Balkans

Balkans

Sometimes the best times waiting to happen are where you least expect them. The Balkans makes it all possible and that is why our special Balkan tours focus on culture and traditions, taking you to discover the first-hand original Balkan life, enhancing inspirational, experiential and fun aspects of travel and rise question and learn more about generally accepted interpretations of the secret Balkan connections and surprises. You may think you know much about the Balkans, but until you have been to any of the Balkans alluring places, you really do not understand the organization of its intriguing cultures and the long-lasting mystique of the region. Our Balkan tours and information posted on this site make a firm belief in the role Balkans and its environs played during prehistory in the birth and evolution of civilizations in Europe and around the Mediterranean, due to its unique geographical position at the gates of Europe, its unique geographical diversity and richness. And even if you have visited the Balkans, it is still a bit hard to describe….

The Balkans as a region is characterized by specific geo-history and socio-cultural dynamics. The Balkans is extraordinarily fluid region, in which allegiances were bound to be transient, and in which local power relationships were based on the recognition that any alliance was likely to be temporary, and that yesterday’s enemy could be tomorrow’s best friend. The natural, historical, cultural, ethnical, religious, linguistic, social and political diversity of the Balkans makes authentic and significant tourist resource for transforming the region into competitive transnational tourist destination. Balkans features paramount importance of the shared historical heritage that is firmly rooted in the classical Greek and Roman culture; the multiplicity is given by the peculiarities of each area’s tourist offer, by the uniqueness of the natural landscapes, by the variety of the local traditions and beliefs, by the richness of the cuisines and local food products. The Balkan Peninsula is often considered notorious for being one of the greatest battlegrounds of the History. The Balkans has for centuries been influenced by external factors which did not contribute to the realization of the interests of its peoples but, on the contrary, has made inter – Balkan relations further more complex. Balkans is the region where the victories won in the wars have turned into defeats when it came to diplomacy. It remains to be seen, how great-power influence in the region has been catastrophic for the people of the Balkans, and how so-called “ancient hatreds” and “tribal rivalries” have often been intensified by ignorant diplomats in far-away capitals, creating states, allocating populations and redrawing borders – with deadly results. Westerners, generally not well informed about Balkan issues are fascinated and sometimes horrified by the Balkans. Please see The Burden of the Balkans – Edith Durham. Yet, Balkans, that specific mixture of races and beliefs with its great cultural, ethnic, religious, social, economic, and geographic diversity possesses another unseen and alluring, unforgettable side unknown to many, of its breathtaking ancient sites and greatest achievements of the Medieval and the Ottoman architectures, as well as brilliant examples of the Hapsburg era or the unique Balkans gastronomy preserving a seemingly unchanged past. Please see – Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Rebecca West. Thus traveling the Balkans is considered as “the journey in time”, as the heart of Old Europe was in the lower Danube valley, in contemporary Bulgaria and Romania. With such deep History, variety of smells, tastes and flavors, rich Inheritance and impressive Culture of its cheerful people, Balkans inspires many to travel, as it has to offer something peculiarly distinctive and not replicated elsewhere in Europe…. Those resources on the Balkans would make the “Balkans journey in time” far easier and would help travelers find unique ways to experience various tempting flavors of the Balkans.

 

The countries that make up the Balkans today include Greece, Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Geographically, “European Turkey,” a small region around Istanbul, is located in the Balkans. Some scholars also consider Croatia to be part of the Balkan region. The Balkan Peninsula, in the south-east of the continental Europe, between the Alps and mainland Europe and the Near East, with its abundant forests, waters and mountains, and, accordingly, with remote and hard-to-reach places, for a long time was believed to be a barely accessible and dangerous region. There are the Sar Mountains, the Pindus Mountains, the Dinaric Alps, which run from north to south, the Balkan Mountains, Olymp Mountain and Rhodope Mountains which run east to west and harbor gigantic pristine wilderness up to 3000 meters altitude. The vast majority of the Balkan region is heavily forested, but there are also plains regions which are suitable to agriculture and here ever since a great deal of mouth-watering food is produced. The Balkan region is intersected with river valleys, such as those of the Danube, Morava, Vardar, Nišava, Timok, Ibar, Toplica and Drim Rivers, opening up obvious directions of north- and southward communication. Of all of the Balkan rivers, the Danube River is far the most outstanding, both in length and in historical significance. The Balkan rivers cut narrow gorges in the rocks, connecting spacious and fertile basins, where from fresh and simple ingredients delicious food is prepared ever since. On the rims of the basins, Balkan mountain ranges often rich in ores offer a good raw material base for the development of metallurgy as well as impetus for trade. Hospitable fertile zones and other natural resources of the Balkans have attracted human communities from the earliest times.

The distinct identity and fragmentation of the Balkans owes much to its common and often violent history and to the very mountainous geography of the Balkans. The people who reside in the nations that make up the Balkans regions come from a huge number of different ethnic roots and they hail from a variety of different tribes and civilizations that have come to meet in this region down through the centuries. There is a number of traces and finds that the Serbs were the predominant indigenous population of the Balkans in the pre-Roman time. This part of Europe, the Balkans is among the most mixed of any geographic area in terms of ethnicity, religion and cultural influences. We do hope that we ALL can learn something from the past to make for a better present and future.

The praefectura Illyricum was subdivided into the following provinces: Dacia Ripensis, Dacia Mediterranea, Moesia Superior Margensis, Dardania, Praevalis, Macedonia Prima, Macedonia Secunda, Epirus Nova, Epirus Vetus, Thessalia, Achaia and Creta. The most outstanding Illyrian tribes were: Iapudes, Dalmatae, Autariatae, Docletae and Taulantii. The Dardani, a pre-Roman tribe, had occupied the central areas of the Balkans, actually the space between the Morava and Vardar river basins from the prehistoric times. All the peoples (nations) who live today in the Western and Central Balkans have Illyrian elements. However, in the other regions of the Western and the Central Balkans, the new Slavic element predominates. Numerous historical sources, toponyms, oronyms, patronyms and folk memories and legends witness and prove the appearance and existence of Serbs, Vlachs, Vlaštak people, Morlak people and Morovlah people on the eastern side of the Adriatic, in the region of Dalmatia, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Greece and Turkey. Essentially a pastoral and usually a nomad people, the Vlachs of the Balkans have throughout their history regularly been at least nominally subject to some other national group, largely spread in the Epirus and Thessaly regions. Speaking a Latin dialect closely allied to modern Rumanian /the language of the Vlachs north of the Danube/, the Vlachs disappear from our sources during the Middle Ages for as much as several hundred years at a time. But the probability is high that they were always resident in the Balkans, watching their flocks, and practicing transhumance and brigandage. Balkans is the place where Latin and Greek roots of the Roman empire have met and intermixed in antiquity and it is difficult to sort out all of the various influences which have combined here to create such the unique blend of heritages. Find more on the cultural heritage of the Balkans.

The Balkans is the historical name of a geographic region of southeastern Europe. The Balkan region takes its name from the Balkan Mountains, which run through the center of Bulgaria into eastern Serbia. The region has a combined area of 550,000 km2 and a population of about 55 million people. The ancient Greek name for the Balkan Peninsula was “the Peninsula of Haemus”. The Balkans countries are adjoined by water on three sides: the Black Sea to the east and branches of the Mediterranean Sea to the south and west (including the Adriatic, Ionian, Aegean and Marmara seas). The identity of the Balkans is dominated by its geographical position. Historically the Balkan area was known as a crossroads of various cultures. The important Roman road started in the area of Naissus (modern Niš), a city at the crossroads of other trans-Balkan land routes leading in four directions: northward to Viminacium and Singidunum; westward to Lissus and the Adriatic coast; southward to Thessaloniki and the Aegean; and eastward to Serdica and Constantinople. In the first millennium AD, the Balkans was a part of the Byzantine Empire – the continuation of the Roman Empire in the Greek-speaking, eastern part of the Mediterranean. The Byzantine Empire, ruled from the Greco-Roman city of Constantinople, was multinational and very proud of its legacy as the chief successor state of the former Roman Empire. As a matter of fact, the Byzantines thought of their state as the “Eastern Roman Empire.” Balkan peninsula has been a juncture between the Latin and Greek bodies of the Roman Empire, the destination of a massive influx of pagan Slavs, an area where Orthodox and Catholic Christianity met, as well as the meeting point between Islam and Christianity. According to the sources in the Acts, Saint Apostle Paul began spreading Christianity in the Balkan Peninsula and Europe towards the mid 1st century AD, where the first Christian communities were founded in the large cities, indicating that the beginnings of Christianity in the said area should be sought in the large urban centers. The present day Balkans is a very diverse ethnic-linguistic region, being home to multiple Slavic, Romance, and Turkic languages, as well as Greek, Albanian, and others.

Through its history many ethnic groups with their own languages lived in the area of the Balkans, among them Proto-Slavs, Thracians, Sarmatians, Antes, Iazyges, Roxolans, Scythians, Illyrian tribes, Alans, Romans, Huns, Goths, Pechegnes, Sclavenes, Cumans, Venethi-Wends, Avars, Celts, Germans, and various Germanic tribes. From the late 6th millennium gold and copper mining and processing was developing in Europe and there was extensive mining in Serbia and Bulgaria during the 5th millennia. Many gold objects have been found that were used for ornamentation of body and clothes and during this period Balkans may have been the most dynamic region of Europe. The Balkan region was the first area of Europe to experience the farming cultures in the Neolithic era – growing grain and raising livestock in the Balkans of Starchevo culture, 10000 years BC spread west and north into Pannonia and Central Europe.
In preclassical and classical antiquity, our Balkan region was home to Greek city-states, Illyrians, Paeonians, Thracians, Epirotes, Mollosians, Thessalians, Dacians and other ancient groups. Later the Roman Empire conquered most of the Balkan region and spread Roman culture and the Latin language, but significant parts still remained under classical Greek influence. Truly deserving of the title “great” it is no exaggeration to say that the world may well have been a different place, and history taken another course entirely had it not been for the life of Emperor Constantine. Death of Emperor Constantine the Great – 337 led to formal division of the Roman Empire into Western and Eastern Empires. During the middle Ages, the Balkans became the stage for a series of wars between the Byzantine, Bulgarian, Hungarian, Macedonian, Venetian and Serbian Empires. Throughout the Balkans turbulent history, borders of the Balkan peninsula were ever fluctuating, often involved in multitude conflicts with not only the Arabs, Persians and Turks of the east, but also with its Christian neighbors – the Bulgarians, Serbs, Normans and the Crusaders, which all at one time or another conquered large amounts of its territory. Christian in nature, Byzantine Empire was perennially at war with the Muslims. Flourishing during the reign of the Macedonian Emperors, Byzantine demise was the consequence of attacks by Seljuk Turks, Crusaders, and Ottoman Turks. By the end, the Byzantine Empire consisted of nothing but Constantinople and small holdings in mainland Greece, with all other territories in both the Balkans and Asia Minor gone. The conclusion was reached in 1453, which marked a turning point in history, when the city of Constantinople was successfully besieged by the Sultan Mahmud II “the Conquerer”/Mehmed II el Fatih, Mehemmed II (1451-1481) “The Conqueror”/, bringing the Second Rome to an end. The Ottoman Empire had supremacy over the entire Balkans during the next centuries.

At the beginning of the 19th century most of the Balkans was ruled by the Ottoman Empire from Constantinople, and the rest by the Austrian Empire from Vienna. Beginning with the Serb rising against the Ottoman yoke in 1804, the 19th and early 20th centuries saw a long struggle by Balkan peoples to form independent countries that would afford their citizens liberty and a reasonably good life. The Balkan Wars lasted from 8 October 1912 till the 10 August 1913. In the First Balkan War, which ended on 30 May 1913, by the London Peace Treaty, the Christian states of the Balkans – Serbia, Montenegro, Greece and Bulgaria together fought against the Ottoman Empire. Turkey was defeated in this war, so had along the London Peace Treaty to renounce all territories in Europe, except Istanbul and the surroundings. On 29 June 1913 Bulgarian Army attacked the Serbian Army on Bregalnica River, which caused the Second Balkan War. The Bregalnica Battle ended with victory of the Serbian Army, supported with the units of Montenegro and Greece. The Second Balkan War was used by Romania, which attacked Bulgaria from the north, and Turkey, which attacked it from the south. Bulgaria was in difficult position, so on 10 August needed to sign the armistice, which was very unfavorable for it – Romania got Dobruja, Turkey got part of Trakia with the town of Edirne, Greece gained Aegean Macedonia and Serbia the Vardar Macedonia. Bulgaria kept Pirin Macedonia, as well as parts of Trakia and Dobruja. So was ended the Balkan wars a hundred years ago. One of the burning questions in the Balkan history of the second half of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th, until the Balkan wars 1912/13, was the Macedonian question. Not only the Balkan peoples and their states were engaged in the struggle over Macedonia but also the Great Powers endeavored to master this region, as it was rather significant for their political, economic, cultural, religious and other interests in the Balkans /Slavenko Terzic/. Independence, coming at different times to different Balkan countries, often did not mean liberty or prosperity, nor even freedom from the tutelage of larger powers. “With the Peace of London, the Great European powers, in the redistributing the land taken from Turks among the Balkan states, decided to create a new state, Albania.”/Zolo, Danilo, Invoking humanity : war, law and global order/. In the past century hopes for better times have sometimes been high, for instance in the officially democratic Europe of the 1920s; at other times they have been very low, as when the 1930s and 1940s saw a decline into dictatorship, renewed invasions, and then /except for Greece/ imposed Communist rule. As said, ever since the fall of the Byzantine Empire, the geopolitical map of the Balkan Peninsula has been tailored by the interests of the great powers, first of all, the actors of the Ottoman Empire followed by the Austrian Hungarian Empire, then Russia and, today, Germany and the USA. The struggle goes on today, in greatly changed external circumstances. Structural stability, the rule of law, implementation of business ethics and institutional capacities at national and regional levels are equally important to macro-economic stability and proper tourism infrastructure. In spite of the burden of all the history – we broaden perceptions on the Balkans doing all about ennobling the soul, promoting lofty ethics and morality and giving visitors spiritual values that encourage its positive recognition and enlightening experiences, bringing the Balkan countries into the 21st century tourism.

 

The Balkans means group of countries of such great diversity and rarely seen textures that one gets the blown up by the colors, cultures, hospitality, flavors, tastes, smells, traditions, dances, music, food, myths, legends and striking landscapes. Even the geographic extent of the “Balkan” region is a matter of controversy, but the presence of contradictory issues is itself characteristically Balkan. The term “Balkan” has been used not only for geographical purposes, but also to define a certain mentality of the people living in the area. As the result of the mixture through the turbulent Balkan history, communities with intense ethnic feelings, incorporating the unique cultural and linguistic characteristics of the whole Balkan Peninsula were created. The Balkan nations still have an immense and admirable cultural heritage in common, which is often concealed, neglected or denied in nationalist discourses. Balkan peoples are a more physical and affectionate culture, in public and private and possess a special ethos – independence, pride, courage and honor. All Balkan people are affectionate, males and females hold hands, kiss cheeks, touch one another, etc. They are a much more caring culture and more willing to show affection publicly. In order to be successful in discovering the culturally diversified Balkan population you must be open-minded, be willing to learn about other cultures and beliefs and be accepting of differences in people and cultures.

Due to such peoples’ composition, the Balkan region is today spoken of as a typical multi ethnic and multicultural area. This is the region in which the archways of numerous civilizations cross each other (of Islam, Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism) and where its multicultural diversity represented both wealth and a challenge for dialogue and cultural interpenetration as well as, in some historical phases, a cause for conflicts. The latter tendency was more dominant in those historical situations when the cultural, ethnic and religious differences were instrumentalized by the powerful forces, that is, the politics on the Balkans or outside it for the sake of the realization of their particular geo-strategic interests. In these historical situations, the cultural diversity, ethnic and religious, was transformed from the bridges of cooperation and richness into the borders and additional causes for conflict generation. That is why it is not accidental that the greatest writer on the Balkans, the Nobel prize winner Ivo Andrić, as a connoisseur of the spiritual life and relations in the region, wrote about the Balkans using the metaphors such as a dark vilayet, a damned yard, a bridge on the Drina as an area where diverse worlds meet and clash. It is also an area where the narcissism of small differences is expressed and where love and passion are extreme. Here people passionately love each other but they are even more passionate, morbidly passionate in their hatreds./quoted from Ljubiša Mitrović – THE GEOPOLITICAL AND SOCIOLOGICAL ASPECTS OF THE TRANSITION PROCESS OF A REGION: FROM THE BALKANS TOWARDS SOUTH-EASTERN EUROPE/

The vivacious members of the Dinaric race highlanders are to be found today in the mountainous areas of the Western Balkans (Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro, most of northwestern Bulgaria, northwestern Republic of Macedonia and northern Albania). Dinaric highlanders are characterized by a rough strength and down-rightness, by a peculiar trustworthiness, by a feeling for honor and love of the home, by bravery, strong masculinity and the certain self-consciousness. The Dinaric highlanders race is very tall, well-knit, dark pigmented, of high-skull and round-skull, with a very large, long, but also rather broad face and with a large, more or less bent nose. The eyes of Dinaric highlanders are wide open, brown to brown-black. The expression of the eyes is often something defiant, self-conscious, merry and bluff. Thick mustaches of Dinaric highlander are often met with, as also heavy eyebrows. The hair of the Dinaric highlander is brown to black. Dinaric race represents a stock which is likely found somewhat uncouth, with a rough cheerfulness, or even wit, and is easily stirred to enthusiasm. The gift for music, above all for song, is particularly pronounced. The sociability of the Dinaric race is a rough and noisy one; as between man and man it is generally sincere and upright. Dinaric innate nature embodied in cohesiveness of small communities which continuously strive to reach clearing, where life is much easier and embellished, what is the stage of cultural development that civilized societies have already passed through.

Traveling the Balkans it is to trace the Medieval Europe scenes with nationalities originating from Serbia, Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania…. One can’t understand the Balkans without understanding its ethnic groups, and one can’t understand the ethnic groups and their history without knowing the influence of the region’s geography. These are countries rich in ancient myths and its cultural heritage also point to a time when they knew peace and cooperation, when early Balkani peoples worshiped life-loving deities who appreciated beauty, joy, and inspired a wide range of sacred arts. Long suppressed by later monotheism, those ancient deities nevertheless are still wedded to the Balkan countries. It is this churning energy and passion that will never be forgotten.

The Balkans Cultures

The peoples of the Balkan possess a special artistic spirit, and numerous crafts and handwork have been practiced here for centuries. Today these traditional Balkan skills are still performed in much the original manner.  The skillful hands of the Balkan masters have created wonderful pieces of art from wood, stone and metal and the talent of the Balkan women has been woven in the fibers of the impressive rugs adorned with decorative elements. The carved wooden ceilings are perhaps the most impressive examples of wood-carving in old Balkan houses.

The Balkan culinary products collected from the fragrant alpine lawns and century-old forests, offered in some suitable ceramic pots, are a desired souvenir to make a gift from Balkan tour. All of the Balkan food production is from original old recipes, which have been prepared for centuries by the Balkan woman with her natural taste for beauty. Famous Balkan masters and herbalists have developed all those recipes, which makes them unique. Master artisans, woodcarvers and painters of the Balkans actively participate in numerous manifestations and touristic events of the Balkans showing their skills to numerous visitors. They create original Balkan architectural and cultural ambiance in their beauty and fine workmanship that cannot be surpassed.

Living Art of the Western Balkans – short documentary film by filmmaker Melody Gilbert (frozenfeetfilms.com)

Balkans culture is traditionally male-dominated. In some parts of the Balkans clan-tribal social organization is still preserved and men are considered the head of the household. Many vestiges of the patriarchal system are still evident in woman’s lower social status. Traditionally women perform only domestic work. Infant care is largely the role of the mother. Godparents also play a significant part in children upbringing. It is customary for several generations to live together under the same roof. Ethnic Albanians tend to have large families, of eight to ten children, and so extended families often live together in a compound of houses enclosed by a stone wall. Even in Serbian families which tend to be smaller, relatives, aunts, uncles and other close family members often live, if not in the same house, then in close proximity to one another, which evidences the particular closeness of extended families. Inheritance customs follow a system of male primogeniture: the first-born son inherits the family’s wealth. Or the sworn virgins who become the new head of the family after the father dies and dress and act like men, and must take a vow of chastity…..

Balkan Folklore

Balkan folklore dances are beautiful danced in a line or circle, with dancers linked by a hand or shoulder hold. This means that you do not need a partner for the Balkan folk dance ! There is a repeated sequence of steps, some very simple, others quite intricate. The speed of the Balkan folk dance can vary from slow to brisk, but you do not need to be exceptionally fit or agile. In group, men and women enjoy each others dances, whilst trying to retain the correct style ! Balkan folk dances are based on the dance rhythms which are found more or less exclusively in the countries surrounding the Balkan mountain ranges which traverse south-eastern Europe. These rhythmic patterns date back to pre-Roman times, but have been modified and developed as a result of the movement of peoples and cultures, which cross political boundaries.

Balkan Music

Itinerant Gypsy musicians, whose importance must not be underestimated, aided and abetted this process of musical cross-fertilization. Gypsy Musicians continue to do so, though their own musical culture has been influenced by exposure to so-called “civilized” West European and American musical cultures. The development of musical instruments in the Balkans has also played a huge part in varying the sounds of Balkan dance music throughout the centuries. The biggest change came with the creation of tempered tuning by instrument makers and composers in the 17th century, which was adopted by folk musicians of the ubiquitous piano accordion throughout Europe, and now supplemented by the electronic synthesizer!

The asymmetrical aksak rhythm represents one of the distinctive and most vital features of the musical traditions on the Balkans. The asymmetrical aksak rhythm system has almost been unknown. It is characterized by combinations of unequal beats, such as 2 + 3 and their extensions, particularly 2 + 2 + 2 + 3. Owing to inadequate transcriptions of most of the musical notations of the vocal and instrumental Balkan music from the beginning of the 20th century, it was hardly possible to perceive the presence of this asymmetric rhythm in the Balkan area.
Famous Vlatko Stefanovski in one of songs of his great music calls upon fate & luck, the 2 constants of the roma cosmos, in a song that seems to have existed for centuries. “we all have our own star that follows us while we live/ when it brightly shines, man has luck/ when it dies, destiny…”Stefanovski is a remarkable guitarist and songwriter, and the founder of the cult rock band Leb i Sol (Bread and Salt), which was one of a handful of Balkan rock bands to have a real reputation outside its home territory. He has toured internationally and collaborated with the best musicians in the Balkans, bringing his concerts to Serbia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Croatia. Stefanovski’s intimacy with the folk music of his region, as well as the differing ethnic styles that coexist there, enabled him to write “Gypsy Song” with great authority. The song was part of a soundtrack he composed for a film of the same name.

Leb i Sol – Uči me majko, karaj me

Esma Redžepova and Nikola Badev – Ajde, mome Stojne

Dragoslav Pavle Aksentijevic and the Zapis Group – Concert in the Sava Center, 2004

The Balkan region is where east meets west, and this applies particularly to the musical Balkan rhythms. Since they are used for social dancing rather than virtuoso solo performance, the dance rhythms need to be comparatively regular in tempo. In this respect Balkan rhythms differ from the much more complicated systems of Asia and the Orient, which use elaborate tonal and poly-rhythmic structures. This means that Balkan rhythms can be easily understood /and danced/ by Western Europeans !

Balkan Gastronomy

Here in the Balkans we are all proud of the secrets and experience of the old masters of the Balkans, and flavors and tastes awaiting visitors. We incorporate passion and attention in every stage of food production, starting from the choice of raw materials and supplies, old recipes, cooking and production process of food, which provides true surprises, satisfaction and unique memories of consumers, directly from the rich traditions of our homes….

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