Kuç

First Impressions

Kuç is the essential town of Labëria, the region of South Albania to which all the towns and villages of HimarëProvince belong. From the spit-roasted young goat tothe famous temper, to participate in that which belongs to Kuç is to undergo the “true” Labërian experience. All other villages whose local practices vary from how they are understood in Kuç are considered a deviation. In the way that one must see Rome to understand the motivation behind cities, one has not sensed Labëria and thus a huge swath of Albania, until one has eaten young goat, drank raki, and sung in Kuç. Kuç lies symbolically at the beginning of the Borsh Valley, which extends southward toward the sea, and is dotted along its length by the remains of ancient settlements and newer ones. This valley feels of a very particular scale for early human activity—protected and yet large enough to sustain wild and domesticated animals. That feeling of age extends to the town of Kuç itself. This is a place that holds the tales of an entire culture within it. These villages resisted control by outside powers for centuries, whether by the Ottomans, the Normans, the Venetians, or others. It is a place where pride of place and a rugged belief in freedom lay, within which belief system permanence of settlement was simply not able to be a priority. What is left of these villages often belies their true age. They look old, but not nearly as old as they really are. In that way these places are extremely rich for the imagination—the remains of history, the contemporary realities, and the natural environment mix together to create an inspirational cross section in the imagination.

The People

The village of Kuç is considered to be the symbolic heart of Labëria. When one says they are a resident of Kuç, they come to represent the most fundamental traits of the Labëri: a man who is not very tall, slender and agile, with temper, and with a dynamic and unique sense of vitality.

Culture & Tradition

To the resident of Kuç, the performance of polyphonic song is of deep importance. So close and significant is polyphony, that it is often said, “If two men from Labëria meet together they immediately start the song (polyphony), one starts and the other follows.” Dance is an expression of the character of men of Labëria as well. Its interpretation starts slowly and prudently and then continues with sudden and unexpected movements, with strong ground strokes of their traditional moccasins and their quick spins it becomes very attractive and distinctive.

The roots - the history

Kuç reached its largest population in 1942, when it had about 500 houses and 4,000 inhabitants. Today it has retained a significant number of residents, with 400 houses and 3,000 inhabitants. The areas around Kuç have been continuously occupied by human settlements for millennia. Research and archaeological studies carried out over the last decades in Kuç and its surrounding territories have revealed archaeological sites that date back from the earliest prehistoric periods, as the Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age up to the historical period of antiquity and the Middle Ages. Their intensity and urban existence during different times indicate that this territory has had many suitable conditions for housing. These circumstances are related to the presence of fertile lands, especially for orchards, vineyards, rich pastures, forests, and abundant water, as well as the temperate climate. Kuç lies in the Lower Kurvelesh, where the Shushica River originates. It is here that the Shushica Valley begins as well (it ends at the sea some 100 kilometers to the southwest). The history and reputation of this valley looms large in Albanian identity: it remains one of the most important centers of cultural life of southern Albania, prosperous and inhabited since antiquity.

Economic activity

Since the late medieval period, Kuç developed the dimensions of an important urban center for the whole province. In the last two centuries, Kuç became a mercantile center, a fact that was confirmed by the presence of thirteen shops, twelve mills for grinding grain, multiple places for wool processing and handloom products, etc. Besides expanding the marketplace, Kuç established the tradition of fairs, which took place periodically for the sale of various agricultural products, animals, and craft products.

The setting

Kuç is the largest village of the province of Labëria. It is located 620 meters above sea level and 62 kilometers away from Vlora. Kuç lies at the end of the flow of the river of Shushica surrounded by high mountains and forests. The Valley of Shur and Gorge of Zarel connects Kuç with Upper Kurvelesh (Golem). In the summer, Kuç is connected with the roadway through the Gorge of Shur,with Gusmar and the entire Upper Kurvelesh, a road that is 15 kilometers long and is one of the most beautiful tourist routes in the country: the road takes you through the stunning gorge canyon of Lepushka, the torrent of Dushober and Zarel, and the stream of Shur that comes down from the edge of Derven and the Gomarthi Pass (Qafa e Gomarthit-Gusmar).

The landscape

Kuç lies symbolically at the beginning of the Borsh Valley, which extends southward toward the sea.The village lies at the point where Shushica and Borsh Valley meet, having the luxury of belonging to both River branches. The landscape has every vivid colour, especially during autumn and spring. Every one of them as fresh as a new painting straight from Rome. The brilliant greens and yellowish colors, banish every dark thought and the sky lifts the eye in a way that brings the visitors to admire the strands of drifting white cloud, while the A turquoise-blue and autumn yellowish stream wounds its merry way through the valley. Babbling and burbling, it springs over the river stones in its way. Pebbles whisked about in the under wash like pieces of glitter. Streams are the liquid soul of this place, Kuç and the whole region of Shushica Valley.

The landscape & wildlife

Wild boar and rabbit, severely damaged by hunting, are found among the wild animals. Other wild animals in the area are fox, deer, and marten. Marten, species of wild cat, and otter both live in and aroundthe Shushica River. Different birds are also found inthe area, including owls, sparrows, and the European robin. Trout is also abundant in the Shushica River, into which also flow streams with carp and eel populations. In addition, beekeeping and honey production (mono- flowers honeys, royal jelly, propolis) is widely found in the village of Kuc, as well.

Burronjat: the fish ponds & watermill

At the place called Buronjat, in Kuç, the river valley becomes narrow for some 20 km till Brataj village. In Buronjat , Kuç you can find the circular fish pond, which is a reservoir that is stocked with fish and is used in aquaculture for fish farming, as well as for recreational fishing or for ornamental purposes. A visitor, can sit in the cafe by the water, cherish the view and enjoy the ‘victory” of catching the fish that will be later served on the plate, cooked. One is astonished by the abundance of fish in the pond, and the clearness and freshness of the water. Somewhere down the spot, there is also a watermill that uses moving water as its power source. It is a simple structure that uses the water wheel or to drive a mechanical process such as milling (grinding) to produce wheat and corn flour.

A village of Memorials

Kuç is the village of proud people… who have high patriotic feelings, They are proud of their history and their place is marked with memorials. Zenel Hito Gjoleka’s memorial stands in the middle of the village square. He was a brave warrior who led the Albanian people of Labëria against the Tanzimat reforms of Ottoman Empire in 1830s – 1848. Another memorial, that of Andon Zako Çajupi (a leading Albanian rilindas, poet, and writer that actively participated in the Albanian National renaissance, in late 19th and early 20th century) is of particular importance. It is a cultural monument erected as an appraisal of Çajupi to the nature and history of the village-Kuc. He traveled in the area of Kurveleshit and visited the village in 1887 at the age of 21. Later in 1903, Çajupi wrote a poem of 64 verses in memory of the place and its history. The poem was only distributed with the book “Baba Musa Lakuriq” – the Naked Musa Baba, published after the author’s death. Kuçi is a village that according to historians and the people in the area has offered outstanding contribution to the national liberation movements in Albania. The people of this province have contributed during the National Liberation War (Second World War) and the figures show 105 heroes and 5 martyrs (Hero i Popullit). The village was burned four times during the WWII, the period of 1941-1944. It is very common to see memorials as landmarks in Kuç and the whole Shushica Valley region, and the people proudly have a story to tell… the people in the area has offered outstanding contribution to the national liberation movements in Albania. The people of this province have contributed during the National Liberation War (Second World War) and the figures show 105 heroes and 5 martyrs (Hero i Popullit). The village was burned four times during the WWII, the period of 1941-1944. It is very common to see memorials as landmarks in Kuç and the whole Shushica Valley region, and the people proudly have a story to tell….

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