Travels in Epirus, Albania, Macedonia, and Thessaly
F. Pouqueville
 

TRAVELS IN MACEDONIA

CHAPTER XI.
Tours in the Environs of Castoria. Fiorina. River Erigon. Gheortcha. Lake of Lychnidus. Ochrida. River Devol, or Genusus. Lake of Prespa, &c.
 

My first expedition was directed northwards for Monastir, or Bitolia, the seat of the general government of Macedonia. Travelling by Visani and Papso-Derveni, over the spurs of Mount Sarakina, I arrived at a ford over a river running, like all the small streams on my route, to the eastward. This river


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    Machula. River Devol.

the Bulgarian inhabitants called the Vardar of the Sarigul (the yellow lake,) to distinguish it from the other Vardar, the Axius of antiquity; and I concluded it to be the Erigon. According to Livy it rises in Illyricum, and traversing Paeonia falls into the Axius. It proceeds from glaciers in Mount Dora, (so called by the Albanians, from their term for snow; but the common name is Mount Vitzi) situated seven leagues from Castoria.

Pushing forward beyond the Erigon for an hour, in compliance with the desire of my guides, who expected every step to be beset by robbers, we came to Machala, a large Bulgarian village, on a river still running eastward. This I supposed to be the Osphagus; and four miles further north is situated Fiorina, from which place in seven hours caravans arrive in Monastir. Prevented, by a report of the plague appearing in Fiorina, from approaching that place, I returned for the night to Machala, and came back in good time to Castoria. In speaking of the time employed by caravans on a route, it is proper to state that the day's journey from one conak or lodging-place to another, is usually reckoned to demand eight hours, or to be eight leagues. The conak therefore corresponds to the day's journey mentioned by Pausanias, in his description of Greece. From Castoria the distance across the mountains to Conitza is reckoned about south-west three conaks, or twenty-five leagues.

On another expedition towards the north-west, I arrived by a circuitous route at Bichlistas, distant from Castoria by the direct road six and-a-half leagues. From that place, in the same general direction, I proceeded opposite to Bossigrad, situated two and-a-half hours west on the range of Pindus, and three miles farther crossed the Devol, on a stone bridge below Zapoundgi-Cupressi. This river, rising in Mount Bora, pursues a very winding course through the lakes of Prespa, Drenovo, and Malick in the district of Gheortcha. Increased by the Donavesti it opens into the valley of Elbassan, and flowing by Pekini discharges its rapid stream into the Adriatic. The Devol is, therefore, the main source of the Genusus of Cæsar and Lucan. From Zapoundgi we travelled on for an hour and-a-half to Piassa, corresponding probably to the capital of the Piastæ of Stephen of Byzantium. I had previously sent forward a courier to Mehemet Bey, a relation of Aly Pasha, to request hospitality and assistance to prosecute my journey by Gheortcha on to Ochrida, on the lake of Lychnidus. But when we came to the entrance of the town, I found my courier with an attendant of the bey, who said that his master had received no orders from Aly to receive me; it


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therefore remained wjth myself to determine what was to be done. I immediately desired the attendant to return, to learn whether his master, having no orders to welcome me, had any orders to oppose my passage. This question caused no small deliberation; for it was not till after a full hour's expectation, that the physician of the bey appeared, offering me accommodation for the night in his own house, but expressing the bey's regret that he could not permit me to continue my route. Consulting with my guide, we turned northward up the course of the Devol to Bobsouri, a Bulgarian village, where we passed the night. The journey lasted three hours, along a solitary desert valley; and I was informed that the Devol had its springs at Tournovo, four leagues still farther to the northward. On the following day, taking a circuitous route by the north-east, we returned at night to Castoria. I ought here to mention that, in my disappointment at Piassa, Mehemet Bey was not personally to be blamed. The story was curiously characteristic of his precious relative Aly. Four years afterwards, I learned from a confidential person of those parts, that had I insisted on continuing my journey by Piassa, the bey would not have opposed me. In that case, he had orders to have me assassinated in the mountains; and to vindicate himself from suspicion, he would have hanged all the people of the nearest village, should it be necessary, as the perpetrators of the murther. My tour in that quarter had, as was before stated, been long opposed by the tyrant of Janina; nor did his recent consent to my journey in Macedonia, in any way show his suspicions of my purposes to be abated. His orders to his kinsman would have at once set him at ease on that head.

Having thus been precluded from personally visiting the environs of Gheortcha and of Ochrida, its lake, the river Drino, &c. I must pray my readers to accept the following notices, furnished by a person very competent to make the requisite observations, who resided for two years in those places, and on whose plane and informations I can confidently rely; his name must not however be mentioned, nor his situation described.

From Castoria to Gheortcha, (a name which reminds us of the ancient Eordæa,) the course is west-north-west ten miles, partly in the plain, partly in the mountains. Before it pass by Gheortcha, the river Devol receives on the left the Donavesti, which is the Pancasus or Panyasus of antiquity, just as the Devol is the Genusus. This latter river rises in Mount Sboké, a very elevated range (called by the writers of the lower empire, montes Deabolis,) which extends its densely


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    Gheortcha.

wooded sides from east to west, parallel to the range of Mount St. Spiridion; its slopes covered with hamlets in the midst of rich pastures, inclining towards the lake Lychnidus, now of Ochrida. Gheortcha, situated in the valley of the Devol, notwithstanding the name, seems to be a town of modern date; for neither in it, nor in the environs, have any vestiges of antiquity been discovered. Three quarters of a league south-east from Gheortcha, on the lower ridge of Mount Sboké, are seen the ruins of a town called by the peasants Old Devol, probably the Selasphoros of the Greeks, erected after their subjection to Rome, on the ruins of Creonium of very remote antiquity. The Devol is a furious stream, when the rains and snows fall abundantly in the Candavian mountains; but, in summer, it is easily fordable. Devol, now a poor village, opposite to the Old Devol, at a league's distance, still retains the title of capital of the valley. Whether any antiquities exist there, I have not heard. On the opposite side of the river Devol, two leagues west-north-west from Gheortcha, is the village of Malik, and three quarters of a league farther is Camenitza. The lake Maliki, (lake of the mountains in Albanian,) is properly an enlargement of the Devol, from six to-seven miles long, by a mile and-a-half broad, as far as the spot where the waters are discharged by a cascade twenty feet in height. There ends the valley of Gheortcha, which produces some rice and maize on the borders of the lake; for in summer it is almost entirely dried up. The southern slopes of Mount Sboké are of a different character, as are also the inhabitants of the Dosk or Toxide race, the most distinguished for figure and qualities of all the Albanians. In the midst of them established themselves a colony of Valachians; as a swarm of industrious bees choose their abode in the hollow rocks, round which are heard the noisy torrents. Descended, as they asserted, from a colony of Roman soldiers settled in Candavia, they, in the eleventh century, on the ruins of the ancient city of the Moschi, founded a new town which they called Moschopolis or Voschopolis, four leagues south-west from Gheortcha; which, from a simple camp of shepherds, became at length the commercial metropolis of Epirus. Strange as it may appear, still is it affirmed, that, in the middle of the late century, the inhabitants of Voschopolis were estimated at 40,000; and in 1788 the population, increased by one-third more, promised a brilliant age for the Christians of that part of Greece, till then almost entirely unknown. But the Mahometans of Candavia and other districts, robbed and murthered the merchants, on their way to and from the town; and the Turkish beys of Musachia, under the pre-


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text of defending their master's subjects, placed a garrison in it. Thus, after ten years of devastation and rapine, Voschopolis disappeared from the earth. Two hundred huts, occupied by a number of poor shepherds, are now all the remains of that promising place; and they will soon sink under the ruins of those edifices which once announced its prosperity. The Apsus, which passes along the valley of the Moschi, in a course of twelve leagues down to Berat, waters now only silent fields, interspersed with villages in ashes, and the graves of their former cultivators.

A league north-north-west from Gheortcha, after crossing the Devol on a stone bridge, if you turn north, you enter a derven or narrow gorge of the mountain, watered by a small stream. Following it for a league and-a-half below the village of Panta-Vinia, are seen the remains of an acropolis, probably the site of Sation; and nearly opposite, a league to the westward, is the village Mocrena. To the northward, and below these villages, inhabited by Bulgarians, commences an open space of ground, which expands for a distance of four miles on to the lake of Ochrida or Lychnidus. This celebrated lake, which spreads out as an internal sea, so that an eye on one shore has but an imperfect view of the opposite, is in length from south to north seven leagues, and in breadth from west to east four leagues and-a-half! The waters, limpid as the crystal of the rock, from which property the lake perhaps acquired its Greek name (for lychnis signifies transparent,) discover a bottom of clear sand, at even a depth of from nine to fourteen English fathoms. Still, as in the days of Strabo, the lake abounds so much in fish, particularly in trout, that large quantifies are carried, when salted, over the towns and markets of Epirus and Romelia. Down the widening valley, from Mocrena just mentioned, flows the Mocra into the head or south end of the lake. From that influx, following the sweep of the hills, bending towards north-east on the border of the lake, travelling two leagues you come to St. Nahum, a remarkable spring of water adjoining to the monastery dedicated to that prophet by the founder Justinian in the sixth century. In Greece, Russia, and other countries where the Greek church prevails, it is customary to consecrate religious structures to eminent personages of the Old as well as of the New Testament. The lands granted for the support of the establishment, still, notwithstanding the many changes to which the country has been exposed, produce a revenue of nearly 100 purses, (2,000 guineas,) sufficient for the maintenance of sixty monks, and the exercise of hospitality and charity to all persons who present themselves. It is, however,


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    Lake of Lychnidus.

to be remembered, that, unlike many of the monastic orders of the west of Europe, the Greek monks are strictly devoted to all branches of rural labour by their own hands, over and above their performance of the prescribed religious services. The fountain of St. Nahum, like the Arion of Rugusa, that of Vaucluse in France, and other similar issues of subterrene rivers, frequent in mountainous regions, is regarded by the people as the true source of the lake of Lychnidus. Behind the monastery is a large village, fortified by a tower garrisoned by Albanians, for the defence of the roads, and especially for the collection of duties. For among the few things introduced by the Greek emperors, which were retained by their Ottoman successors, duties, taxes, and impositions of every kind were esteemed too sacred to be abolished. Below the monastery, crossing the stream of St. Nahum by a bridge, you ascend an eminence, on which was built the Lychnidus of ancient times. The scholiast on Ptolemy, who wrote posterior to the irruption of the northern nations into Greece, to Lychnidus adds Achrida, a term borrowed from the Bulgarians, and probably adopted by them from achris, a Greek word of the time of Justinian, denoting an insulated cone or peak, a denomination characteristically applicable to the position of the ancient Lychnidus. On its restoration by Justinian, this city, as well as Celetbrium and others, was styled Justinianopolis: but the reader must be cautious in giving credit to the extravagant enumeration given by Procopius, of the splendid edifices with which the new city was adorned. For the accuracy of that writer is fully as much to be suspected as his skill in topography. According to Cedrenus, Lychnidus was situated on a lofty hillock, in a strong position, in the vicinity of springs of water and of the lake, in a tract of country fertile in corn; a description justly applicable to the ruins of St. Nahum, now confined to a decayed wall of inclosure, with towers and battlements, and fragments of a few churches within it.

Travelling northward along the eastern shore of the lake, for two leagues and-a-half, you pass two considerable villages and a villa (chazi,) belonging to the governor of Ochrida, a nephew of Aly Pasha, eminently distinguished by its picturesque position. There the shore of the lake turning northwest, in three miles brings the traveller to the entrance of the modern Ochrida, scattered irregularly, like all Albanian towns, over an extent of three-quarters of a league in length. Defended by Scanderbeg, Ochrida was afterwards reduced by Bajazet I., who re-built the citadel, now the quarter allotted for the abode of the governor and the Christians of the town. This citadel is said to have been constructed on Mount Pieria:


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but could this be the Preria of the Muses? Ochria, the capital of a district, certainly the wildest and the least known of any in the Turkish portion of Europe, contains six mosques, three churches, a multitude of baths, and a population of 1,300 families, of which 600 only are Mahometan.

Two leagues to the westward of Ochria you come to the place where the lake discharges its wafers, which form the river Black Drin. Running northward through the upper and lower Dibra, it meets with the While Drin, and the united stream falls into the Adriatic below Alessio, the representative of the antique Lissus. At the discharge of the lake is situated Strunga, (Stronges in Procopius,) divided by the Drin, as Geneva at the discharge of its lake is divided by the Rhone, the two parts being connected by a wooden bridge, where the river is the narrowest. The inhabitants of the town, where a much frequented fair is held annually on the 8th September, are 3,000, one-fifth of them mussulmans. The course of the Drin northwards is the limit between the Bulgarian language on the east, and the Albanian on the west. From the West end of Strunga proceed two ronds, the one northwards to the Dibras, Scutari, and Dalmatia; the other southwards up the west bank of the lake, to the pass over the hills info the valley of the Devol, or Genusus, and to Elbassan and Durazzo. Following this latter road at the extremity of a forest six miles in length, along the lake, you come to Starova-Bogradessi, on an elevated cultivated plain; and three miles to the westward among the mountains, are the ruins of a fortified place now called Old Stronga, but which seems to correspond to the situation of Heraclea, a city through which passed a road leading to Barnuns in Macedonia. From Starova-Bogradessi, along the side of the lake, you come to Bogradessi itself, a small town with a fortress, the head of a district of the government of Ochrida, in a position which seems to coincide with that of the Tres Tabernæ of the Roman Itineraries. Its district extends chiefly over the valley of fhe Devol or Genusus. Nearly three leagues south-south-east from Bogradessi, along the lake, is Starova, a place of 250 houses, wholly inhabited by Mahometan Albanians. The territory which reaches to the river of St. Spiridion, contains upwards of 18,000 people, distributed in fifty villages. It is from the recesses of these unknown regions, that proceed those Arnauts in arms, who are met with in the service of the greater number of the pashas of the Turkish empire; and of those men, who can scarcely be considered as civilized, not a few, notwithstanding their gross ignorance, have arrived at eminent stations in the country. An instance was very lately quoted; and it will certainly not be


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    Valley of Resnia. Prespa.

the last among people with whom mere brutal valour is the chief recommendation, of a Turk, Souli of Starova, who having been twice proscribed (Fermanly,) on account of his lawless depredations, succeeded at last in being appointed Romily-Valessi or governor-general of Macedonia, and like every other successful insurgent in Turkey, died full of honours and authority among his people.

On the south-west of the district of Starova, commences that of Megali-Gruca, a name Greek and Albanian, denoting the great defile or strait, apparently corresponding to the Pylos of the Itiperaries. This and the adjoining Micri-Grouca, (little strait,) produce a race of horses, small indeed, but strong and active, employed by the Albanian light cavalry, if such a name may be applied to bodies of men neither equipped nor disciplined.

On the east side of the range of mountains, which form the eastern boundary of the lake of Ochrida, is the productive valley of Resnia, inhabited by a handsome laborious race, who, in their external appearance and habits of life, remind the stranger of the people of the more northern country, from which they originally emigrated. Eight miles to the southward of Resnia, you come to Prespa, the see of an archbishop, situated near a lake two leagues long and four miles broad. A quarter of a mile below this lake, is that of Drenovo, three miles long by half as much in breadth, which probably receives the waters of the former by a subterraneous canal. After a course of ten miles, the stream from the lake of Drenovo unites with the Devol, or Genusus, before it enters the valley of Gheortcha. The variation in the descriptions of these two lakes, may be attributed to their several appearances in different seasons of the year; for in winter they form one continued sheet of water, which in April, when the rains have ceased, are divided into two, as they ought certainly to be considered.
 

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