Korce – Korca

Korca is an interesting town in southeastern Albania, situated near the border with Greece and Macedonia, at the foot of the Morava Mountains, some 850 meters above sea level, on the beautiful slopes of Saint Thana hill-Ostrowitza Hill. Korca has a favorable geographical position because it is set between ancient and present trading roads that join Albania with Macedonia (47 km) and Greece (35 km). ­­ Korca was an Illyrian settlement in antiquity. Later there was the ancient city of Pelion built near here, which was captured during the second Macedonian War by the Roman Army led by Sulpicius Galba in 199 B.C. By the early Middle Ages Korca had become an urban center with the 9th century church, rebuilt in the 14th century. Known in 1280, Korca was destroyed in 1440 by the Ottomans but restored and developed again after the 16th century. Islam penetrated the city of Korce in the 15th century through Albanian Janissary leaders who actively participated in the Fall of Constantinople.

Every detail and comprehensive map of Albania, even today records on the area between Korca and Vlora numerous Serbian oronymes and hydronims. In the middle of South Albania rises the mountain peak of Ostrovica/Ostrovitza, while northeast of it is the largest town of this part of Albania – Korca, the Serb name Gorica, which by the Greek influence determined the present name used. The distinguished German linguist Gustav Weigand (1860-1930) write in his records and the Book on Aromunen, when was traveling in summer of 1889 through the central Albania, that ‘Korca sit upon the foot of the hill that is all surrounded with vineyards. This mountain peak was broken by the Morava stream which divides this town into two parts, and continues further into the wide Valley of the Dunavitza river”. South of Korca is the town of Kamenitza-Kamenica, and southwest is Potam, once the Serbian Podhum (Podbrdo); to the west there are settlements of Gilave (Glava), Cerovoda (Curivoda), the area of Trebishini (Trebišnja), and along the Vllosa river (Vojuša), with three towns of the Serb names – on its lower course there is the town of Selenica, south of the delta of the Susica river, on its middle course on the confluence of the Desnica River with Vllosa/Vojusa River, is the Klisura, while in its upper course, but in Greece, is the town of Konjica. East of the Pindus Mountains flows the Aliakmon River, whose Serb name was Bistritza, with the town of Servia /Srbica/ in its middle course. In this area there is the town of Zagora, near Volos. Just not to forget Servohoria by Nisa, documented in the 7th century as the Serfidze in Thessaly, influenced by the Turkish from Serbitza or Srbitza…

Korca grew considerably in the 17th century, especially after the burning of nearby Voskopoja /Moskopole/ which was raided by the Muslim Albanian troops of Ali Pasha. By this time, Korca had become a centre of carpet-making as well as a focal point for trade with 1000 shops of merchants from Russia, Turkey, Greece and Italy. A large cobblestone Korca bazaar was built, a mosque and a hamam were erected, hans – caravanserais, preserved as a cultural monument and the town developed quickly. The Mirahori mosque of Korca was built in 1418. Korca was the seat of government during Turkish rule. In the 18th century, the Korca city was able to exploit its premium location at the crossroads of several caravan routes and became a major trading point and Albania’s largest and most developed city. The first school, a Greek language school, in the city was established in 1724. The first secular school with subjects taught in Albanian language was opened in Korça on March 7, 1887. Ottoman rule over Korçë lasted until 1912. Prior to WWI Korce was Koritsa in Greece. The Axis powers moved the Greek/Albanian border to the east and Korce then became an Albanian city. Ever since Albania gained independence in the Balkan Wars, Korce has been claimed quite wrongly, by Greece. Greek troops occupied it in 1912-3 during the Balkan Wars and again early in World War I. From 1916 to 1920 it was occupied and administered by the French, and in World War II it was held (November 1940-April 1941) by the Greeks. Since the fall of communism, the Autocephalous Orthodox Church of Albania, like its sister Churches throughout the Eastern and the Central and the Southern Europe, has struggled to repair the damage wreaked by years of state-imposed atheism.

The huge Orthodox Cathedral of the Christ Resurrection is the largest church in Albania and it dominates the central square of Korça. Inside the Cathedral houses a marvelous iconostasis and some impressively carved cloister seats.

Old churches near Korca and the village of Voskopoje with its numerous Medieval churches and monasteries, has remained a stronghold of the Orthodox Christianity in the southeastern part of Albania. Korca has a large Orthodox community and it is the seat of the Greek Orthodox metropolitan Bishop. Korca’s Museum is the Museum of Medieval Arts opened in l980 which covers a period from the 5th to the 19th century and there you can see finest works by Albania’s most famous painters of the Middle ages – Onufri (Mid 16th century) and David Selenica (the early 18th century) as well as wonderful works by anonymous goldsmiths, silversmiths, woodcarvers and armourers. One of its greatest treasures is an 10th century iconostasis carved under the direction of the master Dhimiter. The Medieval Art Museum in Korca is the only national institution in the field of iconography that exhibits the most valuable art works of the post-Byzantine period, and the period of the Ottoman invasion. The National Museum of Education opened in 1967 in the building when the first Albanian school was set up. Korce has a large 15th-century mosque and several modern government buildings, numerous cafes and restaurants. The Prehistoric Museum, located in the traditional building within the city center provides the chance to explore nearly 1,200 objects from archaeological excavations from the prehistoric, Hellenic, Roman and Paleo-Byzantine eras. Visitors of Korca are strongly recommended to visit the Ceramics artistic Atelier of Vasi Kolevica Art which produces and exposes wonderful pottery artworks. Visitors also might like to visit the Korça brewery, the most famous Albanian beer and one of the most important in the Balkans. We suggest visiting it and then tasting one of the several beers produced there. Korce is also an excellent place for exploring this beautiful hilly region of south-east Albania and surely the neighboring striking surroundings of Macedonia and Greece.

Saint Mary Church /Holy Virgin – Shen Ristoz/ stands like the hidden cultural treasure on top of the hill in the mountainside Mborja village above Korca town. The tiny Mborja village, elevated above the valley where Korca lies, once was a market town for the whole area and got its name after the Greek expression of “emporion” meaning market. Tiny Byzantine Saint Mary Church /Holy Virgin Resurrection/ dates from 1390 – the 14th century and is built of local stone and timber coursing in trefoil base with small dome. The stone walls of the church are fortified with wood beams which stabilize the structure in case of an earthquake by allowing it to bend without breaking down. UNESCO researches consider frescoes of the Holy Virgin – Saint Mary Church among the best in the Balkans. Frescoes depict various Orthodox saints, hermits-prophets and holy warriors and Byblical scenes and are well preserved although had undergone outrageous negligence during the communist period when numerous churches were destoyed and deserted. Especially interesting are frescoes in the narthex of the Holy Virgin Church, depicting sinners chased by wild beasts and suffering from devils for their sins, and a hand holding a balance in which people are being weight and the sinners on their way to hell attacked by various animals including having been bitten by snakes.

The town of Korce is said to be the cleanest town in Albania. Korça is also known for its lovely girls, its tradition of seranades, bustling bazaar, carnivals, notable surrounding and excellent tasty food. The most typical meal in Korca is the pie of this region called “lakror” ( made of onion and tomato). The Pie Fest, featuring the famous savory lakror pie of the Korça region, is organized every year in July with the aim of enriching culinary opportunities for tourists as well as preserving local culinary tradition. During the fest, bakers demonstrate their lakror making skills in front of the eyes of curious onlookers eagerly awaiting their taste of this freshly baked local delicacy. Live bands playing the famous Korça serenades keep the atmosphere festive and lively…..

Korce has old buildings in various conditions and styles surrounding the Orthodox Cathedral which was built in 1992. Quaint cobbles-town streets run between and behind the main streets. The people of Korca are very friendly and generous. In the early evening they stroll through town in pairs, arm in arm. Korca sits in an area with an notable ancient history and favorable climate, hospitable and hard working people, an area where there are blended together cultural influences of the Balkans, but Western as well. The famous Korca Beer Festival was established in 2007 ever since it attract large number of visitors who enjoy in fantastic beer, music and fun during 5 festival days.

Kamenica Tumulus is newly excavated archaeological prehistorical site with the museum just 10 km south of Korce, 180 m on the left side of the national road (Korçë – Ersekë), in the southern side of the Korça valley. Tumulus Kamnica Archaeological site has actually been open to visitors for a while but has escaped the attention of the guidebooks till recently. The Kamenica Tumulus is a prehistorical burial mound of the prehistoric community that lived in the period between the end of the 13th and the middle of the 6th centuries B.C. The central grave, where the cemetery began, is dated to the late Bronze Age, around the 13th century B.C. Unlike other similar tumuli excavated in Albania, which had a central grave, the central grave of the tumulus of Kamenica was surrounded by two concentric circles with a diameter of about 13 m, built with rocks of average dimension. During the Late Bronze Age (1200 -1050 B.C.), within this big circle were added other 40 graves. During the second phase of the cemetery, that of the Early Iron Age (1050-750 B.C.), the tumulus grew due to other 200 graves covered by soil, till it took its final semi-spherical shape, reaching a diameter of 50 m and approximately 3 m high. In the third phase, which coincides with the second half of the 7th century B.C., monumental circular or semi-circular structures were built in the southern and northeastern periphery, inside which were found single inhumations of individuals with family relationships. During a short period (625-540 B.C.) the tumulus grew gradually towards the east, by means of rock-filled graves, till it took the elliptical shape with axes 70×50 m. Tumulus Kamenica Archaeological Site has been partly excavated – you can see several stone rings and monuments in the dug-up area and the great thing about it is that they have a proper little open-air museum with explanations in English about the site. After thorough excavations researches have uncovered 400 graves, containing 440 skeletal remains, and more than 3500 archaeological artifacts and objects : ceramic vessels, metal weapons, and jewellery made of bronze, iron, silver, gold, amber, and bone. The staff speak English and can show you around the site, and there’s a film you can watch. Kamenica Tumulus is all done very well and worth a short visit – Albania could do with more of these initiatives. The site of Kamenica Tumulus is 150 meters off the main road near Kamenica village, and can easily be combined on a day trip from Korca to nearby Dharda and/or Voskopoja if you have your own transport, or you could spend 10 euros on a taxi to bring you there, wait, and take you back to town.