Korçë, Albania

15th century | 18th century | Rilindja | 1878-1914 | 20th century | Communist Albania | Geography | Politics | Economy | Education | Culture | Museums | Sport

🇦🇱 Korçë is the eighth most populous city of the Republic of Albania and the seat of Korçë County and Korçë Municipality. It stands on a plateau some 850 m above sea level, surrounded by the Morava Mountains.

The area of the Old Bazaar, including Mirahori Mosque, is considered as the urban core of the city. Founded by a local Ottoman Albanian lord, Ilias Bey Mirahori, the urban area of Korçë dates back to the late 15th century and the beginning of the 16th century, however its actual physiognomy was realized in the 19th century, during a period that corresponds with the rapid growth and development of the city. The Old Bazaar has played a dominant role in Albania's market history. Korçë is the largest city of eastern Albania and an important cultural and industrial centre.

15th century Korçë's foundation is closely related with the actions of Ilias Bey Mirahori, a Muslim Albanian convert born in the village of Panarit in the Korçë area, who acquired large properties in the location of present-day Korçë. Ilias Bey was the 'Master of the Stables' of Sultan Bayezid II, and the first equerry and conqueror of Psamathia in the Ottoman capture of Constantinople. In 1484 Ilias Bey received, as a reward from the Sultan, seven villages located in the Korçë area: Leshnja, Vithkuq, Peshkëpi, Boboshtica, Panariti, Treska, and Trebicka. This accord was finalized gradually through four firmans. In the first firman Leshja and Vithkuq were accorded to Ilias Bey as mülk (land tenure). However he met difficulties while collecting the incomes and after twelve years these villages turned into their earlier status of timars, being substituted through a second firman in the year 1497 by the locality Piskopiye, which included two sections. In the third firman (1497) the boundaries of Piskopiye were defined, establishing its demarcation between Mborje, Barç and Bulgarec, a site area corresponding to the territory of today's Korçë city. As a product of this process, the town of Korçë dates from the end of the 15th century.

The name Gorica corresponded to an older fortified settlement, and was later attached to Piskopiye, which was a separate community, and as suggested by its name, a bishop's residence. Ilias Bey founded his works of charity in Piskopiye, building a mosque, an imaret and a muallim-hane and a hammam. Built between 1484 and 1495, the mosque, named after him, represents one of the most important examples of Islamic architecture of Albania and its second oldest mosque after the Sultan's Mosque of Berat. The name Episkopi in Greek signifies a sacred place for the Orthodox faith, however, it is not certain if it was a coincidence or an intended strategy to built a mosque on the site of an older Orthodox church or monastery. With the establishment of the religious, educational and charitable institutions in the area, Ilias Bey must have planned to make the village a local Islamic centre and to raise it to the rank of kasaba ("town"), through the registration of its inhabitants as citizens instead of farmers. Being subjected to the Kaza of Korça, the villages of Episkopi, Boboshtica, Leshnja and Vithkuq were used in 1505 as sources of income on behalf of the five institutions of Ilias Bey's vakfa. The vakfa he founded also served the purpose of organizing the settlement of Muslim inhabitants in an area that was recently abandoned by the original Christian inhabitants.

The new town must have been dominated initially by the old castle of Mborje. Throughout the 15th century and the beginning of the 16th century the castle was maintained by the Ottomans. The Tapu Defter of 1519 records a cemaat of Christian müsellems in the castle. According to this document the village of Mborje (Emboryo), which depended on Korçë (Görice), numbered 88 households of Christians and 18 households of Muslims.

Korça was divided into two great neighborhoods: Varosh and Kasaba. In the 16th century Muslims constituted the 21% of the population of the town and inhabited Kasaba, which was subdivided into the smaller neighborhoods of Çarshi, Ratak, Qoshk and Dere, including the institutions established by Ilias Bey. The Christian population inhabited Varosh, which was subdivided in Varosh i Sipërm (Upper Varosh) and Varosh i Poshtëm (Lower Varosh). Varosh i Sipërm was further subdivided into the smaller neighborhoods of Mano, Barç, Jeni-Mahallë, Qiro, Penço, Manço, Manto and Kala, while Varosh i Poshtëm consisted only of Katavarosh, which was known also as "Lagja e Shën Mërisë", named after the Church that was located there.

Görice was incorporated as a sandjak in the Manastir Vilayet of the Ottoman Empire.

18th century When the nearby town of İskopol (Moscopole or Moschopolis or Voskopojë) was destroyed by Ali Pasha's men in 1789, some of its commerce shifted to Görice (Korçë) and Arnavud Belgrad (Berat). Korçë grew as part of its population came from nearby Moscopole. Greek sources (Liakos and Aravandinos) have noted of the Korçë Aromanian populations' origins that in addition to many being from Moscopole, others settled during a time of calm and were from the village of Shalës, Kolonjë and established the market district of Korçë known as Varosh. Aromanians from the Arvanitovlach subgroup that in the early 19th century arrived to the Korçë area played a significant role in establishing the Korçë Christian urban class. In Psalidas' work Geography from 1830 noted that in the district of Varosh in Korçë, 100 Aromanian families lived there.

According to French diplomat François Pouqueville there were 1,300 families living in the city in 1805 with two thirds of them being Christian. Korçë went from having a population of 8,200 (1875) to 18,000 (1905) and of those 14,000 adhered to Orthodox Christianity. Greek was the language of the elite and the majority of the Aromanian population engaged in commerce, crafts and international trade becoming one of the wealthiest communities in Epirus and Macedonia. Albanians of Korçë engaged mostly in stockbreeding, agriculture and were poor. The inhabitants of the city spoke both Albanian and Greek.

Korçë's cultural isolation was reduced due to Greek schools, the first one being founded in the city at 1724. Subsequently, Muslim Albanian revolutionary intellectuals from the city emerged in the 1840s that wanted to preserve a Muslim Albania within a reformed Ottoman state. Due to increasing Hellenisation by the 1870s, those sentiments became replaced with the concept of an Albanian nation based on linguistic and cultural factors through struggle against a collapsing Ottoman Empire. During the late Ottoman era, Orthodox Albanians involved in the Albanian National Awakening came mainly from Korçë and its surrounding areas. On the other hand, the city council of Korçë, known as demogerontia (Greek: Δημογεροντία), and the metropolitan bishop of the city who identified as Greeks sent a secret memorandum to the foreign office department of Greece suggesting various ways to tackle activities by Albanian nationalists. In 1885, Jovan Cico Kosturi became the founder of a committee called the Albanian Cultural Society, along with co-founders Thimi Marko and Orhan Pojani, but the formation of the organization was suppressed by both the Ottoman and Orthodox Church authorities, so it went underground and carried on its activities as the Secret Committee of Korça (Albanian: Komiteti i Fshehtë i Korçës), and two years later, in March 1887, with the help of the Frashëri brothers, the Secret Committee set up the first Albanian school.

In the late Ottoman period, inhabitants from Korçë and surrounding areas emigrated abroad for economic opportunities, often by the Orthodox community who mainly as qualified craftsmen went to Romania, Greece and Bulgaria while Muslims went to Istanbul performing mainly menial labour work. Late nineteenth century Albanian migration to the United States consisted mainly of Orthodox Albanians from Korçë and surrounding areas who went to work there, save money and intending to eventually return home.

Rilindja At beginning of the 18th century the inhabitants of Korçë attended the schools of nearby Moscopole. The first school, a Greek language school, in the city was established in 1724 with the support of residents of nearby Vithkuq. This school was destroyed during the Greek War of Independence but it reopened in 1830. In 1857 a Greek school for girls was operating in the city. During the 19th century various local benefactors such as Ioannis Pangas and Anastas Avramidhi-Lakçe donated money for the promotion of Greek education and culture in Korçë, such as the Bangas Gymnasium. Greek education was also financed by members of the diaspora in Egypt. Similarly, kindergartens, boarding and urban schools, were also operating in the city during this period. Under these developments, a special community fund, named the Lasso fund, was established in 1850 by the local Orthodox bishop Neophytos, in order to support Greek cultural activity in Korçë. At the eve of the Balkan Wars (1912) the total number of students attending Greek education in the city numbered 2,115.

Around 1850, Naum Veqilharxhi created an Albanian alphabet in which a few small books were published and the script briefly flourished in Korçë. At the end of the 19th century local Albanians expressed a growing need to be educated in their native language. The Albanian intellectual diaspora from Istanbul and Bucharest initially tried to avoid antagonism towards the notables of Korçë, who were in favor of Greek culture. Thus they suggested the introduction of Albanian language in the existing Greek Orthodox schools, a proposal which was discussed with the local bishop and the city council, the demogeronteia, and finally rejected by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. In the late 1870s the Albanian Committee of Patriots devised a Latin-based Albanian script which was also adopted by British and U.S. Protestant missionaries

The Central Committee for Defending Albanian Rights founded in the late 1870s promoting Albanian cultural development set up an Albanian secondary school for boys. The founding in 1884 of the boy's secondary school is regarded as the first Albanian school in Korçë and established in 1887 by the Drita (English: the Light) organization and funded by notable local individuals. Its first director was Pandeli Sotiri. Naim Frashëri, the national poet of Albania played a great role in the opening of the school. As a high-ranking statesman in the ministry of education of the Ottoman Empire he managed to get official permission for the school. The Ottoman authorities gave permission only for Christian children to be educated in Albanian, but the Albanians did not follow this restriction and allowed also Muslim children to attend. It survived until 1902 under the teachers Leonidis and Naum Naça who were arrested and declared as traitors by Ottoman authorities at the request of Greek clergy with the school being closed down, vandalised and wrecked. Albanian efforts for an Albanian school are represented in Greek sources as a failure due to weak demand and limited funding, but Palairet notes that Greek interference undermined the school. In the late 1880s Gjerasim Qiriazi began his Protestant mission in the city. He and fellow members of the Kyrias family established Albanian speaking institutions in Korçë, with his sister Sevasti Qiriazi founding the first Albanian girls school in 1891. It was started by Gjerasim Qiriazi and later run by his sisters, Sevasti and Parashqevi Qiriazi, together with Polikseni Luarasi (Dhespoti). Later collaborators were the Rev. & Mrs. Grigor Cilka and Rev & Mrs. Phineas Kennedy of the Congregational Mission Board of Boston. Both schools were closed by the Ottoman authorities during 1902–1904.

When the city was under French administration in 1916 (the Republic of Korçë), Greek schools were closed and 200 Albanian schools were opened. In the city of Korçë itself, four primary schools opened, and one secondary school opened and functioned quite successfully. A plebiscite was held and voters indicated that they wanted the Albanian schools to stay open. However, a few months later Greek schools were reopened as a reward and result of Greece's adherence to the Entente alliance along with France. Particularly relevant was the opening in 1917 of the Albanian National Lyceum.

1878-1914 The rule of the Ottoman Empire over Korçë lasted until 1912 when Albania declared its independence. The city and its surroundings were supposed to become part of the Principality of Bulgaria, according to the Treaty of San Stefano in 1878, while the Treaty of Berlin of the same year returned the area to Ottoman rule. In 1910, the Church Alliance of local Orthodox Albanians led to the proclamation of an Albanian church by Mihal Grameno, but this effort was too isolated to affect the population. Korçë's proximity to Greece, which claimed the entire Orthodox population as Greek, led to its being fiercely contested in the Balkan Wars of 1912–1913. Greek forces captured Korçë from the Ottomans on 6 December 1912 and afterwards proceeded to imprison the Albanian nationalists of the town. Its incorporation into Albania in 1913 was disputed by Greece, who claimed it as part of the region called Northern Epirus, and resulted in a rebellion by the Greek population residing in the region of Korçë, who asked the intervention of the Greek army. This rebellion was initially suppressed by the Dutch commanders of the Albanian gendarmerie, that consisted of 100 Albanians led by the Orthodox Albanian nationalist Themistokli Gërmenji, and as a result the local Greek-Orthodox bishop Germanos and other members of the town council were arrested and expelled by the Dutch.

However, under the terms of the Protocol of Corfu (May 1914), the city became part of the Autonomous Republic of Northern Epirus inside the borders of the principality of Albania, while on 10 July 1914 the Greek Northern Epirote forces took over the city. Under Greek occupation, for the purpose of convincing the Congress of London of Greek expansionist claims, the Greek authorities took a census, which counted 15,453 inhabitants in the city, of which 11,453 were Greeks and the rest 4,000 Albanians; however according to Lampros Psomas the census did not inquire about ethnicity, but rather instead explicitly had all Christians renamed "Greeks" and all Muslims changed to "Albanians", by religious criteria alone.

At the time, even ethnographers sympathetic to the Greek claims considered the city Albanian. Since the passes over the Pindus mountain range were much difficult, the Greeks wished to retain this city after the 1914 occupation of parts of southern Albania because only Korçë granted the successful maintenance of communications by land between the territories of Epirus and Macedonia that were acquired by Greece in 1913.

20th century In October 1914 the city came again under Greek administration. During the period of the National Schism (1916) in Greece, a local revolt broke out, and with military and local support Korçë came under the control of Eleftherios Venizelos' Movement of National Defence, overthrowing the royalist forces. However, due to developments in the Macedonian Front of World War I the city came soon under French control (1916–1920).

The French initially awarded control of Korçë and the surrounding area to Greek allies, but Albanian çeta guerilla bands led by Themistokli Gërmenji and Sali Butka fought against Venizelist forces for Albanian self-administration. Those Albanian bands burned Moscopole and threatened that Korcë would share the same fate. Meanwhile, the Venizelos Movement of National Defence was unable to dispatch reinforcements to the region, but also French General Sarrail demanded for strategic reasons the withdrawal of the local Greek garrison. After coming to the conclusion that the local Albanians thoroughly disliked the Greek administration of the area, on December 8, 1916, Sarrail cabled that French military policy should change to support the Albanian nationalist uprising; by converting the Albanian uprising to the Allied cause, Sarrail hoped to protect his left flank and enable it to join up with the Italians in Vlorë and discourage the Austrians from trying to advance through Albania. Furthermore, a peaceful and stable allied Korçë under French influence would reduce the number of troops the French army needed to commit to hold the area.

On the 10th of December 1916, fourteen Albanian delegates, including seven Muslims and seven Christians, proclaimed the Autonomous Albanian Republic of Korçë. The French agreed to these demands and the fourteen representatives of Korçë and Colonel Descoins signed a protocol that proclaimed the Autonomous Albanian Republic of Korçë under the military protection of the French army and with Themistokli Gërmenji as president. The French pursued policies which strengthened expressions of Albanian nationalism. Greek schools were closed down, Greek clergy and pro-Greek notables expelled while allowing Albanian education and promoting Albanian self-government through the autonomous Korçë republic, although Greek schools were reopened after a year and two months in February 1918. Another factor that reinforced Albanian sentiments among the population was the return of 20–30,000 Orthodox Albanian emigrants mainly to Korçë and the surrounding region who had attained Albanian nationalist sentiments abroad. The change in French policy to support the Albanians did create some tensions between France and Italy; the French assured the Italians that they did not have any territorial claims on either Korçë; General Sarrail's reports insisted that the local Albanians had proclaimed the republic, then asked for it to be put under French protection, and that Descoins had merely complied with the wishes of the local population.

On February 16, 1918, Sarrail's successor officially abrogated the proclamation, and following the re-entry of Greece into the war, made concessions to Greek interests including the reopening of Greek schools, but the Albanians were assured that this did not threaten their independence. The Autonomous Albanian Republic of Korçë remained a reality on the ground, continuing to rule its territory and fly its flag, while inter-religious cooperation was also maintained with both Muslims and Christians being grateful to the French for allowing them to continue their self-governance without much interference.

The Autonomous Republic of Korçë was greatly important for the Albanian nationalist movement, as it demonstrated to the world a resurgence in power for Albanian nationalism in one of the areas where it had been the strongest before the war, and it also demonstrated the successful cooperation of Albanian Christians and Muslims in governance. The government is considered to have been a successful experiment in Albanian self-administration, as the French allowed the entity to "act as if it were an independent state", minting its own coinage, introducing its own flag, and printing its own stamps. According to Stickney, the republic gave Albanians the opportunity for self-government under the light tutelage of the French, and they were able to build a state in the absence of the great power rivalry that had beset King Wilhelm's earlier government. However, this French initiative of Albanian self-rule ended without success and the head of this Republic was shot as an Austrian spy.

The Conference of ambassadors considering Albania's claims to the area commissioned a League of Nations report consisting of three on the ground commissioners in December 1921. One commissioner, Finnish professor J. Sederholm, according to Lambros Psomas based on biased pro-Albanian reports, noted in 1922 that Korçë's population was "entirely Albanian; the numbers of Greeks being insignificant" and continued that "there are, however, amongst the population two parties, — one nationalist and the other Grecophile" It ultimately remained part of Albania, as determined by the International Boundary Commission, which affirmed the country's 1913 borders. Although assurances were given in the Paris Peace Conference by Albanian officials for the recognition of the Greek minority, during the 1920s Greek speech was prohibited in local education, religious life and in private within Korçë. At November 1921 the Albanian authorities expelled the Greek Orthodox metropolitan bishop Jakob. This event triggered demonstrations by the Orthodox community of the city. Immigration quotas during 1922-4 restricted former migrants returning to the United States and Korçë residents instead migrated to Australia to Moora, Western Australia and Shepperton, Victoria working in farming and agriculture related employment.

Communist Albania Italian forces occupied Korçë in 1939, along with the rest of the country. During the Greco-Italian War it became the main forward base of the Italian air force. Nevertheless, the city came under the control of the advancing Greek forces, on November 22, 1940, during the first phase of the Greek counter-offensive. Korçë remained under Greek control until the German invasion of Greece in April 1941. After Italy's withdrawal from the war in 1943, the Germans occupied the town until October 24, 1944.

During the occupation, the city became a major centre of Communist-led resistance to the Axis occupation of Albania. The establishment of the Albanian Party of Labour—the Communist Party—was formally proclaimed in Korçë in 1941. Albanian rule was restored in 1944 following the withdrawal of German forces.

Right after World War II many people fled to Boston, United States joining a community of the Albanian-Americans, who had previously emigrated there.

After 1990 Korçë was one of the six cities where the New Democratic Party won all the constituencies. Popular revolts in February 1991 ended with the tearing down of Hoxha's statue. After the fall of communism, the city fell into disregard in many aspects. However following the 2000s, the city experienced a makeover as main streets and alleys started to be reconstructed, locals began to renovate their historic villas, a calendar of events was introduced, building façades painted, and city parks reinvigorated. The European Union is financing the renovation of the Korça Old Bazaar while the city centre was redesigned, and a watch tower constructed.

Geography Korçë lies mostly between latitudes 40° and 36° N and longitudes 20° and 46° E. The municipality of Korçë is encompassed in the County of Korçë within the Southern Region of Albania and consists of the adjacent administrative units of Drenovë, Lekas, Mollaj, Qendër Bulgarec, Vithkuq, Voskop, Voskopojë and Korçë as its seat.

The Ministry of Tourism and Environment manages numerous natural sites and protected areas in Korçë County. In conjunction with numerous national natural sites and areas, the National Agency of Protected Areas has the Fir of Drenovë National Park and Prespa National Park under its administration. The UNESCO Ohrid-Prespa Transboundary Biosphere Reserve is also encompassed in the county.

Politics Korçë is a municipality governed by a mayor–council government system with the mayor of Korçë and the members of the Korçë Municipal Council authorized for the administration of Korçë Municipality.

Economy During the Stalinist rule of Enver Hoxha, Korçë gained a substantial industrial capacity in addition to its historic role as a commercial and agricultural centre. Local industries include the manufacture of knitwear, rugs, textiles, flour-milling, brewing, and sugar-refining. The city is home to the nationally famous Birra Korça.

According to official reports the city enjoys one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. The majority of foreign investment comes from Greek, as well as joint Albanian-Greek enterprises.

Education The city is home to Fan Noli University, founded in 1971, which offers several degrees in the humanities, sciences and business. The university includes a school in Agriculture, Teaching, Business, Nursing, and Tourism.

Culture Korçë is known as southern Albania's intellectual capital and is also regarded as the Albanian cultural metropolis. The city and its surrounding area are culturally distinct of all the regions in the Albanian ethnographic regions and maintain a rich variety of traditional and urban music.

Korçë being one of the important cultural and economic centres in the country is known for its low houses and villas, paved with cobblestone. It is the home of the largest carnival in Albania that takes place before Orthodox Easter, a tradition dating back 40 years. Musically, the city is known for the local songs, called serenata. Organised by the Korçë municipality, the annual summer Lakror Festival (Albanian: Festa e Lakrorit) celebrating Lakror, the regional Albanian pie is held in Korçë or sometimes in a village of the wider area which is attended by locals and tourists.

The city is the birth place of Albania's first women to work as professional painters, Androniqi Zengo Antoniu and Sofia Zengo Papadhimitri, whose father Vangjel Zengo was a notable icon painter. Historically, Korçë is known as an origin for handmade rugs with its unique motifs and symbols.

Museums Korçë is referred to as the city of museums. The city hosts two major museums such as the National Museum of Medieval Art and National Museum of Archeology. The National Museum of Medieval Art has rich archives of about 7000 icons and 500 other objects in textile, stone and metal. The first Albanian School as well as the residence and gallery of painter Vangjush Mio function as museums. The Bratko Museum and the Oriental Museum are also located in the city.

Korçë has a city theatre, the Andon Zako Çajupi Theatre, which started its shows in 1950 and has been working uninterruptedly since.

Sport One of Korçë's most popular sport is football. Its most popular soccer club is Skënderbeu Korçë and was formed on 15 April 1909 under the name Vllazëria by politician and poet Hilë Mosi. They were Albanian Champions in 1933 and recently, in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. In 2015 the club became the first Albanian side to reach the play-off round of the UEFA Champions League but they lost to Dinamo Zagreb and dropped into the UEFA Europa League, and became the first Albanian club to qualify for the group stage of European competition.

Image: ShkelzenRexha

Korçë has a population of over 51,150 people. Korçë also forms the centre of the wider Korçë County which has a population of over 204,000 people.

To set up a UBI Lab for Korçë see: https://www.ubilabnetwork.org Twitter: https://twitter.com/UBILabNetwork

Twin Towns, Sister Cities Korçë has links with:

🇷🇴 Cluj-Napoca, Romania 🇪🇸 Los Alcázares, Spain 🇽🇰 Mitrovica, Kosovo 🇬🇷 Thessaloniki, Greece 🇮🇹 Verona, Italy 🇦🇹 Wolfsberg, Austria
Text Atribution: Wikipedia Text under CC-BY-SA license

Antipodal to Korçë is: -159.233,-40.617

Locations Near: Korçë 20.7667,40.6167

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🇦🇱 Elbasan 20.092,41.113 d: 79.2  

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🇬🇷 Kozani 21.786,40.301 d: 93.1  

🇲🇰 Prilep 21.556,41.344 d: 104.5  

🇦🇱 Tiranë 19.83,41.318 d: 110.8  

🇦🇱 Tirana 19.83,41.318 d: 110.8  

🇲🇰 Gostivar 20.917,41.8 d: 132.2  

🇦🇱 Fier 19.55,40.717 d: 103.2  

🇦🇱 Vlorë 19.483,40.467 d: 109.7  

Antipodal to: Korçë -159.233,-40.617

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🇹🇴 Nuku'alofa -175.216,-21.136 d: 17375.4  

🇼🇸 Apia -171.76,-13.833 d: 16797.6  

🇺🇸 Hilo -155.089,19.725 d: 13291.7  

🇺🇸 Maui -156.446,20.72 d: 13188.6  

🇺🇸 Maui County -156.617,20.868 d: 13173  

🇺🇸 Kahului -156.466,20.891 d: 13169.7  

🇺🇸 Wailuku -156.505,20.894 d: 13169.6  

🇺🇸 Honolulu -157.85,21.3 d: 13128.8  

🇺🇸 Pearl City -157.969,21.394 d: 13118.6  

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