Sightseeing in Pristina

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Things to do


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September, 2019

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On our Balkan tour, we stayed in the capitals of “Albania”: and North Macedonia, but “Regent Holidays”: suggested that rather than staying in Pristina, Kosovo’s capital, we base ourselves for the five days in “Prizren”:

However, after a morning of visiting the “Adem Jashari Memorial Complex”:, “Gazimestan Memorial Tower”: and “Tomb of Sultan Murad”: we continued to Pristina for the afternoon. Driving into the city along Bill Klinton Boulevard (sic) it was impossible to miss a large poster of Bill with the blue and yellow Kosovo flag: he is popular in Kosovo due to his involvement in the NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999. In the shadow of a statue of Bill is a clothes shop, called Hillary, which only sells pantsuits.

Now on foot, we passed through a square with a Skanderbeg statue, a duplicate of the one we’d seen in “Kruja”:, the National Theatre, Parliament Building and a Benetton Shop. The latter was one of the few remaining Austro-Hungarian buildings which had formerly been many things including a prison and the old Union Hotel. The façade had been maintained but there had been several internal changes.

Walking up the pedestrianised Mother Theresa Boulevard, we saw a statue of Kosovo’s first president, Ibrahim Rugova. Slightly further on, a second square where the Ottoman bazaar had been pulled down by the communists, stood an ‘interesting’ tall three-pronged monument in the name of Yugoslav Brotherhood and Unity. At its base were human figures painted with the flags of supporting countries.

Moving on to the old town, we paused at the Çarshi Mosque, the oldest standing building in Pristina with its unique stone-topped minaret, before heading to the Kosovo Museum. There was a temporary art exhibition on the ground floor, depicting life in Kosovo with several pictures of a concert by Dua Lipa, a young British singer, who we’d never heard of, possibly due to our age. Upstairs housed a series of archaeological finds from prehistoric times, including a small terracotta figure, called the Goddess. Believed to be 6,000 years old, it has become the symbol of Pristina after being discovered in 1956. We also saw a small bronze figure of a running girl, known as the ‘Prizren Runner’: however, this was a replica, as the original is in the British Museum. A second flight of stairs took us past Mother Theresa’s face fashioned out of 1.5 million staples and according to the Guinness Book of Records, the “World’s largest staple mosaic”: At the top we found flags from all the countries which supported Kosovo in the order they’d done so, with Albania being first. Other items of interest included: arms used by the guerrillas, Madeline Albright’s Stetson and brooches, William Walker’s winter blue jacket, Rugova’s trade-mark scarf, glasses and items from his vast collection of minerals: visiting dignitaries were often presented with a rock from his collection.

Back outside, we took off our shoes to enter the Mbreti Mosque, the city’s largest and most prominent, with blue and white painted domes. It was then onto the Ethnographic Museum and although there were two buildings, one was being restored. A guide showed us around the ground floor room with its fire, low round table and seating and told us it had been in private ownership until 1956 when it as nationalised, as the family had no descendants. It had been allowed to function during the communist era as it was regarded as a cultural museum without religious connotations. Upstairs was lots of carved wood panelling, the nursery and a grand guest room, accessed by a separate set of stairs leading directly to the room, which we left by.

Although we saw a sign for the 15th century Great Hamman, it was unfortunately we thought, obscured by an ugly building, but our Bradt guide informed us it was the building. There had been some dispute in the renovations and the relevant minister had been asked to resign.

We then drove a short distance to the National Library and, on walking to it from the car park, passed a wall painting representing equality of women. Completed in 2019, the bottom left hand corner, had a small figure of a man and woman, joined by =. We thought it’s message was powerful, but it is said to be controversial.

The library on the university campus, designed by a Croat in 1974, was dedicated to Pjetër Bogdani, the most original writer of early literature in Albania. The distinctive structure, once included in a list of the world’s ugliest buildings, had 99 cupolas, one for each word associated with Christ’s attributes. At its inauguration, the Head of the Communist Party is said to have asked why the scaffolding hadn’t been removed. There are various theories behind the design: it was designed for Africa where Muslims were important, like a brain or white Albanian felt hats. We were allowed a brief glimpse inside and saw copper coils shaped like borek around the walls, photos of eminent authors and filigree panels.

In the grounds stood a Serbian Orthodox Church started by Slobodan Milošević in the1990s but unfinished. Its future is uncertain as its in consecrated grounds, but due to its proximity to another Serbian Orthodox Church, it’s not required, due to the limited number of worshippers.

In the distance we saw the Catholic Cathedral, with its one tower, although another is being built and heard the story of how Rugova, a Muslim, was rumoured to have converted to Catholicism near the end of his life.

Walking onwards, we saw the Grand Hotel standing empty as the private initiative to redevelop it had collapsed, and the moving Heroine Monument. This was a woman’s face in relief created from 20,145 medals symbolically honouring the versatile contribution of every ethnic Albanian woman during the 1998-1999 Kosovan war and the rape of 20,000 women by the Serbian forces.

Our final sight of Pristina was the Newborn Monument, unveiled with Independence on 17 February 2008. Unfortunately, the 10 ft tall individual concrete letters spelling out ‘newborn’ were 79 ft long and hard to capture by camera as traffic whizzed in front of them. Each year, on the eve of independence, the letters, originally painted yellow, are given a new design. In 2019, they were like an unfinished colouring book with environmental pictures.

Our tour of the city was rather whirlwind and with hindsight, we may have chosen to split our time in Kosovo between Pristina and Prizren.

Helen Jackson

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