Voskopoja: A Living Testimony of a Great Civilization

Voskopoja: A Living Testimony of a Great Civilization

Voskopoja is a village in southeast Albania that stands at an altitude of 1,160 meters above sea level (3,806 feet). This village, 21 kilometers (13 miles) from the city of Korça, was once the most splendid civilization of the Balkans. This community reached its splendor in 1764 when it had about 30,000 people; the first post-Byzantine orphanage; the second printing house in the Ottoman Empire; and the “New Academy” school.

What To Do In Voskopoja

The town of Voskopoja stands between the areas of Opari and Gora. High hills with dense fern forests surround the village. The climate is generally cold, with harsh winters and fresh summers. Because of this cold climate, some natural ski slopes form here each winter. Voskopoja’s ecosystem makes it ideal as a winter destination.

A view from distance of Voskopoja
A view from distance of Voskopoja

Apart from its natural values, Voskopoja has many religious monuments, notably seven well-preserved churches. In the past, when the town had reached its splendor, there were some 24 churches with rare frescoes. Despite many of such churches either ruined or destroyed, the seven remaining churches offer a first-hand insight into the town’s old lifestyle. In these churches, one can still observe the colorful frescoes of famous 17th-century painters. These works include iconostasis from David Selenica, the Zografi brothers, and Kostandin Ieromonaku.

Voskopoja’s cobblestoned roads, intricate old neighborhood alleys, and old monastic ground take visitors back in time. The walk on these roads is a refreshing stroll and time travel. Being amidst a mountainous forest, many explorers can embark on nearby hikes to discover some beautiful landscapes. Other activities, such as camping and horse riding, are also a must for outdoor types.  

Voskopoja as a Thriving Metropolis

The town of Voskopoja appeared for the first time in 1330 as a foundation of the Albanian and Romanian community (known as “Vlleh”). Soon, the town welcomed people from different parts of the Ottoman Empire. The community kept a low profile until the 17th century when it emerged as a developed commercial, cultural, and educational hub. With the fall of the Via Egnatia, trading cargoes passed through Voskopoja to link East and West.

Voskopoja (Moschopolis) and Shën Naumi (Sveti Naum), engraving of 1742 by Hristofor Žefarović -i
Voskopoja (Moschopolis) and Shën Naumi (Sveti Naum), engraving of 1742 by Hristofor Žefarović -i

The town appears in western sources (Venetian, French), eastern sources (Ohrid, Macedon, and Thessaly), as well as native sources (the chronicler Gjon Muzaka and the Voskopoja community). That is why it appears in different name variations like Voskopojë/Voskop, Voskopol/Voscopolis, and Moskopol/Moschopolis.

In 1744, the community of Voskopoja founded the so-called New Academy, where illuminism thrived. Also, a rich library and the only printing house by miles contributed to the glory of this town. Most importantly, the settlement had an industrial sophistication and free-market economy unprecedented for its time and place. Some 14 business corporations had their offices in the 17th century Voskopoja. In short, Voskopoja had all necessities that the most developed Western European cities of that time had. 

The Fall

Voskopoja’s “Golden Age” ended abruptly in 1769 when tribes and plunderers from Dangëllia sacked the city. In 1789, the town was burned for a second time by the soldiers of Ali Pashë Tepelena (1740-1822). The third and final burn occurred in 1916 when members of the bank of Sali Butka sacked the small village that had remained. To add to this misfortune, Voskopoja was severy bombed by the Nazi Germans during WWII. Also, a powerful earthquake in 1960 punched the final blow into the remaining monuments of the town. Of note are the substantial destructions the earthquake caused across the basilicas of Voskopoja.

Pastoral scenery in Voskopoja with the entrance to the church of St. Ilia in the distance
Pastoral scenery in Voskopoja with the entrance to the church of St. Ilia in the distance

Art & Food

Voskopoja preserved remarkable representations of medieval art. The such village is thus a must for art, history, and architecture/engineering students. Furthermore, the local cuisine is an art form in itself.

Voskopoja - Moschopolis, Engraving of 1742 by Hristofor Žefarović
Voskopoja – Moschopolis, Engraving of 1742 by Hristofor Žefarović

Visitors should try some local delicacies focused on dough and furnace cooking. Some popular dishes include lamb on the furnace, furnaced lakror (or as locals call it: later në saç), original pancakes (petullat e fshira), petkat, petaniku, and the local scone (kulaç). You can accompany each meal with the drinking water abundant from the many fresh springs and drinking fountains around the village.

*Voskopoja features in our top 10 Albanian villages*

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