1812 - 1813
Travels in the dominions of Ali Pasha
British physician and writer, Sir Henry Holland (1788-1873), was born in Knutsford, Cheshire. He obtained a medical degree in Edinburgh in 1811 and later served as physician to the Princess of Wales (Queen Caroline) and to Queen Victoria. As President of the Royal Institution of Great Britain, he seems to have been a well-known figure of London society, and lived from the 1820s to his death in 1873 in Brook Street, Grosvenor Square. Holland was a passionate traveller from an early age. He is, at any rate, remembered as a travel writer - for the journal of his voyage to Iceland in 1810 and, in particular, for his book “Travels in the Ionian Isles, Albania, Thessaly, Macedonia, etc. during the Years 1812-1813" (London 1815), from which the following excerpts are taken. Holland offers here a detailed biography of Ali Pasha and a fascinating account of his meeting with the tyrant, as well as a description of his journey from Ioannina (Janina) to Tepelena. Modern place names are added here in square brackets.
Albania - General outline of this country - Origin and divisions of the Albanian tribes - Their general history - Sketch of the life and progress of Ali Pasha - Extent of his dominions, military power and revenues
Title page of
Travels in the Ionian Isles
Albania, as a country, cannot be defined by any strict line of boundary; but it is rather determined in its outline by the language and other characters of the population. The country around Ioannina, and even Acarnania, though inhabited chiefly by Greeks, are often spoken of under this name; and at present, when annexed to the power of an Albanian ruler, not entirely without reason. Correctly speaking, however, according to the distribution of population, Albania occupies a tract of coast, beginning by a narrow line in the Suli Mountains to the north of the gulph of Arta, and extending northwards, with increasing but uncertain width, to the country of the Montenegrins, a distance of nearly 250 miles. Following this boundary, Ioannina falls 20 miles to the south-east of this line; and this distinction will be found generally recognized by the Albanians themselves.
The population of Albania, as generally happens in hilly regions, and was remarkably the case in this country in ancient times, is broken into several tribes; which division, from the exact manner in which it is determined among the natives, may be supposed to have existed for a very long period. The Gheghides, the Liapides, Liutzides, Toskides, Tzamides, and other smaller or subordinate tribes, have all distinctions, which are familiar to the knowledge of every Albanian; who recognizes them, as well by variety of dialect, as by their several localities. Of the respective situations of some of them I shall have to speak in a succeeding part of my narrative. To enter minutely into the detail of such divisions, which are unknown beyond the country itself, would be uninteresting to the reader (The Clementini, one of the tribes in the north of Albania, are said to be descended from the Albanians who followed the Austrian army in Turkey in 1737. See Adelung's General History of Languages).
The principal cities of Albania, exclusively of Ioannina and Arta, are Scutari [Shkodra], Durazzo [Durrës], Berat, Avlona [Vlora], Ochrida, Kastoria, Argyro-Kastro [Gjirokastra], Delvino [Delvina], Permeti [Përmet], Paramithia, &c. Though I have frequently termed Ali Pasha the Vizier of Albania, it must be noticed that all the tract described under this name has not fallen within his power; and that the city of Durazzo, together with the whole Pashalik of Scutari, belong to other authorities. Berat, Argyro-Kastro, and other of the places just mentioned, have only lately been annexed to his territory, to which they form an addition of very great political importance.
The discovery, for such it may almost be called, of a people in the mountainous districts of Illyricum and Macedonia, and in some parts of the ancient Epirus, who were distinct in language, dress, and national customs, has naturally excited attention as to the source whence they are derived. The existence of many Latin words in the language, together with the name of the people, have led some to the idea, that a tribe, migrating from Alba in Italy, founded the city of Albanopolis in Illyricum; the place from which the history and progress of the Albanians seem to begin. From the difficulty of proving this, and from there being many words of unknown radical in the language, it has been supposed by others (though I believe, by very few), that they may have been derived, through some obscure channel of emigration, from the Albani of Asia, mentioned by Tacitus and other writers, who seem to have inhabited the modern district of Shirvan (Masci, a Neapolitan writer, held, I believe, some idea of this kind; but I have not had the opportunity of seeing his work. I have heard an analogy referred to between the name of Toskides, one of the Albanian tribes, and the Toxidae, a people of Mingrelia mentioned by Chardin. A vague relation of this land cannot admit of being reasoned upon. Justin (xlii.3.) speaks of the Albani of the East as having come from Italy with Hercules). Words of Greek and Gothic origin, however, also exist in the Albanese language; and from these several additions which have been made to a base, unknown elsewhere, it may be inferred with most reason, that the Albanians are directly descended from the original population of the country where they now dwell, and that we have in this people a remnant of the ancient Illyrians; preserved to these later times by the mountainous character of their country, and by the warlike and independent habits which have always distinguished them. We sufficiently know from ancient authors, that the Illyrian language was distinct from the Greek at a very early period, and that the people were peculiar in their character and customs. Unless we have a remnant of this tongue in the Albanian, it must be supposed entirely lost; while presuming it to be the basis of the modern language, it is easy to account for the changes and additions which time and the intermixture of other people have induced upon it (On the almost unknown subject of the Albanian language, I cannot do other than refer the reader to the work of Major Leake, already mentioned; where he will find both a grammar and vocabulary of the language, drawn up with singular care and accuracy.)
Major Leake, in his remarks on Greece, has maintained this idea of the Illyrian descent of the Albanians; and I think has entirely proved the truth of the opinions (I have perused an ingenious MS. memoir, in support of the same opinion, by Signore Vecilli, a native of the country). We have no account from history of the extinction of the Illyrians, nor have we any of the entrance of a new tribe, which has grown up into the modern community of Albanians. The Byzantine historians, to whom we principally owe the narrative of the progress of this people, bring them out at once as the inhabitants of a part of the region in which they now dwell; the high country on the frontiers of Illyricum and Macedonia; and characterize them by a description, which applies alike to their present state and to that of the ancient Illyrians. I should be disposed, then, to consider this historical point of the origin of the Albanians as nearly settled; and so settled, as to give additional interest to the examination of a people who have descended from distant times, with fewer changes perhaps in their situation and habits of life than almost any other community in Europe (Chalcocondylas, (lib. i.) seems to oppose the idea that the Albani were the ancient Illyrians. The early mention of the name by Ptolemy, as applied to a people in Illyria, is certainly much in favour of the opinion.)
The history of the Albanians, since they obtained this name, affords few events that would be interesting beyond the limits of the country. During the eleventh century, they bore a part in some of the wars of the Greek empire. In the times of the separate principality which under the name of Acarnania or Aetolia was established in this part of Greece, at the beginning of the thirteenth century, we find them extending themselves by a predatory warfare and notwithstanding a powerful expedition against them by the second Andronicus. About the middle of the fourteenth century, they spread themselves at intervals over the whole of Epirus, Thessaly, &c. (Of this expedition, Cantacuzene gives a detailed narrative. Hist. lib. ii. c. 34). Their resistance to the Turkish conquerors, who soon afterwards poured themselves into Greece, has been ennobled by the history of the celebrated George Castrioti, commonly known by the name of Scanderbeg, whose resolute bravery maintained a protracted warfare against those invaders of his country. The circumstances which long gave effect to this resistance, have prevented the Turks from ever permanently maintaining their authority in the country. Their influence, indeed, has been sufficient to make nominal converts to the Mussulman religion, a large part of the Albanian population; but this effect upon a wild, untutored, and ambitious community does not prove a great extent of power. The Albanians, it is further true, have been made subservient to the military purposes of different Turkish rulers; but from their military prowess they have themselves gained power, and have produced, as at this time, men who, aided by the bravery of their countrymen, have acquired supremacy over both Turks and Greeks, and made themselves formidable in the very heart of the empire (The revolution effected at Constantinople in 1730, by the agency of an Albanian called Ghalil, or Patrona, is well known from the accurate narrative of Lord Sandwich. This Albanian, for a considerable time was absolute master of Constantinople). The history of events in Albania, from the period of the Turkish conquest until the time of Ali Pasha's elevation affords little that is interesting or important. It would be little more than a picture of internal wars, which might be considered trifling, but for the barbarities which often occurred in their progress.
Ali Pasha was born, as I believe, about the year 1750 or 1751, at Tepeleni [Tepelena], a small town of Albania, 75 miles to the north of Ioannina. His father, Veli Pasha, resided at this place as the governor of the adjacent district; but his territory was small, and his power inconsiderable. He died when his son Ali Bey was no more that 15 or 16 years of age, but left him a protector in his mother, who appears to have been a woman of undaunted resolution, and above the reach of those prejudices of custom, which in Turkey enfeeble all the faculties and powers of action in the female sex. The mother of Ali, indeed, was of Albanian birth, and she lived in a country the hardy and warlike population of which was perpetually exercised in internal feuds. At that period, as I have just mentioned, Albania was divided among a number of separate Pashas and chieftains, whose authority was generally derived from usurpation or conquest, and who were almost constantly engaged in war for the purpose of supporting or extending their power. Some of these Pashas, as those of Berat, Ioannina, Delvino, &c. possessed a considerable territory, and a strong military force. But the greater number of the Albanese chieftains were rather the leaders of banditti than the authorized governors of the country; even many towns and villages assumed a sort of separate independence, and carried on their petty contests with the same rancour which belongs to the warfare of nations. In the mountainous districts of Albania, more particularly, the sovereign authority of the Porte was scarcely even known as a name and the hardy natives of Suli and of the mountains of Chimarra, maintained a freedom which history might have celebrated, had they not sullied it by a predatory manner of life, which compels us to class them rather as mountain banditti than communities of independent people.
It required all the resolution of the mother of Ali to maintain her son’s rights, in a country that lawless and turbulent. His father’s death left him with feeble means of defence, and exposed to the attacks of the neighbouring chieftains, who wished to avail themselves of his youth to dispossess him of his territory. Little can now be learned with certainty of these trifling contests, but it is related by those who recollect the time, that notwithstanding all the efforts of his mother, who herself marched, with a fusil in her hand, at the head of his few but faithful adherents, Ali Bey was obliged to fly from Tepeleni, and to relinquish his birthplace to his enemies. At the time of this flight, it is said that his circumstances were so destitute, that he had not more than 40 paras in the world. When travelling through the district of Lopesi [Lap-Martalloz], to the north of Tepeleni, early in the year 1813, I slept in the house of an Albanese Mussulman, who told me, that on the very same couch Ali Bey had passed the night 42 years before, at a time when he was alone, destitute, and seeking concealment from his foes. During the same period of Ali's life an event occurred, which is chiefly interesting from the consequences that have followed it in later times. Amongst other enemies of his youth were the inhabitants of Gardiki [Kardhiq], a city about 18 miles distant from Tepeleni; the population of which was entirely Mussulman, though principally of Albanese descent. The people of this place laid a plan for surprizing the young Ali in a village, where he happened to be at this time, together with his mother and sister. They surrounded the village in the night, with their troops: Ali escaped with difficulty through a garden, but his mother and sister were made prisoners and carried to Gardiki. According to one narrative I have heard, a barrel of gunpowder had been placed under the spot where the young Bey was accustomed to pass the night, with the intention of destroying him. He escaped, either by accident or from a suspicion of the design; but one of his companions, who lay near him, is said to have been killed by the explosion. His mother and sister were detained as prisoners during 40 days, and treated with every circumstance of indignity and outrage, an offence which has never passed away from the memory of Ali Pasha. A dreadful massacre, the particulars of which will afterwards be related, has lately attested the degree of his insatiable hatred to the people of Gardiki, and left a monument of family vengeance, such as modern times have not often exhibited.
It is difficult to connect the several occurrences in this part of Ali's life, but it would appear, that, having contrived to re-assemble some Albanian troops, he obtained advantages over the enemies of his house, and regained possession of Tepeleni. At this period, Coul Pasha of Berat was one of the most considerable men in this part of Turkey, governing a large district of country around this city, and commanding a large body of troops. In what year I am not certain, but probably when he was about 20 years of age, Ali Bey entered into the military service of this Pasha, carrying with him the followers who were attached to his person. He is said at this time to have been one of the handsomest men of the country, with a robustness of body which had been alike formed and exercised by the preceding events of his life (Biornstahl, the Swedish traveller, who was at Trikala in 1770, mentions, that an Albanian chieftain, called Ali Bey, had taken that city the same year, - a young man, but powerful, wealthy, and of great reputation among the Albanians). At Berat, the merits and address of the young Albanian chieftain were speedily observed, but his ambitious talent became also the object of attention and alarm; and it was strongly recommended to Coul Pasha, by those around him, either to give his daughter in marriage to Ali Bey as a security, or to sacrifice the young man to his apprehensions. The former counsel was rejected; whether any direct attempt was made upon the life of Ali I am not informed, but probably he considered himself in personal danger, as it appears that soon afterwards he fled in great haste from Berat; and carrying with him only a few of his faithful attendants, crossed the chain of Pindus into Thessaly, where he remained some time in concealment. It is likely that his ambitious spirit had already prompted him to some enterprize against Coul Pasha, which accident disconcerted, and brought to light.
Soon after this, though from what causes I am not informed, he seems to have been reconciled to Coul Pasha, whose daughter he married. His two eldest sons, Mouctar and Veli, were the offspring of this connection, which probably was the means of considerably increasing his power. He still, however, continued only a petty Albanian leader, till a sudden and successful enterprize against Ioannina, which at this time was feebly governed by its Pasha, gave a name and character to his dominion. He was recognized by the Porte as Pasha of this city and district, and he made a vigorous use of the new means it afforded him of extending his power. He gained possession without much difficulty of the Pashalik of Arta, which increased his resources by its productive plains, and the access it afforded to the sea. Many of the Albanian tribes and districts successively yielded to him, either subdued by force, or influenced by money, of which he never spared the use. His territory, however, at this time, and indeed until within the last few years, was of the most irregular kind. Acquired progressively, by detached portions, and with different titles, it was scarcely even continuous in extent, but rather an assemblage of separate districts, cities, and towns, submitted, some with more, others with less freedom, to the power of their new master.
The views of Ali extended themselves towards Thessaly; and his hardy Albanians pouring down from the passes of Pindus, traversed with ease the great plains of this country, inhabited by a people of less warlike habits than themselves. A very important step in his progress, both here and in other parts of Greece, was his being appointed some years afterwards by the Porte, Derveni Pasha of Roumelia. This office, which is that of guardian of all the passes of the country, enabled him to assume a military command, which he did not fail to render subservient to his political views.
Early in 1798, we find him as one of the Pashas who marched on behalf of the Porte against Paswan Oglou of Widin. He commanded the second corps of the army in the unfortunate attack upon the city, and for his services on this occasion was made Vizier or Pasha of three tails.
His father-in-law and former master, Coul Pasha, had now been dead some time, and Ibrahim was the present Pasha of Berat and Avlona. With this chieftain Ali speedily provoked a quarrel; but possibly at this time he found his adversary too strong, and deemed it better policy to make peace, and to contract marriages for his sons Mouctar and Veli with the daughters of Ibrahim. About the same period, the latter end of 1798, we find him taking Prevesa from the French, which was followed by the reduction of Vonitza, and the remainder of Karlili or Acarnania. Paramithia, and its fertile plains, fell into his power after a short contest, and his territory extended itself in various points towards to the Ionian Sea. The mountains of Suli, however, still resisted his power, and their hardy inhabitants made occasional incursions even towards the plains of Ioannina. An irregular contest of nearly sixteen years was terminated ten years ago, by his occupying the whole of this region, and destroying or expelling every part of its population.
Painting of Ali Pasha,
attributed to Louis Dupré, 1821
His authority continued to extend and confirm itself progressively on every side. Various large cantons of Macedonia were submitted to his power, and in his office of Derveni Pasha, his Albanian troops were stationed almost on the very frontiers of the ancient Attica. The last event of importance, previously to our arrival at Ioannina, had been a second war with Ibrahim Pasha; protracted for a long time, but finally ended by the discomfiture of Ibrahim, who was himself made prisoner, and the whole of his extensive and fertile Pashalik transferred to the power of Ali Pasha. This event, which was accomplished by the conjoint aid of arms and money, took place in the latter part of 1811, about the same time that hostilities ceased between the Turks and Russians upon the Danube. Mahomet Pasha of Delvino had been an ally of Ibrahim. The downfall of one was connected with that of the other, and Ali possessed himself of the fine country between Argyro-Kastro and Tepeleni, and the coast of the Adriatic. The large city of Argyro-Kastro fell into his hands nearly at the same time; Gardiki was subdued and annihilated as a city, and various other towns were added to his dominion in the adjoining district of country. The Pashas of Berat and Delvino were conveyed to Ioannina, and imprisoned there, little was known of their circumstances or fate. These events, which might be considered as adding a population of from 200,000 to 300,000 souls to the dominion of the Vizier, had been terminated only in the spring of 1812. We arrived at Ioannina in the autumn of the same year.
Such has been the progress of this extraordinary man to his present elevation and power. Though it may oblige me to premise several circumstances, I shall now endeavour to give the reader some idea of his actual political situation, and of the nature of his government, leaving it to the progress of my narrative to illustrate his personal character and habits, and the particular effects of his government upon the situation of the people he commands.
The territory now subject to the dominion of Ali Pasha may be defined on its northern side by a line drawn eastwards from the vicinity of Durazzo on the Adriatic, traversing the continent obliquely to the head of the gulph of Saloniki, and including within its limit, Ochrida, Kastoria, and other inland towns, situated on the territory of the ancient Macedonia (The eastern part of this line of boundary may perhaps nearly coincide with the Via Ignatia of antiquity; the great road which conducted from Apollonia into Macedonia and Thrace). The line of coast followed southwards from Durazzo, along the shores of the Adriatic and Ionian Sea, and afterwards along the gulph of Corinth, nearly to its upper extremity, will give the western and southern boundaries of his dominions, while the eastern is formed by the coast of the Archipelago, and of the gulph of Zeitun, connected with a line which traverses the country from Thermopylae to the gulph of Corinth, passing a little to the west of Thebes. Defining this extent of territory according to the classical divisions of antiquity, it may be said to comprehend the whole of Epirus, the southern part of Illyricum, a large portion of Macedonia, nearly the whole of Thessaly, Acarnania, Aetolia, Phocis, and a considerable part of ancient Boeotia. It must be remarked, however, that the authority of Ali Pasha is by no means equally absolute or ascertained throughout this dominion. In Albania, comprehending under this name all the western part of his territory, and that most valuable from its military resources, he is despotic in an unlimited sense of the word. In Thessaly, and the south-eastern part of his territory, his power is of a more controlled nature; his office of Derveni Pasha in these provinces is the only one permanently recognized by the Porte; and though possessing, in fact, all the military and civil authority of the country, and his name superseding that of the Sultan, he is nevertheless obliged to exercise these powers with some degree of reserve: it is on this side that he is most open to any sudden effort of the Turkish government. In Albania he derives security from the mountainous barriers of the country, and from a population of armed men; but to Thessaly and his dominions on that quarter, there are approaches, by which a superior force might overrun and for a time occupy the country.
Besides this more general limitation to the power of Ali Pasha, there are many other local varieties in his authority, owing to the former separation of the districts and cities which he has combined under one dominion, and to the different means he has employed in effecting this end. Some districts have been acquired by conquest; others by surrender on terms; others again by grant from the Porte, as a compensation for real or alleged services; and the degree of his influence, though everywhere tending towards the equality of perfect despotism, is somewhat modified by these circumstances. It may be remarked farther, that no distinct boundary can be assigned to his dominion, where it is not actually limited by the sea. His personal character, political adroitness, and large military force, give him a preponderating influence in most of the governments which adjoin his own territory; and he is felt far beyond the line which limits his power to the eye. It is fortunate for the Porte that this almost insensible extension of authority is limited, on the side of Constantinople, by the government of Ishmael Bey, of Seres; whose activity has hitherto succeeded in arresting in this quarter the career of Ali Pasha.
The tenure on which the Vizier of Albania holds his dominions may be understood in part from the preceding narrative of his life. In its details, it is one which could scarcely exist but under the motley and irregular outline of the Turkish empire. On the part of the Porte, his titles are recognized as having been derived from the Sultan; and much also of the authority which he has connected with these titles, has been nominally confirmed to him after the possession was already obtained. On the other side, Ali Pasha makes a pro forma recognition of the authority of the Porte, in receiving the annual Firman of the Sultan; and sends very considerable sums to Constantinople, as the payment of the Karach, or Christian capitation tax, and as the rents of imposts, which are farmed for certain parts of his dominions, but beyond this, the relation between sovereign and subject disappears. In the internal government of his dominions, and in his connection with foreign states, Ali Pasha possesses and exercises a perfect independence. He levies or disbands his armies, makes wars or alliances with the neighbouring governments, regulates the taxes and commercial duties of his dominions, and governs, in his judicial capacity, without the possibility of appeal. He maintains at Constantinople a number of agents, Greeks as well as Turks, who support his influence in the Divan, and forward the progress of his political views. Residents from England, France, and Russia, are established at his own court; and he is engaged in a regular and independent political correspondence with these and others of the powers of Europe and Africa. He is said, but I know not with what truth, to have had an agent at Tilsit, when the treaty between Russia and France was in the progress of transaction there. His political information is generally of the most exact kind, and obtained with so much promptitude, that Ioannina often becomes the channel through which both Constantinople and the Ionian Isles are informed of events taking place in the centre of Europe.
Of the amount of the military force by which this system of power is maintained, it is impossible to speak with precision. On this subject, there is a strong tendency to exaggeration throughout Turkey at large. An Albanian, if you should enquire from him what number of troops Ali Pasha could bring into the field, will generally speak of 100,000, or a still greater number; and even the more intelligent Greek of Ioannina will frequently rate them at 50,000 or 60,000 men. Both these statements are much above the reality; but nevertheless, it would be difficult to assign a precise limit to the military resources of a country, in many districts of which the whole adult male population may instantly become soldiers, and where warfare has hitherto been less a profession than a permanent habit of life to the community. When Ali Pasha marched to the assistance of the Porte against Paswan Oglou, it is said that he carried with him 15,000 troops. I have been informed that the same number (including Veli Pasha's Albanese soldiers from the Morea) accompanied his sons Mouctar and Veli to the Danube, in the late campaign against the Russians; and in the wars arising from his own schemes of conquest, it is probable that he has occasionally employed an equal amount of force. Subsequently to these events, the successful termination of his war with Ibrahim Pasha, and the conquest of Argyro-Kastro, Delvino, and other governments, had added greatly to the extent of his territory; and this in a part of the country, where the population is almost exclusively Albanian, and singular for its warlike dispositions. In the present state of his dominions, and especially if any necessity should demand vigorous efforts, I do not doubt that Ali Pasha might continue on foot for a short time, an army of 30,000 men. Under ordinary circumstances, when he has no war or scheme of conquest to support, his standing force is much below this amount. It would be difficult to estimate the number of his soldiers, who are scattered in small bodies through the different districts, cities, and villages in his territory; but probably it might not be an exaggerated statement, to rate them at 10,000; while of those, who are stationed at Ioannina, and around his court, the number, though varying, may be stated on the average at 4,000 or 5,000 men.
In speaking however, of an Albanian army, it is requisite to explain the meaning of this term; which if it conveys to the reader the idea of any thing analogous to the constitution of European armies, is wholly inappropriate to its object. The Albanese soldiers are merely the armed peasantry of the country, without regular officers, without military discipline, and not even distributed into regular corps. They are raised simply by the mandates of the Vizier, addressed to different districts, ordering each to provide a certain number of men, and appointing the several destinations of those so provided. The Albanian peasant, hardy and masculine in his habits, and already accustomed to the use of his fusil and sabre, steps forth at once a soldier from his native village. Few changes are necessary in his dress or accoutrements, and neither his mind or body are fettered by the minute details of a formal discipline. His immediate commander is generally one of the principal persons of those who have been summoned from his own district; but the office of command is ill defined, and whatever may have been his situation in life, he enjoys, as a soldier, an independence of any direct or violent control. The despotic command of the Vizier, as master of the whole, lessens the authority of subordinate officers; and every individual of his army, as of the country which he governs, looks at once to him as the centre and single source of power.
The character of an Albanian soldier is that of an Albanian army. It is merely a mass of men, individually strong and brave, but without organization or military tactics. The higher offices of the army are scarcely better defined than the lower; the leaders not having risen by any regular gradation of rank, but acquiring their situation either from personal influence, or the reputation of superior bravery. A review of Albanian troops is simply a procession of man by man under the eye of their chief. Their order of battle is that of a crowd, in which the bravest men are called upon by national cries and exclamations to come out and meet the enemy; others follow the example, and it becomes the affair of man against man, and of strength against strength. In consequence of this method of fighting, the slaughter is generally small in the internal wars of Albania; but when these troops are brought against regular armies, and a route once commences, the destruction is occasionally very great. Much of this description is applicable to Turkish armies in general, as well to the Albanese; but the character of warfare is more distinct and peculiar among the latter people. Nevertheless from their bravery and warlike habits, the Albanians possess the highest military reputation in the Turkish empire; and in the Morea, in Egypt, in Syria, and other provinces, they are everywhere found as the guards of the Pashas, and the most valuable part of the military force of the country (In the island of Lipari, I saw a regiment of Albanians, which had long been in the service of the king of the Two Sicilies. This regiment was disbanded in the winter of 1812. A large part of the force, by which the English troops were attacked at Rosetta, in the last expedition to Egypt, was composed of Albanians).
The naval power of Ali Pasha is very small; though it appears that of late he has been making some efforts to increase it. A few large armed corvets, which have hitherto been chiefly employed in carrying cargoes of corn, or in the missions to the Barbary powers, form at present the whole of his force upon the seas.
Of the population of the country subject to the government of Ali Pasha, it is impossible to speak with certainty as there are no official documents on which to form an opinion; and the same habit of exaggeration exists here, as with respect to the amount of military force. The most populous portions of his territory are unquestionably some of the districts in Albania to the north of Ioannina. In Thessaly, and the country southwards to the gulph of Corinth, the population is less considerable; in the ancient Acarnania and Aetolia, the country is very thinly peopled, and there are no towns of any importance. M. Pouqueville, the French minister at Ioannina, has stated to me his opinion, that the whole dominions of Ali Pasha do not contain a population of more than a million and a half, and though various reasons incline me to believe that this is below the truth, yet any estimate which should exceed 2,000,000, would probably be as much in the other extreme. If we were to assume the latter number as the real one (and it perhaps is not very widely remote), we should obtain an average population equal to that of Scotland; the superficial extent of Ali Pasha's dominions not differing greatly from that of the sister kingdom.
This population may be divided into three principal classes: viz. the Turks, Greeks, and Albanians; each of which classes, though intermixed to a certain extent with the others, yet preserves its general characters as a distinct community. The Turkish population is unquestionably the smallest in amount, though proportionally greater in Thessaly than in Albania, or the country nearer the gulph of Corinth. The Greeks are numerous in the towns and villages in the southern parts of Albania, and may be considered to form the basis of the population of this district. In the country to the north of Ioannina, they are rarely seen; but in Thessaly, they probably compose nearly two-thirds of the number of inhabitants; and in the district to the south of the river Hellada, and Thermophylae, comprising the ancient Doris, Phocis, and a part of Boeotia, their proportion is still more considerable. Among the mountains of the Pindus chain is scattered a considerable population of Wallachian descent, with some peculiar features in their habits and modes of life, which will hereafter be noticed. The Albanian subjects of Ali Pasha, however, inasmuch as they form the chief support of his military power, are more important than any other part of the population of these countries. I have already spoken of the origin, history, and distribution of this people. Though recognizing as their native soil the country on the eastern coast of the Adriatic and Ionian Seas, they are found in almost every part of the territory of Ali Pasha, not merely as soldiers, but also as settler by conquest or migration. Even in Attica and the Morea, there are numerous districts and villages, the people of which, in their language and habits, retain the most distinct features of their Albanian descent (One or two small branches of this people are to be found in Naples and Sicily, where also they preserve the traces of their origin).
In speaking of the revenues of Ali Pasha, it cannot be expected that I should do more than state some of the sources whence they are derived, without venturing to give an estimate of their amount. The peculiar nature of his government, despotic in itself, yet nominally standing in a sort of subjection to another, would render such an estimate extremely difficult; and it becomes almost impossible, when to these circumstances is added the peculiar character of the man, avaricious in his temper, insulated in his counsels, unceasingly active in his own affairs, and giving his entire confidence to none of the many who surround his person. That his revenues, however, are large, and his collected treasures of great amount, may be inferred from the nature of his resources, from the extensive military establishment which he maintains, and from the powerful influence he has acquired in Constantinople by the distribution of money. The most important sources of revenue are, first, the land-tax, an impost apparently very irregular in its distribution, with local varieties which have been determined by the various manner in which he has acquired possession of different districts. Its ordinary extent, however, appears to be about 10 per cent of the produce, or value of the produce. Secondly, a tax upon cities and towns, which in most cases seems to be arbitrary, and depending upon the necessities and will of the Vizier, but in some instances is modified by the circumstances of their surrender or conquest. This tax is imposed in the form of requisition, its distribution among the inhabitants being generally left to the discretion of the principal people of the place. I was informed that the usual sum required annually from the city of Ioannina, amounted to two or three hundred thousand piastres; or from 11,000 l. to 16,000 l.; the arrangements for satisfying which are committed to the most respectable Greek inhabitants. Thirdly, the duties upon export and import, which Ali Pasha has lately endeavoured to increase to six per cent, in his dominions, though elsewhere in the Turkish empire they do not exceed to foreigners three per cent. A remonstrance made by our government of the Ionian Isles, in the spring of 1813, induced him to relinquish the additional impost, as applied to the exports from Albania to these islands; but even in this transaction, he maintained his right to regulate his own duties, without regard to the usage of other parts of Turkey. Fourthly, the assumption of a right to all the property of those who die without male-heirs, a claim founded in part on the custom of the Turkish empire, which gives to the Sultan the property of persons having no direct heirs, as well as the inheritance of the great officers of state. This claim, in the hands of Ali Pasha, is pursued with unabating vigour, and forms one of the most serious oppressions to his subjects. Like some of the preceding taxes, however, it is irregular in its local exercise, some towns and districts being partially exempt from it, a consequence of the same circumstances which have already been alluded to. In Albania the exercise of the claim is most rigorous, and one or two instances have come to my own knowledge, where it was attended with very distressing effects. Fifthly, a duty upon all decisions in cases of commercial or civil litigation, amounting to one-tenth of the value of the disputed property. In all such instances of litigation among his Greek subjects, the Vizier appoints commissioners from among the merchants of the same community, who act as judges upon the questions at issue.
Besides these more important sources of revenue, there are others less direct and uniform in their nature, such as the requisitions upon particular districts to assist in building the palaces of the Pasha, and other public works; the partial monopoly of the corn trade; the billetting of the soldiers upon private houses; the confiscation of the property of individuals, and other modes of exaction, which a despotic government can impose or withdraw at its pleasure. It may be mentioned generally, with respect to all these public impositions, that they are only very partially and with much less vigour enforced on the eastern side of Ali Pasha's dominion, where his power is not so firmly established as in his western territory: nor can it be ascertained what proportion of the revenue of the country he transmits to Constantinople, either directly, as a nominal composition for the land-tax, the Karach, and certain other imposts; or indirectly, to forward his political views in that capital. It has been the general policy of Ali Pasha to maintain the friendship of the Porte, even while pursuing most actively his schemes of ambition; and well instructed how, in a government like that of Turkey, this may most effectually be done, he has not failed, by transmitting a part of his treasures, to procure an easy licence to the progress of his conquests. Admirably served by his agents at Constantinople, he well knows the fittest time and manner of accomplishing these purposes; and it is probable that the amount of his payments is chiefly determined by the political situation of the moment, and the nature of his future projects.
In addition to his public revenue, Ali Pasha derives an increase of power from the extent of his private property, which I have understood, on some authority, to amount to 4,000,000 piastres, or more than 200,000 l. per annum. This revenue is chiefly drawn from the rent of lands, from towns, and villages, which are considered as belonging personally to the Vizier. In the case of a despotic government, owing its origin to conquest, it would be superfluous minutely to enquire how these possessions were obtained, or on what rights they depend. Some of them are said to have been derived from purchase, and those particularly which are situated in Thessaly; but contracts between a despot and his slaves can be submitted to no criterion of fairness or equality. The actual accumulation of treasure by the Vizier, from these various sources, is supposed to be very great. A large portion of his wealth, according to the usage of the East, is probably hoarded in the form of gold, silver, and the precious stones; and it is currently said in the country, that the Seraglio of Tepeleni, the place of his nativity, is one of the principal repositories of these hidden treasures.
The nature of Ali Pasha's government, as well as the character of the man, will be more fully illustrated in the succeeding narrative, for which the reader will be prepared by the sketch that has been given of his progress and actual dominion. Speaking generally of his administration, it may be said to be one of absolute individual despotism, supported by a union of powerful personal qualities in that individual. Quick thought, singular acuteness of observation, a conjunction of vigour and firmness in action, and much personal resolution are connected with an uncommon faculty of artifice, an implacable spirit of revenge, and the utter disregard of every principle interfering with that active movement of ambition, which is the main spring and master feeling of his mind. The effect of these remarkable qualities has been exhibited in the progress he has made to his present state of elevation. Their influence is strikingly apparent in the entire subjection of so many warlike tribes, in the perfect tranquillity of his dominions, in the despotic exercise of his government; and above all, in the mysterious awe with which even his name and mandate are regarded by every class of his subjects. It is pleasant to be able to allege, as one proof of his superior understanding, a degree of freedom from national and religious prejudices rarely to be found among Turkish rulers. He has studiously adopted into his territory several of the improvements of more cultivated nations; he has destroyed the numerous bands of robbers who infested the peaceful inhabitants of the country; by his direction, roads have been made, bridges constructed, and agricultural improvements attempted. This laudable spirit has added respect to the terror inspired by his government; and even those who, out of the immediate reach of his power, can venture to express hatred of his tyranny, are obliged to allow that Albania is more happy and prosperous under this single and stern dominion, than when divided among numerous chieftains, and harassed by incessant wars. From this opinion, no deference to the principles of despotism can be inferred. The experience of history has proved that a single tyrant is less injurious to the happiness of a people, than tyranny divided among several; and the Vizier of Albania has himself become a despot, only by the annihilation of the many despots who preyed on that heretofore distracted and divided country.
Great Seraglio of Ali Pasha - First interview with the Vizier - Conversation
We had been settled about two hours in the house of our new host, Metzou, when the Greek Secretary Colovo called upon us, to pay his compliments on our arrival at Ioannina, and to announce the intention of the Vizier to receive us at the Seraglio the following morning. We found Colovo a man between fifty and sixty years of age, of extreme sedateness of manner, yet prepossessing in his appearance and conversation. He spoke fluently the French, Italian, and German languages, and his visit this evening gave some relief to our intercourse with the family of our host, which had hitherto been embarrassed by the want of some common means of converse. Signore Colovo had scarcely left the house, when an evening repast was served up to us, consisting of several dishes of meats and pastry, on a circular pewter tray, set upon a large wooden stool. The family did not partake in this meal; but we were joined by a young Greek merchant of Ioannina, who, as we afterwards learnt, was betrothed to the eldest daughter of our host. This young man, Ioannes Mela by name, had travelled much in Germany and Russia, spoke the continental languages remarkably well, and made himself very agreeable to us by his pleasing manners and excellent information. After supper, our party was joined by one or two other Greeks; Turkish pipes and coffee were introduced, and, sitting on the sophas of the apartment, we continued smoking till the evening was far advanced. In the novelty of this scene, occurring immediately after our entrance into the capital of Ali Pasha, it will readily be conceived that there was much enjoyment.
The morning of the 1st of November was made interesting to us, by our introduction to this extraordinary man. At ten o'clock, Colovo again called, to say that the Vizier was prepared to give us audience; and shortly afterwards, two white horses, of beautiful figure, and superbly caparisoned in the Turkish manner, were brought to us from the Seraglio; conducted by two Albanese soldiers, likewise richly attired and armed. Mounting these horses, and a Turkish officer of the palace preceding us, with an ornamented staff in his hand, we proceeded slowly and with much state through the city, to the great Seraglio, which is situated in its southern quarter, and somewhat more than half a mile from our place of abode. On our way thither, we passed by the palace of Mouctar Pasha, a handsome edifice, and constructed with more regularity than is usual in Turkish architecture.
The Seraglio of Ali Pasha is an immense pile of building, lofty in itself, and situated on an eminence which gives it command over every part of the city. It may not unfitly be termed, a palace upon, and within a fortress. High and massive stone walls, on different parts of which cannon are mounted, support a superstructure of wood, of great extent, but apparently without any regularity of plan: the several portions of the edifice seem to have been successively added, as a necessity was found for its enlargement; yet notwithstanding this irregularity, the magnitude and character of the building give it an air of magnificence, which is not always obtained by a more rigid adherence to architectural rules. The style of construction is entirely Turkish; the roofs projecting far beyond the face of the buildings, the windows disposed in long rows underneath; the walls richly decorated with painting, occasionally landscape, but more generally what is merely ornamental, and without uniform design. The access to the Seraglio is exceedingly mean. It is surrounded by narrow and gloomy streets, without any circumstance to mark the approach to the palace of the Albanian ruler. A broad wooden gateway conducted us into a large, irregular area, two sides of which were formed by the buildings of the Seraglio; a third side by a long wooden shed, intended, as it would seem, for the reception of the horses, which are constantly moving to and from the palace. This area presented a curious and interesting scene. It was crowded with the Albanian soldiers of the Vizier; some of them pacing around the open space; others keeping guard at the different gates of the Seraglio; others again sitting on the ground, in circular groupes, singing the national airs of their country, or reciting perhaps the deeds of their national warfare. The Albanian is here seen with all the most striking peculiarities of costume and manner. The Tchochodares, and guards of the Vizier, are selected from among their countrymen, for their strength and other martial endowments ; their clothing and arms are of richer kind than those common among the other Albanese soldiers; but they retain all that mixture of the wild and picturesque in their figure, dress, and accoutrements, which is the characteristic of their nation,—the little red cap upon the crown of the head; the hair shaved off from the forehead and temples, but falling down in large masses over the shoulders; the mustachios; the huge and shaggy capote thrown over the back; the broad belt, from which project the curiously-worked handles of their pistols; the wide camisa, coloured stockings, and ornamented sandals. The vests which these men wear, are very frequently made of velvet, and so richly ornamented with gold and silver, that they form a sort of splendid armour to the body. A very striking peculiarity of the Albanians, and one advantageously seen among the guards, in the area of the Seraglio, is their carriage in walking. It is not the hurried and awkward step of the rustic, or undisciplined soldier; but a firm and slowly-measured march, with something even of stateliness in the gait, which I have not equally observed among any other people. The memory of every one who has travelled in Albania, will recognize at once this feature in the peasantry and soldiers of the country.
View of the Fortress of Ali Pasha in
Janina (Photo: Robert Elsie, May 2007)
Passing through the almost savage pomp of this outer area of the Seraglio, we entered an inner court, and dismounted at the foot of a dark stone-staircase. On the first landing-place stood one of the Vizier's carriages; an old and awkward vehicle, of German manufacture, and such as might have been supposed to have travelled a dozen times from Hamburgh to Trieste. At the top of the staircase, we entered into a wide gallery or hall, the windows of which command a noble view of the lake of Ioannina, and the mountains of Pindus; the walls are painted, and numerous doors conduct from it to different parts of the palace. This hall, like the area below, was filled with a multitude of people; and the living scenery became yet more various and interesting as we proceeded. We now saw, besides Turkish, Albanese, and Moorish soldiers, the Turkish officers, and ministers of the Vizier; Greek and Jewish secretaries, Greek merchants, Tartar couriers, the pages and black slaves of the Seraglio; petitioners seeking to obtain audience, and numerous other figures, which give to the court and palace of Ali Pasha a character all its own. Lord Byron has admirably characterized this scene, as he saw it in the Seraglio of the Vizier at Tepeleni. His pictures are as minutely accurate in their descriptive details, as they are splendid and imposing in the poetry which conveys them to the eye of the reader (Childe Harold, canto ii. 55, 56, &c.).
A passage from this outer hall, conducted us into a long and lofty apartment, the walls of which were beautifully painted, and all the decorations rich and superb. Here we were met by several pages and attendants of the Vizier, who led us to the door of his room of audience; accompanied by Signore Colovo, who had joined us at the gate of the Seraglio, and now attended as our interpreter. A curtain was thrown aside, and we entered the apartment of Ali Pasha. The first coup d’oeil was imposing. It was a large and lofty saloon, from which an area was separated at the lower end of four richly ornamented pillars; a long range of windows at the upper extremity affording the same magnificent view as that from the outer hall. The interior decorations of the apartment exhibited much of gaudy profusion. The prevailing colours, as well of the painted walls and cieling, as of the furniture, were crimson, blue, and yellow; the latter colour chiefly derived from the massy and profuse gilding, which was spread over every part of the room. The cieling was divided into squares by wood-work very curiously and delicately carved; the interior of each square was of crimson colour, the borders of gold. Pilastres, at equal distances, and richly ornamented, but without any regular order of architecture, gave variety to the walls of the apartment. On these pilastres, and in niches intermediate to them, were hung the arms of the Vizier, sabres, daggers, and pistols; all of the finest workmanship, and profusely adorned with gold and jewels. A Turkey carpet covered the floor, and divans entirely surrounded the room, except at its lower end. These were very broad, and elevated about fifteen inches from the ground; the cushions of crimson satin, with deep borders of gold lace. A large fire of wood was blazing on a hearth, above which a projecting chimney-piece, or rather chimney, rose in the form of a conical canopy, superbly ornamented with gilding, of various figure and device.
These minute observations, however, were not made at the time of our entrance into the apartment. All our attention was at this moment occupied by the person of Ali Pasha himself, whose figure formed the most interesting part of the picture that was before us. He was sitting in the Turkish manner, with his legs crossed under him, on a couch immediately beyond the fire, somewhat more elevated than the rest, and richer in its decorations. On his head he wore a high round cap, the colour of the deepest mazareen blue, and bordered with gold lace. His exterior robe was of yellow cloth, likewise richly embroidered, two inner garments striped of various colours, and flowing down loosely from the neck to the feet; confined only about the waist by an embroidered belt, in which were fixed a pistol and dagger, of beautiful and delicate workmanship. The hilts of these arms were covered with diamonds and pearls, and emeralds of great size and beauty were set in the heads of each. On his fingers the Vizier wore many large diamond rings, and the mouthpiece of his long and flexible pipe was equally decorated with various kinds of jewellery.
Yet more than his dress, however, the countenance of Ali Pasha at this time engaged our earnest observation. It is difficult to describe features, either in their detail or general effect, so as to convey any distinct impression to the mind of the reader. Were I to attempt a description of those of Ali, I should speak of his face as large and full; the forehead remarkably broad and open, and traced by many deep furrows; the eye penetrating, yet not expressive of ferocity; the nose handsome and well formed; the mouth and lower part of the face concealed, except when speaking, by his mustachios and the long beard which flows over his breast. His complexion is somewhat lighter than that usual among the Turks, and his general appearance does not indicate more than his actual age, of sixty or sixty-one years, except perhaps that his beard is whiter than is customary to this time of life. The neck is short and thick, the figure corpulent and unwieldy; his stature I had afterwards the means of ascertaining to be about five feet nine inches. The general character and expression of the countenance are unquestionably fine, and the forehead especially is a striking and majestic feature. Much of the talent of the man may be inferred from his exterior; the moral qualities, however, may not equally be determined in this way; and to the casual observation of the stranger, I can conceive from my own experience, that nothing may appear but what is open, placid, and alluring. Lord Byron thus describes him:
-------------- a man of war and woes;
Yet in his lineaments ye cannot trace,
While gentleness her milder radiance throws
Along that aged venerable face.
The deeds that lurk beneath, and stain him with disgrace.
Opportunities were afterwards afforded me of looking beneath this exterior of expression; it is the fire of a stove burning fiercely under a smooth and polished surface.
When we entered the apartment, the Vizier inclined himself forwards, without rising from his couch, and moved his hand towards his breast, the graceful and dignified manner of salutation which is common throughout the East. He motioned us to take a seat on the sofas at no great distance from his couch, the interpreter meanwhile standing in front. He first enquired from the latter, whether we spoke the Romaic, or what other languages? To this enquiry, as it regarded the Romaic, or modern Greek, we were reluctantly compelled to reply in the negative; the interpreter adding on his own suggestion, that we understood the Hellenic; the name by which the ancient Greek language is yet known in the country. The Vizier, continuing to employ the Romaic, while his dragoman communicated with us in Italian, next expressed in general terms his pleasure at seeing us at Ioannina. He enquired how long it was since we had left England? where we had travelled in the interval? when we had arrived in Albania? whether we were pleased with what we had yet seen of this country? how we liked the appearance of Ioannina? whether we had experienced any obstruction in reaching this city? with several other enquiries of similar nature. Though the pronunciation of the modern Greek was still novel and strange to my ear, yet I sufficiently understood it, to be aware that Colovo translated our replies to these questions with much distinctness and accuracy. Soon after the conversation commenced, a pipe was brought to each of us by the attendants, the mouth-pieces of amber, set round with small diamonds; and shortly afterwards coffee of the finest quality was handed to us in china cups, within golden ones. The Vizier himself drank coffee, and smoked at intervals during the progress of the conversation.
The enquiries he made respecting our journey to Ioannina, gave us the opportunity of complimenting him on the excellent police of his dominions, and the attention he has given to the state of the roads. I mentioned to him generally Lord Byron's poetical description of Albania, the interest it had excited in England, and Mr. Hobhouse's intended publication of his travels in the same country. He seemed pleased with these circumstances, and stated his recollection of Lord Byron. He then spoke of the present state of Europe, enquired what was our latest intelligence of the advance of the French armies in Russia, and what the progress of affairs in Spain. On the former point, it was evident that the information we gave, was not new to him, though he did not expressly say this; his manner, however, evinced the strong interest he felt in the subject, and it seemed as if he were seeking indirectly to obtain our opinions upon it. He was less accurately and less recently informed as to the affairs of Spain, and we gave him a short narrative of the battle of Salamanca, and the entry of Lord Wellington into Madrid, of which he had before heard only the general statement.
The next subject of conversation was prefaced by his asking us, whether we had seen at Santa Maura one of his armed corvettes which had been seized and carried thither by an English frigate. This subject we had anticipated, and not entirely without apprehension. The vessel in question, which was a large ship carrying 26 or 28 guns, we had actually seen when on our passage from Ithaca to Corfu. It was detained in the vicinity of Corfu by an English frigate, having on board a large cargo of grain, and under circumstances which rendered it evident that there was a design of infringing the blockade of that island. Though probably aware that the vessel was lawfully a prize, Ali Pasha professed great indignation on the subject, and wrote with so much warmth to the local government of Santa Maura, while we were in that island, that we were led to hesitate a moment, whether it might not be well to delay our journey to Ioannina until the affair was further adjusted. In bringing forward the subject during our interview with him, the Vizier spoke with animation, or even a slight warmth of manner. He complained of the injustice done to him in the capture of his vessel, denied the right of capture in this particular case, and alleged his various good offices towards our government, as well as to individuals of the English nation, as what ought to have secured him against such acts of hostility. We answered, that as mere travellers we could not venture to give a reply that might be deemed official, but that we doubted not, from our knowledge of the dispositions of the English government, that when the affair was properly explained, its final arrangement would be both just, and satisfactory to His Highness. This of course meant little, and the Vizier doubtless understood it as such. He added only a few words, and then, with a loud laugh, expressed his desire of changing the subject (The frigate which took this corvette was the Apollo, commanded by Captain Taylor, an officer of whom his country and society are now unhappily deprived, but who will long be recollected for his talents, bravery, and the generous liberality of his temper, qualities which had given an early reputation to his name. The corvette in question was eventually given up to Ali Pasha, less from any doubts of the legality of the prize than from the nature of our political relations with him at the time).
He now inquired whether we were comfortably lodged in the house he had appointed for us; hoped we should remain some time in Ioannina; and asked whether we had any design of going to Constantinople or to Athens? On explaining our intention of visiting the latter place, he said that we should have every facility in passing through his dominions, and offered any other service that might be in his power. Before our audience concluded, he mentioned his having been informed that I was a physician, and asked whether I had studied medicine in England? Replying to this in the affirmative, he expressed his wish to consult me on his own complaints before we should quit Ioannina, a proposition to which I bowed assent, though not without apprehensions of difficulty in prescribing for the case of such a patient. He dismissed us very graciously after we had been with him about half an hour. The interpreter continued standing the whole time, and six attendants also remained in the apartment during our audience. Four of these were young Albanians, tall and handsome in their persons, with long flowing hair, and their dress and arms costly and magnificent. The other two were negroes, wearing white turbans, and also exhibiting much decoration of dress. The manner of the Vizier in this interview was courteous and polite, without any want of the dignity which befits his situation. There is not, either in his countenance or speech, that formal and unyielding apathy, which is the characteristic of the Turks as a people; but more vivacity, humour, and change of expression. His laugh is very peculiar, and its deep tone approaching to a growl, might almost startle an ear unaccustomed to it. Altogether I was very well satisfied with the tenor of our interview, which paved the way to me for a long and interesting connection with this singular man.
We returned to our lodging on the same horses which had brought us to the Seraglio. In repassing through the palace-yard, I observed some of the Albanian soldiers who wore red shawls singularly wrapped round the head and neck. These men are chiefly from the districts of northern Albania, on the confines of the ancient Macedonia; they are generally tall and muscular in person, wild and ferocious in their habits of life, and have the repute of being excellent soldiers, according to the Albanian modes of warfare. The character of the ancient people of this district is given us by Livy, and strikingly resembles that of the modern race of inhabitants (Frigida haec omnis, duraque cultu et aspera plaga est: cultorum quoque ingenia terrae similia habet; ferociores eos et accolae barbari faciunt, nunc bello exercentes, nunc in pace miscentes ritus suos. Lib. xlv. 30).
Departure from Ioannina for the north of Albania - Zitza - Falls of Glissani - Monastery of Sosino - Lake of Zerovina - Delvinaki - Great valley of the Deropuli - Libochovo - Argyro-Kastro - Gardiki - Massacre of the Gardikiotes - Route to Tepeleni - River Viosa - Tepeleni - Yusuf Aga - Dinner from the Haram.
I set out from Ioannina on the 12th of March, on my journey towards the north of Albania. Four guards were appointed to attend me on this expedition, two of them Mussulmans, the other two Christians, - a difference which is of comparatively small moment in Albania, where the natives at large are by no means rigid in the tenets of their religion. One of the Christian Albanians with me was a fine young man of the name of Constantine, who having lately married in his native village near Argyro-Kastro, was in high spirits at the opportunity this journey afforded him of visiting his bride.
The buyrouldi, or passport, which the Vizier gave me for the journey, was couched in much stronger terms than that I had formerly carried into Thessaly. Expressed in the words of command from himself, it began by calling me his akribos kai agathos filos; directed that I should everywhere be received as if he were present in person; that I should be supplied with horses wherever I required them; and that every house should be open to me. It concluded by the singular threat, "if you do not all this, the snake will eat you," a denunciation well understood by all who live within the dominion of Ali Pasha.
My first day's journey was only to Zitza [Zitsa], a village twelve miles north-north-west from Ioannina. In leaving the city, I stopped a short time at the gardens of the pavilion, to pay my respects to the Vizier, who was spending the day at this place. The only remarkable object on the route to Zitza is the lake of Lapshista [Lapsista], a shallow piece of water, which derives a fine character, however, from the precipitous front of Metzoukel [Mitsikeli], forming its eastern boundary. A stream flows into this lake from that of Ioannina, but after making its exit again on the western side, almost immediately disappears in a chasm among the limestone rocks. It comes out again at some distance to join the river Kalama [Kalamas].
The village of Zitza stands on the edge of a steep declivity, overlooking the deep valley of this river, which is seen here at the distance of nearly 30 miles above the place where I had crossed it on my way to Sullopia. The views from Zitza along this valley, and its great mountain boundaries, have a wild and irregular magnificence, which forms in some degree a peculiar feature of the spot. Lord Byron, who visited the place, has celebrated its scenery in the stanzas of the Childe Harold; and it unquestionably merits this applause, though inferior to many other points of landscape that I have seen elsewhere in Albania, The village contains only about 120 houses, and a Greek monastery. My passport obtained a lodging for me in the house of the Codja Bashee of the place, who was extremely anxious that I should report his good services to the Vizier.
From Zitza my course lay along the valley of the Kalama, which from this point extends about fifteen miles, in a direction nearly north and south. In quitting Zitza to descend into the valley, I had a splendid view, towards the north-east, of the mountains of Zagora formerly described, the elevated but flattened summits of which, now deeply covered with snow, strongly reminded me of some of the great mountains called Jokulls, in Iceland. The first remarkable object in the valley of the Kalama was the great fall of Glissani, four miles from Zitza, where the river is precipitated over a face of rock 60 or 70 feet in height. This fall is singular from the circumstance that the Kalama, which may here be about as large as the Clyde at Corra-Linn, flows in a placid stream to the very edge of the precipice, down which it falls in a perfect unbroken sheet of water. The scenery around the cascade is not striking, the river flowing here through the subordinate ridges of hill, which traverse the great valley in different directions. These hills are all composed of debris from the surrounding chains of mountains, and of comparatively recent formation. At a short distance above the fall of Glissani, are several smaller cascades, formed by different streams into which the river divides itself in passing through thickets of willows and other shrubs.
I am not aware that the valley of the Kalama has been examined between this spot and the place where I crossed it near Paramithia. Much noble mountain scenery would doubtless be found in this interval, as I judge from the distant views I obtained of the country.
Crossing to the western bank of the river, I continued my route up the valley to the Monastery of Sosino, six miles above Glissani. This monastery stands on the summit of an insulated conical hill, which rises probably more than 500 feet above the valley beneath. Learning that there were some ruins here, I determined to ascend the hill, sending forward two of my guards with the baggage horses. A winding path conducted us to the summit, where, after some hesitation from their alarm, I was kindly received by four or five old monks, the sole inhabitants of the place. I examined the church and interior of the monastery, but found nothing of importance. An inscription near the window of the altar might possibly have explained the date of the building, but time had rendered it illegible. Without the walls of the monastery, and appearing to have included the summit of the hill, I found the remains of Cyclopian walls, which were doubtless those of a fortress, as the space is not sufficient for any more considerable extent of building. I could discover no inscription, nor did the monks know that any other vestige of antiquity existed on the spot. The view from the monastery shewed me the upper part of the valley of Kalama, spreading but into a wide plain, fertile, populous, and well cultivated. This plain stretches eastwards to the skirts of the mountains of Zagora. To the north, it gradually rises in successive ranges of hill, which are terminated by the great mountain of Nemertzka [Nemërçka], covering a wide extent of surface, and forming one of the most elevated summits in this part of Albania.
Having partaken in a repast of rice, honey, and eggs, which the inhabitants of this solitary spot provided for me, I descended from the monastery of Sosino. A mile or two beyond this place, I again left the road, to examine some powder mills, the only manufactory of the kind, I believe, in Albania. The nitre and sulphur are brought here by land carriage, the charcoal prepared on the spot. The machinery of the mills is very indifferently constructed, and the powder manufactured, of extremely coarse kind.
The Kalama is chiefly formed from two streams, one descending from the side of Zagora, the other coming from the Lake of Zerovina [Zaravina]. I followed the course of the latter, ascending its valley, which passes off in a north-west direction from that we had just been traversing. On the ascent of the hills, where the valley turns off in this direction, stands the town of Mosiari, pleasantly situated and surrounded by wood. Close to the town is a small Seraglio, which forms, occasionally, a resting place to the Vizier in his northern journies. At some distance beyond this place, we arrived at the Lake of Zerovina, a nearly circular pool of water, apparently not more than four miles in circumference, but deriving a romantic character from the mountains which surround it, or appear in the distant landscape. The village of Zerovina is situated on an eminence at its lower extremity. This lake is of very great depth; and vulgar report says, as is frequent in such cases, that there is no bottom. M. Pouqueville stated to me his belief, from the form and depth of the lake, that it must have been anciently a volcanic crater; but I see no sufficient reason for supposing this, as the surrounding hills are all either calcareous, or consisting of loose decomposed materials. The chief circumstance countenancing the opinion is, that a small quantity of sulphur has been found in one of the glens, descending to the south side of the lake. With some difficulty I made my way to this spot, which was discovered, it is said, by a flame or smoke seen by some shepherds to issue from the ground. The observation of small portions of sulphur on the surface, led to an order from the Vizier that excavations should be made here. The result, however, was fruitless. The sulphur was only found, encrusting some stones superficially, and on going deeper, nothing was discovered to reward the search. At the time I visited the place, the sulphureous vapours had entirely disappeared, and I found little more than stones decomposed by these vapours, and others covered with a thin film of sulphur. I shall have occasion hereafter to notice more considerable appearances of the same kind.
From the lake of Zerovina, I continued my route some miles further, between high chains of hills; and then turning to the right, up a narrow and precipitous valley, arrived at the town of Delvinaki, consisting of three or four groupes of houses, singularly situated in a deep recess, where several narrow glens meet together. The town contains nearly 3000 people. The houses, in general, appear neat and comfortable; and this, although the place has latterly been subject to more than ordinary oppression from the Vizier, who, if the account I received be correct, demands annually 140,000 piastres, or about 7000 l. from the inhabitants. These being for the most part farmers or peasants, are unable to pay more than a part of this nominal sum; but to increase the burden upon them in another way, a larger proportion than usual of Albanian soldiers are introduced into the town, and quartered upon the people. A respectable Greek inhabitant, whom I saw here, assured me that this alone imposed upon the place an annual tax to the amount of 80,000 piastres. The severity of the Vizier towards Delvinaki, has its origin, as far as I can learn, in his wish to obtain the proprietorship of the town, which has hitherto been refused by the inhabitants, partly perhaps from the inadequacy of the sum offered for its purchase. While on the one hand this bears the marks of unwarranted oppression, on the other it shews a somewhat more regulated despotism than might be expected from other acts of the man.
Delvinaki has been considered, by some writers, as the ancient Omphalium, one of the cities of Chaonia; but I could not observe any remains of antiquity upon the spot; and though the surmise is a possible one, I am not aware of any circumstances which are sufficient to attest it. There is reason to believe, from the description of Livy, that the place called the Castra Pyrrhi was in this vicinity, where Philip, King of Macedon, defeated by T. Q. Flaminius on the banks of the Aous or Viosa [Vjosa], halted the first night of his march towards Mount Lingon. The boundary of the modern Albania, as defined by population and language, is considered to pass through the vicinity of Delvinaki, extending afterwards to the south, to include the district of Suli. The women of this town and the adjacent country are celebrated for their beauty, a circumstance which struck me in the peasants I met on the road, before hearing the remark from others. Their dress is simple: the red Albanian cap on the head, generally decorated with coins; their hair flowing loosely from beneath; a woollen vest variously coloured, and a petticoat reaching little below the knees, with stockings curiously worked in thread of different colours.
My route from Delvinaki was to the city of Argyro-Kastro; from this place a journey of seven or eight hours; and distant from Ioannina about fifty miles. We descended again to the direct road, which we had quitted in coming to the town, along a deep chasm, through which a stream runs to join another coming from Nemertzka; the two united, flowing a few miles below, into the river of Argyro-Kastro. Five miles from Delvinaki we came to the Khan of Xerovaltos [Ksirovalto], so named from an extensive tract of marshy land adjoining, which has lately been drained by the orders of the Vizier, and brought into a state of rich and profitable cultivation. This was the first specimen of agricultural improvement, on a large scale, I had seen in Albania. From the basin-like form of the marsh, and the height of the surrounding hills, it may be conjectured, perhaps, that it was formerly a lake; the waters of which were carried off through some newly-formed channel.
Ascending a low ridge beyond this place, we came at once in sight of the great plains or vale of Deropuli [Dropull], stretched out beneath us, and forming a landscape of the most magnificent kind. Of this vale I had a distant view the evening before in approaching Delvinaki; but the Pass of Xerovaltos forms the principal access to it from the south. It gradually extended itself before us, as we continued our route to the village of Palaia-Episcopi [Peshkëpia], situate on the declivity of the mountains which form its eastern boundary, at the distance of a mile from the opening of the Pass. At this place I stopped some time to examine an old Greek church, deriving a very picturesque character from the wood surrounding it. An inscription I found on the wall, purported, if I rightly recollect, that the church was founded by Manuel Comnenus. A poor Greek priest, whom I found on the spot, told me that it had been built many thousand years ago. I reminded him of the date of the Christian religion, to which of course he had nothing to say in reply.
The view from this point, of the vale of Deropuli, is amongst the finest I have seen in Greece. In the whole landscape there is an openness and magnificence, and a simplicity at the same time in its features, which is in some measure characteristic of Grecian scenery. The vale has an uninterrupted rectilinear extent of nearly thirty miles, from south-south-east to north-north-west, with a breadth varying from three to six miles. For the whole of this length its boundaries are formed by two vast mountain-ridges, parallel and singularly uniform in their outline; and, in many places, as I should conceive, not less than 4000 feet in height. The effect of elevation, however, is greatly increased by the abruptness of their declivity, and by the perfect and unbroken level of the valley, even to the very base of the hills. In the eastern ridge particularly, the higher part of the mountain is almost perpendicular to a great depth, with a steep and uninterrupted descent afterwards to the level of the plain. Of the chain forming the western barrier, the highest points are to the south, where they are extremely lofty and rugged, and connect themselves with the mountains which follow the course of the Kalama. Carrying the eye northwards along this chain, two passes are seen through it; one of which forms the road to Delvino, Butrinto [Butrint], and other places near the coast of Albania. Still further to the north, the same mountains assume a very singular outline, exhibiting a continuous declivity of almost bare rock, from their summit very nearly to the level of the vale; this declivity intersected by many deep gullies; and the intervening ridges terminating by bluff faces. The appearance is similar, on a larger scale, to that of the ridge on the corresponding side of the vale of Paramithia; while the chain of mountains on the opposite side greatly resembles that between Paramithia and Aia-Glyky. Whether this coincidence, which extends also the direction of the two vales, and the mineralogical character of the hills, be owing to one and the same physical agency, I will not pretend to determine, but it seems very probable.
The whole country between Ioannina and Argyro-Kastro is calcareous, and containing a great quantity of flint, generally in the form of layers. In many places the limestone is remarkably slaty in structure and there is the appearance, of much silex in its composition. The stratification of the rock is very distinct in the abrupt terminations of the western ridge, which bounds the vale just described.
The common name of this vale-district is Deropuli; and the same name is given to the river flowing through it, which sometimes, also, is called the river of Argyro-Kastro, from the situation of this city near its banks (The Greeks call a particular place on the western side of the vale by the name of Drinopolis). Its ancient name, until it joins the Viosa near Tepeleni, is not well ascertained. It has been called the Celydnus; but there is more reason to suppose that this river had its course through the country, further to the west and north.
The vale of Deropuli, or Argyro-Kastro, is luxuriantly fertile in every part of its extent; and the industry of a numerous population has been exerted in bringing it to a high state of culture. The tillage here, generally speaking, is remarkable for its neatness. The products are chiefly corn, maize, tobacco, and rice. The quantity of grain produced is very large, and much of it is carried down to the coast for export. The tobacco of this district is in great repute, and generally esteemed the best in Albania. Besides the produce of the plains, the large flocks of sheep, which feed upon the declivity of the mountains, form an important article of property, and afford much wool for the coarse manufactures of the country.
This great vale is perhaps the most populous district in Albania. The inhabitants are collected into numerous towns and villages, which are situated on the lower declivity of the mountains on each side; or on the western side generally at the opening of the deep glens which descend to the plain. I counted, and obtained the names of nearly thirty of these towns or villages; the most considerable of which, after Argyro-Kastro, is that of Libochovo [Libohova], containing about 1,500 houses; several others contain as many as 500 or 600. Including Argyro-Kastro, it would probably not be too much to estimate the population of this vale-district at nearly 100,000 souls. The situation of many of the towns is very fine; especially on the eastern side, where the declivity of the hills is covered with wood, and richly cultivated. The Albanians, inhabiting these hills, are generally known among their countrymen, by the name of Liutzides, as one of their distinctions of tribe. The proprietors of the land in the vale reside chiefly in the larger of the towns bordering upon it. The tenure, on which the land is let, is one very common in this country; the tenant paying to the landlord half the produce of the ground, or its equivalent in value.
My route lay northwards along the vale to Argyro-Kastro; and on the western side of the river. A striking feature on the opposite side is a great break in the mountains (the only one in an extent of 30 miles) through which a large stream flows to join the Deropuli. Through this break, which is bounded on each side by immense cliffs, formed by the section of the ridge, is seen the western front of the great mountains of Nemertzka, presenting at this time to the eye an unbroken surface of snow. The town of Libochovo stands on the ascent of the mountains, at the entrance of this break. It covers a great extent of surface; and, like Paramithia, with so much difference of level, that the upper parts of the town are probably 500 feet above the lower. The houses, which are many of them large, are surrounded in general by orange, olive, or pomegranate-trees, so as to give to the place a very pleasing aspect. There is a large Seraglio here, inhabited by the only surviving sister of Ali Pasha. It is in a fine position, and environed by low walls.
Opposite Libochovo, and a little to the right of the road along the western side of the valley, I found the ruins of a small theatre; probably a Roman edifice, being built in great part of Roman brick, and with cement. The measurement I made of its dimensions was lost with my other papers; but the building in its best state, must have been small, and without any great beauty. I sought for inscriptions, or something which might explain its name or history, but could discover nothing. That it was a theatre is perfectly distinct from the ruins; though the situation, on the dead level of a plain, is not an usual one for such edifices, and there are no remains, as far as I know, of any ancient town in the vicinity. I was surprized to find that no one at Ioannina seemed to be aware of the existence of this ruin.
I arrived at Argyro-Kastro in the afternoon. This city, one of the largest and most important in Albania, is very singularly placed on the declivity of the mountains, on the western side of the valley, at a place where several deep ravines approach each other. The town consists of several distinct portions; groups of houses standing on separate eminences, or covering the summits of the narrow ridges which divide the ravines. The number of habitations altogether, is estimated at 4000; which gives a population of about 20,000 souls. Almost the whole of this population is Turkish, or of Albanians, professing the Mahometan religion; and it is said that there are not more than 140 Greek families in the city.
The mansions of Gjirokastra
(Photo: Robert Elsie, March 2008)
The situation of Argyro-Kastro, on a surface so extremely unequal, gives an air of magnificence to the place, which effect is increased by the size of some of the principal Turkish houses of the city. Upon the central ridge of the three, on which the greater part of the town is situated, stands the new castle; which, when completed, will be a building of great extent, and very strong in reference to Turkish warfare. When Ali Pasha obtained possession of Argyro-Kastro, in the early part of 1812, he commenced this work, on the site of the old castle; and has carried it on since that period, with extreme rapidity; nearly 2000 labourers being constantly occupied on the spot. This is a favourite object with him, and before I quitted Ioannina, he repeatedly desired me to pay attention to it, and to suggest any thing which I thought might improve the work. Within the castle, he is erecting also a new Seraglio on a large scale; and it is probable that hereafter, he will every year spend some time at this place. The conquest of Argyro-Kastro, and its annexed territory, I formerly mentioned, as of much importance to the interests of Ali Pasha. His war with Ibrahim Pasha delayed this event till the winter of 1811-12; when, without much blood-shed, he obtained possession both of this district, and of the Pashalik of Delvino to the west; thereby rendering his dominions more compact; obtaining a considerable extent of sea coast; several large and populous towns; and a great increase of revenue. Previously to his attack upon Argyro-Kastro, he had contrived, under various pretences, to inveigle away the bravest and most warlike of the inhabitants, in consequence of which, the city surrendered after a short and inefficient contest. The Bey of the place was taken as a prisoner to Ioannina, where, I was told, that he still remained in captivity as well as his neighbour Mustapha Pasha of Delvino. Not only the political power, but all the property of the city was surrendered to Ali Pasha, on which account, the immediate taxes levied upon the place are by no means so great as upon many other cities in his dominions. The acquisition of this territory has naturally afforded him much gratification, and he repeatedly spoke to me of it in a manner which strikingly evinced this. His youngest and favourite son, Sali Bey, has been sent to reside in Argyro-Kastro, nominally as the governor, though not more than eleven years of age. This has probably been done with the view of accustoming him to the usages of the Albanians, whom he may hereafter command, and also to preserve him from the greater effeminacy of an Ioannina life.
On my arrival at Argyro-Kastro, I went directly to the castle, and waited upon Hassan Aga the commandant, and Albanese governor of Sali Bey. He is a native of Tepeleni, an elderly man, but of masculine and striking appearance. In his apartment I found four or five of the principal Turks of the city, habited with great richness; one of whom seemed to be a person placed here to attend and direct the education of Sali Bey. The approaches to the apartment were crowded with Albanese soldiers. I had particular letters from the Vizier to Hassan Aga, who received me with much attention; appointed me a lodging with one of the first Greek families of the place, and in the course of the evening sent me by his attendants, a present of two sheep, two loaves of sugar, and a large bag of coffee.
From his apartment I went to visit Sali Bey, who had expressed a desire to see me. I found him in a room neither large nor splendid; a part, perhaps, of the policy of his education. He was surrounded by a group of Albanians, remarkable from their size and rugged masculine aspect, most of them standing bare-footed before their young master, but otherwise richly dressed and armed. The youth had risen before I entered the apartment, to receive me standing. Having exchanged salutations, we sat down, and he received the reverences of my guards, who, advancing in succession from the other end of the room, bowed themselves twice forwards before they reached his couch, touching the ground each time with their hands; then, when they came up to him, put one knee to the floor, and kissing his robe; raised his hand and touched their foreheads with it. It was amusing to see the air of juvenile majesty, with which the young Bey received their obeisances, as if long accustomed to command. He was habited in a purple pelisse; on his head the red Albanese cap; in his belt a dagger and pistols, adapted to his size, and richly ornamented. His countenance was animated and intelligent, somewhat resembling that of his father, particularly in the forehead. His manner too, was much more formed than is usual at this age; an air of manliness and independence, about it, without any childish intrusiveness. He asked, soon after I came in, several pertinent questions respecting England; its distance from Albania, and my travels in the latter country. He then allowed the conversation to be taken up by his Turkish governor, continuing to listen attentively to all that was said. This Turk, who was a man of some intelligence, renewed the subject of England, and asked various questions respecting the number and population of our cities; the size of London, &c.; generally following my answers by some comparison with similar objects in Turkey; more fairly made, however, than is usual with the people of this country. During the conversation, coffee and pipes were brought to us by the attendants,—excepting only Sali Bey, who had not yet taken up the luxury of the Turkish pipe.
The education of this young boy, if he lives to have command in Albania, is probably well adapted to his future life. At Argyro-Kastro, besides hardening himself by manly exercises, he is acquiring knowledge of the Romaic, Turkish, and Albanian, the three languages spoken by his father's subjects. His mother resides in the Seraglio at Tepeleni, twenty miles from Argyro-Kastro. I was informed that she was rarely allowed to receive visits from her son, from the fear that she might weaken him by ill-timed indulgences. The destination which the Vizier gives to Sali Bey in the future government of Albania I have no means of knowing; and the future fortune of the latter will probably depend in great measure on the length of his father's life, and on the situation of Mouctar and Veli Pasha at the time of Ali's decease.
From the castle I descended to the lodging appointed for me, along streets so steep, that it was necessary to dismount from horseback to proceed with safety. This is the case throughout a great part of the city, so singular is its situation among ridges, and acclivities. My Greek host and his family received me with a multitude of attentions; and in the course of the evening several other Greeks of the city came in to visit me. These people have a courteous and agreeable manner towards strangers, which I have scarcely seen equalled elsewhere. A quickness of comprehension belongs to the Greek, which enables him speedily to see, and adapt himself to varieties of character,—a feature which is doubtless in part, though not wholly, derived from their long and severe political subjection. It is by his quickness and facility in these points that he is able to meet and counteract his Turkish oppressors, and to acquire an influence over them which even affects many of the public concerns of the Turkish empire.
My host spoke much to me of the improvement in the situation of the Greeks of Argyro-Kastro, since the possession of the place by Ali Pasha, owing to the suppression of the inordinate power of the Turks in the city. This might possibly be very true, but there was some reason to believe the statement an interested one, as it was accompanied with solicitation from my host that I would speak in his favour to the Vizier.
I visited with some attention the different parts of the new works at the castle. The hill on which these stand approaches at the summit to a very narrow ridge, so as to render the included area of the castle very long and narrow. The walls of the new edifice were now completed in the greater part of their extent, though scarcely nine months had elapsed since the buildings were begun. They are of great thickness, but like most of the undertakings of the Vizier of similar kind, have been executed too rapidly, as appears in various parts of the work. His temper is one that does not endure long delay, and the bidding and execution are required to go nearly together. Though the position of the castle is on high and steep ground, it appears to be commanded by some of the neighbouring heights, on which parts of the town are situated. I mentioned this to Ali Pasha on my return to Ioannina, but it was not easy to make him understand all the effects of European artillery in the conduct of a siege. Several of the guns which I saw lying within the castle, ready to be mounted, were of English manufacture.
Of the new Seraglio which the Vizier is building here the Haram is the only part in an advanced state, but this too has been executed with a very unreasonable rapidity, even the painting of some of the apartments being already completed. It is in the usual style of Turkish palaces, and might have been handsome, but for the trifling gaudiness of the interior decorations, which are utterly inconsistent with good taste, and in general executed in a careless manner.
On the 15th, after making another visit to the Commandant, Hassan Aga, I continued my journey. The direct route from Argyro-Kastro to Tepeleni would have been down the valley of the Deropuli, which a few miles to the north of the former city loses its character of a broad and luxuriant plain, and is suddenly contracted by the approach of the mountains towards each other. By the direction of the Vizier, however, I took a circuitous route to Gardiki, the unfortunate city which he destroyed in the spring of 1812, and which I should scarcely have thought of visiting, had he not himself admitted this as a point in my journey. When giving the reader a sketch of the life of Ali Pasha, I briefly alluded to this melancholy event, and to the cause which produced it at so very distant a period of time. As it forms, however, the latest circumstance in the history of Ali, and one that strongly illustrates his character, I shall give the narrative more in detail, as I received it from persons who were eye-witnesses to many parts of the event.
Gardiki [Kardhiq] was a large city, about ten miles to the west or north-west of Argyro-Kastro, with a population of Turks and Albanians, who had much property in the surrounding country, and were extremely independent and warlike in their habits. In the early part of Ali Pasha's life, when relying chiefly on the zeal and resolution of his mother, the Gardikiotes became his enemies, and endeavoured to dispossess him of his small territory. On a certain occasion, when with his mother and sister he was passing the night at some village in this part of the country, they laid a plot for surprising him and taking away his life. Ali, with difficulty, escaped, but his mother and sister were made prisoners, and conducted to Gardiki, where, after being exposed for thirty days to various outrages, particularly offensive to the usage of the Turks with respect to women, they were ignominiously sent away. This event never left the recollection of the family. His mother, it is said, did not cease, as long as she lived, to urge him to accomplish some work of revenge; and the influence she had over his mind was aided by his own temper, and by the opposition the Gardikiotes continued to offer to his growing power.
The situation, however, of Gardiki, and the protection afforded it by the Pashas of Berat and Delvino, made it impracticable for Ali to execute his designs till the beginning of 1812, when the subjugation of Argyro-Kastro, Delvino, &c. enabled him to surround Gardiki with his troops, and thus to prevent the escape of the inhabitants. It is not impossible that he might have taken the place before, but in this case many of them would have escaped, and he would thus have been foiled in his full work of vengeance. Previously to his attack, he had contrived, by delusive means, to retain almost all the Gardikiotes within the city, with the expectation that they should not suffer more than the other conquered territory. His troops, to the number, it is said, of about 15,000, having surrounded the place, orders were given to attack it. The Turkish officers of his army, either in consequence of the vigorous defence of the people, or because they were unwilling to take a city, in the safety of which the Porte had directly interested itself, and where the inhabitants, though Mussulmans, were likely to be eventually sacrificed, delayed their operations, and made little progress in the siege. The Vizier, it appears, had begun to be irritated by this tardiness, when Athanasius Bia came forward, and offered with a certain number of Albanians, to take the place by storm though its position on the acclivity of a conical hill, rendered this an enterprise of much difficulty. His offer was accepted, and a single night put Gardiki into the Vizier's hands; after an interval of more than 40 years from the commission of the original offence.
The inhabitants, who might be 5000 or 6000 in number, were at first distributed into different places in the vicinity, with the exception of the Beys and principal people who were sent to Ioannina. On the morning of the 15th of March, exactly one year before the day when I visited the remains of Gardiki, nearly 800 of the Gardikiotes were brought into the area of a large Khan, a few miles to the north-east of Argyro-Kastro. The Vizier himself came in his carriage to the gate of the Khan, which was every-where surrounded by his troops. The names of a certain number of the Gardikiotes were called out, who were allowed to depart from the area, and transported with the remainder of their countrymen, into a sort of slavery in other parts of Albania. Those left within the Khan, who are said to have been about 790 in number, were tied together with cords, to prevent the efforts that might be suggested by despair. They were all men, and selected, as it appears, either as having actually been in Gardiki at the time when the mother and sister of Ali were imprisoned there, or as the direct descendants of those who bore part in the outrage. Orders were given to the soldiers who surrounded them, standing on the high walls of the Khan, that when a signal was made by the report of a fusil, they should fire upon the prisoners in the area. This fusil is said to have been discharged by the Vizier himself, as he sat in his carriage. The work of slaughter instantly began, and was continued without intermission either by the musket or sabre, till not a single one of the Gardikiotes remained alive. The fate of some was delayed a short time by their escape into certain wooden buildings within the area. The Vizier, however, who remained himself on the spot, till the whole was completed, ordered fire to be put round these buildings, which drove the unhappy victims from their place of concealment. Some of them becoming desperate, took up stones, with which they wounded several of the soldiers employed in their destruction. At length they all lay on the ground; every opening to the area was closed up; and the bodies were left without burial, to attest yet more strongly the vengeance which led to the act.
On the same day, the 36 Gardikiotes, who had been carried to Ioannina and treated there with a delusive kindness, were transported to the other side of the lake, and shared the same fate as the rest. Even here the work was not wholly completed. I was informed that one or two of the principal inhabitants of Gardiki, who had been absent at the time this city was taken, were afterwards seduced to return, were murdered, and their bodies sent to the spot where the others had perished.
In returning to Ioannina from the north, I visited the Khan, where this melancholy event occurred. One of my Albanian guards, Constantine, had been among the soldiers employed in the destruction of the Gardikiotes, a circumstance of which he spoke with much seeming unconcern. I found the area closed by high walls on every side. Over the former gate a stone tablet appeared, on which were inscribed a number of Romaic verses, commemorating the event. This inscription, placed here by the orders of the Vizier, I could not read from its height above the ground, but I was told that it related several of the circumstances, and concluded by stating, that such should be the fate of all who injured the family of Ali Pasha. With some difficulty I got over the walls into the area, I found every where scattered upon the surface, the remains of the unfortunate victims who perished on the spot, as well as other memorials of the manner in which this massacre was effected.
It would appear, that Ali Pasha, if not considering this act as a meritorious one, in reference to the memory of his mother, yet certainly is insensible to any odium attaching to it. Besides the inscription just referred to, the event is fully recorded in a poetical history of his life, to which he has given a sanction for publication. Nor is it likely he would have directed me to the places, bearing visible testimony to it, had he conceived that the action would have been of bad repute to an European judgment.
The route from Argyro-Kastro to Gardiki, carried me round the northern extremity of the great ridge, which forms the western boundary of the vale of the Deropuli. This extremity is striking from its abruptness, and from its complete conical form, when seen in front. On the declivity of these mountains, to the north of Argyro-Kastro, is the large town of Maschuri [Mashkullora] with several smaller places most of which have greatly suffered, and some of them been wholly destroyed, from their connection with the Gardikiotes. A singular natural phenomenon occurs at a place called Vero [Ujë i ftohtë], in the same vicinity where a river, quite as large as the Avon at Bath, bursts at once from the ground, and falling over a platform of rock some feet in height, joins the Deropuli half a mile below. The small circular pool, out of which this river rises, at the foot of a limestone cliff, is of such depth, that the issue of this great body of water scarcely produces a ripple on the surface.
At the termination of the mountains, just noticed, a valley opens up to the west, bringing down a small river to join that of Argyro-Kastro. Following the course of this stream for a few miles, we came in sight of Gardiki; situated on the steep acclivity of a double conical hill, with high mountains in the immediate back ground; the castle crowning one summit of the hill; on the other nearly a thousand houses, all built of stone, lofty and deriving an air of magnificence from their situation. As I looked upon Gardiki in the distance, it appeared to me one of the finest towns I had seen in Turkey. The near approach to it, was a mournful contradiction to the distant aspect. None of the usual busy sounds of a city met the ear; but there was a desolate stillness and silence, which gave an impression I shall not easily forget. I entered the streets; all here was vacant and deserted. The doors and windows of the houses were open; but no living sounds came from within. The ruins of an ancient city display the hand of time, gradually working its decline, but this shewed itself as the effect of some sudden calamity, which at once had fallen upon the place; bringing to mind the enchanted city in one of the Arabian tales, whereas a punishment, all the inhabitants had been changed into stone. It would not be easy, indeed, to find a fitter subject for melancholy than a city still retaining the exterior of all that denotes it such; but the inhabitants of which have suddenly, and entirely disappeared.
As I walked through the silent streets, I saw a few peasants here and there employed in taking down the wooden beams of the larger houses, to transport them to the new Seraglio at Argyro-Kastro. The Vizier, it seems, has thrown a curse upon the place, and will not allow it as long as his own power remains, to become again the habitation of man. The Gardikiotes who escaped from death, were dispersed among different towns, many of them to Prevesa, and Vonitza; and none have been permitted to resume their habitations in the depopulated city.
From Gardiki I returned down the river, to the place where it forms its junction with the Deropuli with the view of examining a ruin on a flat peninsula at the confluence of the two streams. A square area, each side of which may be about 60 yards, is enclosed by a wall of Roman brick, of considerable thickness. The situation and form indicate some fortress, or point of defence; but nothing further remains, to illustrate the former history of the spot. Adjoining it is the village of Neochori; lately built by the command of the Vizier, in consequence of the destruction of the population, which before cultivated the lands in this district.
I slept at Stipesi [Shtëpëz], a small village near the place, where the river quits the broad valley of Argyro-Kastro, to enter the more contracted defiles, through which it flows northwards to join the Viosa near Tepeleni. The mountains, contracting the valley, are in fact a continuation of those which previously bounded it, but here without any intervening level. They do not, however, form precipitous cliffs in their whole ascent; but rising steeply for two or three miles from the river, are terminated towards their summit, by abrupt ridges of great height. Several towns and villages appear on their declivity, the largest of which is Lekli [Lekël]; the native place of Athanasius, and Lucas Bia. The former has a large house, and much property in this district.
As a landscape, the approach to Tepeleni is noble. A mile or two to the south of the town is the confluence of the Deropuli and the Viosa, forming in their junction a river not less than 350 yards in width, rapid and deep. This river retains the name of Viosa to the sea, a derivation probably from that of Aous, which was the ancient name of the stream. The branch, which is called Viosa, previously to the junction of the two rivers, descends towards Tepeleni from the south-east, approaching its point of confluence through the vast mountain-defiles of Klissoura [Këlcyra], a scenery full of boldness and majesty. This river rises by several streams from the Pindus chain, in the country to the north of Metzovo. Flowing in a direction north and west, it receives streams from Tzekel, Samarina, and other parts of the same chain, passes through the mountainous district called Charamoutates, and by the large town of Konitza situated near its right bank. The mountains of Charamoutates may all be considered as branches of Pindus connected with Nemertzka, and the other ridges to the west. This district is said to contain about thirty Albanian villages, the inhabitants of which were formerly Christians, but for the most part have become Mahometans during the last century. I heard an anecdote regarding one of these villages, the name of which I do not recollect; — that, after the service of the Greek church was over, on some day of festival, the people assembled round their priests, told them that they and their fathers had been praying in this form for one year after another; that they found their situation in no degree bettered by it and that they were determined, in a body, to change their religion; insisting, moreover, that the priests themselves should follow their example (I was told that in the district of Charamoutates, there are some appearances of sulphur and inflammable vapour, probably resembling those near Mosiari).
Lower down than Charamoutates, the Viosa passes the town of Permeti [Përmet], containing about 700 houses, and flowing through the defiles of Klissoura, forms its junction with the river of Argyro-Kastro, just above Tepeleni. The latter town, the birth-place of Ali Pasha, is situated on the western or left bank of the river, on a lofty peninsular eminence, formed by the junction of the Bentza [Bënça] and the Viosa. The great Seraglio of the Vizier, almost equal in extent to that of Ioannina stands on the brow of a rock, impending over the waters of the latter river. A large mosque is near to it; and below are the remains of a bridge, destroyed by the violence of the winter floods in the Viosa. This bridge has been broken down two or three times, notwithstanding many efforts of the Vizier to render it durable. It was last carried away by the floods in 1812; and no attempts have since been made to repair it. When I returned to Ioannina, Ali Pasha asked my opinion on the subject. I represented to him generally that I thought him too rapid in the execution of all such undertakings, and proposed at the same time, a bridge of boats, as being on the whole best adapted to the place. He said that this had before been suggested, but that he wished to erect some more durable monument of himself at the place of his nativity. He had been told, he added, by some European engineer, that it was impossible, but still was anxious to attempt it, should there be a chance of success.
Footbridge over the Vjosa,
seen from Tepelena
(Photo: Robert Elsie, March 2008)
The town of Tepeleni is small and wretched and the Seraglio, and occasional residence of the Vizier, alone give consequence to it. There is a vulgar superstition existing here, that the place is destined not to contain more than a hundred houses; and that every one erected beyond this number is destroyed by some mischance. This belief is singular in a town where double this number might easily be counted. The population is almost exclusively of Albanians, many of whom, from the partiality of Ali to his birth-place, and his confidence in their attachment, have obtained valuable offices in different parts of his dominions.
I proceeded to the Seraglio to deliver my letters to Yusuf Aga, who commands here in the absence of the Vizier. This man, a Moor by birth, is one of the most confidential servants of Ali Pasha, and possesses an authority in this district which is only controlled by that of his master. He has obtained this influence, less perhaps from the length of his services (though he has been with Ali since the boyhood of the latter), than from a ferocity of temper which has made him capable of any service required of him. It was this man, as I learnt on good authority, who, twenty years ago, roasted alive a person that had rendered himself odious to the Vizier, and murdered his whole family; an anecdote to which I formerly referred. But a few days before my arrival at Tepeleni, Yusuf had stabbed a man with his own hand; on what account I had not the means of learning. This sanguinary being is now not less than ninety years of age. His trust at Tepeleni is a very important one; a large portion of the treasure of the Vizier being deposited, as it is said, at this place. I found him sitting in a small and dirty apartment of the Seraglio, meanly dressed himself, but surrounded by numerous, and richly dressed Albanian guards. Seven or eight dogs and cats were running about the room; some of the dogs covered with cloth jackets. There was something strangely uncouth about the whole scene; particularly in the old man himself, who, bending as he was from age, yet inspired a sort of terror from his dark and strongly contracted face, and the occasional mixture of savageness and dissimulation in his features. He received me, however, with great attention, read the letter of the Vizier, and told me that he was ordered to give every assistance to my journey. Watching his face, while he was reading, I was at one moment a little alarmed by a sudden look he directed towards me, which was immediately followed by his whispering to an Albanian soldier who stood near him. This man left the apartment, and did not again return. There was probably nothing in this and I might not have observed it but for the peculiar expression of the old Aga at the time.
The Seraglio of Tepeleni.
Sketch by Henry Holland 1813
Having sat with him half an hour, he directed his attendants to take me to an apartment in one of the great galleries which had been prepared for me. The Seraglio of Tepeleni is on the site of that which originally belonged to Veli Pasha, the father of Ali. Some of the rooms in it are of great size, and sumptuously adorned; but the chief peculiarity is its fine situation, overhanging the river Viosa, and surrounded by the mountain ridges which form the valley of this river and of the Bentza. The Harem, which, from its exterior, appears to be very extensive, is on the northern side of the Seraglio, everywhere guarded by lofty walls, and particularly where it is open to the valley of the Bentza. Here the wife of Ali Pasha, mother of Sali Bey, has her residence, together with sixty other females, chiefly in the capacity of her attendants. This lady, it being made known to her that I was a friend of the Vizier,sent to compliment me on my arrival and to express her intention of preparing a dinner for me. In consequence of this message, I was obliged to continue fasting for two or three hours, fearful of doing any thing which might seem incorrect in relation to the intended compliment. At the expiration of this time, I saw the gates opening, which conduct to the enclosure of the Haram, and several black slaves appeared, bearing a long succession of dishes towards my apartment in the gallery. The table apparatus was as usual, simple in the extreme, consisting of little more than a tray of napkins, two or three spoons, and a single fork. About twenty dishes were successively set before me. The meats, chiefly mutton or fowl, were prepared for the most part in the form of stews: in the sweet things, honey was a principal ingredient, according to the Turkish custom. One large glass vessel upon the table was filled with milk and almonds. While at dinner a man came in, an Italian by birth, who had been with the French armies in Spain, had been taken prisoner by the English, entered into the Corsican Rangers, and deserted from Santa Maura to the coast of Albania. He now, together with another Italian of the same fortunes, superintends the gardens of the Vizier at Tepeleni, receiving in this situation a piastre a-day, besides his food and clothing.
After dinner I conveyed to the Haram, through Yusuf Aga, my acknowledgments for the honour done me. In the evening, a splendid apparel of bed-clothes was sent me from the same quarter, which, as usual, were spread on one of the sofas of the apartment. The outer covering was of purple velvet, very richly worked with gold embroidery. The sheets, which were of muslin, had long fringes; in addition to which, flowers were here and there worked it them, with variously coloured threads, producing an effect much more agreeable to the sense of sight than to that of touch.
The Bentza, the river which joins the Viosa at Tepeleni, rises among the high mountains to the west of this place, and flows through a very profound valley contracted by cliffs of immense height, which display a beautiful stratification of the limestone composing them. The village of Bentza has an extraordinary situation at the foot of these cliffs, two or three miles above Tepeleni. Some miles higher up the valley, and likewise in a very singular position is the town of Nivitza [Nivica], containing more than 600 houses. At this place there are considerable ruins which from the description, I judge to be of Cyclopian structure, and belonging to one of the ancient Chaonian cities. In the same mountain region, there are several other villages, chiefly peopled by shepherds, the flocks being very large and numerous upon these mountains. I was informed that nearly 30,000 sheep belong to the village of Bentza alone, and a proportionate number to other places in the vicinity.
The ancient geography of this district labours under the same obscurity as other parts of the interior of Epirus. The identity of the river Viosa, with the Aous or Aias of antiquity, may be regarded indeed as certain; but the site of Antigonia, Phoenice, Hecatompedon, and other cities of this region, can by no means be equally fixed. Meletius has spoken of Argyro-Kastro as corresponding with the position of Antigonia. I am not aware of any remains on the spot to prove this; but if it is considered that the contracted part of the valley between Argyro-Kastro and Tepeleni forms the Stena or Pass, which is described by Livy and Polybius as near Antigonia, then it is possible that the opinion may be an accurate one (Polybius speaks of this Pass as the ton par’ Antigoneian stenon, Lib. ii. 5. Livy uses the expression “ad occupandas quae ad Antigoniam fauces sunt: sthena vocant Graecii.” Lib. xxxii. c. 5). From the description of Livy, in his account of the warfare of the Romans with the last Philip of Macedon, in this part of Epirus, it is certainly probable that this is the pass referred to; though it is also possible that it may be the defile of Klissura, and the mountains Aeropus and Asnaus those which are actually seen, forming the boundaries of this defile. The contracted passes, however, of the two rivers, near their junction are so entirely formed in the same range of mountains, that the question is of little importance; and the narrative Livy gives of the surprise, defeat, and flight of Philip, before the army of T. Q. Flaminius, is easily comprehended from the general topography of the spot.
I should venture, though with caution, to surmise from a passage in Polybius (lib. ii. c. 5.) that the site of Phoenice, which he describes as one of the strongest and most powerful cities of Epirus, may have been somewhere in the district adjoining Tepeleni. The modern Albanian name of the district, which includes Tepeleni, is taken from that of the tribe inhabiting it. This tribe, called the Toskides, occupy the country on both sides of the Viosa, from its junction with the river of Argyro-Kastro to its mouth, stretching northwards also, so as to include Berat, Durazzo, and the extensive plains which here border upon the Adriatic sea.
[Excerpts from Henry Holland: Travels in the Ionian Isles, Albania, Thessaly, Macedonia, etc. during the Years 1812-1813 (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme and Brown, 1815), p. 99-199, 475-500.]
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