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Map of Albania by Giacomo Cantelli, 1684.

Map of Albania
by Giacomo Cantelli, 1684.

Lorenzo Bernardo:
Journey of the Venetian Ambassador

The Venetian ambassador or bailie to Constantinople, Girolamo Lippomano, was accused of high treason and sentenced in absentia to death by the Council of the Ten. Senator Lorenzo Bernardo, himself a former Venetian ambassador to Constantinople (May 1584-mid-1587), was charged with travelling to the Ottoman capital to carry out the sentence. Bernardo set out from Venice by boat on April 26, 1591. On his arrival in Albania, he chose the rarely used route overland through the country so as to maintain the secrecy of his mission. The accused Lippomani was eventually arrested and sent back to Venice. In the conclusion of his report, Bernardo recounts how at the vessel's arrival in Lido, Lippomani plunged into the sea and drowned. As to Albania, Bernardo offers many interesting details of life in the country at the time, as he experienced it on his secret journey.


Report of the journey made by Lorenzo Bernardo, who was previously bailie in Constantinople and who is now being seconded once again to Sultan Murad III to reside there and, if successful, to send back to Venice the knight Girolamo Lippomano who has been accused of revealing to the princes the secrets of the senate and has been found to be unfaithful to his country.


Tuesday, May 7, 1591

We arrived at the port of Rose to have lunch at the entrance of the Bay of Kotor and, having loaded drinking water and firewood, we headed for the city. At the Stradiotti Rock we encountered His Eminence the Lord Inspector of the Fleet who was there with his galleys: the Leona of Lord Paolo, the two Bellegnas of Lord Francesco and Lord Giusto Antonio his brother, and the Donata of Lord Marco. At 21 o'clock we arrived at the town of Kotor where we found out that if we disembarked at Lezha, we would find a good road through the Sanjak of Shkodra. His Excellency Bernardo immediately seconded Vincenzo Decca of Bar to the Sanjak Bey of Shkodra, who was said to be a good friend and to maintain good neighbourly relations [with Venice], to talk to him, show him the patents of his Serene Highness and endeavour to get letters of recommendation from him to travel through his sanjak, and janissaries to accompany us on horseback. He also seconded a messenger forthwith to Dubrovnik to invite the dragoman Spinelli to take part. Eight litter bearers were also summoned to come and serve according to custom, it being that the voyage would take place for the most part by litter.


Wednesday, May 8, 1591

Spinelli arrived in Kotor from Dubrovnik on the frigate sent to get him. He could not find any janissaries or other Turks there to serve en route, but he brought with him a caravan leader from whom he had arranged to hire 36 horses at 950 aspers each to take us to Constantinople. The conditions were that he change the horses in Skopje and arrange in their place for two or three wagons at a cost he would judge reasonable himself. [But] the said caravan leader called Zarco, who was a Christian, was dismissed, although he was the son of the brother of the Aga of Castelnuovo, and the down payment given to him by Spinelli was left with him, i.e. four zecchini, indeed one other zecchino was given to him, too. This was done because we would be using other horses which Decca was to find for us.

His Eminence the Lord Inspector of the Fleet sent His Eminence Lord Francesco Bellegno to the Stradiotti Rock to offer to accompany His Excellency Bernardo with his ships to Lezha. Thanking him by letter, the gentleman replied that he did not in any manner wish to impede his voyage to the Levant and that it would be sufficient, if he could not find any other accompaniment, for him to have only the galley Calba. But he would be wholly satisfied by any decision His Excellency might take without prejudicing public service.


Thursday, May 9, 1591

After lunch, we embarked once again on the galley Calba and set off for Budva in it with the Bellegna of Lord Francesco... His Excellency took with him from Kotor Mr Vincenzo Polizza (1) to help him in his departure from Lezha where he had acquaintances and relations. He also took Mr Pitkovic on the journey as a dragoman for the Slavic language. At 22 o'clock we arrived at Rose of the Bay of Kotor where His Eminence the Lord Inspector of the Fleet was awaiting us with other accompanying vessels. We left Rose after midnight, but we were faced with a strong scirocco wind and were forced to turn back.


Friday, May 10, 1591

One hour and a half after sunrise, the frigate of patron Raffael del Zuanne arrived here at Rose from Kotor. It was being sent to Venice by His Eminence the Governor. It was carrying letters from His Excellency the Bailie in Constantinople dated the 19th and 20th of the previous month. It arrived yesterday in Kotor, shortly after our departure from there... The Lord Inspector of the Fleet prepared a banquet in honour of the illustrious guest, inviting the officers of the galleys, too.


Saturday, May 11, 1591

We set sail from the port of Rose at the first hour of daylight and arrived at the port of Gianizza (2) with only three galleys, i.e. that of the Lord Inspector, the Calba and the Leona. The other two were forced to return to Rose, not having been able to advance against the strong wind. Here in Gianizza, we came upon two schirazzi from Perast which were en route from Corfu and were loaded with salt, one for Kotor and one for Venice. At 16 o'clock the galley Donata arrived at Gianizza.

At noon on the said day, we set sail and arrived at Budva where Mr Zuanne Bolizza had been sent in advance with the galley Leona in order to find out if Mr Vincenzo Decca had left any message with regard to the order he had been entrusted with of finding horses and janissaries, for which he had been sent to the Sanjak Bey of Shkodra. We learned that a messenger of his had gone back to Kotor and, not having found His Excellency there, returned to Bar. At about 23 o'clock, the two other Bellegna galleys arrived and Lord Francesco presented an envelope to His Excellency stating that the messenger who had been sent to Dubrovnik to invite Spinelli and Mr Zuanne Bolizza was on his way back from that city ...

Continuing our journey from Budva, we arrived to have dinner at Pastrovic at the fortress of Saint Stephan (3) and then we withdrew towards the valley of Bar where we arrived at about 4 o'clock at night, advancing against the wind.


Sunday, May 12, 1591

We set off at the third hour before dawn, and arrived after two hours of daylight at Old Ulcinj, where we stayed due to a strong easterly wind which had arisen. We departed in the afternoon, advancing with oars at times and with sails at others because there was a slight northwesterly wind. At 21 o'clock we arrived at Shëngjin. We sent Mr Zuanne Bolizza to Lezha immediately to get news of Mr Vincenzo Decca, of the state of the roads and of how to procure horses and other necessities for the journey. Soon after we got there, Lord Francesco Bellegno arrived, bringing with him someone he had acquired in Old Ulcinj after we had left. This man presented letters from Mr Vincenzo Decca, written that day in Markovic, and some other letters from Bar, dated on the 9th.

He stated that a new Sanjak Bey had been elected in Shkodra before the ninth of the month. The former Sanjak Bey had departed three days earlier so that Decca had not been able to speak to him. He added that the road through Dukagjin was unsafe due to Albanian uprisings and proposed that we take the Elbasan Salonika road about which he had been informed by one Pietro Volvizza of Bar, who was willing to accompany us. For this reason, Decca had sent a messenger to Kotor for our reaction, but the messenger had been unable to find us, as was mentioned earlier. He further stated that he had found two janissaries. In the second letter, the one dated on that day, he informed us that he had waited for a reply to the said letter of the 9th and had taken the road to the coast while we were in the valley of Bar. From there he had carried on to the said site in Markovic to board the galley if possible in order to give account of his duties. The janissaries had gone back on their agreement because they had wanted to be sure they would be paid the sum in question and he did not wish to conclude the agreement without confirmation from his Lordship, even though he was authorized to do so, because the sum they were demanding seemed to him to be exorbitant. He also sent someone off to Lezha to make ready the horses.

Mr Zuanne Bolizza returned about three o'clock from Lezha and informed us that he had not heard anything of Decca except that the latter had written to a Turk to get horses. Concerning the Sanjak of Shkodra, the road through Dukagjin was said to be unsafe. As to the Elbasan road, he confirmed what Decca had told us.


Monday, May 13, 1591

His Excellency, Lord Bernardo, set off early this morning on the galleys of His Eminence the Lord Inspector of the Fleet to convey information from the honourable gentleman as to the most comfortable means of travelling from here to Constantinople. He received a positive reply since the eminent governors of Corfu and His Eminence had good relations with the Turkish ministers.

On the same day, His Eminence sent the dragoman Marchiò Spinelli and Mr Zuanne Bolizza to Ulcinj with two galleys, i.e. the Leona and the Bellegna belonging to Lord Francesco, because His Eminence the Lord Inspector did not wish to send one galley by itself for fear that something might happen to it. Spinelli and Bolizza were to negotiate with the Aga for two janissaries. His Eminence sent the Aga four loaves of sweetbread, four boxes of jam and four large candles as presents and ordered Spinelli to conclude the deal for the said janissaries as best he could, and not to come back without them. The two said galleys set off for Ulcinj at the second hour of daylight. After lunch, at noon, Mr Vincenzo Pitkovic arrived on the galley which had been sent to Lezha that morning to find 40 horses either for Skopje, or at least for Elbasan or for Salonika, whichever was best, and to get more information on the best road to be taken. He brought with him two Turks with whom he had made a deal for the 40 horses, paying 90 aspers per horse to Elbasan.

It is said that merchants usually charge 80 aspers per horse, but the Muslims said that on top of the 80 aspers, they had their expenses, too. If we would agree to this, there would be no one else to pay but the keeper of the caravanserai. With the above mentioned Pitkovic came the Albanian horseman called Mr Tomà Pellessa, Mr Vincenzo Decca and Mr Piero Volvizza of Bar, who said that the road to Skopje was the safest and easiest, but was four days longer. The Turks confirmed this, too. His Excellency thus decided to take the Elbasan road both in order to make up for time which had been lost by bad weather at sea and which would be lost because of the difficulties of the land road. Because this route was seldom taken by dignitaries, there would be less possibility for the news of his arrival in Constantinople to get there before he did. And so he gave the Turks a down payment for 40 horses, of which 14 were to be saddled, in addition to two horses which were to transport the litter. The decision to take the road to Elbasan, which was not used by ambassadors or bailies, is what caused me to write this Itinerary so that, whatever happened, it could serve as information for anyone who might happen to consider taking the same road in the future.

At 13 o'clock in the night of the same 13th of the month, the two galleys sent to Ulcinj returned with Spinelli who brought back two janissaries with him to accom-pany us on our journey.


Tuesday, March 14, 1591

Early in the morning, before we went to church, His Eminence the Lord Inspector of the Fleet arrived with all his magnificent officers to bid farewell to His Excellency Bernardo, who had only been informed shortly before of their arrival. Thereafter, when all the baggage had been loaded onto one boat and the servants onto another which belonged to the horseman Pellessa, His Excellency got into the caique of the Lord Inspector of the Fleet. Artillery from all the galleys gave a salute and we set off for the mouth of the river Drin to continue on to Lezha. We arrived in two hours' time, although it is no more than about three miles away. Our delay was caused by the flow of the river and the fact that we had to wait for the other two vessels which were more heavily laden. The river stems, as mentioned above, from Lake Ohrid which produces big carp like those of Lake Garda (4), as the local Albanians tell us. It meanders for a space of seven days although the lake is only three miles away from here (5). Below Lezha, it divides into two navigable channels which flow into the sea at the gulf called Lodrino (the Drin) after the river, one being three miles from the other. The two branches form an island with fair and fertile fields which is said to have been the site of Lezha when it was ruled by our lords of Venice who sent the lord inspectors. Today, Lezha is a modestly fortified castle with a small circumference. It is constructed in the ancient fashion and is situated on a hill of fertile land perhaps half a mile from the river. From here the hill rises gently, and on the south side, there is a higher mountain half a mile across from it. On the other riverbank on the western side, there is a rock face, but much lower. The river flows slowly and has low banks, part of which for a mile and a half towards the sea are marshy and covered in reeds. At other parts, the boats can be hauled by ropes, as is done elsewhere, if one removes the logs in the way, which for the most part are from willow trees. We celebrated mass at the house where the Franciscan friars were staying. They have rebuilt the church on the opposite bank.

From here to the foot of the mountain of Lezha overlooking the wide river stretches the open town of Lezha. Here, also, is the home of the Customs Officer and the caravanserai where traders and travellers can spend the night. It is uncomfortable and in a bad state. Lezha is a trading post. There was much trade in former times, but it is of little importance now because there is no security to be had on the roads, which are infested by Albanians from the Dukagjin region. Here we only met two Venetian merchants, Mr Zaccaria Colleoni from Bergamo who works both for himself and for Fabricio Soleri, and Mr Alessandro Cocco who trades on behalf of the eminent Mr Vettor Soranzo of Merzaria. In Shëngjin we also came across Mr Domenico Surbi and Mr Nicolò Grassa of Lezha, having arrived aboard a Pastrovic vessel. These men are merchants who trade with Venice and who helped us very much and who were very hospitable to us in Lezha.


Wednesday, March 15, 1591

At the second hour of daylight, we mounted our horses although we had gotten up two hours before sunrise. We had to waste much time to arrange our luggage on this first day of the journey. Towards midday, we arrived at the village of Laç in the region of Kruja and spent the night at the house of Malcoz Aga, a relative of Mustafa, steward of Kruja, who had come from Ulcinj to accompany His Excellency. We stayed in a house down the road, though not far away.

The trip took five to six hours and was a distance of perhaps eighteen miles, judging from the time we took and the stretch of road we covered on horseback. In Muslim territory, however, one does not count in hours or miles but simply in days. The road was flat all the way and was in good condition. On the left side were the mountains of Dukagjin and on the right, the plain which stretches eight miles out to the sea at the gulf of Lodrino. It is at its widest from here to the Mat because on the Lezha side it is narrower. Outside of Lezha, we took the road southwards and about half a mile further on, we came upon water which was flooding the road at many points because the land is lower here. They say that there is always water here and it reaches the height of a horse's knees. We continued onwards for about a mile and entered a pleasant and not very dense forest of mostly ash and poplar trees. We rode for two hours or more through this forest so that it was probably seven or eight miles long. When we got out of the forest, we came upon fields well sown with wheat and oats. We rode over the fields for about a mile and then we forded the broad river Mat at three places. This river has a very large bed similar to the river Tagliamento, and flows swiftly. The water came right up to the horses' thighs. From the house of Malcoz Aga where we spent the night, one can see the sea and the surroundings which form the gulf of the Drin from the cape of Ulqin to the cape of Rodon. It should also be noted that from Lezha to this point there was no bread or wine to be bought, and nowhere to spend the night. As we had been informed of this in advance, we took provisions with us.


Thursday, May 16, 1591

We rose two hours before dawn and, one hour later, mounted our horses and rode for almost four hours, stopping in the countryside to have lunch. The caravan advanced for another two miles and then stopped to unload the luggage in order to give the horses a rest. We rested for about an hour and a half and then, mounting the horses once again, accompanied the caravan to the house of an army corporal near the village of Saint John where we arrived at about 22 o'clock. The next morning, descending from the hillside where we had spent the night, we advanced, leaving the plain of Mat to our right. We continued along the mountainside and climbed a hill covered in great oak trees, which we took two hours to cross. This is called the forest of Shpërdhet. We crossed two streams and a torrent and, leaving the forest, entered the great and famous plain of Scanderbeg, called Tirana. Surrounded by the mountains of Kruja, this is a noble town in Albania which used to be in the possession of our lords (of Venice) and which is now subject to the Sanjak of Ohrid. On those mountains, one can see the town of Kruja and its castle which is still inhabited. It is situated on the left side of the aforementioned plain. To the right of the plain at the top of the mountains, one can see the fortress of Preza. They say that the men there are strong and healthy, and when they turn Turk, many of them become famous horsemen. After one hour of travel across the plain, we forded a river called the Tërkuza which comes down from a canyon in the mountains of Kruja called Gamera (6). Near the place where we spent the night, we crossed another river with little water in it. The river Ishëm flows down past the mountain on which the fortress of Preza is situated, twelve miles in the direction of Rodon. It flows into the sea at the gulf of the Drin. Along this river, the Albanians were wont to transport great quantities of local wheat which was shipped from Redon to the Christian countries. Eighteen years ago, Sultan Selim, the father of the present emperor of the Turks, therefore had a fortress built at the mouth of the said river and for this reason it is also called Ishëm. The fortress serves to keep the people here in submission and stops the export of grain.

On today's journey, we passed three villages (7): Gjonëm before entering the forest, then Rudrue (8) which is situated in the forest, and thirdly, Dervent at the end of the said forest. Aside from these, there are also various private houses which can be seen on the hilltops in passing. On the hills to the left is a large village called Zheja, the inhabitants of which are known as thieves since it is said that they come down into the forest and kill and rob travellers who are not in large groups and where they know they can do so in safety. Before we entered the plain of Tirana, we passed through a small forest at the plain of Povaza (9). Leaving it, we came upon a spring on the left side with good cold water. Some of our entourage enjoyed themselves by taking the water to refresh the caravan. Yesterday and today we encountered a lot of horses from various caravans loaded with wheat and on their way to Lezha. This grain is brought from Struga, a town in Bulgaria on the border of Albania, three days away from here. Every horse bore a little less than two Venetian stara and there were over five hundred of them. His Excellency Bernardo advised and ordered Mr Zuanne Bolizza of Kotor, who was to return from Elbasan, to buy some of the grain for Venice because he would not only make a profit, but would also be doing a good deed for the people and would be esteemed by them this year, now that grain has become a rare commodity. The grain is bought in Struga for two and a half talers a sack and it is calculated in Lezha that it could be worth two talers for a Venetian stara.


Friday, May 17, 1591

We mounted our horses one hour before sunrise and arrived at Elbasan two hours after nightfall, having rested en route half way for only two hours. This day was extremely wearisome for us because we had travelled for seventeen hours on horseback and because the road was in bad condition. The road was only good for three hours along the plain of Tirana. Farther along, we passed the fortress of Petrela which is a castle on the top of a mountain on the right side. At the end of it towards the east, there is a crescent shaped bastion and across from it there is a high mountain rising above it. Below this fortress flows the river Erzen which we forded. Its water is crystal clear and its bed contains pure white gravel. This is perhaps the reason why it is called Erzen (10). In Petrela, where one first enters the mountains, the road gets bad. The farther up one travels, the worse it gets. The ascents and descents were so narrow and steep so that it was difficult to travel with the luggage. In many places, the litter bearers had to carry the litters with their own hands.

Elbasan is a town on the plain and has ancient walls. The sanjak bey of this province resides here. The present sanjak bey is called Mehmet Bey, brother of a Persian lord who submitted to the Turkish sultan during the last war. Lord Bernardo paid him a visit, taking the usual presents with him, to ask for assistance and for men in order to cross his sanjak safely. He graciously granted our request. This is a trading post for hides and wool. There are two caravanserais. Near the town flows the river Egrede (11) which must be forded twice before arriving at Elbasan.


Sunday, May 19, 1591

We delayed in Elbasan yesterday and today to find new horses for Salonika. His Excellency preferred this road over the one to Skopje because, according to the information we received, it was shorter, better and safer. We also received word that the recently deposed Sanjak Bey of Shkodra, had used this route on his way to Constantinople.

It rained today and there was a long and severe storm.


Monday, May 20, 1591

We left Elbasan two hours after sunrise because we had not been able to solve the horse problem earlier. At 21 o'clock we arrived at the village of Dardha accompanied all the time by a heavy rainstorm. From Elbasan we had travelled about three miles along flat land. From there on, the road was bad all the way, with rocky canyons, mountains and forests. We crossed the river Shkumbin which has a broad bed and is swift flowing. We also had very bad accommodation in little houses belonging to poor peasants. There was neither bread nor wine to be had. On today's journey, the litter was carried by the bearers almost all day long because the road was so bad.


Tuesday, May 21, 1591

We set out from Dardha one hour after sunrise and arrived shortly before noon at Përrenjas for lunch. There was no caravanserai or bread here, but we did find some wine. The road was mountainous and steep but not as difficult as the day before. It passed through a beautiful valley. We crossed the Shkumbin river once again, but over a wooden bridge. After leaving Përrenjas, we entered a broad plain. Then, travelling over the mountain, we arrived at a beautiful and open site from which we could first see Lake Ohrid. At 22 o'clock that evening we arrived at Struga. Here we spent the night at a place called Jakuf (12). We had excellent eel and trout from Lake Ohrid, which, we were told, also produced carp. In Struga we found good wine and a caravanserai for the horses.

Although they call Struga a town, it is more like a village and is the first settlement in Bulgaria after leaving Albania. Through it flows a small river (13) which is said to arise in Lake Ohrid and to be the source of the river of Lezha. One crosses a bridge separating the border between Albania and Bulgaria shortly before one enters the plain of Struga, which is almost totally cultivated and which is very fertile. The Bulgarians speak Slavic and are of Greek rite. Storks make their nests on the roofs of their houses. All the people respect the birds and believe that they bring good luck to those on whose houses their nests are built.


Wednesday, May 22, 1591

We left Struga in the first hour of the morning and arrived at noon at the village of Crusse (14), where there is no caravanserai. On leaving Struga we had walked about one hour across its fair plain. We then crossed a mountain and continued along the plain of Ohrid. On a hill on the right side, at the end of the valley overlooking the lake, we saw the town of Ohrid, where there is a castle. It is a town of few inhabitants, although it is the capital of a sanjak. We had lunch at Crusse and continued on to the village of Prespa at which a river called Prespa flows. There is also a lake called Prespa which is smaller than that of Ohrid. At 23 o'clock in the evening we arrived at the village of Zoposco in the driving rain. There is no caravanserai here. We spent a difficult night at the house of a janissary, but there was good wine to be had.


Thursday, May 23, 1591

We left Zoposco along a good road in the first hour after sunrise. At 19 o'clock we arrived at Monasterio (Bitola). We ate lunch at a spring where there was a rundown water mill. Bitola is a town in Bulgaria with a large population. They say there are 1,500 houses of which 200 are of Jews. There are no walls around the town, nor is there a sanjak bey. It has a timar of the Grand Vizier who receives from Bitola an income of 20 loads of aspers. It has a kadi and is abundant in grain. It is also a trading post for wax, wool and hides. There are good Muslims here because it is a place of learning and, as such, there are men here capable of administering justice. For this reason, they are sent as kadis to various parts of the Turkish Empire. It is abundant in water and fountains, and through the town flows a river called the Macofro (15). When it rains in the winter, the town is flooded and with the water come huge boulders, causing great damage. Bitola has a covered bazaar, beautiful mosques and a good caravanserai for horses, though not for men.


Friday, May 24, 1591

We spent the day here because we wanted to change the horses, and the young men did not come. We were hosted by Rabbi Samuel Namias, consul of the Jews...



The author may be confusing names here, for he refers below to Zuanne Bolizza.
Unidentified toponym Janica, possibly near Trašte.
Sveti Stefan, ca. 10 km. south of Budva.
Lago di Garda in northern Italy.
The actual air distance between Lezha and Lake Ohrid is ca. 100 km.
Unidentified toponym, possibly Gamti, i.e. Mount Gamti.
Here the author is recapping the itinerary because the villages in question are all north of Kruja and Preza.
Unidentified toponym, somewhere near Mamuras.
Unidentifed toponym.
i.e. Ital. Arzenta, from argento 'silver'.
Unidentified toponym. The river meant is probably the Kusha or Zaranika.
Possibly a misspelling for vakëf 'land belonging to a Muslim religious or educational institution'.
The Black Drin arises in Struga and, merging with the White Drin at Kukës, flows as the Drin until it empties into the Adriatic Sea near Lezha.
Unidentified toponym, perhaps Korošišta.
Presently known as the Dragor.

[Extract from: Monumenti storici pubblicati dalla R. Deputazione di Storia Patria. Seria Quarta. Miscellanea. Vol. IV, Venice (1887), p. 19 47; and Injac Zamputi (ed.): Dokumente të shekujve XVI XVII për historinë e Shqipërisë. Vëllimi 1 (1507 1592), Tiranë 1989, p. 386 403. Translated from the Italian by Robert Elsie. First published in R. Elsie: Early Albania, a Reader of Historical Texts, 11th - 17th Centuries, Wiesbaden 2003, p. 67-76.]