First Impressions

Borsh is a village but really refers more to a collection of settlements both historic and contemporary that exist along an alluvial plain that is the delta of a small river that flows into the sea from the inland mountains. The mountains provided a secure point upon which to build a castle; the plain provided flat ground with rich soil on which to cultivate olives; and in recent times, the wide beach created by the delta has provided the basis for a touristic economy. The families who live in Borsh have roots that go back many centuries, but none of them have lived in the same place throughout history. People have been displaced numerous times, making their way closer to the water for dwelling in the past twenty-five years than they had ever been before. Today, Borsh is known for its olive production and processing. During communism the area was transformed into an efficient olive producing land. And in addition to the many hundreds of hectares of olive plantation that still exist in many states of usage, the major regional olive press is left over from communism as well. Farmers from across the region haul their harvest to Borsh where it is pressed into oil and bottled for the domestic market or shipped abroad to Italy and Greece. Borsh brand olive oil can be found in every major grocery store in Tirana, and it is favored by locals for its light and sweet quality.

The People

From an ethnographic point of view, the village of Borsh shares many features with the rest of the coast and Labëri. Men’s traditional attire is the kilt, while the women’s attire, although belonging to the Muslim religion, is the same as other women of the coast. A report of 1786 sent by an Austrian army colonel named Dedovic to the Emperor Franz Joseph II stated: “The usual household attire of the residents of Borsh, especially of women and children, is handmade weaved of wool; in Borsh there are also felt clothings, whereas the best clothing is made of the fabric purchased in the territories of Venice.” The traditional song is polyphony, sung in the same way as in the other villages of Labëri, with very few changes. This song is often accompanied by the characteristic dance of Labëri—men or women linked hand in hand and follow the rhythm of the song. Besides the usual dish of roasted meat, Borsh’s menus may feature pies with different and special assortments, as well as characteristic desserts. Recently fish has made its way into the local cuisine as well, and during the summer months it is widely available in restaurants.

The roots

The earliest settlement near today’s village of Borsh is the Castle of Sopot (also referred to as Borsh Castle). It was established on a mountain ridge above the village. The earliest traces of life in this castle dates back to the late Bronze Age, the sixth century BCE. This settlement and its early inhabitants have been part of antique Chaonia and its castle had a great importance due to its geographical-strategic position because it controls the only possible and natural entrance of the coast of Himara to the remote areas in Labëri. The first time that the Castle of Sopot is mentioned is the beginning of the thirteenth century by the name of “Arhonte e Sopotit.” In the second half of the same century the castle initially adopted Norman rule, followed later by Anzhuine rule. According to Ottoman Defter of 1431–1432, Sopot became the center of the village with the same name. At the same time, the village that was known as Borsh was actually deeper in the valley, near the village of Fterrë. Borsh only came to be located in its current location at the beginning of the twentieth century. Sopot itself had sixty houses and was given as a timar to Hizir Bey, a captain of the feudal cavalry and governor of a town-referred to as Subash. Sopot was again conquered by Alfonso V of Naples in 1456. And in 1470 it was under Venetian possession and depended on Corfu. In 1479, after the collapse of Shkodra, by an agreement, Venice delivered it to the Ottoman Empire. With the landing of Gjon Kastriota on the coast of Albania on August 31, 1481, the province of Himarë was liberated and a day later the castle of Sopot as well, only to fall back to the Ottomans again in 1492.

The setting

The ruins of the old village of Borsh, which once was situated near the village Fterrë, unlike today’s village of the coast, represent a relatively broad range of low density ofconstructions. The ruins of dwellings outside the walls of Castle of Sopot in the southeast, were related to Kokni village mentioned in the Ottoman records of 1431–1432, and had fourteen houses. The dwellings are built in a semi-floor volume,adapting to the steep rocky terrain. Their entry is either constructed with a stone or vaulted header while masonry is connected with lime mortar. The alluvial field of Borsh is another picturesque aspect, which is surrounded by a mountainous arch in the northeast and south, creating the image of an amphitheater. The visitor’s attention is drawn toward the Sopot castle situated high on a hill above thenew village. This same hill extends on the northern and western side and the river of Borsh runs through the hill’s feet, flowing through the gorge that separates Borsh from Çorraj.

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