Mirdita, for many people, still remains a mystery. This part of Albania bears an abundance of archaeological, ethnographic, linguistic and folkloric traditions very valuable, but still little known by the public opinion.
Among centuries, the independent character of the population has enabled the maintenances of some of the earliest traditions of Northern Albania.
A tradition that combines different elements that characterize the history of these lands, from prehistory and pagan cults of the sun and moon, to the Illyrian ruins, from the medieval towers and the period of autonomy de facto within the Ottoman Empire, to finish with the industrial heritage of the socialist period, and in the dissent against the regime in the infamous prison cells of Spac.
Mirdita described in verses full of love and renaissance courage of the Bishop Preng Doçi, having its tradition also carved in stone, as in the case of Arbër inscription (XII century).
Mirdita and the nearly two hundred churches that were built historically on its territory, Franciscan and Benedictine assemblies that have represented an important center of the Albanian Catholic identity, and of art merged in their construction.
Flora: Mirdita has a rare richness in terms of plants, almost unknown in other Albanian territories, but also in the Balkans. Kaçinari plane tree is simply the most famous specimen and already legendary, but the examples are not lacking. Serious and well known botanists in Europe as the Italian Antonio Baldacci, have explored the virgin territory of Mirdita, revealing previously unknown plants as Boshtrra (forsythia europea Degan et Baldacci) and Volfenja (volfenja Baldacci). The variety of flora is very rich: there are shrubs like strawberry tree, heather, juniper, willow and poplar, oaks as linden, ash, and chestnut. Not missing the pines, firs, Bosnian pines (pinus leucodermis) etc.
In many cases, in these mountains we are dealing with the “cult of vegetation” where trees, vegetation or creatures are worshiped as objects of cult, becoming the residence of mythical creatures like Hours, Fairies etc.
In a locality of Orosh, Krue i Zi, the name that has to do with a characteristic coloured source (the Black Spring), it is said that 150 years ago there was nothing but bushes. In those bushes was set apart a thin wood, and it was preserved not to be damaged. Cattle dung it constantly, and source humidity had its own role. In a few decades, that seedling turned into a giant oak, to such an extent that his shadow became the resting place for people and livestock. It was called “Oak of resting Hours ” or “Hours Oak“. Nowadays, that oak still exists. Dried branches are never cut, although that all the surrounding forest is, unfortunately, intensively exploited. The location is an important camping and resting spot for people and livestock, and a vital strategic location for the life of people living in this mountain area. Oaks and Hours Tradition finds its root in the old pagan cults, but some of these trees are also associated with the Muslim and Christian sources.
“White Oak” : located in Qarishtat is named as a sacred tree by residents, thanks to its opalescent leaves. Legend says that there are buried the remains of St. Alexander, for some those of St. John (frequent toponym this in the valley of the Mountain of Legjin: Saint John, John’s Fountain etc.). However it seems that these cults derive from a common pagan background.
Çinari, otherwise Kaçinari plane tree is a monumental natural wood, with an unspecified age, but of course very early, so much that it is believed that the name of the locality where he has put its magnificent roots comes from it. Kacinar is proved as a verified name since in the fifteenth century. Çinari is close to the church, probably as old. In the the plane’s shadow were held historic assemblies of this area, such as those of the independence period, where between the leaders of Mirdita was fixed in photographs also Bajram Curri. The giant plane tree is the only one of its kind, not only in Kaçinar. As such, it is a rare natural monument.
Lisat e Marpepës: As it is said, they were 12 trees on a hill on the bank of the Small Fan river, going to Mashtërkor and branching into the Orosh Gorge. During the time oaks number has decreased, but any of them has been cut later, as an awareness of residents about the importance as nature monuments such as Marpepa oaks. Early historical traces sleep on their roots. Traces of the old Mirdita and churches mentioned in the Middle Ages, such as that of St. Nicholas, are evidence of a developed settlement at the earliest.
The Ultis of Nënshejt: Even today, in the Saint’s Mountain (Mali i të Shejtit), in Orosh, there is a kind of special oak named Ulti. According to legends, there were 6 like it, but only two of them have survived the long trip of their lives. One seems kind of submitted, there is only the wizened trunk, while the other is still standing, even though with centuries-old wound in the body. Their age is estimated at about 900 years old and it is not any wonder, following the longevity of these trees. Their age can be taken and as a proof of the establishment of Benedict convent on Saint’s Mountain. These were seedlings brought from Italy by Benedictine monks, the country from which they have taken the name, for local residents, as distortion of the Latin name.
Fauna : The dense forests and mountainous landscapes constitute an ideal refuge for the Mirdita fauna. There are present a series of birds like the owl, raven, nightingale, blackbird, to large animals such as the wild boar, deer, wolves and even bears. Foxes are a common presence, often observed down in the area villages. In Guri i Shqipes (Mountain of the Saint) raise their nests proud eagles, symbol of the nation. Munella Mountain (1991 m) is also the habitat of one of the rarest species of Europe, such as the lynx. The presence of this large feline is confirmed in 2011 from photos taken by fixed cameras, to testify the really great values in this area in terms of fauna, perhaps with the most prominent variety in the country, at least in terms of big mammals.
Waters and sources: Mirdita is a place with admirable water resources, visible and invisible, that disappear in the underground resources and in the numerous caves of the area.
Most of the caves, to popular beliefs in Malesia, were places inhabited by monsters, different mythical beings, such as Dragons, Hours and the Fairies.
In popular beliefs are shown even the holes where some gurra (water source) flow. Gurra e Domgjonit (Fand), according to popular beliefs has its origin in a huge lake, down Munella, and there, on that underground lake-cave, it is said that sleeps eternally a big dragon. In Fang, near Rubik it is a water source that often split turbid water. People believed that deeply in the ground, under the Kulme, a cave is home of another magnificent creature, a Kulshedër and so the turbid water came from Kulshedra urine. Although usually this spring was very good to use, people believed that it was poisoned by Kulshedra and till late they did not drink it.
Into the Earth: the Speleological Treasures
Although speleology is not yet widespread in Albania, caves as this of Pëllumbas, or the multiple ones that characterize the Karaburun peninsula, have nothing less than the most popular caves in Europe.
Mirdita region has an abundance as well, so rich and in the same time rarely studied and yet a totally untapped tourist destination. The most interesting complex speleological complex, perhaps, is that of the Vali’s Caves, also known as the caves of Këputa. It is reported about a cave located in the locality Kthellë, about 8 kilometers southeast of Rrëshen. The complex reach an altitude of about 1300-1500 square meters. There are thoughts the cave, the explored dimensions of which reaches 150 meters, could have a link with a “twin” cave located about 6 kilometers southeast (the Neziri Cave) through a labyrinth of tunnels still not entirely explored; considering the archaeological findings in them, they may reveal chapters still unwritten of the history of the tribes that have inhabited these lands among millennia. Very interesting is the Doci’s Cave, also known as Mërkurthi Cave, near Mali i Shejtit (the Holy Mount) or the Shpella e Akullit (the Ice Cave) near Oroshi. For many of these caves, legends are not lacking. Surrounding areas of Xhuxhe locality, for example, are rich with them. The myth assert also that Cicokëve Cave passes under the Bride’s Stone (Guri i Nuses), and some people even might have passed through the tunnels for many day before seeing the light again in Arren, locality that nowadays belongs to Kukës.
The “stones” of Mirdita
Murana. Even nowadays, through the streets of Mirdita and its strategic points, you can observe piles of small stones, intact over the years. These piles (murana) advise a location where a man was killed. According to the tradition of the mountain, the blood of the deceased should be covered with some stones, since then becoming untouchable by the locals. Children of this area do not have even the habit to play with stone heaps, so that there is no doubt about the meaning of these clusters. However, the tradition accepts that the occasional passer could pour a small stone in the murana “për kushtim“, for the benefit and respect for the dead. Beyond the respect for the dead, throwing stones has been explicated by ethnologists, the act having its roots in prehistory. Researchers explain that this act was a way to enhance and strengthen the mountain. Something related with the sun cult. Some of these heaps stand for centuries in their silence, to show the population and to the visitors to this once hidden area of Albania, the arduous history of this province.
Taking oaths with a stone. In the highland traditions, to the stone as a sign of confidence in the oath is granted an exceptional value. We are dealing here with a very olden cult, to which the local inhabitants traditionally seems to be more devoted even than the holy books, maybe more than anything else. Before the oath (besa) with the stone, all obey, all feared it. When they wanted to set apart someone due to his cruelty, members of the community had the habit to take an oath on stones, passing the stone to each other while swearing. The division of property, the pastures, usually was certified by this act. In Bukmira locality, it is known a toponym, the “Shepherds Twelve Stones” (Dymbëdhjetë gurët e Barinjve), traditionally used as a pasture. The twelve stones located in there determine the 12 tribes of Orosh area, and their rights to use the pasture by the shepherds of every tribe. Even if the area has no such destination anymore, the stones remain still there as sign of an ancient tradition, just as the archaic symbolism of the number ’12’.
Mirdita is one of the richest regions in terms of traditional clothing. These dresses carry the ancient history of the region, and often had been studied for their symbolism, which often derives from the pagan sun cults, moon cults and of other mythical figures like the serpent, the dragon, the fairies etc. Often, these mythical symbols are transformed over the centuries under the light of Christianity. Aesthetic taste used for decoration, but also the way of styling are those that reflect the ethnic particularity. All clothing developments, in this part of Albania, are closely linked with the historical development of this population, therefore with the history of the Albanian people.
Costumes began to take their appearance at the time of formation of the feudal principalities. As known, these principalities were separated and enclosed in themselves, what did create significant differences in the material and spiritual culture. In this context it was created those varieties of costumes, traces of which were preserved until the XXI century.
Most of clothing were prepared by the rural broad masses within a household context, then woven and tailored with linen, wool, cotton and silk textiles. While in town a good part of the clothing were sewn and embroidered by the tailor masters specialized according with the tastes of different population requirements.
Museum collections of Albanian costumes appeared after World War II. Before this period, there were small private collections, collected by Franciscan priests (about 300 items). Currently in the museum funds of the Institute of Folk Culture are preserved over 18,000 pieces of clothing taken from various Albanian regions within and abroad the national borders.
Garment with long shirt and apron. The principal part of this dress is the long shirts, long, broad or narrow -sleeved. In between it was constrained by a belt with different coloured wool and was accompanied in the front with a woollen or cotton apron with ornaments and sizes varied from one province to another.
In summer, the woman wearing this shirt was wearing a waistcoat in the upper part, but in winter It was needed above an additional mintan with long sleeves and a short woollen jacket (xhokë) made of felt. Length, colour and decoration of xhoka change particularly by geographical location or the development of the provinces where this type of clothes were dressed, thus creating numerous local peculiarities. This dress was prevalent in Mirdita, Debar, Matt, Shpat, Çermenikë, Dumre, Myzeqe, Berat, Korca, Kolonjë, Gjirokastra, Saranda. etc.
Garment with a long shirt and dollamë (or cibun). The most important parts of this outfit for men are: long white shirts and dollama (cibuni), a long dress made of felt generally arriving in the knees. In the summer, instead of dollama it was clothed a felt doublet. Under the shirt was dressed long underwear associated with a sort of knickers. Dollama presents some differences area by area. Somewhere was long until the knee elsewhere until the calf, somewhere in white and decorated with black braids, and sometimes just black. This outfit is used in Mirdita, Mat, Dibra, Malësi e Madhe, Korça, Kolonjë, Gjirokastra etc. After World War II, this dress typology was replaced, but dollama continued to be conserved like a ceremonial dress, used in cases of public assemblies etc.
The Feast of St. Roch in Orosh (August, 15)In Orosh, one of the traditional feasts that are celebrated every year is that of St. Roch, especially in the Zajs neighborhoods. Every year, one of the houses of the neighborhoods takes over the organization of the feast, and invites members of other houses in celebration (one or two for each house). Relatively of the economic possibilities, are slaughtered some heads of cattle, often aggravating the economy of the organizing family. Nevertheless, not celebrating, according to local belief, would bring major health disasters and lack of “blessings” throughout the year.
Feasts like these of St. Roch, St. George, St. Nicholas etc. find their source in early feasts, reminiscent of tribe’s ancestors. The tribe ancestors in the Christianised version were replaced by the patron saints of the tribe or of the celebrated area. During the night, a candle is lit in memory of St. Roch, or the saint in question; often windows of the houses are left open, and plates are posed in the empty places, so that the souls of the saints would come and dine with families.
In early May, usually the first Sunday of the month, in Bardhaj, Lufaj and Zajs villages celebrated the feast of St. Krygjas (Shllezdër). Another celebration very much followed is that of Tshelbuemet, which falls on May 21, celebrated especially in Rubik, Fang, Kurbnesh, and in some surrounding villages.
Simple and delicious: Mirdita’s traditional culinary : Mirdita`s traditional culinary is undoubtedly influenced by the northern tradition of cooking, where the simple recipes best intertwine with fresh and organic products. Dairy, goat meat, pork, cabbage, chestnuts, pie, are present in the daily lives of Mirdita families.
Walnuts pie or with milk is a delicious opening of Mirdita`s tables as the “sugary pie (byrek)”, an enclosure full of sweetness (traditional on holidays), which in winter is often replaced with chestnuts and a glass of red wine from Mirdita known vineyards, such as those of Bukmira. In between, a variety of meat recipes, ranging from pork with cabbage, where the flesh becomes red with white cabbage and turnips until boil. Or casserole with spinach, white liver and white cheese: as fry fresh onions with thin-cut spinach and livers, everything is baked in casserole, with cheese added above.
One thing that is not missing in Mirdita`s tables is chicken. Of all recipes, the one that catches your eye seems to be the chicken with tomatoes and yogurt, where once you blush tomatoes and still fresh garlic, pour the yogurt and different spices, stir and remove it from the fire, and finally the boiled chicken meat is added and later baked for few minutes in the oven. A typical dessert is what is called “bread with dried figs”: open and drain for 2 weeks the fig, gather figs together, prepare a type of bun form and leave it another week. Kurbin residents claim that these “bread” may last another two years.
Although Mirdita dishes are generally simple and easygoing, this has not prevented chefs with experience and already known internationally, such as Altin Prenga, to propose in his restaurant a recipe as old as time, as the one of Mirditians goat meat cooked in milk, which has captivated international gastronomic critics.
The Jewish Fortress (Giants Fortress)
The ruins are situated on a rocky hilltop in the south of the town of Rubik. The total area of this fortification goes about 700 m2 and has an irregular layout. Nowadays just few fragments of the walls are preserved, together with a water well within the surrounding walls. The fortification belongs of the period of Late Antiquity.
The Rubik pictograms
Not more than 250 meters from the Giants Fortress, several pictograms have been found in a cave of limestone, realized in the rock with an yellowish-white material. According to archaeologist Myzafer Korkuti, who has traced the first inscriptions, they belong to the Paleolithic (around 12,000 years ago). Pictograms are located at a height of about 1.5 m from the cave’s level floor.
Church of the Saviour (Kisha e Shelbuemit)
This religious monument, with great importance for the history of Albanian Catholicism, is located on the rocky hill dominating the city of Rubik. The magnificent complex dates back to XII – XIII century, and we know that it certainly have been completed in 1272. Its unique values are represented by the frescoes and the Byzantine-style wall paintings. The building is categorized as a first category cultural monument and it is very interesting in terms of construction and architecture. The “Rubik’s church”, as it is also known, has served as a Benedictine abbey and a Franciscan convent. Father Shtjefen Gjeçov (one of the most active protagonist of the Albanian independence, ethnographer, writer) lived and wrote in the college of the Church of Shelbuemi part of his famous version of the “Kanun of Lek Dukagjin”, the most universally cited of the traditional Albanian laws. Somewhere, in a stone of the bell tower, he carved the beautiful name of Mirdita. Here, stayed and built the church apsis Gjergj Fishta, who wrote here passages from his tragedy “Judas Makabe”. In 1967, with the expulsion of the last Franciscan, father Leon Kabashi, dried out one of the most historic temples of Albania. Archive, library, listed wall paintings and relics: they all degraded, only the church building remained standing. The bell didn’t gather more believers, but factory workers. After the fall of the communist regime, the church has been restored to its original mission, gathering many faithful especially during the feast of Shelbuemi.
Rubik is the second city of Mirdita after Rrëshen, having about 8.000 inhabitants. After the Bridge of Milot, you enter the beautiful Fan valley, revealing the Church of Shelbuemit, located on the white cape of Rubik, one of the oldest and most important monuments of national culture, built on further years of 1200. Beyond the famous Church, old Rubik’s historical centre is with several monuments of the Middle Ages, like the Castle of the Jews, etc. Until the second half of the century we left behind, Rubik was made famous in history for the renowned Benedictine congregation, where the name of the city was connected with mining and processing of copper. Before the 1990s, it has been one of the most popular industrial cities of the country, and the most important centre of the copper industry in Albania. Over the old city the communist regime built a new city for miners, geologists and metalworkers. In the last century, the first taking place here were miners in the`30s of the last century, when it began the work in the copper mines of an Italian company. Later, it was built Copper Processing Plant (see the relevant tab), which industry experts claim it was one of four more important in Europe. Today, this plant is nothing but a scrap metal cemetery, although her chimney stacks still impress. Rubik had seen over the years the presence geological, mining etc. construction enterprise, now almost totally abandoned.
The copper plant in Rubik
The city of Rubik has linked the name and its very modern existence with copper derivates and its industry. Its processing is known since ancient times, and even the very name “Rubik” is thought to be related to the Latin word rubicundus, which means precisely “red colored”, recalling the phenomenon of oxidation of copper minerals that being wasted in flowing water damage crops and vegetation of the area. Craftsmanship of processing copper from the Pirustae, an Illyrian tribe, was left in limbo for millennia. Only at the beginning of the last century some foreign explorers and geologists began to be interested on the underground resources, sleeping for thousands of years in the subsoil of the Rubik.
In the early 30`s some Italian experts opened the first copper mine in Rubik and then in Derven. Residents of Rubik became the first metallurgists who in very difficult conditions and without special schools adopted professions of miner, smelter and refiner of this precious metal. The war made this fledging industry to close temporarily. Soon immediately after the war, the government of that time was interested in the exploitation of the subsoil. After the interruption during World War II, in 1946 was resumed the work on the reconstruction of the oven, the reopening of the mine in Derveni and Rubik. A cable with a length of several kilometers brought the ore extracted in Derven in the Rubik factory. So through some processes the ore was sent to the conversion unit, where blister copper has been obtained with over 99% copper content, until 1965 it poured into molds weighing of 35-36 kg. After building two other plants of melting in Kukës and Laci and Plant of electrical wires and cables in Shkodra, all extracted from underground copper was processed with complete cycle within the country.
In the 80s of the twentieth century, about 800 people worked at the plant. Rubik was the site of one of the greatest geological enterprises of the country that employed tens of senior specialists such as engineers, economists, doctors, teachers, etc. In the city, that counted in those years about 5.000 inhabitants, worked a secondary school industrial in where were taught hundreds of students, and rich cultural life had arisen. After 90s, the copper industry almost totally shut down its activity, and from the giant constructions of the past decades only a few ruins have left, but still impressive so that may constitute an attractive subject to enthusiast of so-called industrial archaeology.