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1670
Evliya Chelebi:
Seyahatname – a Journey around Lake Ohrid



The Church of Saint Sophia in Ohrid,
serving as a mosque in the Ottoman period
(Photo: Auguste Léon, Musée Albert-Kahn, 1913).

The Ottoman Turkish writer Evliya Chelebi or Çelebi (1611-1684) travelled extensively through the Ottoman Empire and neighbouring countries from 1640 to 1676, both in a private capacity and at the service of the Sublime Porte. The account of his travels is recorded in his ten-volume Turkish-language Seyahatname (Travel Book), which he completed in Cairo. The Seyahatname contains a wealth of information on the cultural history, folklore and geography of the countries he visited. In 1670, Evliya travelled through southern Albania on a mission to muster troops and workmen to defend the Mani Peninsula in the Peloponnese, recently conquered by the Ottomans. In this section, he sets out from Elbasan eastwards and describes the Lake Ohrid region (with the towns of Struga, Ohrid, Resen and Pogradec), before returning to his native Istanbul.

This is the border of the Sanjak of Ohrid. The western side of the Babja mountain range belongs to Elbasan, while this eastern side and down the mountains belongs to Ohrid.

From here, we descended precipitously in an eastward direction for five hours down the huge alpine pastures. With Lake Ohrid to our right, we passed some villages situated on a grassy field at the edge of the lake.

The reservoir of fish, the walled town of Struga: It was built in ancient times by the vizier Usturka as a hunting-grounds for his king named Ohrin, and it was called Usturka (Struga) after him. It means .... in the .... language. This fortress is a pleasant, quadrangular-shaped and solidly built construction situated in the town at the mouth of the river of Lake Ohrid. It was conquered in the year .... from the son of the despot king by Ghazi Evrenos who had it demolished so that the infidels would never try to occupy it again. Ghazi Evrenos later crossed to the other side of Lake Ohrid and razed the towns of Pogradec and Starova. The infidels returned to the fortress of Struga at the mouth of the lake in order to block the Ottoman troops. When they saw that the fortress was in ruins and that it would provide no refuge or defence, they immediately lost heart and returned home. Evrenos got back to the fortress of Struga safe and sound and camped there. It is indeed a pretty ruined castle at the lakeside. If it were to be restored, not a soul would be able to cross the mouth of the river. And indeed no one can, for the gates are closed at night.



The fish weirs at Struga in Lake Ohrid (Photo: Auguste Léon, Musée Albert-Kahn, 1913).

The town of Struga is in the territory of the Sanjak of Ohrid, but it is under the command of the Emin Aga, the customs officer of Lake Ohrid, who has sole authority over punishments and fines. It is crown land and an emanet, the income from which has been fixed at 40 yük of akçe, and the state has no power to tax or intervene. All creatures that fly in the sky and creep on the ground and swim in the lake are in the Emin's jurisdiction. All levies on fugitive slaves and bird nests, all tolls, sheep taxes, poll-taxes on slaves (ispençe), levies on winter pastures, tobacco taxes, farm taxes, royal taxes, poll taxes and special fees - in short, all the customary impositions are administered by the Emin of Lake Ohrid, and the Bey of Ohrid has nothing to do with them. It is a large emanet, administered by the Emin according to imperial decree with the help of 200 employees. He and his henchmen patrol the lake day and night, exacting the royal tithe for all fish caught in it. Fishing in the lake is only allowed with the Emin's permission. Anyone caught fishing without a licence, even if the fish he catches is no longer than a span, is severely fined. All the rayah in the qadi district and the seven surrounding villages of Struga are in the service of this Emin and are thus exempt from taxes. They are employed in fishing for the government. Every night, rayah fishermen go out in their 10 to 15 caiques, spread their nets by torch-light and catch fish which they deliver up to the Emin by the caique-load. The latter sells the fish to traders who come from all over Rumelia. The traders salt the fish in a brine and export it throughout the various vilayets as fish from Lake Ohrid.



A bell-tower in Struga
(Photo: Alfred Rappaport, 1904).


The form of Lake Ohrid: Some call it Okhri, some Ohri. The reason for its name is .... . This lake is 15 miles in circumference and triangular in shape, tending to the oblong. It is possible to go around this freshwater lake in 24 hours. The chief runner of Faik Pasha of Tirhala once did so on a wager: he did not return that night, but did get back just after dawn the following day. So it can be circumambulated in a single day if one runs fast enough. There are four [sic] fortresses along its shores: Struga, Pogradec and Ohrid. Largest of all is the fortress of Ohrid which, built on a high cliff, rises into the sky over the lake. It is situated at the northern end of the lake. All sides of the lake are adorned with prosperous farm-estates.

The fish caught in Lake Ohrid cannot be found anywhere else. The eels, in particular, have a delightful fragrance of musk and ambergris. They are very oily. If caught fresh, wrapped in bay leaves and roasted, they make a very nutritious meal. Anyone who eats this dish will be able to have intercourse with his wife five or six times - so invigorating are these eels, like skinks. Anyone with consumption who puts a salted fish head on his own head will be cured of his ailments, by God's command. There are also pike, misarya (?), carp and trout, all of which make delicious dishes. There are a thousand different kinds of fish in this lake, but the five kinds which I have named are the best - they never have a fishy smell!

Right in the centre of Struga, where the lake narrows into a river, there is a large wooden bridge 150 paces long and with 12 arches. Atop this long bridge is the spacious mansion of the Emin, built on wooden piles in the water. In the middle of the mansion there is a wooden gate which is shut at night by the sentries, so no one is allowed to cross. Every night 40 or 50 armed watchmen patrol the bridge until dawn. Indeed, this mansion gate was built on the bridge to stop fugitive slaves, brigands, murderers and fish poachers from escaping. From this end of the lake, the river flows through Albania for 10 stages and, passing below the fortress of Lezha in the Sanjak of Shkodra, it empties into the sea at the harbour of Shëngjin. It cannot be forded anywhere. Lake Ohrid is a great wall of water in the middle of this vilayet. There are two other bridges at the other tributaries where the Emin's agents are posted to collect both tolls on merchandise and levies on fish - not even a bird can fly by without the authorities noticing. But the major crossing-point is this bridge at Struga. Under this bridge there are hundreds of fishing weirs. They have to be seen to be believed. This outlet flows so swiftly under the bridge that you can hardly see it. It flows at full strength summer and winter, like the Drava River, and never diminishes. One strange thing is that no big rivers flow into this lake, and yet this outlet is constantly flowing just like the Oxus River. It flows west passing the town of ...., then ...., then ...., until it finally empties into the Gulf of Venice at the harbour of Shëngjin below the fortress of Lezha, as I mentioned above. The lake has good drinkable water. It is very warm in the summer, but if you fill a cup with it and leave it out in the air, it will turn cold as ice. As the water in the lake warms up, more and more fish are caught.

The town of Struga is part of the qadi district of Ohrid. This little town, with a delightful climate, lies along a sandy stretch of the lakeside and in the flat bottoms of the stream beds. It has 300 one- and two-storey stonework houses with tiled roofs, which are surrounded by gardens and vineyards. It has three quarters, the populace being mainly Bulgarian and Greek infidels. There are four prayer-niches. Foremost is the Mosque of Ohri-zade in the bazaar, with its lofty dome and minaret and lead-covered roofing; and there is one khan, one soup kitchen, one medrese and one bath, all of them charitable gifts of the Ohri-zade family. There are also three neighbourhood mosques and five large and small khans for travellers. There are 40 shops, but no covered market. The shops are quite sufficient. One arm of the lake flows through the middle of the bazaar. Over it is a wooden bridge. The windows of the soup kitchen and the medrese overlook the water, and people sit here to have their meals and relax in the fresh air. This creek also serves as a harbour for all the fishing boats of the town and lake.

A great market fair is held once a year in this town, where 40,000 to 50,000 people gather and there is an indescribable commotion for ten days and nights. There are 300 permanent shops for the fair outside the town and several thousand wicker huts and stalls are set up annually for transient traders.

Among the better homes open to visitors here are those of Halil Aga, Ömer Aga and Imam Efendi. After bidding farewell to all our friends in Struga, we took an armed escort and set off southeastwards along the lakeshore, passing through vineyards and gardens to the fishing weirs of Ohri-zade. These are situated where the waters of the lake are joined by the stream rushing down from the mountain pastures of Istok. From here to Ohrid, a distance of 8,000 paces along the lakeside, there is a wide pavement of white cobblestones. In three more hours, we entered Ohrid.

The abode of fish (mahi), the felicitous fortress of Ohrid (Okhri): The reason for its naming is ..... According to the Latin historians it was founded during the reign of King Rehoboam, son of Solomon. This King Rehoboam, who was one of the ancient Greek emperors, had a philosopher named Okhri who constructed this fortress according to philosophical principles. It then passed from one dynasty to the next. There is an elaborate description of it in the history of Yanvan, who was the brother of Yanko, son of Madyan, the founder of Istanbul, and also in the history of the Latin Ban; what I am giving here is a mere summary. Because of its position on the shore of Lake Ohrid, the city became a large and prosperous emporium, comparable to Ctesiphon, Baghdad, Cairo, Byzantium, Macedonia, Kavala and Constantinople. The Seven Kings - i.e., the Byzantine emperor, the Doge of Venice, the Despot of Serbia, the kings of Bulgaria and of Hercegovina, the king of Spain as represented by Albania, and the Ban of Voyniq - hearing of the vast treasures accruing to the city from the fishing trade, each coveted it for himself, and each of them conquered it several times. As a result, the city became ruined.



A bakery just outside Struga (Photo: Auguste Léon, Musée Albert-Kahn, 1913).

Finally, taking pity, the seven kings agreed together and decided, according to a pact drawn up by their viziers, how to rule it in concert. This was the situation when Sultan Murad II conquered it from the Seven Kings in the year ..... . Then, the janissaries rebelled in Edirne, removed Murad II from the sultanate on the grounds that he was too old, and appointed Mehmed II. During this period of disorder the Seven Kings recaptured Ohrid. The janissaries rebelled again, this time on the grounds that Mehmed was too young and inexperienced, and so they reappointed Murad II as a sly old sultan who would take revenge on their enemies. When he became sultan for the second time in the year ...., his first campaign was to recover this fortress of Ohrid and put to the sword all the troops of the errant Seven Kings. After his second campaign, the conquest of Izmir and the throne of Queen Candace, by God's wisdom Murad was removed from the sultanate a second time and Mehmed reappointed, and the tricky infidels once again occupied Ohrid. As Sultan Mehmed approached on his campaign against Serres, Zihna and Manastir, he turned his reins toward Ohrid. It passed into the hands of the Muslims for the third and final time in the year .... .

According to the register of Sultan Suleiman, Ohrid is an independent sanjak in the Eyalet of Rumelia. It is crown land for which the bey receives an income of 235,299 akçe from the sultan. It has 60 zeamets and 342 timars. It has an alay bey and a cheribashi. In times of war, according to statute, the timariots, including their armed retainers, provide 7,000 soldiers and march under the banner of the governor of Rumelia. Magistrates include a steward of the sipahis, a commander of the janissaries, and a castle warden plus a garrison of 70 troops. Some of the latter, according to statute, are the Byzantine troops who surrendered the fortress to the Ottomans and who, although they are Christian, are exempt from all onerous impositions, in exchange for maintaining the fortress in good repair. Shari'ah magistrates include a grand mufti (şeyhülislam), a nakibüleşraf, plus the town notables and descendants of the Prophet. There is a qadi with a salary level of 300 akçe and there are three qadi districts: Struga, Resen and Ohrid. The sanjak contains 140 prosperous villages indeed, in the Eyalet of Rumelia, this Sanjak of Ohrid is second in prosperity only to that of Janina. Secular magistrates include a market inspector, a voyvoda, a collector of tolls, an Emin Aga of the fisheries, a poll tax official, a chief of the gendarme corps (pandur), a chief of the Christian sailor corps (martolosān), seven garrison officers, a town mayor, a chief architect and several Christian community leaders (portoyoroz).



View of Ohrid and the lake in late September 1863 (Photo: Josef Székely, Bildarchiv ÖNB, Vienna, VUES IV 41073).

Shape of the fortress: It is an ancient and solidly constructed pentagonal fortress, 4,400 paces in circumference, situated atop a bare red rock cliff on the northern shore of Lake Ohrid. On one slope, within the outer fortress walls, and attached to the great wall at one corner facing north, is a mighty citadel, 1,000 paces in circumference. The citadel walls are 40 ells in height and outfitted with all sorts of embrasures and crenels of incomparable workmanship. It has two gates. The larger one, facing north towards the Hünkâr mosque, is topped by a tower with a high wood ceiling portico where the military band plays day and night, and outside the gate is another portico, or loggia, affording a view of the surroundings. The smaller gate, also on the northern side, opens to the lower town. Within the citadel, other than a prayer house, the warden's house and a grain storage bin, there are only gardens.

As for the great walls of the outer fortress, they are ten ells in height, and include a total of 40 towers and battlements. I did not count the crenellations, but the walls are five feet thick and very solid. There are three gates: one, the Great Gate, faces north below the citadel and heads down to the lower town in the direction of the lake; another, the Tanners' Gate, faces east; the third, also large, is the Lake Gate. This outer fortress has strong defence walls running from east to north on the northwestern and western sides, where there is open country. But no walls are necessary along the lake, or on the southeastern and eastern sides, where there are sheer cliffs dropping precipitately so steep, in fact, that sometimes animals tumble down them and are dashed to pieces. In ancient times a kind of parapet wall was built, but over the centuries it has largely collapsed.



A street scene near the Church of Saint Sophia in Ohrid (Photo: Auguste Léon, Musée Albert-Kahn, 1913).

Within the great outer fortress are 160 Christian houses roofed with red tiles, all nicely built with balconies and windows facing south overlooking the lake, inauspicious abodes piled one atop the other. Below, on the lake shore, is the pasha' s palace, a fine and grand mansion completely covered with tiles and having over 300 rooms, including indoors and outdoors, baths and a large courtyard, There is nothing this fine within the town walls, only rough houses going to ruin. The town has a total of three prayer niches.

Imperial mosques: First is the Aya Sofya congregational mosque, situated on the lake shore at the foot of the pasha's palace. It is very large, comparable to the congregational mosques in Salonica and in Trebizond on the Black Sea, or to the Little Aya Sofya in Istanbul. As for this Aya Sofya, it was built by the king named Okhri, the brother of Yanvan, during the reign of King Rehoboam, son of Solomon. Since he built it, the city was named after him Okhri Ban, in Greek ..... an, in Latin ..... i fulan, in Frankish ..... . In those Christian days this was their Jerusalem saving the comparison! but now, God be praised, it is a prayer hall of the Muslims. Occasionally, however, Christians manage to enter the mosque by slipping a few akçes to the doorkeepers; they hold a quick prayer service in honour of Jesus, then depart. This light filled mosque contains 17 great domes and is totally covered with red tiles and mortar. It would take too long to enumerate all of the ancient remains and the lofty columns on the inside tongues fall short and pens are too weak to describe them but it is an isolated mosque, slowly going to ruin. Several finely wrought brass doors and wooden shutters with inlay mother of pearl are in a terrible condition. The reason is that the mosque is stranded in the midst of the Christians and has no Muslim congregation. Were it to be completely abandoned to the Christians they would turn this mosque into a month of April. Only once a week, on Friday, the doors are opened, the servants sweep it out, and five or ten guards perform the Friday noon prayer. Then they shut the doors again and leave. At the time of the conquest this was the Fethiyye or ‘Conquest' mosque may God restore it to prosperity!

Above, on a hill in front of the citadel, is the congregational mosque of Okhrizade. These Okhrizades are a dynasty which trace their ancestry back to kings, and even now the city is under their sway. The story goes that during the construction of this cheerful mosque, with its lead covered wooden domes and one stonework minaret, Sultan Bayezid II passed through Ohrid while on campaign and remarked, "God bless, what a beautiful mosque!" The quick witted and far sighted Okhrizade immediately kissed the ground and cried, "Please God, let all the merit for it go as a gift to my padishah!" This pleased the sultan greatly."Have them construct another lofty minaret on the right side," he commanded. For this reason it has two minarets and is the Hünkâr (Imperial) mosque. Its endowments are very sound. To the south it commands a view of the entire lake, with all its commercial and fishing boats, and through the windows in front of the prayer niche one can see the lake as well as the broad plain and all the fields and buildings. The courtyard is graced by huge lofty trees, in the shadow of which are grassy knolls where the town's cognoscenti and mystics sit to enjoy the fresh air and to engage in religious debates, while to one side the young bloods of the town engage in sports and military exercises. Above the lintel of the prayer niche door, in Celi script, is written the witness formula: "There is no god but God, Muhammad is the messenger of God."

Aside from these, there are also two neighbourhood mosques within the fortress walls, but these too are isolated from their congregations. And there are six churches, so lively and pretty that they have 40 or 50 priests each. Two of these the Church of the Patriarch and the Latin Church are so wealthy that their Christian kitchens provide meals morning and evening to the priests, and even to the Muslims. There are no khans or public baths, and no bazaars within the fortress; rather, the large space is filled with vineyards and gardens and several dönüms of open fields.

The lower city: It is very handsome and prosperous, like Damascus the paradisiacal, at which the tongue falls short. Descending from the mountain pasture of Istok, one would believe it to be as large as Edirne or Bursa.

Town quarters of Ohrid: There are 17 of which ten are Muslim and seven are Greek, Bulgar and Latin. The richest and finest is the quarter of Okhrizade. Others include the quarters of the Tekke, Kuloghlu, Haydar Pasha, the Koca Siyavuş Pasha medrese, Zulmiye, Hadji Hamza, the Iskender Bey mosque, Voyvoda Yunus, Küçi Bey, Emir Mahmud and Kara Hoca. These are the most important and most prosperous of the 17 quarters.

Congregational mosques of the sultans, viziers and notables: There are a total of 17 prayer niches. First, and possessing the largest congregation, is the Hadji Kasim mosque, situated on the lake shore; it is a handsome square building surmounted by a wooden dome and roofed with fine blue coloured lead; it has one quaint old fashioned minaret. Others include the Tekke mosque, built by Sultan Suleiman, full of light and good cheer; the Kuloghlu mosque, old fashioned; the Haydar Pasha mosque, quite new; the Zulmiye or "Oppression" mosque, so called, but it is a splendid mosque, even though it was probably constructed with oppression; the Hadji Hamza mosque. Also, up in the fortress, is the Hünkâr mosque with two minarets; and the great Aya Sofya mosque. Those listed here are the most famous.

Neighbourhood mosques: These are 17 in number, beginning with that of Iskender Bey, and including the Voyvoda Yunus mosque, the Küçi Bey mosque, the Emir Mahmud mosque, the marketplace mosque, the mosque with the plane tree, and the Kara Hoca mosque. All 17 are solidly endowed and well kept up; indeed, any of them might also serve as a congregational mosque.

Mansions of the notables and other houses. The Shari'ah court register lists 400 two storied tile roofed stone houses. These large houses with their lush vineyards and gardens are spread over the Ohrid plain so attractively that one judging from afar would say the city had ten or fifteen thousand houses. This large urban area is completely unwalled. Rather, it is bounded by Lake Ohrid to the north, west, south and south east, and by the foothills of the mountain pasture of Istok to the east, like one big rose garden. Indeed, it would not be possible to surround it with a wall, so extensive are the flower gardens and the vegetable gardens. Finest of all the mansions is the huge Okhrizade palace, like a castle with its numerous audience halls and stables and its pleasure domes and gazebos along the lake. His brother's palace is also quite remarkable. These are the best known houses.

Medreses: There are two colleges for training religious personnel. The first is the old Siyavuş Pasha medrese, situated on the lake shore across the street and to the left of the Hadji Kasim mosque, like the garden of Sudak. The courtyard is surrounded by numerous cells. There are classes of public instruction, and the medrese students occupying the cells are appointed rations of meat and candles by the endowment. The second is the Tekke medrese, built by Sultan Suleyman, also thriving. There are several other medreses attached to the dervish lodges.

Hadith schools: There is one school devoted to instruction in hadith and Koran recital, but neither the hadith scholars nor the Koran reciters are very prominent. In recital, only the reading according to Hafs is followed, and in hadith, Bukhari.

Primary schools: There are seven, including those of Okhrizade and Aga.

Khans of the merchants: There are three fine khans, but I did not inquire after their endowers.

Baths: There are two baths open to the public: the Okhrizade bath, old fashioned but pleasant; and the Ghazi Hüseyn Pasha bath, with fine atmosphere and furnishings.

Private baths of the notables: The town rakes boast that there are 77 baths belonging to the large mansions, and this is true. My dear friend Okhrizade Bey has two in his palace, and his brother .... Efendi has one, and ..... .

Bazaars: There are 150 shops and seven imposing and beautiful coffee houses which serve as gathering places for the cognoscenti. There are no taverns for boza or wine, at least none visible, but there is no lack of wine in the Christian quarters within the fortress. Although the bazaars are spread over four different parts of the city, and there is no covered bazaar, nevertheless all types of merchandise are readily available. The bazaar in the alleys off the main highway is lined with stately shade providing plane trees. Most of the fountains are not functioning, but indeed there is no need for them, since the lake water is pure and delicious, and most of the larger houses are situated along the shore.

Perpetually fine climate: Due to the delightful climate there are numerous lovely boys and girls, with silvery limbs and loving dispositions. The beauty of the inhabitants is famous and has attracted settlers from abroad.

Fruits: Among the natural products in high repute are nine varieties of quinces, including the ‘father' quince and the ‘bread' quince; and 24 varieties each of plums and of pears are listed in the registers. Indeed, I have not seen such luscious pears even in Malatya or in Bitlis in Kurdistan or in Tesu and Ordubar in the region of Tebriz. The ‘bey' pear is so sweet and delicious that each one is like a sack of candy. Unfortunately, however, the fruits of this city do not travel well, since they are picked very fresh and so, are unsuitable for gifts. Only the apples are shipped abroad in boxes and retain their sweetness, colour and fragrance. All the other fruits spoil if they are shipped just a few miles away. I was able to bring some quinces along with me wrapped in cotton as travelling companions as far as Strumica.

Foods: The notables of Ohrid have the custom of feasting one another, great and small, on winter nights, and their speciality is not to repeat any of the dishes served at one party at another. The same holds true for their sweets and their sherbets; the kinds served at one gathering are never served at another. In fact, at one of the Okhrizade feasts we were served with 26 different kinds of sherbets I was nearly sherbeted to death! The feasts and sherbets of Ohrid are famous throughout the Ottoman Empire.

Soup kitchens: There are three of these. One belongs to the delightful mosque in front of the fortress which Okhrizade gave away to the sultan as a gift. Here, morning and evening, a bowl of soup and a piece of bread are provided to the poor indeed to everyone, rich or poor, young or old, Christian or Zoroastrian. Another belongs to the Tekke mosque.

Caravanserais: There are three adequate guest houses. One is the fine 40 hearth caravanserai in the shade of the plane trees in the small bazaar. Another is the sturdy Okhrizade guest house.

Noteworthy buildings: The great Aya Sofya congregational mosque is especially remarkable. Another impressive sight is the well of sweet water in front of the mosque which Okhrizade presented to the sultan, the one in front of the fortress. The skilled miner like Ferhad who excavated it went to a depth of 80 fathoms. The marvellous thing is that, using his geometric and engineering skills, he bored a channel through the rocks so that he could draw water all the way from Lake Ohrid, using water wheels, and thus provide water for the ablutions basin and the fountains, for this mosque and for others as well. It is an attraction not to be missed.

Pleasure grounds: There are 12 delightful excursions in the vicinity of Ohrid such as are not to be found elsewhere. First, when the wind is right, you can take a sailboat on the lake and go to the farms along the shore, or else go fishing, or just have a party. Then, across the road southeast of the fortress there is a lake with bull-rushes, not larger than five threshing floors, but very deep, so people say, and a marvellous hunting grounds for geese and ducks. Other marvellous excursions are to the fishing weirs and to the mountain pasture of Istok.

Language: All the people speak Bulgarian and Greek. They do not know Albanian, since this is Rumelia not Albania. But they do speak elegant Turkish, and there are some very urbane and witty gentlemen.

Dress: The young men wear sable and martin calpacs lined with red broadcloth, and varicoloured broadcloth jackets, and tight trousers fastened with hooks and eyes, and strut about with yellow kubadi slippers on their feet and scimitars at their waists. The old men wind varicoloured gold ornamented Muhammadan turbans on their heads and wear serhaddi, kontosh, or ferace cloaks of varicoloured broadcloth. But the women wear ferace cloaks with ample sleeves and bind round turbans on their flat heads and go for elegant strolls about the bazaars.

Completion of the eulogy of Ohrid: Here too, the imperial orders which we had brought concerning the defence of Mania were read out in the imperial council in the presence of the Bey of Ohrid, Ali Bey. "It is yours to command," he cried, and all the Ottoman troops prepared to go off to Mania. The bey presented me with 200 kuruş, one horse, one rebellious Albanian slave boy, and one sword, and to my servants he gave ten gold pieces each. Then he attended to mustering troops and left us to our own devices.

The ancient mint: This city was one of the capitals of Sultan Mehmed II, and during one year Sultan Bayezid II used it as the winter quarters for the Ottoman army. It is therefore an Ottoman capital, and coins were struck here up until the reign of Sultan Murad IV. The mint still stands, a large building in the lower fortress near the pasha's palace, and while the building is closed up, all the presses and minting tools are in place. In fact, I used to have an akçe in mint condition stamped with the following: "Sultan Ahmed, son of Mehemmed Khan, may his victory be glorious, mint Ohrid."

Shrines: First are the tombs of Ohrizade and of Ghazi Bey, both in front of the prayer niche of the Hünkâr mosque. Şehīd Hazīnedār (The Martyred Treasurer?) is buried in a tile covered dome on a cliff on the lake shore to the right of the Aya Sofya mosque next to the pasha's palace. .....

After visiting these tombs, we joined a party of several hundred mounted men in the company of the Okhrizades and set off on an excursion to the mountain pasture of Istok. Our first stop was Çeri Baş, a pretty Bulgarian village with prosperous gardens and 200 houses. From there we started our ascent, in an eastward direction, and in five hours arrived at:

The great mountain pasture of Istok: It is a pasture of paradise whose far flung fame has reached the Arabs and the Persians. From the summit one can view an expanse covering seven qadi districts. In fact, one can see the city of Ohrid to the southwest, eight hours away, also Lake Ohrid and its vast agricultural hinterland, spread out at one's feet. In this pasture, our dear friend and patron, Ohrizade Bey, has 300 sheepfolds comprising a total of 70,000 sheep of various kinds. In all the Ottoman lands, this Istok pasture nearly rivals those of Alaman and Rila and the Despot and Serres and Vitosh. We went from fold to fold, staying in tents, eating the yoghurt, cheeses, beestings, curds, cream with honey and omelettes with honey, drinking the buttermilk and whey, savouring the kebabs of roasted lamb and trout, quaffing water from the ice cold streams and various kinds of honeyed sherbets, snacking on a thousand kinds of herbs, tendrils, sorrel, wild strawberries and sour cherries, generally having a good time. The hyacinth, spikenard, poppy, jonquil and narcissus growing here rival those of the mountain pastures of Biñ Göl in the Erzurum region and of Mounts Bisutun and Demavend and Erciş.

After one week of savouring the delights of this mountain pasture we descended in an eastward direction, dismounting when it became steep. We passed the village of Pazi in five hours, then proceeding eastward for two hours arrived at:

The prosperous town of Resen. It is a qadi substitute district in the territory of Ohrid and a free zeamet. The town is in a large valley through which flows the ..... river. There are 180 tiled roofed houses with fine gardens, divided evenly between a Muslim and a Christian quarter. There are two congregational mosques: one, in the bazaar, named for Ramazan Beg from the city of Manastir, is a pretty mosque with a tiled roof and stone minaret and a Koran school in the courtyard. The other is named for Hadji Murad. There are two medreses; one dervish lodge; one bathhouse, endowed by Savurzade; one khan; and 20 small shops. But once a week, thousands of villagers from the surrounding districts set up a large and bustling market. I took the occasion of such a market to have criers remind the officials charged with the defence of Mania not to delay. Two excellent householders, Koçi Bey and Murtaza Bey, mounted great feasts for me and for the Okhrizades, and the next day they went off on the Mania campaign.



A row of men in Ohrid (Photo: Auguste Léon, Musée Albert-Kahn, 1913).

Among the famous products of Resen are its chestnuts, its winter pears and its marvellous dyes a red dye extracted from roots in the mountains, and a broadcloth dye from orrisroot. These dyes provide the main living for the people of Resen, who export them to Western Europe. Merchants from all the surrounding provinces come for these dye roots, which they bind together and transport from province to province.

From here the qadi district of Prespa is very nearby. But we turned back to spend one more day and night enjoying ourselves on the mountain pasture of Istok, then descended in a westward direction, passed through Çeri Baş once again after five hours, and returned to Ohrid where we were entertained for one more night. The next day we took leave of all our friends. The Bey of Ohrid, playing his military band, went off with all his soldiery to the defence of Mania, while we — Stages of our journey from Ohrid to Istanbul — shunning the main road through the mountain pasture of Istok, began our tour of some of the villages and towns in the sanjak of Ohrid in order to impel the zeamet holders and the timariots who were charged to join the Mania campaign to set out. Heading north from Ohrid we passed through Struga, followed the shore of Lake Ohrid around to the south, and after five hours arrived at:

The sweet town of Pogradec. This too is part of the qadi-district of Starova and is the crown land of the Bey of Ohrid, administered by a voyvoda. From here, across the lake, one can see the town of Struga and the fortress of Ohrid. This town has four quarters and four prayer-niches. Foremost among them is the beautiful Mosque of .... in the bazaar, with a tiled roof and a stonework minaret. Then there is the Mosque of .... with a large congregation. There are two medreses, two primary schools, one dervish tekke, three khans and one tiny bathhouse. Of the 600 houses with tiled roofs, surrounded by vineyards and gardens, 20 have private baths. There are 150 shops, though there is no stonework covered market. At the lakeside there are several immaculate tanneries.

Because the town is situated on the lake, some of the balconies and pavilions belonging to the great houses are on the shore and all their windows overlook the lake. Certain of the gentlemen enjoy sitting at their windows and catching fish from the lake, and in the evening the women-folk make delicious meals of the fish caught. Pogradec has a mild climate, and so the various fruits growing in the vineyards and gardens are very fine. The pears, especially, are fresh and delicious. Indeed, the whole town has a special atmosphere, as sweet and lovely as its fruit.



View of Pogradec on Lake Ohrid (Photo: Shan Pici, 1929).

The city of Korça lies eight hours to the southeast of Pogradec. Since I had already visited Korça, Hoçisht, Bilisht and Kastoria in the year ...., I decided not to go in that direction. Instead, setting out northwards along Lake Ohrid, we journeyed pleasantly for two hours over a broad, flat and fertile plain, with vineyards and gardens and farm-estates to the right and left.

The prosperous town of Starova. From here one can see the town of Pogradec quite clearly. Starova too is part of the Sanjak of Ohrid and is crown land of the Bey of Ohrid, administered by a voyvoda. It has a qadi with a salary level of 150 akçe and jurisdiction over 70 villages. All the rayah peasants are Bulgarians.

It is here, in accordance with the statute of Sultan Suleiman, that a colonel from the janissaries arrives in the name of the sultan and collects hundreds of select young Bulgarian and Greek boys for the child levy. They are all dressed in red conical hats and red woollen robes and are sent to the court. The ones who are extremely handsome and well-born are made court pages; the poorer sort are given to the palace guards and janissaries corps; and the worst ones to the artillery and munition corps. The boys of other regions are sent to other units and to various notables, according to registers. After being well educated and trained, they serve as recruits, then enter the service of the janissaries, then graduate to the service of the sipahis. If God determines it, some of them can go on to become grand viziers, muftis and mullahs. So this town of Starova is a mine of child-levy boys and a blessed and beautiful place.

It lies 4,000 paces inland from Lake Ohrid and has 400 wealthy and prosperous houses with tiled roofs. Some of the houses, to be sure, are poor and have thatched roofs, but every one of them has its garden and vineyard. There are four quarters, half Muslim and half non-Muslim. There are four prayer-niches, two of which are congregational mosques: the Mosque of .... in the bazaar with a tiled roof and one minaret, and the fine Mosque of ..., the other two being neighbourhood mosques. There is one medrese, one primary school, one dervish tekke and 100 shops, though no covered market, but one can find all manner of products and merchandise here. There are three khans and only one bathhouse, though here too there are many baths in private homes. There are numerous vineyards and gardens. In short, it is a delightful town.

Here we left .... Aga and .... Aga and others, officers and householders, in charge of raising troops for the defence of Mania, according to sultanic decree. They went that way, while we, departing from this city, headed in the direction of the capital. […]


[Extract from: Robert Dankoff and Robert Elsie (ed.), Evliya Çelebi in Albania and Adjacent Regions (Kosovo, Montenegro, Ohrid), Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2000, p. 195-225. Translated from the Ottoman Turkish by Robert Elsie and Robert Dankoff.]

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