Illyria : Postcard from Albania

I was walking up the hill, leaving behind me the ancient town of Apollonia with its graceful ruins of temples and arcades, when I saw this vista. A golden field, a tree, blue skies. The setting sun colored the burned grasses dark gold, and if I turned around, I could see a ribbon of the sea glittering on the horizon. But I stared straight ahead. Centuries compress into seconds when one sees visions like this. This could have been Illyria.

Illyria is what this land in the west of the Balkan Peninsula was called in antiquity. Today, its largest part is in Albania. The town of Apollonia was famous for its university, and it was here that in 44 BC Gaius Octavius Thurinus learned of the assassination of his great-uncle Julius Caesar. Being named Caesar’s heir, he rushed to Rome to claim the throne and become emperor Augustus. He never finished his university studies, but it didn’t prevent him from being one of the most brilliant of Roman statesmen.

I walked around the town, and tried to put into place its magnificent university, its ensembles of temples and merchant houses, its elegant boulevards. Only 10% of Apollonia has been excavated, and as I wandered along its ruins and picked wild blackberries from the shrubs that choked its streets, I felt the ancient history as improbably close. It gave me a frisson.

Later that day, I arrived in the town of Berat and went to buy fruit from a local shop. The shop owner hearing me speaking Albanian, asked if I were from Albania. From Kosovo then, perhaps, he inquired further. I said that I was Ukrainian. “But of Albanian origins, right?” he insisted. I said that I didn’t think so. Momentarily nonplussed, he stood in silence and then suddenly had an epiphany. “There were the Albanian tribes that went to Ukraine,” he exclaimed. “Two thousand years ago,” he added.

I must be Illyrian.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

 

 

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41 Comments

  • eudora: Thanks Victoria… August 30, 2019 at 7:29am Reply

  • Gabriela: Beautiful Victoria. There are places that touch our hearts and make us wonder about our origins… we are, after all, many things. August 30, 2019 at 9:09am Reply

    • Victoria: So beautifully put, Gabriela! August 30, 2019 at 9:23am Reply

      • Anette: So touching
        Thank you September 1, 2019 at 5:46am Reply

  • Ariadne: Exquisite photo and recount of your travel discoveries! August 30, 2019 at 9:22am Reply

    • Victoria: Albania is such a fascinating country. August 30, 2019 at 9:23am Reply

      • Ines: Been reading your blog since forever! So glad that you came to my country 🙂 August 30, 2019 at 12:12pm Reply

        • Victoria: Thank you so much! The journey was unforgettable and I fell in love with Albania. The people were some of the most hospitable and generous I’ve encountered on my travels. August 31, 2019 at 5:55am Reply

  • Caitlenn: Roots are never just one fiber … they always have branches. August 30, 2019 at 10:12am Reply

  • Geraldine Ethen: Very touching personal comments — and you also gave a lesson in history! I had no idea that Romans studied university in Albania! Thank you for sharing this culture. August 30, 2019 at 11:09am Reply

    • Victoria: This area is one of the oldest settled places on the Balkan Peninsula. Many came and went, including the Romans. August 31, 2019 at 5:56am Reply

  • Filomena: I loved this post! Thank you! August 30, 2019 at 3:49pm Reply

    • Victoria: Glad that you liked it! August 31, 2019 at 5:56am Reply

  • AndreaR: Always wonderful to share your travels, Victoria and happy I can add another ethnicity to my gene pool:-) August 30, 2019 at 4:47pm Reply

    • Victoria: It’s such a beautiful place. August 31, 2019 at 5:57am Reply

  • Fazal: ““There were the Albanian tribes that went to Ukraine,” he exclaimed. “Two thousand years ago,” he added.”

    He reminds me how excited we are to meet someone if we suspect a common thread between us, no matter how remote our connection may be. Secretly, we all desire ‘six degress of kevin bacon’ connection with everyone else on the planet. August 30, 2019 at 5:01pm Reply

    • Victoria: Absolutely! You’ve put it so well. This kind of connection always feels exciting, and it doesn’t even matter whether it’s real or imagined. August 31, 2019 at 5:58am Reply

  • Juli: Thank you Victoria for informing your followers about my country’s ancient history ….it was very touching…and that picture it is worth a thousand words…!! August 30, 2019 at 8:07pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, Juli! I cannot wait to return and explore more. August 31, 2019 at 5:58am Reply

  • Matty: Beautiful post X August 31, 2019 at 8:27am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much! September 6, 2019 at 4:07am Reply

  • Klaas: Dear Victoria, your post reminded me of John Williams’ beautiful novel Augustus. It is a must read, historically accurate and the writing is absolutely exquisite. Highly recommended! September 2, 2019 at 9:57am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you, Klaas. I’ll take a look at this book. September 6, 2019 at 4:07am Reply

      • Klaas: The wonderful thing is that it is a epistolary novel (in letter form). The story unfolds like a kaleidoscope, through what people around Augustus (his wife, friends, councelors and many ennemies) write to eachother about him. Very well done. September 6, 2019 at 10:04am Reply

        • Victoria: That sounds very good. Of course, his story is absolutely fascinating. September 6, 2019 at 10:14am Reply

  • Tourmaline: Dear Illyrian and Renaissance Woman,

    Thank you for this lovely post.

    According to the Wikipedia article, “Albanian Diaspora”, there was a population of 3,308 Albanian people in Ukraine as at the 2001 census. Uau!

    As for being a Renaissance Woman – you are a perfumer, a beauty connoisseur, a trainer, a reader, a multilinguist, a writer, a journalist, a photographer, a history buff, a seasoned traveller, an art lover, a cook, a sewer, a dancer and probably many other things besides.

    As you are such an experienced traveller, I would enjoy reading a post about your best travel tips, especially as regards beauty care and dressing, as well as packing.

    With kind regards,
    Tourmaline September 3, 2019 at 12:33am Reply

    • Victoria: You’re very kind and thank you so much for your nice words. 🙂

      As far as comfortable travels go, the most important things for me are a bottle of sunscreen and a shawl. I have a whole bunch of shawls for travels that I bought from a hijab shop in London, and I use them in all sorts of ways, including impromptu bed covers. September 6, 2019 at 4:12am Reply

      • Tourmaline: Hi Victoria,

        You are most welcome.

        Ah yes, the ever-present 50+ is always a staple. (That’s the highest level we can buy in Australia.)

        As for shawls, I need to buy a couple. The last time I bought one, it was a lacy black nylon number to go with a dress for the Psychology Department Ball, way back when. I suppose you opt for natural fibres such as linen and cotton, or is a quick-drying synthetic one useful as well? I’ve noticed the shawls in many of your photos.

        (Not that I plan to travel anytime soon, but it’s interesting and useful info…)

        With kind regards,
        Tourmaline September 6, 2019 at 4:42am Reply

        • Victoria: I prefer natural fabrics, but I bought a bunch of modal shawls, and they’re excellent. They look thick, but they allow the skin to breathe. They’re, of course, more expensive, but they last really well, and my shawls get a lot of beating.

          Like you, I also buy the 50+ sunscreen. I don’t even bother with anything less. September 6, 2019 at 5:22am Reply

          • Tourmaline: Thanks for the tip re modal. Expensive is often best (and hence cheapest) in the long run. September 6, 2019 at 5:26am Reply

  • Becky D.: Such a lovely post! Something similar happened when I visited Jamestown in Virginia. When I saw birds in one of the empty squares, I said, “This must be the tavern.” Sure enough, as I kept walking, I found a sign indicating it was a tavern. Otherwise, there were no other clues, and perhaps I just said it due to the birds congregating like tavern visitors. However, I did have ancestors from Jamestown in the early years, so who knows? Thank you for sharing your interesting experience in Albania! September 3, 2019 at 9:02am Reply

    • Victoria: Such a nice story. Yes, one never knows! September 6, 2019 at 4:12am Reply

  • Karen A: Wonderful article! Another place now on the list to visit! September 3, 2019 at 10:33am Reply

    • Victoria: It’s definitely worth visiting, especially given your interests. September 6, 2019 at 4:12am Reply

  • rickyrebarco: Wonderful story! I would love to see Appolonia myself. I had the same feeling of being 2000 years back in time when I visited Ephesus. There has been some amazing archaeological work done there in the last 10 years uncovering the homes of the wealthier Ephesians up the hill from the shops and main boulevard. September 4, 2019 at 12:53am Reply

    • Victoria: Ephesus is another place on my long list of places to visit. September 6, 2019 at 4:13am Reply

  • Aurora: So glad for you that you discovered Albania this summer. What a beautiful picture, this mowed field and its single tree remind somehow of Van Gogh’s fields and I hope the tree is full of birds to feast on the grain. September 11, 2019 at 11:30am Reply

    • Victoria: I don’t recall any birds, but there were plenty of olive orchards around. September 11, 2019 at 3:36pm Reply

  • Laurie Quale: How lovely Victoria. I am half Albanian (half Hungarian), and was very lucky years back to volunteer in Hungary with many Albanian refugees from the Kosovo war. I made friends and family there, and will never forget all of the beautiful people I met from both sides of the conflict. It was funny, one day while walking by the older men playing chess, I greeted them with a happy “mirembrema”. One called me over, and they all said that I must be Albanian! It touched my heart, and from that day, I was treated like a daughter. I love your site – for the fragrances, of course (as I’ve done a lot of different things, from photography, film, non profit…but have been in fragrances about 30 years, so I’ll always love it), but I also love your writing, photos, your open heart and mind and the beautiful way you see life!
    Faleminderit!
    Oona Q. September 13, 2019 at 4:46pm Reply

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