In the 1941 - 1942 the DISTAPTUR publishing house of Tirana had planned to publish a book by the great albanologist Father Giuseppe Valentini S.
J., who collected his articles published in the Albanian tourism magazine "DRINI". This is the fifth article, SCUTARI.
To those who come with us from the south, Scutari appears to be closed by a majestic and terrible curtain: on the left the bare chain descends towards her, which, starting from Rumia, stops with Tarabosh on the Bojana; to the right, far away, the beautiful picturesque mountain of Sheldija, crowned with large and solitary pear trees; the Barlezio had baptized him with the curious name of Mount Sardonico from the ancient Episcopal Sardinian which is behind him; from the north and the Monte di S. Marco from the south with the castle of Dagno at the top, they guard, like the piers of an iron door, the mouth of the Drino on the plain; if the vile castellan Salamon had not abandoned Dagno in the 1474 the Turkish army could not have spread on this side.
Between the Tarabosh and the Sardonico there is a curtain of stony hills, the highest that seems to be placed in front of us to block the pass, with its square shape and crowned with walls and its sheer sides, justifying the exclamation of the sultan : the eagle has chosen its nest well.
In antiquity and in the Middle Ages the city stretched along the slopes, watched by the castle that offered shelter in the event of war; in the Venetian era, since the war or at least the threat was incessant, the village had previously remained deserted, then even in ruins because it did not offer shelter to the assailants who had to be hit freely up the smooth sides of the boulder. It flourished again in two centuries of peace among the figs and pomegranates that green at the foot, until in the eighteenth century the malaria depopulated it pushing the population to the other plain that now we do not see.
After crossing the bridge over the Drinassa, you come off between the hill of the castle and the Bojana, greeted, as the first lookout for Scutari from the modern sanctuary of the Madonna del Buon Consiglio, which is called here Madonna di Scutari because the ancient tradition puts you the first seat of the sacred one imagines of Genazzano that as palladium of the city it was removed when now the time of the barbaric invasion was marked.
Ugly but very lively and very interesting welcome to those who come to the city with its old bazaar of slums that insists on vegetating like a weed on the banks of the Bojana: but that colorful flowers open in this weed on market days! Multi-colored fabrics and clothes, gold and silver embroideries trimmed in the sun or glowing in the shadow of the shops would keep the painter in until evening, forgetting the city.
Scutari is more up there in the plain, modern in age, ancient in style. To the right and to the left of the main arteries, all in a south-east-north-west direction, lie the silent quarters, from the little streets closed between small walls from which the head protrude, the rose and wisteria bushes, here and there a closed wall up to the crown crowned by a broad overhang of the roof with the decorated beams, and further on a monumental door of living stone with threatening loopholes for the enemies, two beautiful niche seats for the good and a shed for the welcome who come to beat the hospitable door.
Whoever enters it is found in a pleasant flowering or full of blackberries, pomegranates, clusters according to the season, around the beautiful stone well as seen in the campielli of Venice, but with the freshest waters. The house is hidden among the greenery, so that those who contemplate the city from the top of the hills see it as an immense garden.
The houses, of plan and sometimes also of the type of the Venetian country house, are made of sturdy masonry but light in cover, poor in modern comforts, but also rich in all the comforts and in all the splendor, a little Venetian and a little Turkish of the '700 from here.
Very simple and very solid indeed: the whole ornamentation of the building consists of works in carved pine wood; vast ceilings worthy of princely salons of the Italian 500; fixtures and built-in wardrobes and cabinets worthy of monumental sacristies now of the '400 now of the 600 of the Theatines. Now they have disappeared, but first the luxurious carpets and cushions and the Murano carafes completed the decoration.
Scutari, Scodra in the simplifying Latin transcription, but now Shkodra in the Albanian pronunciation, was already the city of the Illyrian Labs who also gave their name to nearby lake "palus Labeatis", and later the capital of those Illyrian kings who spread their rule from Codroipo in Friuli up to Ambracia at the gates of Greece.
It was independent until the II century a.
C. and since then, won Gentio, was, not a colony in punishment of his resistance, but oppidum civium romanorum; numerous former legionaries must have come to cultivate the lands, and it is possible to believe that they formed a pagus in the fertile plain between the castle and the hills now called Bardhaj, before the Kiri devastated it; today the town is called Rëmâj, in the '700 Remani or Romani; the population until the 1479 in the city was Latin by language and ritual; to get an idea of the tenacious Latin tendency in this Prevalitan region - as it was called in the late empire - in the face of Byzantine influences, it is enough to observe among all the Greek subscriptions of the Fathers of the Council of Ephesus that one that stands out in all Latin letters : SENECION EPISCOPUS SCODRINAE CIVITATIS SUBSCRIPSI.
Since ecclesiastically Scutari is to be counted among the most ancient episcopal centers of Christianity and was also a metropolis before losing in the VII century this degree for the benefit of Dioclea and d'Antivari, now, for half a century or more, it has rightly regained it.
The Slavic invasion of the Middle Ages involved it and for a long time made it the prerogative of the crown prince of the Nemanja house who resided not far from the city, in the place that the Venetians continued to call "the court of the imperador", in the region that now , perhaps in memory of these principles that were adorned with the old Illyrian title of Jupani, is called Cubani.
With the decline of the Nemanja house in the 14th century, it is not known how, the heritage of the Balscia family took its heritage throughout the Zeta with its capital in Scutari, it is not known where it came from.
However, whether it was Frankish or Serbian or Albanian, it was held at the turn of the Slavic and Latin worlds, and as for Scutari, it made it the capital of almost all of Albania, pushing its dominion to Valona.
But the Turkish was too strong even for a Balscia house, and this one in the 1396 had to sell "the eagle's nest" in Venice, with Dulcigno, Drivasto and Dagno, only to return to ask it with weapons and intrigues until 1422 when the last Balscia died out.
And Venice remained there, we must say generously because there were few revenues (customs and privative concessions on fishmongers) and immense expenses for fortifications, the army and the approaching policy of the village lords. The Government was entrusted to a "solemn rector" who carried the title of count and captain in peacetime and of administrator in Albania in time of war. The municipal administration, the tribunal of peace and the civil one within the limits of a given sum, were entrusted to the city Senate according to the customs of the land.
After a terrible siege in the 1474, and another more frightening one in the 1478, not won by force of arms although exhausted by men and provisions, the faithful Scutari was ceded to the Turkish due to the general peace of the 1479; the mass population withdrew to the mainland of Venice where it spread throughout the Veneto and populated the recent castles of Gradisca and Palmanova.
Then the ancient Latin population was replaced by a Turkish colony. But very slowly, since the beginning of the seventeenth century, the Christian-Albanian population of the area began to approach the city; part set up on the outskirts of Casena beyond the Bojana; part, without changing faith, took up service in the army in the custody of the castle; part Islamised and came to revive the city's population; then in the '700, following the example of the Veneto vice-consul Duodo (an Albanian who returned to the motherland), he began the new city to the north, in the suburbs of Top-hana, Paruzza and Remani, drawing the rest of the inhabitants who were harassed by the disease behind ancient seat.
The Government that for a long time was entrusted to the sangiacbeghi and then to the pashas sent from Istanbul, ended up remaining hereditary in the family of the Bemolli of Peja (Ipek), who held it for several years around the middle of the XVIII century, and then of the Bushatli who they became almost independent assuming the pretentious title of Vizier, and extending their dominion up to the middle Albania where they waged war on other local families like the Toptans and the Tepelens. Since then the name of the "scodrani", as Foscolo calls them, remained for the Toschi name of terror. And even with Montenegro, not a few slashes were exchanged and hundreds of heads remained in the hands of the enemy on both sides.
Meanwhile, already naturally well-placed, and now the capital of a vast region, Scutari, especially thanks to the Catholic merchants - for Muslims thought only of the jatagan - had seen its trade flourish again. The Istanbul government from the 1831 made it the capital of a vilajet and the seat of strong military appropriations, so that the Scutaran caravans had the field to go all the way to the Black Sea, and the bags of the merchant supplyers became impellent, while the representatives of the beautiful local industry leather and silver fabrics were sold in Ancona, Venice and Trieste; it was perhaps the most prosperous time for the city.
The Balkan wars, the Thessaloniki railway, the progressive cutting of the hinterland in favor of Serbia and Montenegro, made everything disappear and Scutari, which became the northern lookout of Albania from the Montenegrin siege of the 1912-13 onwards, remained one of the most impoverished city of the unfortunate country.
On the other hand, his Latin and national culture flourished in the historical institutes directed by the Frs. Franciscans and Jesuits still make it the silent cultural city but irresistible in its influence.
The article by Father Giuseppe Valentini S.
J. has been published in N. 5 - Year II of DRINI - Monthly Bulletin of Albanian Tourism - Tirana, Tuesday 1 July 1941
The original photographs come from the Archive of Franco Tagliarini
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