Wednesday, 5 December 2012



Pristina, also spelled Prishtina and Priština is the capital and largest city of Kosovo. It is the administrative centre of the homonymous municipality and district.

In Roman times, a large town called Ulpiana existed 15 kilometers (9.3 mi) to the south of modern-day Pristina. This city was destroyed but was restored by the Emperor Justinian I. Today the town of Lipljan stands on the site of the Roman city, and remains of the old city can still be seen.

After the fall of Rome, Pristina grew from the ruins of the former Roman city. The city was located at a junction of roads leading in all directions throughout the Balkans and it soon rose to become an important trading centre on the main trade routes across south-eastern Europe.

Pristina came to great importance in the medieval Serbian state, and served as the capital of King Milutin (1282–1321) and other Serbian rulers from the Nemanjić and Branković dynasties until the Battle of Kosovo in 1389, when an invading Ottoman army decisively defeated the Balkans coalition army. In the following decades the area gradually came under Ottoman control, with an Ottoman law-court established in 1423. The whole of Serbia was subsequently conquered by the Ottoman Empire in 1459.

During the Ottoman Empire, Pristina became increasingly Ottoman in character following the conversion to Islam of many of its inhabitants, both Albanians and Slavs.

From the 1870s onwards Albanians in the region formed the League of Prizren to resist Ottoman rule, and a provisional government was formed in 1881. On the other hand Serbia tried to enlist the support of Albanians against the Ottomans but this came to nothing, as Albanian Mujahidin were encouraging a policy akin to ethnic cleansing. This increased the number of Kosovo Serbs emigrating from Kosovo, while for their part, Albanians from Albania migrated from the infertile lands of northern Albania to take advantage of the fertile lands of Kosovo.

The First Balkan War erupted in 1912 and the Albanians, with Serbian assistance, launched a rebellion against Ottoman rule. By September, all of Kosovo and central and southern Albania were in rebel hands, but the Ottoman rulers persuaded the Albanians to abandon their uprising by promising reforms. The invasion of Kosovo by the Kingdoms of Serbia and Montenegro saw the expulsion of many Albanians, while the same number of Serbs fled from Albanian mercenaries who exacted vengeance.

The occupation of Kosovo and Albania by Serbia's Army ensued, but the Kingdom of Serbia had to concede independence to Albania as a result of the conference of ambassadors in London in 1913, while it was agreed that Kosovo should remain within its territory. In 1918, Kosovo became a part of the newly formed Yugoslavia, though without any of the autonomy that the region later enjoyed.

Before World War II, Pristina was an ethnically mixed town with large communities of Albanians and Serbs. However, a mass series of both ethnic cleansing and genocide perpetrated by ethnic Albanians backed by the Nazis swung this largely in the Albanian's favour.

In 1946, Pristina became the capital of the Socialist Autonomous Region of Kosovo. Between 1953 and 1999, the population increased from around 24,000 to over 300,000. All of the national communities of the city increased over this period, but the greatest increase was among the Albanian population, a large number of whom had moved from mountain areas to settle in the city. The Albanian population increased from around 9,000 in 1953 to nearly 76,000 in 1981. The Serbian and Montenegrin population increased too but by a far more modest number, from just under 8,000 in 1953 to around 21,000 by 1981. By the start of the 1980s, Albanians constituted over 70% of the city's population.

Although Kosovo was under the rule of local Albanian members of the Communist Party, economic decline and political instability in the late 1960s and at the start of the 1980s led to outbreaks of nationalist unrest. In November 1968, student demonstrations and riots in Belgrade spread to Pristina, but were put down by the Yugoslav security forces. Some of the demands of the students were nonetheless met by the Tito government, including the establishment in 1970 of the University of Pristina as an independent institution. This ended a long period when the institution had been run as an outpost of Belgrade University and gave a major boost to Albanian-language education and culture in Kosovo. The Albanians were also allowed to use the Albanian flag.

In March 1981, students at Pristina University rioted over poor food in their university canteen. This seemingly trivial dispute rapidly spread throughout Kosovo and took on the character of a national revolt, with massive popular demonstrations in Pristina and other Kosovo towns. The Communist Yugoslav presidency quelled the disturbances by sending in riot police and the army and proclaiming a state of emergency, with several people being killed in clashes and thousands subsequently being imprisoned or disciplined.

Following the reduction of Kosovo's autonomy by Serbian President Slobodan Milošević in 1989, a harshly repressive regime was imposed throughout Kosovo by the Serbian government with Albanians largely being purged from state industries and institutions. The University of Pristina was seen as a hotbed of Albanian nationalism and was duly purged: 800 lecturers were sacked and 22,500 of the 23,000 students expelled. In response, the Kosovo Albanians set up a "shadow government" under the authority of the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), led by the writer Ibrahim Rugova. Although the city was formally controlled by Serbs appointed by the Milošević government, the LDK established parallel structures, funded by private contributions, to provide free services such as health care and education that were largely denied to the Albanian population.

The LDK's role meant, that when the Kosovo Liberation Army began to attack Serbian and Yugoslav forces from 1996 onwards, Pristina remained largely calm until the outbreak of the Kosovo War in March 1999. The city was placed under a state of emergency at the end of March and large areas were sealed off. After NATO began air strikes against Yugoslavia on March 24, 1999, widespread violence broke out in Pristina. Serbian and Yugoslav forces shelled several districts and, in conjunction with paramilitaries, conducted large-scale expulsions of ethnic Albanians accompanied by widespread looting and destruction of Albanian properties. Many of those expelled were directed onto trains apparently brought to Pristina's main station for the express purpose of deporting them to the border of the Republic of Macedonia, where they were forced into exile. The United States Department of State estimated in May 1999 that between 100,000–120,000 people had been driven out of Pristina by government forces and paramilitaries.

Several strategic targets in Pristina were attacked by NATO during the war, but serious physical damage appears to have largely been restricted to a few specific neighbourhoods shelled by Yugoslav security forces. At the end of the war, most of the city's 40,000 Serbs fled. The few who remained were subjected to harassment and violence in revenge attacks by gangs of Albanian thugs, which reduced Pristina's Serb population even further. Other national groups accused by the Albanians of collaboration with the Serbian war effort–notably the Roma– were also driven out. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, by August 1999 fewer than 2,000 Serbs were left in the city. The number reportedly fell even further after the March 2004 unrest in Kosovo.

At the time of writing (Dec 2012), Kosovo remains the subject of a territorial dispute between the Republic of Serbia and the self-proclaimed Republic of Kosovo. The latter declared independence on 17 February 2008, but Serbia continues to claim it as part of its own sovereign territory. Kosovo's independence has been recognised by 96 out of 193 United Nations member states.

If you like coffee, and have a massive amount of time on your hands, Pristina is the city for you. There are cafes absolutely everywhere, and most of them are packed through the warm season with fashionably-dressed young people, dropping a euro a day to keep themselves amused. Unemployment / underemployment is pervasive throughout Kosovo, and tends to affect people from all walks of life and different levels of education. Which means that dude in the sleeveless tshirt with streaked-blond hair at the table beside you could just as easily be an economist as a farm kid from Kamenicë, so learn to say "Mirëdita" with a passable accent and feel free to start a conversation. What to order? "Macchiato" (espresso with hot milk, similar to the American latte) is the catch-all term for "coffee" throughout Kosovo. Lately, some top-end coffee bars have installed WIFI zones and access to Internet.

Shopping-wise, Pristina is full of good bargains but low on selection (and if you happen to be a man who wears shirts or pants, forget about it). Silver is sold in the old quarter and is a pretty good value; Albanians are known throughout the former Yugoslavia as silversmiths.
Do as the locals do: In Pristina, this means korza. In the evenings, when it's warm, a large proportion of the population heads out into the streets and promenades, between cafes or in with no particular destination. The objective is to see and be seen, chat with friends, and take in as much fresh air as possible before the horrific winter descends. Note that 53% of Kosovo's population is under the age of 25, so most of the people on the street around dusk are teenagers and people in their early twenties.

                                                        Pristina’s Top 5:
  1. Gračanica Monastery [Manastir Gračanica] The monastery in the village of Gračanica, a short drive south of Pristina, is one of Kosovo's best religious monuments. Completed in 1321 and built by the legendary king of Serbia, Milutin Nemanjic, the Serbian Orthodox monastery church represents the height of Serbian Byzantine tradition. Its real beauty is hidden within, where several distinct periods of fresco painting are extremely well preserved, depicting the early life of Jesus as well as the representations of the ecclesiastical calendar and a terrifying Day of Judgement. The monastery is guarded by police who may require to see your ID. To get there from Pristina, take the bus to Gjilan, which passes through the town after 15 minutes. Note that Gračanica is a Serb enclave that sometimes is the focus of unrest, and some embassies warn against visiting.
  2. The Clock Tower (Sahat Kulla) dates back to the 19th century. Following a fire, the tower has been reconstructed using bricks. The original bell was brought to Kosovo from Moldavia. It bore an inscription reading "this bell was made in 1764 for Jon Moldova Rumen." In 2001, the original bell was stolen. The same year, French KFOR troops replaced the old clock mechanism with an electric one. Given Kosovo's electricity problems the tower is struggling to keep time.
  3. The Museum of Kosovo is located in an Austro-Hungarian inspired building originally built for the regional administration of the Ottoman Vilayet of Kosovo. From 1945 until 1975 it served as headquarters for the Yugoslav National Army. In 1963 it was sold to the Kosovo Museum. From 1999 until 2002, the European Agency for Reconstruction had its main office in the museum building. The Kosovo Museum has an extensive collection of archaeological and ethnological artifacts, including the Neolithic Goddess on the Throne terracotta, unearthed near Pristina in 1960 and depicted in the city's emblem. Although a large number of artifacts from antiquity is still in Belgrade, even though the museum was looted in 1999.
  4. The Fatih Mosque. Opposite the clock tower, the Fatih or Imperial Mosque was built in 1461 under Turkish Sultan Mehmed II Fatih ('the conqueror'), as witnessed by the Arabic engraving above the main door. Inside, painted floral decorations and arabesques grace the walls and ceiling. Pristina's grandest building has a spectacular 15-metre dome resting on support pillars, an architectural feat at the time of construction. The minaret is a reconstruction after the original was damaged during an earthquake in 1955. The mosque was briefly turned into a church during the Austro-Turkish wars from 1690-1698. During Friday payers, the congregation spreads out into the courtyard and even onto the street to pray.
  5. Newborn Monument Missing a central rallying point in the heady days of the declaration of independence in February 2008, these seven huge yellow steel letters spelling out the word 'newborn' were placed in front of the Palace of Youth and Sports. The three metre high letters were quickly covered in autographs and texts, scribbled by thousands of people starting with the PM and president.

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