It is as if you can feel the sensitiveness of the streams on the souls of the people who live here…
Peja was one of the cities that suffered significant destruction during the 1999 war in Kosovo. The flames of war swept over the town and houses were burned leaving thousands homeless. People sought shelter and protection in refugee camps across the border in neighboring Macedonia and Albania and were able to return home after the NATO intervention. Gradually, the city has recovered thanks to the determination of its people (colloquially known as Pejon) to rebuild and rise up despite the dark past.
Kosovo continues to be associated with war and destruction. To counter this lingering image, these photos of yoga poses inspired by historical landmarks, monuments and rituals have been taken to shed light to the rich cultural heritage and beautiful landscapes of the country.
As a characteristic of the town and people of Peja, the water color blue was chosen as an inspiration to yoga poses portrayed throughout the town. It is as if you can feel the sensitiveness of the streams on the souls of the people who live here. They come down from the mighty mountains into a crystal clear river, gently running through the heart of the town—just as the water “pejons” have the ability to adapt to the natural or man-made misfortunes and enjoy the calm and peace once it settles down.
The first stop is the Haxhi Bey Hamam, the Ottoman times public bath, dating back to the 16th century. With abundant water resources, Peja was a natural place for the Hamam. Sometime around 1462-1485, Haxhi Bey, a local leader, donated and built the bath for public use.
Today it is a relic of an ancient imported cultural ritual, a reminder of the way of life of our ancestors. The tradition of hamams may have in itself been a form of spiritual cleansing.While the hamams are surely things of the past, if still operational, nothing would have taken their attraction in today’s modern Kosovo.
Immediately across the road from the Haxhi Bey Hamam stands the Hamam Mosque, constructed long after the Hamam. As throughout all of Kosovo, Peja has numerous mosques and churches coexisting peacefully in mutual respect. Religious tolerance is a defining feature of Albanians, among whom you can find Muslim, Catholic and Christian Orthodox believers.
To get to the Ethnographic Museum of Peja, you pass the old bazaar known as Carshia e Gjate, full of shops showcasing filigree and other artisan jewelry. Through one of the narrow streets diverging from it, you reach the old green market —with one of the best white cheese offerings—as well as poultry market.
On the Haxhi Zeka square, you will see the house of Tahir Beu, which has been transformed into a museum with traditional handicrafts from the Dukagjini region. Various garments and traditional clothes from Rugova, the mountains surrounding Peja, are also presented here.
In a several minute walk, you reach the promenade known as korzo, which refers the name of a hotel that stood there years ago. Similarly to other Balkan countries, every night teenagers, young families with children and the elderly stroll through the promenade and stop to grab a drink or a few scoops of ice-cream. High-school seniors also walk down the promenade every May and show off their custom-made dresses and suits on their way to prom celebrations.
This is the side entrance to the Haxhi Zeka Watermill. It was the first watermill built in Kosovo and in the region featuring technology purchased in Austria. The mill is remarkable for the history of Peja, because it is here where the industrial economy had its beginnings.
While the large portion of Peja’s cultural heritage felt the wrath of war, the natural riches have endured. Their beauty transcends time, like the Rugova Gorge, one of the most preferred get-aways of locals and a must-see place for the internationals.
Fortunately, in spite of its popularity, quite vast areas of this beautiful canyon still preserve their natural innocence. It is home to hundreds of caves, waterfalls and springs and enchanting flora.
As the day comes to an end, a dance to the rhythm of the waterfalls running down the mountain slopes is dedicated, wishing the people of Peja to continue their Rugova dance…
(Photographs by Rina Hapçiu)