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Text: FARUK PEKİN Photos: TİJEN BURULTAY
The world's youngest capital
Kosovo's capital promises travelers a history going back to the Stone Age, a long-standing architectural tradition, tasty local specialties and a green environment.
Capital of Kosovo, the world's newest independent state, Prishtina is a center of culture and a university town. Situated on a highland at an international junction in the northeast of the country, it is some 585 to 640 meters above sea level. Nestled in the foothills of Mt. Gırmia to its east, the city looks out southwestwards over the vast Kosovo Plain. And the temperate breezes that blow from the north at sundown make for cool, refreshing nights for visitors and residents alike.
MORE KOSOVO IN LESS TIME
A country of around only 11,000 square kilometers, Kosovo is so small that you can easily add the neighboring provinces and villages to your visit to the capital. We can start our tour at Dardania, from in front of an apartment building draped with a three-story-high portrait of Bill Clinton which gives its name to the boulevard that runs past. From here we can continue on a pleasant stroll to the Street of Nene Tereza, aka Mother Theresa, Nobel prize winner for her work in India and much beloved here as a woman of Albanian descent. Around the square stand the Murad Mosque, the Yashar Pasha Mosque, the Old Government Building, now used as a museum, and the Fatih or Great Mosque.
The Sultan Murad (or Little Fatih/Market) Mosque, construction of which was begun by Sultan Bayezid the Thunderbolt in 1389 and completed during the reign of Mehmed the Conqueror, boasts a central dome atop a duodecagonal drum. The minaret and portico of this mosque have been rebuilt but its mihrab, minber and mahfil are all original. Next to the Kosovo Museum, the Yashar Pasha Mosque dates to 1835. But Prishtina's most magnificent mosque is the Mosque of Mehmed the Conqueror, dating to 1462 and standing next to the clock tower, another Ottoman monument. The building is of interest for its inlaid kündakâri door and wooden shutters.
BACK TO THE NEOLITHIC
Turning back, we can pop into the Prishtina Museum, which exhibits the remains not only of a town 15 kilometers south of the city known as Ulpiana in the Roman era but also, and even more importantly, of the region's neolithic period. Some Stone Age archaeological finds indicate the existence of a center of settlement here going back to 4000 B.C. The stone axes and ceramic vessels found in the excavations are believed to date to the Neolithic.
With the fall of Rome, the city of Prishtina began to shift its focus toward the main roads linking the Balkans and was therefore transformed into a leading commercial center along the major arteries of Southeast Europe. Following the Battle of Kosovo in 1389, the region came under Ottoman rule, remaining a part of the empire until the Balkan War of 1912. Between the two world wars Prishtina was a small city exhibiting remnants of Turkish-Islamic architecture in its marketplace. But the most salient reminder of the Ottomans in this geography is the Türbe or Mausoleum of Sultan Murad I on Kosovo Plain ten kilometers north of Prishtina where the great battle was fought.
THE LEADING STRUCTURE
According to the sources, when Murad I toured the site of the Battle of Kosovo, he took his life with his sword and his heart was buried here while his body was interred at the mosque complex in Bursa known today as the Muradiye. Bayezid the Thunderbolt had a tomb erected for him here on the plain. Restored countless times, it was given its most recent form through the contributions of Turkey's Ministry of Culture and Tourism and Department of Religious Affairs, and the Turkish Cooperation and Development Administration. The Murad Hüdavendigar Türbe today is the Anatolian Turks' most sacred place of pilgrimage and an historic site eagerly visited by tourists. Thronged by Kosovans on religious feast days, the türbe draws thousands of visitors from all over Kosovo as well as from the neighboring Sanjak region for the spring festival in early May when people descend on the site to seek cures for their ills, to make wishes or votive offerings, or simply to pray.
In varying states of repair today, other mosques that can be seen in Prishtina include the Piri Nazır Complex, and the Emir Alaaddin, Hasan Ağa, Hatuniye, Muhacir district (Kadriye), Ramazan Çavuş, Yaşar Çeribaşı, and Yusuf Çelebi mosques. Built as an annex to these religious structures but currently used as a house, the Danyal Dervish Lodge and Tomb and the Kadiri Dervish Lodge are interesting places to visit. But the most outstanding elements of Ottoman civilian architecture in Prishtina are the graceful Ottoman mansions - two-story with kitchens, vine-covered bowers, fountains, cantilevered balconies, spacious rooms with seats lining the walls, built-in wooden cupboards and small baths - which continue to exist today. Emincikler, Hûniler and Koca Dişliler (the building of the Prishtina Monuments Commission), to name just a few.
POINTS OF INTEREST NEAR THE CAPITAL
Eight kilometers east of Prishtina is the Gracanica Orthodox Monastery which dates to the 15th century. The 14th century frescoes in the Byzantine-style church are still fresh and vibrant.
Other pleasant nearby destinations, especially for nature lovers, include the Gırmia Forest (6 kilometers), Gadime Marble Cave (30 kilometers) and Brezovica Ski Center (70 kilometers). The towns of Prizren 80 kilometers south of the capital and İpek (Peja) 80 kilometers west should definitely be added to Kosovo's places to explore, while other must-see's include the entirely Turkish village of Mamusha, as well as Vustrria , Gilan, Mitrovice, Rugova, Kacanik, Ferizaj, Dragash, Isdog (Burim), Deçan, Radavc and Gjakova.
A JOURNEY BACK TO THE MIDDLE AGES
Among Kosovo's major medieval settlements are Prizren, Novo Brdo (Artana) and Vustrria. Fifty kilometers to the east of the Pristhina, Novo Brdo (Artana) was the commercial capital of the Balkans in the Middle Ages, and the remains of its historic citadel, mosque and dervish lodge, and medieval church all exhibit traces of the period. Continuing on the Gilan road from Novo Brdo (Artana), you can have a good rest in the rehabilitation center at the renowned Kllokot Spa with its curative waters and shed your weariness amidst the greenery. Janjeva, the second leading center of trade and artisanship in the Middle Ages, earned fame as a center of trade where the silver mined at Novo Brdo (Artana) and Trepca was cleaned.
In addition to the several private universities founded in modern times at Prishtina, which is also regarded as a center of higher education, some 24,000 students study in the various colleges of the state-run University of Prishtina, which was founded in the 1970s.
The capital today boasts several excellent transportation networks. Highways run to Nis and Belgrade in the north and Skopje in the south, and both northern and southern Europe are accessible by train from Kosovo Plain railroad station. Prishtina International Airport meanwhile offers connections to all the major centers of the world.
Casting off its war-weariness at the end of the last century in 1999, Prishtina on 17 February 2008 declared its independence and now awaits visitors who want to discover a youthful city of historic hidden beauty and safe streets.