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In Search of Albania’s Historical Facts

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Book review on “Albania and Albanians According to Distinguished Foreigners”, written by Piro M. Tase in Albanian Language.

“Albania and Albanians According to Foreign visitors” is a book volume with over 540 pages, written in Albanian language by Piro P. Tase and published in the United States at “Outskirts Press” (2007). 

This twenty years long research project encompasses the history of Albania and Albanians written by Distinguished Foreign Visitors who have traveled through many regions of Albania, have spent time in the 2400 years old city of Berat that has been included in the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites.  The City of Berat is the stage where the history of Albania and Albanians is set forth and passionately written by missionaries, diplomats, ancient military generals; among them including William Martin Leake the world renowned antiquarian topographer of the British Empire who surveyed the coast of Albania to assist the Ottoman Empire in its defense from the French Forces and in 1808 became the official British Representative in the court – castle of Ali Pasha Tepelena in Ioannina (Greece). Piro Tase’s book embodies Albanian nationhood, rich cultural heritage, ethno-linguistic peculiarities, intensive ancient and modern history, consequences of major European battles,  that have been the central focus of many historians and statesmen from Herodotus to Javier Perez De Cuellar (5th Secretary General of United Nations, 1982-1991); as well as from Antipater, a statesman under King Philip II of Macedonia and Alexander the Great (320 BC) to Evliya Çelebi, a XVII Century Ottoman Explorer who traveled for forty years throughout the Balkans, Middle East and the Caucasus region. 

According to UNESCO: “the City of Berat is inscribed as a rare example of an architectural character typical of the Ottoman Period; located in Central Albania, Berat bears witness to the coexistence of various religious and cultural communities down the centuries.  It features a castle, most of which was built in the 13th century, although its origins date back to the IV Century BC.  The citadel area numbers many byzantine churches mainly from the XIII century as well as several mosques built under the Ottoman era in 1417.”

To shape the history of Albanian nation based on the travel diaries, observations and impressions of distinguished foreign visitors that have visited Albania throughout the waves of centuries, is a deeply attractive project. This is the mission undertaken by Piro M. Tase, who has brought into the international attention the history of Albania and Albanians under the apex of distinguished foreigners, envoys and visitors who have walked in this land, stories that are coming from the depths of centuries to discover the ‘foundational roots’ of an ancient nation’s origin and to help write its history.

Among them there are also great writers and artists such as: Lord George Gordon Byron, Edith Durham, François Laurent Pouqueville, Edward Lear, Henry Fanshawe Tozer, Antonio Baldacci, Robert Curzon, Thomas Smart Hughes, Carl Patch, Benjamin Disraeli, Johann Georg von Hahn, John Hobhouse, Peter Oluf Brønsted, Charles Cockerell, David Urquhart, William Martin Leake, Henry Holland, Ami Boué, Aubrey Herbert, Javier Perez de Cuellar, Philip Winn (British Historian) and to conclude with American Journalists, Wallace Schroeder, Tim Neville and Cathryn Drake of Wall Street Journal.

This edition includes on its last chapter, a number of thoughts from a distinguished Albanologist, Dr. Robert Elsie; therefore becoming one of the key foreign scholars that has further completed this attractive mosaic, built by voyage memoirs, chronicles written over the centuries for this country and its people, a mosaic that is at the zenith of this century of Albanians everywhere in the world; radiating brightness and a genuine portrait of Albania and Albanians.

Piro P. Tase has chronologically organized and compiled all of the notes from foreign dignitaries, to shape the history of a nation the very same way that it has been experienced by authors and foreign historians.  It is not a coincidence that Piro P. Tase has gathered all of these historians, to create a symposium for the history of Albania, in the ancient city of Berat.  They are coming from Rome …through the Adriatic; the cruel waves are setting them in the shores of Alesios, Durachium, Apollonia and Vlora, and the shores of Preveza and Himara.

They come from Kosovo and Montenegro, Turkey, Macedonia and Greece …and walking on their feet or mounting a horse, as well as taking a break ‘from a han to another han’, and stopping in the irreplaceable, impeccable city of Berat”, to jot on canvas, the prettiest landscapes and to write on paper the notes of their travels and voyages.  The author, has persistently selected Berat, this is “…a city that is carved like a crown over the top of a mountain, similar to a podium of an archbishop”, to showcase in the best way possible such a marvelous mosaic of a truly ‘infinite’ history written by ‘foreign statesmen.’

This Book is divided into ten chapters:

Chapter I – “In the Place of a Prologue”

Herodotus, “Father of History”, on the origins of Albanian People: his ancient story about Mount Tomorri  and the Temple of Dodona.

Titus Livius and the city of Antipatrea …Roman Consul Servius Sulpicius Galba terrorizes the people of the city and other surrounding areas…

Chapter II – “The ancient foundations of a city” 

Notes on the life of Antipatrea, “European General” and an inspiring source of Alexander the Great.

Chapter III – “Ancient Iliro – Roman Civilization”

Julius Ceasar and Pompey the Great, in front of one another, on both sides of River Osum (Apsus) in Berat.

Chapter IV – “Berat in the early medieval period”

With the Historians of Early Medieval period: from Anna Komnene (The World’s First Female historian), Georgius Pachymeres,  Deno John Geanakoplos and the invasion of Berat during the rule of Charles I of Anjou and  Michael VIII Palaiologos (1204); Rosario Jurlaro on the Despotate of Epirus and the fertile plains of Muzakia …

Chapter V – “Berat under the rule of Skanderbeg”

Western writers: Possenti, Leonclavius and others on the invasion of the Castle of Albanian Belgrade.

The Presence of Sultan Mehmed II, makes Skanderbeg very famous, after this moment he would be called as the “Knight of Christianity”.

Chapter VI  – The Seyahatnameja of Evliya Çelebi, an interesting history for the rocks of the castle and a genuine description of the city and its people.  Lord James Caulfeild Charlemont (1749), the First European statesmen to visit Albania.

Chapter VII – XIX Century (Turkish Invasion continues)

Mission of William Martin Leake in the courtyard of Ali Pasha Tepelena, Lord Bayron, John Hobhouse, Thomas Smart Hughes, Robert Curzon and many others.  Travel Memoirs of Henry Fanshawe Tozer

Chapter VIII – the Begining of XX Century

Edith Durham, “I know everything about Albanians, it is the nation that is well known for its smiling faces, fiering eyes and grey hair!  Notes from Carl Patsch (1904).

Renaissance Movement throughout Albania.

Chapter IX – Independence

Leo Freundlich and the Albania Golgotha”

Chapter X – Instead of the Epilogue –

1991: After fifty years. Again with foreign dignitaries
Javier Perez de Cuellar, English Academician Philip Winn,
American Journalists: Wallace Schroeder, Tim Neville (a writer for The New York Times, The Financial Times), and other contemporary authors.  

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Arts & Culture

Architecture Reflecting Culture: The Alhambra

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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Throughout history civilizations have been overtaken by successors.  These in turn decline and fall as time marches on.  Often all that remain are monuments, an occasional palace or temple often a tomb, usually in ruins unless of relatively current vintage.

The ancient Egyptians built massive pyramids to bury their pharaohs, projects lasting a lifetime and ensuring a reliable source of income for the workers and others involved. 

The Greeks favored exquisitely proportioned temples and statuary rendered with a skill that was not matched again until the Renaissance.  One would be remiss not to mention their vast output of the mind from philosophy and logic to the poetry and drama played out in the amphitheaters.

If Roman entertainment relied on blood and gore, it was part of a culture of brutal wars, subjugation and suppression of foreign peoples welded into an empire.  Then there was Roman law, even if it applied only to citizens.

Of more recent vintage are the great cathedrals of Europe like Chartres, tall, massive, constructed in a span of time unimaginable in our era of haste.  Preceding them were the great mosques of the Muslim era decorated in geometric shapes and colors to dazzle the eye.  Damascus and Isfahan come to mind.

Then there are the Nasrid kings of Grenada in southern Spain, al Andalus to these descendants of North African Berbers and Arabs who ruled there for several centuries.  A time when the three Abrahamic religions coexisted in relative harmony it saw the flowering of a civilization noted for its mixture of opposites.

The city of Cordoba with its great mosque was an early fruit of this admixture becoming the largest city in Europe during the 10th century, although civil wars had diminished it considerably by the 13th century.  Yet the 13th century began the growth of a city on a hill now called Alhambra probably due to the reddish color (alhamra in Arabic) of the rock face.  Housing some 40,000 citizens then, not many of the buildings survive.  Notable are the defensive citadel Alcazaba, three palaces — the Mexuar, the Comares and the Court of the Lions — and an encircling wall with battlements and towers.  The great mosque was replaced by a Franciscan monastery in the 15th century and is now a parador — a government-run hotel that was formerly a castle or palace or the like.

The Courtyard of the Lions is justly famous as the symbol of Alhambra.  The twelve lions at the center appear to be holding up a water basin right in the center of a network of channels …  on the periphery, colonnades supporting delicately carved arches form an abbey-like cloister.  But the walls in the adjoining rooms hold their own surprise in intricately carved geometries of colored tiles and plasterwork.  Glancing up, the ceilings are designed to take your breath away.  Even more intricately constructed, they comprise thousands of meticulously carved sections of wood rising layer upon layer to feast the eye as small apertures allow in shafts of sunlight or moonlight.  Watercourses run through many rooms spilling across portals into pools among enclosed gardens melding interior with exterior and joining it with nature. 

The architect LeCorbusier called it ‘the intelligent, just and magnificent interplay of volumes made harmonious by daylight.’  Henri Matisse exclaimed, ‘The Alhambra is a marvel’ and Washington Irving captured imaginations throughout the western world with his 1832 book, The Alhambra.  At the time going to rack and ruin, his romantic vision helped to trigger an effort to preserve the precious gem.

Now a magnet for tourists, it remains a precious reminder of what an intermingling of cultures can produce — just as the Taj Mahal does in India where Mughal emperors often married Hindu Rajput princesses and Shah Jahan (whose mother Manmati was one) built his own marvel.

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Don’t avoid what is easy – diplomacy meets art

Tiiu Meiner

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Harbour for Cultures - Yerevan cards

Individuals should and need to feel like they have the right to want. That is the message that artist Anastasia Lemberg-Lvova is continuously expressing through her artwork. Exemplifying socially-engaged art, Lemberg-Lvova aims to be a part of a much broader political movement which discusses important historical and modern-day social processes through creative means.

The second-wave feminist movements from the 1960s is one example of such a powerful movement. With their infamous quote, ‘The personal is political’, authored by millions of voices of women collectively rather than one feminist author, the message that every individual has the right to a voice was heavily stressed. As personal experiences took center stage and the individual became a political platform during the feminist movements, crowds of individuals also gained new meanings of courageous collectivity. Ultimately, the movement gave opportunity for previously ignored and taken-for-granted personal circumstances to be framed in a bigger picture – a picture that women as minorities were often left out of.

Continuing to portray the central message that movements such as the feminist strikes and many other historical crusades have fought for, Lemberg-Lvova uses her own art to focus on the younger European generation, highlighting the vast diverseness of the voices that live in Europe and sending a bold message that evidences a heterogeneity which needs to be more thoroughly discussed amongst the European community. With her projects, she is able to recognise the ways in which the systemic infrastructures that exist around the individual leave them feeling insecure or insignificant in relation to their voice and its right to exist in public. By initiating healthy conversation and focusing on this very elemental act of daring to express one’s desires towards public space, she has created a platform that encourages individuals to learn to voice their opinions more often, ultimately leading the person to be engaged as the multiplicities of voices are amplified to lead to more diverse discussion and perhaps outcomes. 

Anastasia avatud stuudios Kogo galeriis (foto Mariia Nedosekova)

Her exhibition, ‘Don’t Avoid What is Easy’, on show from August 14th – September 9th at the Freedom Gallery in Tallinn, Estonia, is thus the result of 2 years of research conducted mainly through interviews of younger generation individuals during her own expenditures through Europe. Although seemingly humble in its outcome as portraits, there is a strong message behind Lemberg-Lvova’s work, depicting the notion that we should feel more confident to voice our opinions about our public surroundings, Lemberg-Lvova uses art and representations to give a voice to over 100 participants from 24 European countries.

By painting vibrant oil portraits of a selected 7 individuals whom she interviewed, she touches on the concept of art and its political capacity by explaining “There will be portraits of participants with a visual interpretation of their wish as the background. The experience of, as we often say, “putting a face to a name” has a profound effect and is more intuitively understood than just going through text or trying to grasp abstract ideas. Painting as a form of expression is immensely malleable and useful when getting ideas across.”The desire to initiate discussion and give it a platform within the context of a gallery means Lemberg-Lvova’s art is inherently social and public. These qualities make for an intriguing space where the audience can identify small changes that resemble the tip of a much bigger iceberg– or at least the ignition of confidence and curiosity. 

This focus on the first and easiest step sometimes being the hardest is something of great importance for Lemberg-Lvova as she explains “An inhabitant of a city logically has the right to express ideas or wishes when it comes to their surroundings – it is, after all, their home. But they are often stuck in the belief of not being able to change anything. In this instance, I am not talking about taking action or creating a plan. This is about the simplest first step that does not require anything – feeling like one is entitled to express a wish. It doesn’t have to lead anywhere; just remember that you have the right to want something. What follows is a different matter, but it is clear that nothing will happen without this first step.”

An interactive wall installation where participant answers are projected for all to see will pay homage to the importance that Lemberg-Lvova holds for communities to listen to the expressions of their surrounding civilians. She explains “From an early age, our heads are flooded with subliminal messaging and that often diminishes internal self-worth. Let me explain this from the point of view of a woman – a frame of reference I am most familiar with. As a woman one feels that unless they have perfect dazzlingly white teeth, flawless hair, a tiny waist and the right kind of shoes they are not worthy of expressing an opinion. Because if you do not fulfill all of the criteria above, no one will listen to you or even consider you worthy of attention. This is a cliché, yet it exists because it is true. It describes the reality of many women, because we are surrounded by sources reaffirming it – adverts, friends, sometimes parents or spouses, fitness centers and the list goes on. At the exhibition, I am striving to fill the space with messaging that reiterates one’s right to express their wishes whoever they are.

What to maintain_ – Lemberg-Lvova 2020

Her message is clear – we should not avoid formulating our wishes in matters that concern us. Her persistence to initiate discussion and to give it a platform within the context of a gallery means her art is inherently social and public. These qualities make for an intriguing meeting space for the artist as well as her audience amongst each other.

Open Studio at Kogo Gallery, Widget Factory (Aparaaditehas), Tartu, Estonia: 08.07-01.08

Exhibition “Don’t Avoid What is Easy – Diplomacy meets art”at Vabaduse Gallery: 14.08-09.09

*Valeriya Billich also contributed to this article. Photos:Mariia Nedosekova

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Life of a Bon Vivant

Ankit Malhotra

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Gentleman Sitting in Wingback Chair Enjoying a Brandy Fleece Blanket, John Lyes

Uncertainty and summer saunter in with its retinue of rules, so I am told. While philistines slip into their shorts. Gentlemen don’t do that. At least the ones I know, or rather, admire. I am strongly of the opinion that summer requires meticulous management and planning. There needs to be a complete overhaul of the sartorial preferences, dietary habits, and recreational regime. Additionally, and rather, increasingly significant nowadays, at the bar cabinet, which must gracefully welcome fresh grog.

Change, I am reminded of being told is a perpetual challenge. This is true now more than ever before. This summer shall be different for me; No travel to new or old destinations, no steeps into rich heritage which are pulsing with an unparalleled artistic spirit, no gastronomic sensations and beautifully landscaped parks and gardens that beautifully manicured and most of all, a restricted consumption regime of spirits and smokes. There is no doubt about the fact that the perfection of a sufficient dose of sensual stimulation shall be missed, dearly.

In times of such glaring uncertainty, many of us find ourselves in the rigour of isolation. Yet one mustn’t drown in sorrow, for that pernicious jump into the rabbit hole of total despair will drive to insanity. Instead, in the spirit of making hay while the sun shines, I find myself deeply grasped in my hobbies and interests of art, culture, fashion, and even interior design. In furtherance of my interests and passions, I plan future trips to the European continent for study and debaucherously pleasurable activities while my folks worry about the thickness of their chequebook.

Despite countless hours spent on my multiple whims and fancies devoting time to the daily duties is an art. An art that is similar to the fine tailoring abilities of the talented gentlemen with the extraordinary skill of Hunstman, Savile Row. Managing the split of time is learned and perfected over time, like the of cutting cloth. This skill, over which I have achieved mastery, I am lucky to say, I received at birth from my mother who hails from a decorated family of army officers. For me, it runs my veins to be fastidious. For novices, here’s a hint; Avoid morning lie-ins, afternoon naps, and daytime Netflix binges while leaving tasks to complete after the evening meal. Have some self-discipline, dude.

These days after supper, I find myself sitting back in my armchair engrossed in a new book with either a Cohiba or something out from my patriarch’s prized whiskey collection, resting on my mahogany piecrust tripod table helping me fulfil the senses. Millennial Chilling is not for me. I have often been told that I am an old soul trapped in a new body. To me, that is madness, but I often see the method in it. That is because, I do not find any sense of gratification or contentment in doing nothing but, for those who do, remember, one simply can’t make love seven days a week, much as one’s partner might desire it. Other forms of vigorous exercise are sometimes required.

While I happily drown myself in pursuit of knowledge, I turn to the literary world to share my final thoughts to share a contrary tale. The words of Ernest Hemingway: “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main”. For me, contrarily, the gleeful effect of the fine cognac and Erik Satie’s mastery on the piano has its drowning effect. You hear only what you wish to hear much like my most favoured ruler, Napoleon. To that, I’ll drink.

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