Voskopoja – Moskopolje – Moscopolis

The once powerful settlement of Voskopoja – Moscopole or Moschopolis in south of Albania, also known as the “Aromanian Jerusalem” of the “New Athens’ had been established in the 14th century by Aromanians /Tsintsars – Vlachs/ in southwestern Epirus. From the 17th till the 19th century the town of Voskopoja connected in trade the area of Tsarigrad with the Austrian Empire and the Venetian Republic, making one of the economic and cultural centers of the Balkans, throughout the history with significant influence on creation of the civil society and formation of the civil cultura of the central Balkans.

On origins of the Tsintsars there is prevailing opinion that they are ancestors of the Paleo-Balkan indigenous tribes of Pelasgians or Pelasts, the Thracians and Illyrians tribes who were romanized in the old era. This was the time when the Roman invaders enforced strong influences on the non-Hellenic population of the South Balkans – on the tribes of Illyrians, Thracians, Dacians, Pelasgians and other….  Tsintsars are one of the rare Balkan peoples who did not make blood relationship with the members of the other peoples. Along the German ethnograph and linguist Gustav Weigand /1870–1930/, the Tsintsars were named by the Serbs, who called them also the Wallachians /which in Greek reffers to nomadic people of the Pindus/, but the Tsintsars call themselves Aromuni /Armani, Armanians/, with the meaning inhabitants of Rome. The Tsintsar language or limba armaneascа belong to the earliest New-latin languages of the Balkans. The medieval Serbia recognize the Tsintsars as the people who established Megalovlahi – the Old Great Wallachia and Wallachia Minor – the Small Wallachia in Epirus. The Byzantologist George Ostrogorsky claims that brothers Jonica and Petar Asen were founders of the Armanian dynasty of the Second Bulgarian-Wallachian Empire at the end of the 12th and the beginning of the 13th century. The Tsintsars from Thessaly and the southern parts of Epirus established after the fall of Byzantium the Principality of Musaka – the country in the present central Albania. Snce 1204 and during the 12th and the 13th century, after conquest of Constantinople, the area of Megalovlahia was extended to the Despotate of Epir Vlahia Minor. During the Ottoman Empire the Tsintsars were granted the right for the national identity that was ascribed by the act of sultan Suleyman II Ali Hamid.

Tsintsars or Aromanians or Vlachs are settled in the Balkans for more than 2000 years, they are descendants of the authochtonous Balkan population – Illyrians, Thracians, Dardanians and the Roman legionnaires of the V Roman Legion. The name of Tsintsars come from the Latin word “quinque” which means five. One would assume that the Tsintsar-Aromanian language is the mixture of the Latin and the languages of the antique population of the Balkans, but the Tsintsar language is actually the mix of the Latin and the Serb languages.

Between the 17th and the 18th century the town of Voskopoya – Moscopole – Moschopolis became one of the most developed and prosperous cities in the European part of the Ottoman Empire. Testimony to the peak of Moscopole – Moschopolis as the cultural and intellectual center of the entire south Albania and the northern Epirus are one of the first Printing House in the Balkans established in 1720, the Academia of Moschopolis – Voskopoja founded in 1744, the famous Christian churches and Basilicas, the house of walls painted by the famous Albanian post-Byzantine painters, including David Selenica and the Zeografi brothers.

Although located in a rather isolated area in the mountains of southern Albania, the city of Moscopole – Moschopolis rose to become the most important trading center of the Aromanians. In its glory days (1760s), it is said that Moskopole – Moschopolis had a population surpassing 60,000 and was the second most important city of the Balkans in regard to population and prosperity. At the second half of the 18th century, Moscopole – Moschopolis was ruined, burned and pillaged by bands of local Tosks – Muslim Albanians, as the anti-Orthodox feeling encouraged by the Ottoman authorities during the Russian-Ottoman war of 1768-1774 after the unsuccessful Greek uprising. The half of population left Moskopoje which was turned into a village as it had been originally. Between 1769 and 1789 Voskopoja – Moschopolis was pillaged several times by notorious Ali Pasha of Ianina and eventually in 1821 came to lose its vitality and significance as a commercial center on the trading route between Constantinople and Venice. The pillaging of the Moscopole – Moschopolis, especially of its rich treasures, and also of the records and manuscripts of its churches continued even during the World War I and II. In 1916 the Moschopolis was devastated by big fire and only five from some 79 Orthodox churches /by some records thirty churches/ had survived. Moskopole – Moschopolis was finally destroyed and completely ravaged in 1916 in fighting during the First World War by Albanian irregular bands, headed by Butka and cooperating with the Austrian forces, and, with the exception of four or five beautiful Orthodox churches, the historical buildings which did survive were razed during partisan warfare in 1943. Famous commercial Aroman elite mainly emigrated to Thessaly, Transylvania and Macedonia and Austria-Hungary, to nowadays towns of Berat and Korca in Albania, enriching and enlightening economic and cultural life of all the Balkan countries. The new settlers brought rich values to their new homes and there they have continued to dominate in trade – their essential and highly prosperous business, but their members were reputed lawyers, doctors, professors, politicians…. Their greatest influence in urban areas where they have settled was in urban culture, European way of dressing and fashion. The city of Moscopole – Moschopolis never succeeded to regain to the level of its earlier economic status, vitality  and prosperity.

Moscopole – Moschopolis – Voskopoja remains to this day as an abundant showcase/storehouse of art works. 24 Orthodox churches of Voskopoja famous for their wonderful frescoes and icons had been built during the period between the 16th-18th centuries, but now there remained only eight of them. Some of Voskopoja – Moschopolis churches are the Church of Saint Nicolas, Church of Saint Mary, Church of Saint Athanasius, Church of Saint Michael, Church of Saint Elijah, Church of Saint Charalampus, Monastery of Saint John the Baptist /mostly dating from the 17th and the 18th centuries/. Unfortunately, at present this uniquely valuable cultural heritage of Voskopoje is in pretty poor condition, neglected and often closed. Perhaps the time will come, where many of the old churches and monuments of Voskopoje will be restored and opened to the visitors.

Moskopole – Moschopolis – Voskopoja is today just a tiny, picturesque, remote mountain village /population about 500 inhabitants/ located 21 km west of Korce at an altitude of 1160 meters, surrounded by the gorgeous Morava Mountains whose orchards and fields hide the ruins of its former glory…. Voskopoja has perfectly clear air and fresh cold and curative potable waters. Voskopje – Moschopolis is a winter resort with premium opportunities for skiing and an air spa and the vacation resort throughout a year. In order to commemorate and relive the experience of the past of Moscopole – Moschopolis (222 years since the city was entirely destroyed by Ali Pasha in 1788) the biggest Arman reunion is celebrated traditionally in Viskopoja on the 15th August, when Armans from Albania, Macedonia, Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia and Romania join.