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Prizren. Photo: flickr/ettermichaeljackson

Prizren town is located on the Bistrica (Lumbardhi) River in the South of Kosovo. It is set against the backdrop of the Sharr Mountains to the south and the Accursed Mountains bordering Albania to the west.

Of all the towns in Kosovo, Prizren is certainly the most charming. Boasting the highest number of Ottoman-era buildings and mosques, adorned with narrow cobbled streets, a beautifully carved stone bridge and shops selling traditional crafts, it has best preserved its Ottoman flair. For centuries Prizren was a vibrant trading town and an important Ottoman administrative and commercial center. There was a strong tradition of crafts, in particular tanners, armourers (with guns exported as far afield as Egypt) metalworkers and filigree. To this day, Prizren remains Kosovo's most ethnically mixed municipality, home to Albanians, Serbs, Bosnians, Turks, Roma and Gorani. Turkish, alongside Albanian and Serbian, is widely spoken in Prizren’s homes.

In 1878 Prizren gave birth to the very first Albanian national movement, the League of Prizren. The League struggled to square its ambition to preserve the Ottoman Empire with its demands for more autonomy. While declaring its loyalty to the Ottoman Sultan, the League called for a single Albanian vilayet administered by Albanian officials, Albanian-language education, and the application of Albanian customary laws in the courts. For a brief spell in 1880, the League de facto controlled Kosovo. In 1881, the Ottoman authorities decided that the League posed a threat; within months its leaders were arrested or sentenced to death. What survived is the famous saying coined by the Prizren League that the faith of the Albanians is Albanianism.

The communist leadership’s decision in 1947 to move the capital from Prizren to Pristina was a blessing in disguise. While relegating Prizren to second rank, it helped preserve the town's charm and saved Prizren from the worst communist building excesses.

To the surprise of many, Prizren saw some of the worst violence during the March riots in 2004. An angry crowd of Albanian protestors set fire to the Serbian Orthodox church in the city centre and torched 55 Serbian homes. German KFOR troops stood by, failing to control the violence. Reconstruction of the historic Serbian quarter and the Orthodox sites – financed by the Kosovo government and donor funds – is ongoing.

Decades of under investment in education and public infrastructure, coupled with high population growth and urbanisation, have left Prizren struggling to accommodate its next generation. Schools are forced to operate on three shifts, with up to 50 kids per class. To address the need for more classrooms, Kosovo’s Ministry of Education has launched a major school building programme.

May 2008

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