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South | Kallarat

KALLARAT Troy of Labëri

First Impressions

Kallarat village, cannot be perceived from the coastal Riviera road, as it is situated behind Himara Mountain named as “Lightning Peak”, in the northern end of the valley cut by the Vlora River, which meanders past many of villages of the inner Labëria and empties out at present day Borsh. Many of villages in this remote valley, such as Bolenë Vranisht, and further south –east Kuç, are located higher up in the hills, in defensive positions, slightly out of the direct route of the marauders who terrorized this valley over the centuries. Kallarat is at the bottom of the valley, directly next to the river, a very different kind of position for a village in this area, indicating either a kind of defiance, or a stance toward peace and tranquility. In practical terms, proximity to the water source would have made life in Kallarat much easier than that higher up. In the extreme reaches, like Pilur for example, ground water is almost nonexistent even with deep wells. Today Kallarat,like many of the areas villages, is a quiet, subduedplace, whose rich history is everywhere within reach. Kallarat is close to Vranisht and forms a formidable and beautiful trio with Kuç for a two-day exploration of the valley geography and history.

The People - economic activity

Oriented toward farming, locals have the tradition of spit-roasted meat. After a long roasting process, the meat, typically lamb, is put in the middle of the table of guests and is sliced by the host. The tail of the lamb is considered the delicacy, and is given to the guest who traveled the farthest, and is therefore the most honored. Local culinary tradition also includes pies baked in a shallow pan, with pasta sheets sometimes stuffed with nettle, cabbage, dairy products, curd, and cheese. The local cuisine also offers various kinds of salads using local produce like tomatoes, peppers, onions, and wild cabbages. Due to the very favorable climate, many fruits are grown in this region, among which the most distinguished are figs, grapes, nuts, apples, pears, cherries, and quince.

The people - the tradition

Inhabitants of Kallarat wear the traditional white kilt that falls below the knees, a white shirt with wide sleeves, and the waistcoat sewn in black with gold braids and folk motifs embroidered in red. Other characteristic elements are black or green leather shoes with crests on top—the shoes and dress overall are similar to that of other villages of the region. Mountainous and agricultural, many farm men and those who do, wear a woolen cape over their shoulders with black fringes. “The Tosks inhabiting Lower Albania, are tall and well built, and extremely agile in all their movements; their features are regular and intelligent, but like most Albanians they have a fierce, cruel, and sometimes cunning cast of countenance, and a swagger in their gait, by which they can easily be distinguished from the other races, even when divested of their national costume. They are of a warlike and ferocious disposition, yet they have noble qualities which atone in some measure for their ferocity and produce a very mixed impression of the national character. They are a constant source of dread to strangers, but objects of implicit confidence and trust to those who havegained their friendship and earned their gratitude”. Fanny Janet Blunt (1839-1926), in “The Albanians”.

The People - the craftworks

Kallarat also has an estimable tradition of craft. Today in the village there is still a small workshop for the weaving of carpets, rugs, covers, blankets, and colored woolen carpet runners. The products have been decorated and stylized with figures and symbols of animals or birds, as well as elements of the looming tradition. This modest workshop also prepares wooden carvings with decorative elements of traditional furniture.

The People - the culture

Like the entire region of Labëria, the inhabitants of Kallarat carry on a tradition of polyphonic singing. This music produced in Kallarat sometimes is accompanied by the double fife, a wind instrument with two wooden reeds in a unique body, a very ancient and characteristic instrument that is found reflected also in the ancient archeological reliefs discovered in these parts. Another characteristic element of the song of Kallarat is that sung by a soloist, who sings pastoral or epic songs.

The roots - the history

According to archeological findings Kallarat and the areas directly around it have been inhabited variously through time since the eleventh century. But it wasn’t until the fifteenth century, under the Ottomans, that written accounts of the area emerge. According to Ottoman cadastral registers dating back to 1432, Kallarat was once the biggest settlement of this region and had eighty-seven houses and a population of roughly 600 inhabitants. The population of Kallarat reached its apex in the early twentieth century: in 1927 it had 552 houses with about 2000 inhabitants. Until 1914, the village was situated at the place called Bogomile, a Slav toponym probably applied duringthe period of Bulgarian rule from the tenth to twelfth centuries. Bogo means God, and Bogomile was “the place of Gods.” Today the ruins of two- and three story houses of the village are still standing despite a devastating fire in 1914 set by Greek chauvinist forces that slaughtered the overwhelming part of the population of this settlement. Under the ruins of the old village are still more ruins; that of two churches dating to the end of the eighteenth century. Kallarat was originally composed of seven families, which divided the village spatially: Gjinaj, Gjokkondi, Gjinzes, Mërgjin, Misërgjon, Qesëraj. The surnames of the main village families Gjonbrati (Gjon + brati; Gjon brothers), Thanasi, Qejvani or Jovani, remain present today, and connect to the early Christian Orthodox faith in Kallarat and the surrounding region.

The setting - urban fabric

Kallarat is a village that is located above—or, to be more precise, behind—Himarë Mountain (known as “Lightning Peak”), which lies on the side of a high rocky massif that called Bogonicë Mountain. The houses of this settlement lie up to the shores of the Shushicë River and are limited north to Kuç and east to Bolenë and further to Vranisht. Currently, Kallarat is administratively part of Vranisht Commune. The road distance from the city of Vlorë to Kallarat is 52 kilometers and follows the flow of the Shushicë River.

The legend of Kallarat -Troy of Labëri

According to the legend, the old village of Kallarat was called “Troy of Labëri.” The explicit link between Kallarat and the Homeric is unknown today, but the legend continues to prevail nonetheless. Kallarat used to be the biggest village of the area, with roughly 1,200 houses and some forty shops—a fact that is mentioned in an old folk song still sung today.

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