1. Louis Hyacinthe Hecquard (1854)
  2. Rev. Henry Fenshaw Tozer (1865)
  3. Domenico Pasi S.J. (1892)
  4. Jules Alexandre Theodore Degrand (1890’s)
  5. Edith Durham (1908)
  6. Arthur Moore (1908)
  7. Gabriel Louis-Jaray (1910)
  8. Federico Valerio Ratti (1914)
  9. Pio Bondioli (1920)
  10. Jacques Bourcart (1922)
  11. Rosita Forbes (1929)
  12. Lt. Col. W.F. Stirling (1930)
  13. Carleton S. Coon (1930)
  14. J. Swire (1930)
  15. Captain D. R. Oakley Hill (1930-1933)
  16. Ann Bridge (1935)

Louis Hyacinthe Hecquard (1814 – 1866) was a French explorer from Lisieux, Normandy. He joined the diplomatic service and was sent to Albania in 1854 as French Consul in Shkodra. He travelled extensively throughout Northern Albania and became very familiar with the region. His book “Histoire et Description de la Haute Albanie ou Guegarie” (History and Description of High Albania or Ghegeria) is very thorough and well informed, whereby he gives an account of the famed mountain regions of Mirdita, along with a description of the ruling Kapidan of the time, Bib Doda “Pasha”, his accomplishments and defeats. Hecquard visited the Kapidan at his Sarajet in Orosh during his time in Albania.

The chief of the Mirdites has a large Sarajet that he built and lives in, in the style of the Turkish houses of Scutari, which only has a long table, an armchair and some wooden benches as their furniture. The part reserved for the women is, they say, a little more comfortable, that is to say that it has rugs and a few sofas. In front of the palace are two small iron cannons, without a lookout, which are, however, fired on holidays or during the arrival and departure of the Prince or of a Christian Consul.” (p. 220-221)

Rev. Henry Fanshawe Tozer, (1829 – 1916) was an English writer, teacher, traveler, and geographer. He traveled extensively in Greece and in European and Asiatic Turkey. He visited the Sarajet in 1865.

Dede (Domenico) Pasi, S.J. (1847 – 1914) came to Albania as a Jesuit missionary from Verona, Italy. He arrived in Albania in 1880. He founded the Jesuit Missionary Center in 1888, which was designed to play a major role in the work of the Jesuit order in Albania. This photo was taken in Albania and depicts his character. A biography titled “Albania as Seen Through the Work and Writings of a Great Italian Missionary, Father Domenic Pasi, S.J. was published in Rome in 1933. Some of the most interesting observations are on the Mirdita tribe. Father Pasi visited the Sarajet in 1892.

“On 31 January, without wasting time, Father brought the standard of the Mission to the capital: Orosh. It is a sparse village like many other along the prominent hills covered with pine trees, but relentlessly corroded by the waters which are only waiting for the gradual deforestation to devastate and carry everything downstream. The main group of houses, where the Sarajet or Palace of the Gjomarkaj family stood, a real fortress, was under great rocks with a thick crown of tall brown pines and a vast bronze face facing west. Above it lies the magnificent plateau where the ancient monastery of the Holy Mountain once stood, which is the life of the flocks and herd.”

With the Kaimakam of Mirdita, Marka Gjoni (l), Don Domenico, Summa my dragoman, and the brothers and guards of the Kaimakam” (Photo: Alexandre Degrand, 1890s).

Jules Alexandre Théodore Degrand (1844-1911) was born in Paris and joined the French Foreign Service. From 1893 to 1899 Degrand served as French consul in Shkodra. He was especially interested in the history of the region, in particular its prehistory and antiquity, and visited fortresses, mediaeval churches and ruins, noting what he saw and what he was told by the people he spoke to. Two years after his departure from Albania, he published his Souvenirs de la Haute-Albanie (Memories of High Albania), Paris 1901, a well-documented description of northern Albania of the period. The following excerpt is translated from his book, which is written in French, and recounts meeting Kapidan Marka Gjoni at his Sarajet.

“Marka Gjoni takes me to the first floor in a wing of his house, which he has somehow rebuilt, in order to stay there with his family. The bedroom, where I sit on Turkish style rugs and cushions, is completely whitewashed; some weapons are hung on the walls. Two narrow grated windows pierced into a veritable fortress wall give this room a middle-aged appearance, completed by a very narrow fireplace four to five meters high. In the blackened space hangs a wrought iron gate, on which we use to burn pieces of pine wood for light; a small petroleum wall lamp, with a tin reflector, which I see on a wall, denotes that a little civilization has infiltrated so far, at the expense of color.”

“A fine sample of the Mirdite breed, the Kaimacam is a first cousin of Prenk Bib Doda, and, according to the lineage of the family, would succeed him in the event of death; the Imperial Government, taking into consideration this quality of heir, entrusted to him this post which is equivalent to that of chief of Mirdite and gives him a small salary, he hopes thus to have it a little easier. He receives me kindly, replies with complacency to the many questions that I ask him about the customs of the mountain; during all this time, the door left open is encumbered by his guards who follow the interview with interest; the visit of a foreigner, of a French consul, above all, who had not come in twenty-eight years, is so extraordinary that, despite the care they took to conceal their curiosity, it is east to see that my arrival is an event that they will discuss for a long time. I take leave of Mark who, according to custom, supervises my departure, and follows us for a long time with his eyes in order to be certain that no accident will occur when leaving his house.”

Edith Durham (1863-1944) was a British artist, anthropologist, noted Albanophile and writer who became famous for her anthropological accounts of life in Albania in the early 20th century. She visited the Sarajet in 1908.

Arthur (William) Moore (1880-1962) – In late 1904 Moore was employed as secretary to the Balkan Committee established to publicize the plight of Macedonian Christians. He travelled extensively in the Balkans, and in 1908 he reported on the Young Turk revolution for a number of British newspapers. While in Macedonia he became, in his own words, ‘the first west European to penetrate central Albania’. In late 1908 Moore was employed by a consortium of newspapers to report on the civil war in Persia. It was during this time that he travelled to Mirdita. He would later return to Albaniain 1914.

“… and after dark they brought me to the castle of Captain Marko at Orosh. Again I was received in patriarchal style, and this time my Homeric chieftain did not fail me. Captain Marko was away on a great errand, so Captain Ndue, his brother and the next in seniority in the famous Mirdite family, was my host; and Captain Ndue, like his retainers, was clad in the fashion of the sons of the eagle.

“The center of the castle is in ruins, for the Turks destroyed it with artillery thirty years ago in the days of the famous Albanian League. Captain Ndue showed me the ruins, and explained the plans Mirdita was now forming to rebuild it for the exiled chief, Prenk Pasha, to whom the Young Turks had given permission to return.”

Orosh, the Palace of the Kapidan of Orosh

French travel writer, Gabriel Louis-Jaray (1880-1964), visited Albania in 1909-1910 and again later in August 1919, and travelled extensively in the country. He visited the Sarajet and Kapidan Marka Gjoni c.1910.

“One afternoon, we push to the palace of the Captain of Orosh, a real fortress, once destroyed by Turkish cannon and since then rebuilt; next to the current house, huge blocks still lie as if to recall the struggle of yesteryear. In front of the new construction, a terrace dominates the valley and communicates easily by signals with the Church of Orosh, located one hour from here.”

“Marka Gjoni, commonly known as Kapidan of Orosh, is the village chief; he is one of the members of the great Dukagjin family, from which the prince of Mirdites comes. His rich estates cover a part of this country, however, the interior of his dwelling is as simple as the Albanian houses which I have already visited; he is distinguished from all by his costume, because he has adopted European clothing, except the hat; were it not for the fez he wears, one could take him for a visibly wealthy western peasant, commanding a world of cultivators. He is a man of around forty years, tall and handsome, who alone of all the Albanians here does not circulate with any weapons other than a cane, which he uses as a sign of command.”

Federico Valerio Ratti – Playwright, journalist, writer. Travelled to Albania c.1914.

“One day, while the battle between Prince Wied and the muslim insurrection was ongoing in Durazzo, I asked the Prince (Preng Bib Doda) of Mirdita if finally the compliments of the loyalists had won him over and would he finally join the government.”

“I will tell you an Albanian tale” he told me. “A long time ago a cat and a fox went together to the woods. At one point the fox asked the cat: “If by chance we come across some hunters, how many tricks in mind do you have to escape them?”

“I? One” said the cat. “Poor cat!” exclaimed the fox. “I have more than hundred in mind, I will know very well how to escape them, but how will you with only one?” Suddenly, some hunters who were hidden appeared. The cat, following his only thought, in two or three jumps leapt to the top of the tree; the fox hesitated for a second trying to decide the best trick among his and they cut his tail”.

“I am the cat” concluded Bib Doda, “And the tree is Orosh. Good day”.

Pio Bondioli (1890-1958) was an Italian journalist and historian. During the Great War (1918-1921) he was an official in Albania and Greece. In 1939 he published the book “Albania Quinta Sponda d’Italia”, where he described the location of the Sarajet in Orosh.

“…Oroshi. There is also the political center of Mirdita: the palace (saraj) of the princely Doda family, on the sides of a valley of dark serpentines in which the small Fan flows, stands out together with the white cathedral surrounded by about twenty kulle (towers) and defended by ramparts.

Jacques Bourcart (1891-1965) was a French geologist and oceanographer. After a military service with the spahis (1913), he spent part of the Great War in Albania. His thesis, defended in 1922, focused on “Les Confins Albanais” administered by France (1916-1920). He contributed to the geology and geography of Middle Albania. He visited the Sarajet in 1922 and was hosted by Kapidan Marka Gjoni.

“I stayed in Mirdita in 1920 and I received the warmest hospitality, especially from Marka Gjoni, who complained a little about France – a lot about Serbia at the time. I was reminded of old memories; the tricolor flew there in my honour; I was asked to relay to France what the stake of the people was – which I did. I was very surprised when I saw that the political and religious capital of the Mirdites: Oroshi, was only five or six houses and a large cathedral – my companions from the Geographical Society were able to see the panorama.

Published in the France Orient, 1 February 1922, page 25

Rosita Forbes, née Joan Rosita Torr, (1890 – 1967) was an English travel writer, novelist and explorer. In 1920–1921 she was the first European woman to visit the Kufra Oasis in Libya (together with the Egyptian explorer Ahmed Hassanein), in a period when this was closed to Westerners. She traveled to Albania in 1929 and was a guest at the Sarajet.

Lt. Col. W.F. Stirling (1880-1958) held a couple of posts in Albania under King Zog’s regime (1923-1931. The last post was of Inspector General of Civil Administration. During his time in Albania he frequently explored the country. In August of 1930 he was a special guest at the wedding of Kapidan Gjon Marka Gjoni’s eldest son, Kapidan Mark Gjon Marku.

“Her father’s house was two days’ journey away, and an escort of some two hundred armed Mirdita mountaineers had already left to fetch her over the difficult trail. She had left her father’s house on horseback, and the only member of her family allowed to accompany her was her mother. Tradition demanded that she be seen by no one and so she rode enveloped in a veil of scarlet silk, mounted on a wire framework supported on her head. To ride thus blindfolded over those treacherous mountain tracks was surely a test of nerves from which even our own Amazons might shrink.”

Carleton S. Coon (1904-1981) was a physical anthropologist from Wakefield, Massachusetts. In 1925 he graduated from Harvard University, in Egyptology and Anthropology. Carleton Coon was in Albania in 1929-1930 where he carried out an anthropometric survey of 1,067 Albanians from ten regions in the North of the country, basically measuring body sizes and shapes. This survey was completed in 1946-1947 with assistance from the Albanian community in the Boston area and led to the publication of his volume “The Mountains of Giants: a Racial and Cultural Study of the North Albanian Mountain Tribes,” Cambridge, Mass. 1950. During this time he visited the Sarajet and was hosted by Kapidan Gjon Markagjoni while conducting his studies.

“Jon Markagjon, the only tribal chief whom we met and who entertained us very well at this capital in Orosh, would not allow us to measure him, although he summoned all of his subjects from nearby villages. The 5 retainers whom we measured in his house constituted his princely staff. Three of them were part-time farmers, and 2, full-time political employees. What their exact duties and titles were, we did not determine. The ancient tribal government of Ghegnia, if we may judge by the example of Mirdita, the one tribe in which survived more or less intact until 1929, consisted of graded hierarchy with three steps – elders and their chief, bajraktars and tribal prince. Attached to the prince was his staff of special messengers, chamberlains and guards.” (Politics and Feuding, pg. 31)

Prince Jon Markgajon of Mirdita, with his wife, mother and children
Vol. XXIII, No. 3, Figure 10
(please note-photo taken in spring 1930 – the children present were left to right – Bardha (1925-2013), Nikoll (1928-2018), Dede (1921-2015) – by Bianca Gjomarkaj)

J. Swire (1903-1978) Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and Member of the Royal Institute of National Affairs. Mr. Swire travelled extensively throughout the Balkans in 1924 and returned to Albania in 1930, during which time he visited Kapidan Gjon Marka Gjoni at the Sarajet in Orosh. His accounts of the visit are detailed in his book “King Zog’s Albania” published by Robert Hale and Company in 1937.

“Then, by a steep hot climb, we reached the house of Kapedan Gjon Marka Gjoni, Hereditary Chieftain of Mirdita and paramount chief of all the Catholic clans of northern Albania. Gjon met us with solemn greetings as we scrambled over the last few yards of rough track. Like his house he is square-built and sturdy. Beneath a white skull cap his hair was close-cropped, his face bronzed. His dress was a collarless shirt, tweed coat and waistcoat and breeches, stockings, elastic sided boots, and at his waist a dark red sash holding a tobacco box and a silver-mounted pistol from the King.

Captain D. R. Oakley Hill (1898-1985) was an English officer who, for over nine years, was “Lieut. Colonel and Inspector of Gendarmerie” in Albania. He was staff officer to Major General Sir Jocelyn Percy, British organizer and Inspector-General of Albanian Gendarmerie, and acted as interpreter between his chief and King Zog. He visited Kapidan Gjon Marka Gjoni at the Sarajet in Orosh on a number of occasions during his stay in Albania.

“The chieftains are most lavish, within their means. I stayed once or twice with Gjon Markagjoni, the hereditary chief of the Mirdita tribe. He has built himself a strong house on a bluff half way up a five thousand feet mountain and there he holds feudal sway.”

His men take the sheep and goats up to the higher pastures early in the morning, and in the evening they file slowly down again. The sheep and goats are let into the separate pens, and the milking begins.”

Ann Bridge (1889–1974) is the pseudonym of Mary Ann Dolling (Sanders), Lady O’Malley, also known as Cottie Sanders. Bridge wrote 14 novels, mostly based on her experiences living in foreign countries, one book of short stories, a mystery series, and several autobiographical non-fiction books. She visited Albania twice in 1933 and in 1935.

Her last visit became the backdrop of her novel Singing Waters, which is based on her visit to the Sarajet and her sojourn there. She lived with the family of Kapidan Gjon Markagjoni for almost one month and goes into great detail in her “fiction” novel about her stay at the Sarajet and meeting the family.

Although a fiction, the book reads more like a travel journal. The detailed description of the Sarajet and the daily activities there during that period is fascinating. The names have been slightly altered, nevertheless the description of the characters and their relationships are unmistakable.

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