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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,

Of all the towns in Kosovo, Prizren is certainly the most charming. Boasting the highest number of Ottoman-era buildings and mosques, narrow cobbled streets, a beautifully carved stone bridge and shops selling traditional crafts, it has best preserved its Ottoman flair. For centuries, Prizren had been a vibrant trading town and 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 is 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 homes.

In 1878, Prizren gave birth to the very first national Albanian 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 Albanian customary laws applied 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 and 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 decision in 1947 by the communist leadership 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 light to the Serbian Orthodox church in the center and torched 55 Serbian homes. German KFOR troops stood by and failed to control the violence With Kosovo government and donor funds, reconstruction of the historic Serbian quarter and Orthodox sites is ongoing.

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

May 2008

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