PILUR The balcony over the Coast

First Impression

From the national road at Himare, Pilur is perched 700 meters above, visible as a distant tuft of trees atop an enormous wall of beige. Its access road begins counter intuitively—10 kilometers south—and the winding route takes one laterally back north across an impossibly steep bare mountain face. The views from the route are some of the most bluntly vertiginous and stunning that can be had in the Riviera. Pilur sits on the front edge of a massive plateau that is the continuation of a string of mountains that reach inland at a diagonal from the sea. The plateau lends Pilur a very unique setting—by far the largest continuous space of flatness available anywhere in the Riviera. The first view of the village is taken from underneath it; as the road finally nears the crest, one almost tunnels through the trees to finally emerge at what feels like the roof of the world. On a busy summer day the village is quite lively: smoke from a barbecue wafts across fig trees, people busy themselves with chatter and tidying up, while dyed sheepskins are lain out to air in the sun. That tuft, seen from below, turns out to be the great shady grounds of an ancient St. Nicholas Monastery, which sits quietly at the highest point in the village. Begin or end your stay in Pilur there: there is a tremendous presence of calm it casts over anything near it.

The People

The people and economic activity

There are currently 480 residents in Pilur, though through the winter that number can get as low as eight families—or roughly sixty people. The roots of these 480 Piluriots go back a very long time, descending from family names that were documented in these settlements at the beginning of the fifteenth century. Piluriots are classified as Greek Orthodox. Since Pilur is a mountainous village with relatively little arable land, livelihoods are mainly oriented towardanimal husbandry. Piluriots have a reputation in the region as the best stewards of cattle. The agriculture that they do cultivate takes place on rather rocky land. Making matters more difficult is the shortage of groundwater that exists on the Piluri Plateau due to being so high up. In spite of this, Piluriots carefully grow wheat, corn, rye, and potatoes. In thesummer months, fruit trees bloom with figs, grapes, apples, and pears, piles of which can be found on thecourtyard tables throughout the village.

The people, culinary and traditions

Being a village of whose livelihood is based around livestock, the gastronomy follows suit. Mainstays of the diet are roasted lamb, goat, and beef, along with dairy products. Pilur’s plateau enables a larger scale of grazing land immediately available compared to nearby villages. The techniques of farming are adapted to it, and as a result residents of Pilur are famous for their cheese and butter, yogurt and yogurt sauces, as well as curd. In terms of meat, the traditional dish is ksirogjaku, a pie referred to as përvëlak, and boiled wild cabbage, përkalidhe. Piluriotcuisine also typically features a kind of thick porridge called këmbëkuqe, as well as various kinds of byrek also found in the other villages of the region. Jams and pickle vegetables are part of the dishes of this village as well. And the drink is the typical red wine and grape-based raki. The Traditional attire in Pilur is similar to the rest of the coast of Himara. Men wear a kilt (fustanella) and traditional trousers (poture), while women wear either a summer dress in hot weather, or the traditional dress (xhubleta) during the winter. Polyphonic music is the characteristic music sung by group consisting of men, women, and mixed group.

The roots - the History

Pilur has been known for a long time as the “Balcony ofthe Coast.” Though its present day location is actually not where it began. The name Pilur first appeared in 1431–1432 as part of the Sopot Nahiye (present day Borsh, some 20 kilometers to the south), and was counted to contain a total of thirteen houses. This location was in the gorge between present day Kuç and Kudhes, much lower in elevation. In 1506, and again in 1520, with Ottoman resistance brewing all along the coast, Pilur refused to register with Timars as a forceful gesture of non-participation. Thirty years later in 1551, Pilur was counted again, only this time as part of the nearby settlement known as Delvina Sanjak, and by then increased modestly in size to a total of sixty houses. Like Himara, Pilur was very active in the resistance to Ottoman rule. Over and over again the historical record shows Piluriot villagers as signatories of letters and petitions that the Himara province was sending to the Western powers asking for assistance against the Ottomans. Pilur is found in letters to Pope Gregory XIII in 1577, Russian Tsar Elizabeth Petrovna (Elizaveta) in 1759, as well as the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph II in 1786. As a result of the relentless backlash toward the Ottomans, the village was forcefully displaced in 1750 by Ottoman troops, made to leave the initial settlement near Kuç, and was resettled on a slope below the present-day village. The ruins of that second settlement are preserved in good condition to this day. Only later did the families that today constitute the Piluriots begin to settle at the top of the hill, where the village stands today. After the invasion of Himara by Ali Pasha in 1810, Pilur became part of the possessions of the Pasha of Ioannina. With the declaration of independence of the Albanian state, on March 17, 1913, Pilur and the other villages of the Himara Province accepted the request of the Government of Vlora to join the new Albanian state.

The setting - Urban fabric

The initial settlement of the Pilur was located in the eastern part of the current settlement, in the gorge between Kuç and Kudhës. In the late 1750s those households were expelled by Ottoman troops and resettled on a slope below where the village sits today. The ruins of the previous settlements are still visible and can be visited on a self-guided hike by confident hikers. The resettlement on new land was always made for safety reasons. These early Albanians tended to prefer positions with elevation for visibility, and remoteness to the major routes of aggressors. The downside to these high altitude locations is the harshness of weather to which they were exposed during the autumn and winter months.

The setting – architecture

The architecture of the dwellings in Pilur is the same as that of other coastal villages. Construction technology was shared widely among the villagers of this time and traveled easily. The dwellings are with one or two floors, contain several alcoves, and organized so that the large social chamber is centralized. The outer appearance of these houses are characterized by entrances built with vaulted stone. The corners of these buildings took special care for durability, and the houses that have deteriorated tend to fail first there. The ground floor of these buildings served as a cellar for storing food stocks. Like many of the villages, cobblestone alleys establish a major experience ofthe built environment. Part of the urban fabric of the village is a large secular plane tree situated in the center of the village.The layout of Pilur is divided into three sections whichare obvious from a map: Çallos, Gjonadhes, and the village center. In the past it has been divided into as 12 many as thirteen sections.

The Landscape source of economic Development

The remote village of Piluri has an independent identity which is related to the economy of mountainous areas characterized by production of dairy products and agricultural activities. Its relation to Himara is defined through its visual connection. The panoramic view that the village is offering over Himara Bay, acts as main visitor attraction especiallyin the evening hours. The attractive mountainous landscape near Pilur (in Vumblo and northeast of Pilur) is a location quite suitable for eco-touristic activities.

The setting – landscape

Apart from its urban fabric though, what sets Pilur apart is its unique landscape. Two centuries ago the famous English poet and traveler Edward Lear said that Pilur “seemed to be set between heaven and clouds.” It is certainly the highest of the villages found along the Riviera range. Above it, the top of Çipth peak rises to a height of about 1,180 meters above sea level. On the plateau, the field of Vanova in the east and that of Vumlo in the southeast, remain closely intact to how they were engineered with terraces under communism by laborers to cultivate large crops.

Welcoming people

The village offers possibility for accommodation (a very limited number of bedding capacity in traditional house structures) in stay-homes and guesthouses. The visitors finds not only welcoming people in the house, but pieces of their history, culture, traditions, skills in craftworks, etc. A number of village stores exist in Pilur where local residents sell small items. At time of writing there were two houses operational in this manner, and they can be found with a simple conversation with a local.

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