoining pashalik or government of Croia. There he has taken refuge near the Mirdites, a tribe, who, while they preserve inviolate their fidelity to the Ottoman government, have also resolutely defended their


28

Christian profession and their civil rights, against the tyranny, spiritual and temporal, of their Mussulman rulers. The revenue drawn from the three voivodeliks or districts of Durazzo, Cavailha, and Pekini, which are farmed out in Constantinople for 400 purses, or 8,400 l., (a purse being twenty guineas,) is computed to exceed three times that sum, through the exorbitant operations of the beys in office. From the port of Durazzo the Sclavonians from the northward draw corn, oil, tobacco, Turkey-leather, and timber. In exchange they furnish scarlet-cloth, serge, steel, glass, and fire-arms, from the manufactory of Brescia, in the north of Italy.

In going from Durazzo to Scutari, you return on the road from Cavailha, for above two miles, to the edge of a marsh, which is crossjed in its narrowest part on a decayed wooden bridge. This marshy lake is formed, not by the Apsus, as some writers, misunderstanding Lucan, have supposed, but by the waters of the Spirnatza or Ululeus; which in winter inundate the low grounds; but in summer the ground becomes sufficiently dry to allow maize to be sown and reaped. Beyond the marsh, the road winds for a league and-a-quarter to the river Lisana or Isanus, over which a Roman bridge is still sufficiently entire for use; and above five leagues farther is the river Matis, called by the Greeks Madia, but by the Albanians Bregoui-Matousi. There begins the district of Croia, called by the Byzantine historians Croas, but by the Turks Ak-serail, the white palace. This town, situated on a bill of difficult access, was founded in 1388 by the chief of the district then called Scouria, now that of Pekini, on both sides 9f the Genusus. By its position Croia was secure from any sudden effectual attack; and by its abundant springs of water, from which it acquired its name, the town could not easily be reduced. Its chief renown, however, arises from the heroic and patriotic exploits of George Castriote or Scanderbeg, of whose states Croia was the capital. Although much decayed, the town still contains 1,200 Turkish families. Of 100 villages under its jurisdiction, sixty are occupied by Christians of the Roman church, under the Bishop of Alessio. The revenue of the pasha amounts to 300 purses or 6,300 l. and he would willingly augment it: but the warlike habits and reputation of the people have hitherto restrained him within reasonable bounds. The Mirdites, already mentioned, inhabit a multitude of villages, spread over the fertile valley of the Matis, twenty-four leagues in extent from the sea to its springs: their chief place, Orocher, is distant sixteen leagues from Alessio. Two leagues up the river from the sea, is situated Ischmid, in the tract of country called the Red Plain, mentioned in the


29
    Journey to Janina.

adventures of Scanderbeg. The road to Scutari traverses a forest two leagues in extent, following the tract of a Roman way, which leads to the bank of the Drino, a little above Alessio. Here ends Macedonian Illyricum; and here ends my description of the north of Greece along the coast of the Adriatic. I now return to Port Palermo, to continue the journey to Janina.
 

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