For centuries it was unknown that the heartland of Kosova could be home to an ancient castle.
A rare discovery, unlike any other in the Central Balkans, the Harilaqi Castle has been hiding silently underneath an abundant park atop a hill.
It seems that now the Harilaqi hill is finally ready to reveal its precious crown.
Believed to be a dwelling site since the 12th century BC, the first discoveries in the castle have hinted at fragments of a lavish life from the 4th and 6th centuries AD.
The earliest accounts of the existence of a castle in the village of Harilaq have been mentioned in the book “De Aedificis” (On Construction), by Procopius of Caesarea, yet what was sitting in front of our eyes, as often is the case, was difficult to see.
A possible residential fortification, built or rebuilt in ancient Dardania by Byzantine emperor Justinian, tells of a prosperous people living an aristocratic life. Human sculptures in the form of a person’s face, coins with Justinian’s silhouette engravings, iron and bronze jewelry, metal tools and glass remains and some clay pots in color are some of the discovered objects that reveal the possessions of these people.
Protected by three towers keeping guard of the envied location, the castle served many purposes. It apparently offered inhabitants the comfort to care for their families, their barns, and to cultivate their food inside the castle. A church and a sacristy were found among the ruins, revealing that they also attended to spiritual and religious matters.
Still, the purpose of two large and identical ring-shaped structures sitting in the center of the castle has been more difficult to determine, as they seem to be unique features of the castle, incomparable to the ones in the region.
Some relics, likely, imports from Italy and other parts of the region, hint at the possibility that the castle may have been a pilgrimage center, or even a martyrium, linked to the cult of St.Florus or St.Laurus, two of the only known martyrs in ancient Dardania.
Yet, the excavations that have taken place to date are insufficient to determine the purpose of most spaces within the castle.
The mystique of Harilaq is magnified even more as right next to it lies the infamous hill of Golesh, underneath which the Yugoslav military built a secret airplane base during the 1960s. For decades the whereabouts of the tunnels leading to the base were talked about as a myth and what was known was discussed fervently. Some say that the workers from the surrounding villages could not even speak to their families about their work.
In 1999, as the war erupted in Kosovo, the last 11 planes were flown out of the base by Russian military. There is a runway that connects this hidden base to the national airport of Prishtina. It may be that the reason you are submerged into clouds before landing at the airport of Prishtina might just not be a bare coincidence, but a sound decision by the Yugoslavs to build a military airport at a location known for its climate of fog, difficult to spot with the available technology at the time.
While in the depths of the tunnels, you see rusty pipes for the water, power and heating systems, above the hill you find old antennas and routers used for tracking airplanes and communication. Today, murals of pilots, airplanes, and graffiti hidden in these tunnels are a few of the colorful remnants of this abandoned base.
The Goleshi hill is clearly visible from the Harilaqi castle and both overlook a large area of Kosova. It is believed that at some point the Harilaqi castle may have been used as a fortification to watch over the ancient city of Ulpiana, one of the most important and up to now the largest archeological discoveries in Prishtina dating from the Roman times.
Since 2016, the Harilaqi castle has been transformed into the site of the “Visions of Beyond” Festival, transmuting music from the heart of the country to the beyond. Every August, for 19 straight hours, Kosova’s heart beats to techno vibes fusing the musical tastes of local DJ-s with those from neighboring countries and the rest of the world. This year, we’ll be teaching yoga in the castle at sunset overlooking the skyline of Kosova. As the night falls, the Astronomy Club will get the telescopes ready to gaze at the vivid stars, reminding us of the infiniteness of our beings.
Photos by: Rina Hapçiu