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Aerial photograph of Pristina

By the 1950s, Pristina's main river, Vellusha, started serving as the city's sewer. City planners failed to put in place a proper waste water system and decided to simply cover the river up. The threat of recurring floods and the smell of excrement persuaded the municipal assembly to eventually cover the second river, Pristina, as well. Although Pristina received its first public water system in 1946, the necessary filters to treat the water were never put in place. Even today, the town's sewage water still flows unfiltered into the river Sitnica south of Pristina.

For rock musician Migjen Kelmendi Pristina's covered river was a symbol of a hidden identity. His rock band, Traces, made a song about the City without River. More recently he wrote a book about this theme. The rivers hidden from view disclose the arrogance of communist planning but also remind us that looks can be deceiving. Pristina is a place of secrets, a city more interesting than it might appear at first sight.

To a citizen of Pristina, as much as to a casual visitor, this is indeed a city of secrets. It is hard to find out anything about either the recent past or the present of the city. There are few historical monuments, and those that exist are often hidden from view. There are no signs on any of the buildings and no clues explaining their historical importance. Archives are lost, stolen, burned or difficult to access. On the official website of the municipality, leaving aside the distant Illyrian past, Pristina has no real history. There is hardly a word on the Ottoman period. Nor are there any books on Pristina to be found in any of its bookshops. The rich and colourful past of one of the oldest urban centres of the region, and one of the youngest capitals of Europe, remains as submerged as its rivers.

Historical buildings (opens in new window)

Walkable map of Pristina

February 2007

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