Trip to Peja and the Pec Patriarchate

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Trip to Peja and the Pec Patriarchate

This weekend I took a trip to the town of Peja, about a 2 hour bus ride from Prizren. I found the actual city of Peja to be not that interesting. During the war, almost the entire city was burned to shreds. So most of the current architecture is modern and the city lacks a lot of its historic charm. However, Peja has one gem still intact: the Pec Patriarchate. This is a famous Serbian Orthodox monastery on the outskirts of town that was built in the 1200’s. All of the frescoes are original from the 13th and 14th centuries with minor restoration touch-ups. This style of fresco painting comes from the Byzantine Empire and Constantinople, which was the heart of the Eastern Orthodox religion. There were a number of states contemporary with the Byzantine Empire that were culturally influenced by it, without actually being a part of it. Kosovo (then a part of the greater republic of Serbia) was one of these states. After the fall of Constantinople in the 13th century, many of the most talented Byzantine artists left unemployed and found new patrons in the Balkans and in Serbia/Kosovo. We can see their expert depictions of religious icons on the walls and ceilings of the Pec Patriarchate in Peja. In fact, this complex is one of four Serbian Orthodox monasteries on the list of Kosovo’s UNESCO world heritage sites. Visiting this monastery was an eye-opening experience because it made me understand why Serbia has such a hard time giving up Kosovo as an independent country. The religious heritage of Serbia lies in Kosovo, in the many Christian Orthodox monasteries throughout the region. This is just one of the many problems that make up the greater conflict between the two countries.

My School

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My School

This is a picture of my school, Leke Dukagjini. It’s a 30 minute walk from my apartment because it sits on the outskirts of town. Many children from Prizren attend this school but also children from the villages outside of the city. For these reasons, there are over 3,000 students and 3 teaching shifts during the course of the day.

Teaching English as a Foreign Language in Middleschool

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Teaching English as a Foreign Language in Middleschool

As a part of my Fulbright grant I’m required to teach English as foreign language. I was placed in the biggest school in Prizren with over 3,000 students: Leke Dukagjini. I’m the English teacher’s assistant and I organize fun activities. It’s been a great experience so far. The kids LOVE having an American in the classroom. They are always asking to take pictures with me and are curious to hear about where I’m from. They love attention from me and constantly say “teacher, teacher, teacher!!! Hello! What’s up?!” By the time the lesson is done and it’s time to leave, I get a million kids saying “Bye teacher!!!!” In my opinion and from my own observations during this week, the teaching standards in Kosovo are very poor. Children learn English only from the book. Extra activities, room decorations, and handouts aren’t allowed and aren’t feasible. Sadly, English teaching consists of mostly lectures and bookwork. Today, I brought some fun English puzzles and a “Map of America” puzzle for the classrooms. They had a blast. We finished the rest of the time by playing a classic game of hangman. One student came up to me at the end of class and said, “You are a great teacher.”

Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour

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Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour

This is Prizren’s main Catholic church built in 1870. It’s right down the street from my apartment and is currently under restoration. I had to ask one of the sisters to open it for me. My guide book described it as a “fairly typical Italian-inspired building with three naves and marble-clad columns.” But when I visited the church, all of the columns were stripped of their marble and parts of the frescoes were deteriorating. It’s a sad sight to see. On the ceiling you will find two rows of saints depicted with objects of their martyrdom. On the back wall above the main entrance and in the choir area you will find depictions of two Albanian heroes, which was my favorite part.

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Beside Skenderbeu is a fresco of the great Transylvanian Ottoman-slayer, Janos Hunyadi who did Christianity a great favor by defeating Mehmed II’s army at Belgrade in 1456. The date 1456 is inscribed on the plaque depicted in the fresco below his portrait.

Early Christian Churches in Prizren

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Early Christian Churches in Kosovo

I did some exploring the other day in search of some art and architecture. There are usually two kinds of historic religious buildings in Prizren: mosques and Orthodox christian churches. Albanians from Kosovo follow the Muslim religion and Serbs follow the Orthodox christian religion. During the 2004 riots in Prizren between the Albanians and Serbs, many of these religious monuments were burned, destroyed, or seriously damaged. Each side was responsible for destructing the other’s religious monuments. As a result, many of these historic buildings have lost their grandeur or are constantly under restoration. Many churches are encircled with barbed wire or guarded by a policeman. Very frustrating when an art history major like myself can’t get in anywhere to see the inside. I found this church particularly interesting. It’s the Cathedral Church of Christ the Saviour dating from King Stefan Dusan’s rule around 1330. The complex consists of two parts, a small 14th century church with medieval frescoes and a larger extension with a belfry that was started in 1836 but was never finished. Before the end of my trip I’m making it my goal to get in there and see some frescoes!

First weekend in Prizren and coffee culture

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First weekend in Prizren and coffee culture

So I’ve left Pristina and have gotten settled in Prizren. I definitely feel like less people stare at me here. I think Prizren is a little bit more used to having tourists since it’s the cultural heritage capital of Kosova. My first few days have been wonderful! I’ve already made a few friends. I’ve found that coffee dates are extremely popular here. Everything happens over coffee. Everyday of the week you will find the cafes full of people, young and old. The employment rate is low in this country and many people don’t have a job. Furthermore, students spend fewer hours in the classroom than they do in the US. Also, people who have a job usually work in shifts as opposed to full days. All of these factors contribute to having a lot of free time. So what do you do?….go to a cafe and sip on a delicious 1 euro macchiato for three hours while socializing. I’ve already had plenty of coffee dates. Including with these lovely ladies in the photo!