After the death of her father, Edith Durham took over the responsibility of caring for her sick mother for several years. The doctor recommended that they take a holiday abroad.
They undertook a sea voyage along the Dalmatian coast, from Trieste to Kotor and overland to Cetinje, which was then the capital of Montenegro.
Edith Durham travelled extensively in the Balkans for the next 20 years, focusing mainly on Albania. In this room she wrote for the magazine Man and became a member of the Royal Anthropological Institute.

Among other things, she wrote seven books on Balkan issues, of which “High Albania (1909)” (High Albania (1909) is the best known. It is still considered the most important guide to the customs and society of the highlands of Northern Albania.

Here are some quotations/chapters of her book…

The Rozafa Castle was once the last Christian stronghold (under Venetian rule) before the Ottoman Empire completely subjugated Albania to its rule. On this impressive fortress, the Albanians resisted a siege for three years, keeping the Ottoman troops busy. Some historians claim that Rozafa prevented the Ottomans from advancing further into Europe.

From the main viewpoint of Rozafa Castle, one can look into each of the valleys described in Durham’s descriptions. The ascent from the foot of the fortress to its highest viewpoint, where the text is located, illustrates what “the perspectives of everything […] depend entirely on the point from which it [everything] is viewed”. This passage also makes clear the attitude she took during her travels through the mountains and the importance she gave to the voice of the people she met.

“The land north of Shkodra, called the Great Highlands, is home to five great tribes: Hoti, Gruda, Kastrati, Skreli and Kilmeni. It is part of the massif of Montenegro – a grey wilderness of bare stone called Karst, which shines overwhelmingly in the midsummer sun and fights the heat with ferocious strength. At dawn, it takes on a wondrous blue with mauve shadows and even when it is wet it has the colour of heavy black-violet thunderclouds. Very little of it is arable. Vast areas are without water, entirely dependent on rainfall – a painful wilderness, the bare bones of a half-created world.

The whole region consists mainly of two long, deep valleys and their high pastures, which form their valley watersheds. One is in the valley of Tsem, a fast, never drying up river that runs parallel to it near the Montenegrin border and flows into the lake of Shkodra.  The other one is the one of the “Dry Current”, which rarely has water, but in earlier times must have had a lot of water, because it dug a deep canyon further down. Far above its course the “Dry Current” has a large bed of water polished rocks. The peaks that protrude from the mountain range on the left side of the river are, roughly speaking, the boundaries of the Great Highlands and are called the Lower Pulati Group and Shala. On its other side, the Great Highlands border on Lake Shkodra and the Montenegrin border (a purely political and not at all ethnographic line). To the north is the Prokletija mountain range (“cursed”, a name often mistakenly given by travellers to the Northern Albanian Alps), which separates it from the Gusinje region.

At the Great Highlands, I paused – not to look at the mountains, but at life, history, the world, and the great unknown as it looks at the mountain man. […] World peace is far away. But the view of everything, including life and modern politics, depends entirely on the angle from which it is viewed. […].” (Mary Edith Durham, High Albania, p.17-18)

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Eglant Toragjini


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