Korça - A view from our expert author

The people of Korça are justifiably proud of their town’s cultured and tolerant traditions.

Southeastern Albania is a fascinating and little-explored corner of the country, with dozens of medieval churches, a wealth of prehistoric sites, the wild Gramoz mountain range and the beautiful Ohrid and Prespa lakes. Korça, the regional capital, is an ideal base from which to visit these attractions. It is also home to the National Museum of Medieval Art. The city itself is refreshingly civilised, with streets relatively free of the litter which disfigures most of the rest of the country, traffic which recognises the existence of some sort of highway code, and clean mountain air. Its altitude (850m above sea level) and inland position make it very cold in winter and spring, and elightfully cool in summer.

church of Saint George Korça Albania by Itinerant Lens, ShutterstockThe orthodox church of Saint George in Korça © Itinerant Lens, Shutterstock

It was one of the main centres of the Albanian cultural renaissance (Rilindja Kombëtare), which created the sense of national identity that ultimately led to the country’s independence from the Ottoman Empire. The first Albanianmedium school was opened here in 1887, with the first girls’ school following four years later, and the town was one of the focal points of the movement to standardise the Albanian alphabet. The building where the first school was opened is now a museum, with an interesting display of contemporary photographs and documents.

Korça’s history became rather chequered in the early 20th century. The Epirote Insurrection of 1913 saw much of southern Albania raided and terrorised by Greek irredentists, who sought its incorporation into Greece. Korça was occupied and its Albanian-medium schools closed, until the Greek government ordered its troops home in June 1914. This respite was short-lived, however, and a year later a Greek army returned to occupy Korça and Berati, laying waste to Muslim villages and farmlands and driving streams of refugees across the country to Vlora. In the military confusion which overwhelmed Albania during World War I, Korça actually became an autonomous republic, under French military protection, between 1916 and 1918. Not surprisingly, this turbulent period saw a great deal of emigration, mainly to the USA, where Korçans still make up a large proportion of the Albanian-American community.

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