Photographs From Mostar

I visited the town of Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina during my two month long Balkans trip back in September 2017. The town is one of the highlights of the country and is easily accessible from either Sarajevo or the historic Croatian town of Dubrovnik. I took the train from Sarajevo, which I highly recommend. On most bus journeys its not uncommon to hear the latest chart music playing on the speakers. Instead during this two hour train journey I was treated to a non stop 60s and 70s rock n roll extravaganza of Thin Lizzy, Free, Deep Purple, Credence Clearwater Revival, The Rolling Stones and lots more classic music from that era.

Mostar is well known for its famous Ottoman era landmark bridge in the old part of town. During the Bosnian war in the 1990s the bridge was completely destroyed as was much of the town. In fact if you take a good walk around Mostar you will see many remnants of bombed out and dilapidated buildings from that awful time. The current bridge is a beautiful and meticulous reconstruction of the original bridge.

There’s a popular restaurant in the old part of town close to the bridge called Sadrvan, which serves delicious and inexpensive traditional Bosnian cuisine. Look out for the Mostarian Sahan (a traditional local mixed hot pot) and the Duvec (a rich vegetable stew).

This is a pleasant and charming old historical town in a beautiful setting. Most places are walking distance away and you can easily spend 2-3 leisurely days here. Away from the main tourist drag there are some good bakeries selling cheap and tasty pastries.  The best thing to do here is to walk and explore the streets and side streets. Lots of interesting nooks and crannies can be unearthed. Below I am sharing with you all some of my photographs from this interesting slice of the Balkans…

 

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Photographs and text by Nicholas Peart

(c)All Rights Reserved

Visiting the Albanian towns of Gjirokaster and Berat

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My first visit to Albania was earlier this year in late September when I visited the northern Albanian town of Shkoder en route towards Montenegro after having spent a week in neighbouring Kosovo. Visiting the rest of the country wasn’t on the agenda on that trip but I vowed to return to Albania later in the year. Since the beginning of November I had been based in Athens for almost three weeks. Yet I made sure that I would return to Albania before the end of this trip.

From the northern Greek town of Ioannina, I took an early afternoon bus directly to the southern Albanian mountain town of Gjirokaster. I was the only tourist on the bus. Ioannina is a mountain town located on a plateau of around 500 meters. The entire sky was heavy with thick low lying clouds and I was wearing my warmest garments. During the two hour bus ride we drive through some awesomely stunning mountain landscape. There is no heating on the bus and my feet are turning to ice. The border crossing feels like its located at the same altitude as La Paz in Bolivia. On the Greek side we all have to get off the bus and I make an inward groaning sound. Uniquely for border crossings, the Greek border official is full energy and excellent humour. His English is impeccable…‘So Mr Nicholas Alexander, what the hell are you doing on the Greek-Albanian border?’ When we approach the Albanian side I feel relieved when we don’t have to disembark the bus. Instead the bus driver takes all our passports to give to the Albanian border official before handing them back to us.

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By Lake Pamvotis in the northern Greek town of Ioannina

On arrival in Gjirokaster, the bus stops on the side of the main town boulevard, Bulevardi 18 Shtatori. Multiple red Albanian flags line the middle of the boulevard. I establish my bearings towards my guesthouse via Google Maps. With hindsight, it would have taken an age to find my place without all this digital cutting edge technology at my disposal. From the boulevard, I walk up multiple ascending narrow stone paths. As I get closer to my destination, the older part of town with its old historic Ottoman style houses (some splendidly dilapidated) slowly reveals itself to me. I wish I were wearing my hi tech Merrel brand boots with their tough Vibram grip. My trendy hipster Vans shoes are not made for walking these jagged stone paths. As I walk further up one of the paths, a young man on a donkey with a small cart attached to it passes me by.

Google Maps is on my side and eventually I reach my final destination, Mele Guesthouse, or at least I think I have? An elderly couple greet me at the gates and take me inside their house. I ask them for the whereabouts of Mele, but neither of them speak a lick of English. We sit down on the sofa in the living room and the lady goes to the kitchen and returns with a tray carrying a bowl of sweats and an oversized shot glass of raki. With weather as cold as this, the raki is like a hot woodfire stove in my belly. I am also presented with a photo album of the couple with two of their children, a son and a daughter, in Venice. I assume that the daughter is Mele. After some time, a man in his late 30s/early 40s appears. I have a giant lemon sweet drop in my mouth disabling me from speaking clearly. Mele, I learn, is the surname of the man who’s name is Edmond. He speaks excellent English and I follow him to his house next door where my room is located. There is a balcony by my room with a tremendous view over the rest of the city and of the dramatic wide snow capped mountain symbolic of this town. My room is not warm but Edmond tells me to use the air conditioning unit on the wall, which doubles up as a radiator during this time of year. Edmond and I sit on the sofa in the heated living room. He makes me a delicious and warm organic tea and mentions that he once lived in Milton Keynes for two years back in 2005. Nowadays he works as a metal welder in town and lives in the house with his partner and their adorable young kid.

I spend the remainder of the afternoon walking around the old town. I need to withdraw some local cash so I head back towards the new part of town where I originally arrived. Instead of the arduous multiple narrow paths route I earlier in the day, I find a descending stone paved road leading directly into that part of town. After withdrawing my cash, I enter a bakery and order a slice of cheese and spinach pie and a wedge of halva cake. It all comes to about one Euro in the local Leks currency. That same purchase down the road in Ioannina would have cost me three times more. I am served by a young woman of about 20 who speaks passable English. She is so lovely and kindhearted, and admits to me that she cherishes all the opportunities to practice her English. Her name is Ada and she’s a student at a local university.

When I return to the old part of town, I try to find Taverna Kuka, a restaurant recommended to me by Edmond. The wooden taverna is aesthetically very tasteful and well heated. On one wall, there are several framed pencil sketches of assorted areas of the old town by a local artist. My first choice, the moussaka, is unavailable so I settle on a plate of qifqi, a local ball-shaped delicacy made from rice, dhjozme, egg, salt, pepper and milk.

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Taverna Kuka

 

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A plate of qifqi and meatballs

At night the temperature drops below zero. The air-con is humming away converted ice cold air into warm air. It’s a cumbersome and electricity wasting process and nothing beats a radiator, whether portable or nailed to the wall. Entering my private bathroom, which is unheated I must add, is like accidentally wading into a winter in Vorkuta. I pee and brush my teeth with haste before exiting back into a warmer vacuum. Edmond has kindly provided me with enough blankets to prevent the entire population of Gjirokaster from developing hypothermia.

When I wake up at 7am the next day, I roll up the shutters covering the sliding balcony glass doors. I am rewarded with a pristine blue day. The wide mountain and town skyline are majestic. I am served a decent breakfast of bacon, eggs, bread, sweet pickles and a Nutella crêpe. Wolfing down my breakfast, I tell myself Carpe fucking Diem. I am going to live today like its one of my last. I have the energy of James Brown, sans angel dust.

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View of Gjirokaster from the balcony of my guesthouse room

 

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Breakfast on the balcony

The first site in town I visit is the former childhood home of the Albanian president-for-life Communist dictator Enver Hoxha. Hoxha ruled the country for over 40 years from 1944 until his death in 1985. During his rule he cut off the country from most of the world. Albanian civilians were not allowed to leave and his regime tortured and killed thousands. Albania was comparable to Fidel Castro’s Cuba or present day North Korea during this period.

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Enver Hoxha 

Hoxha’s childhood home is an old Ottoman style house over 100 years old, which has been converted into the town’s ethnographic museum. Most of the wooden features and designs of the house appear to be original and well preserved. In contrast to this, many of the old historic Ottoman style houses dotted around the old town look neglected and in a decaying state of disrepair. In the vestibule of the first floor of the house, there is a small corner table with two black and white photographs of Hoxha resting on the wall. The living and guest rooms of the house are furnished with long sofas, antique carpets, intricate Ottoman style wooden reliefs on the wall and also some artillery pieces like the two rifles in one of the rooms.

The childhood home of Enver Hoxha now the Ethnographic museum in Gjirokaster

 

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Photographs from inside the Ethnographic museum in Gjirokaster

Another figure to come from Gjirokaster is one of Albania’s best known literary figures, Ismail Kadare. His most famous novel, I visit his former home, which has been reconstructed after a fire in the 1990s destroyed the original structure and features. It is used as an exhibition space today and when I visited there were a number of Expressionist style oil paintings by a local artist dotted around the home. In one room there is a small table with black and white photographs of Ismail as a young boy, some books, the hat he wore whilst he was a journalist in Vietnam during the war and a certificate honouring Kadare for winning the Jerusalem Prize for the Freedom of the Individual in Society of 2015.

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Inside the former home of Albanian writer Ismail Kadare 

Afterwards I head to the enormous hilltop fortress of Gjirokastra. Just before I walk up the steps towards the fortress, I get lost walking up some of the mazes of surrounding stone pathways. The higher I climb the more awesome a view I have of the fortress and the old bazaar. The wide snow capped mountain in the distance, visible from my balcony, augments the beauty, rawness and authenticity of this historic slice of Albania. When I enter inside the fortress, I arrive at an area with great tall multiple stone arches and a collection of artillery dating back to the Second World War. Most of these weapons belonged to German and Italian forces, which occupied Albania during that time. The fortress is also home to the Museum of Gjirokaster. The museum contains numerous displays and information documenting the history of the city from as far back as pre-historic times. Of most interest to me is the period of history starting from when the Ottoman Empire conquered the Balkans region. In 1417, Gjirokaster became part of this empire. Since that time the town grew immensely and Islam became the dominant religion, although the Ottomans were tolerant towards the existing Christian communities.

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Fortress of Gjirokaster

 

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The artillery gallery inside the fortress

By the time of the 18th and 19th centuries, Gjirokaster was an important administrative centre for the empire. It was around this time in 1811 when the city was captured by Ali Pasha of Ioannina, the last town I visited before I arrived in Gjirokaster. To say that Pasha was a formidable ruler would be an understatement. From the modest bits and pieces I’ve read up on him, he strikes me as the quintessential larger than life colonial despot; an intimidating and nightmarish version of Louis XIV of France on an eternal cocaine comedown. Or more generously, a PG certificate Ghenghis Khan. Lord Byron famously visited his court in the walled Turkish Kastro in Ioannina in 1809 and had conflicting feelings about the man. On one hand he was impressed by the ruler’s cultural refinement and the opulence of his court yet he was shocked by his propensity for off the charts barbarism as he wrote in a letter to his mother, ‘His Highness is a remorseless tyrant, guilty of the most horrible cruelties, very brave, so good a general that they call him the Mahometan Buonaparte…but as barbarous as he is successful, roasting rebels, etc, etc..’ An example of his brutality include tales of drowning people who rubbed him up the wrong way by bundling them into sacks loaded with stones and then tying up the sacks before proceeding to drop them in Lake Pamvotis below the walls of his court. I recalled walking by that lake close to the Kastro and former court of Ali one cold and overcast day on my way to the bus terminal hellbent on getting to Albania. All the leaves on the trees by the lake were golden autumn brown. Ignorance is bliss and all I can remember is being struck by the beauty of the nature of my surroundings. Ali Pacha of Ioannina back then was just a name and I knew almost nothing about the man and the history of the town I was passing through.

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Ali Pasha

But back to Gjirokaster before I digress any further. The origins of the fortress date back as far as the 12th century but it wasn’t until the time when Ali Pasha first seized the town that major changes occurred. He instigated an enormous building project to expand the fortress with the help of his chief architect, Petro Korçari. His expansion project included new fortifications, the clock tower and an aqueduct to transport water from a mountain spring to fill the huge cisterns in the castle. The fortress was large enough to house up to 5000 soldiers along with their weapons and other supplies. An arsenal of 85 assorted British made state of the art arms were added to further protect the fortress from invasions. Not surprisingly, during Ali Pasha’s rule, the fortress never came under attack.

Some other interesting things I discovered in the museum about Gjirokaster include how fond the English landscape painter and poet, Edward Lear, was of the town. He visited two times in 1848 and 1859 on his travels through the Balkans. There are two black and white photographs which ignite my curiosity. One is a photograph of the old town from 1925 and the other is a photograph of locals hacking away with a hammer at the large town statue of Enver Hoxha after the fall of Communist rule in 1990. Although Gjirokaster is his place of birth and the town where he grew up, during his 41 year rule of Albania from 1944 until his death in 1985, he only visited his hometown a few times. There is also a display of miscellaneous ephemera from the Communist era such as political propaganda papers and identity documents.

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Painting of the fortress and the connecting aqueduct by the 19th century English painter and poet Edward Lear 

 

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The old town of Gjirokaster in 1925

 

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Locals posing by and hacking away at the statue of Enver Hoxha in Gjirokaster after the fall of Communism in the early 1990s

 

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Objects and ephemera from the Communist period

From the top of the fortress, one is rewarded with a monumental view of the famous wide mountain of Gjirokaster. Ali Pasha’s clock tower is located near the end beneath the backdrop of the mountain. Elsewhere there is a large metallic dome shaped structure over a circular stage. This is where the National Folk Festival is held every four or five years.

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The Ali Pasha built clock tower of the fortress of Gjirokaster

With less than a couple of hours remaining of light on these preciously short days, I make my way towards Zekate House; a grand Ottoman era house and probably the most spectacular of all the grand houses in Gjirokaster. It was built between 1811-12 and was a gift from Ali Pasha to Beqir Zeko (whom the house is named after) who built the house for him. It is located on a high slope over looking the rest of the old town. The view from the top of the house over Gjirokaster is just as epic as the view from the top of the fortress. The house is incredibly well preserved with almost all of its original features. One of the guest rooms comprises of ornate Ottoman style art on the walls and a beautifully designed wooden ceiling in the same style. Some of the windows feature multicoloured glass pains.

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The grand Ottoman era Ali Pasha constructed Zekate House 

 

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One of the guest rooms inside Zekate House

In the evening the temperature drops dramatically hovering around the -5/-6 Celsius mark. Even with the aircon unit going into overdrive to pump warm air it isn’t enough and dispite having all the blankets in the world, I consider sleeping in my clothes. All this aside, the guesthouse is very homely and Edmond and his partner did their very best to make my stay as pleasant as possible. Edmond organises his friend to collect me after breakfast the next day to drive me to a part of town from where my bus to the town of Berat, further north of the country before the capital of Tirana, would depart. His friend arrives in a black Mercedes Benz parked at the bottom of the path leading up to Edmond’s home. With hindsight I am glad I opted for a cab. I most likely would have got hopeless lost had I gone it alone. Edmond’s friend doesn’t speak a word of English and the young lady at the office of one of the bus companies is not much better. Fortunately I have my phone so I give Edmond a call and he communicates with both his friend and the lady. I later learn that the bus to Berat will be arriving at a later time. Two minutes later I am bundled into a white mini van destined for the Albanian town of Lushnjë from where I have to catch another bus to Berat. When I enter the van it is close to full capacity and I find a seat in the row of seats right at the back of the van.

Leaving Gjirokaster, we slowly descend to a lower plateau and the temperature becomes noticeably milder, but I am still wrapped up. There is no heating system in the van. Before we reach Lushnjë, the bus driver points to a sign indicating the direction to Berat. The driver speaks zero English yet he directs his hand pointing frantically to a small bay area by the connecting road. I assume a Berat bound bus will be stopping there? Still I am not sure so before disembarking the bus I make an impromptu call out to all the passengers on the bus beginning by asking whether anyone speaks English? Thankfully a young lady with dyed platinum hair comes to the rescue and is able to confirm in modest English that I need to go to the bay area the bus driver keeps relentlessly pointing at. I say the Albanian word for thank you, faliminderit, about a dozen times putting my right hand to my heart.

Like some travelling 1930s Mississippi Delta Bluesman, I trudge with all my stuff over to the other road and the small bay area. Within five minutes a Berat bound battered furgon appears and I nudge myself inside with my suitcase. I am dropped off somewhere outside of Berat from where I board a local bus to the centre. The ticket seller on the bus asks me in broken English what football team I support? I am not a football man but I tell him Tottenham. He looks at me and smiles, exposing a set of truly disgusting broken and jagged nicotine stained teeth; a sight so disturbing I conclude this is someone not suitable to be around young kids. ‘Chelsea!!!’ he howls at me in a voice so piercingly loud all the other passengers stop what they are doing.

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Berat

From the centre of town I disembark with my suitcase and walk, via trusty Google Maps, to my guesthouse located in a quiet and desolate location on the margins of the centre of town. It is a small newly built bungalow home with a few rooms. The outside of the house is no great shakes, but the few rooms inside are all in immaculate condition. In spite of this the rooms are very cold and even the air con unit doubling up as a heater doesn’t sufficiently heat up the room. The floor is cold as ice and the bathroom is one big freezer with a wooden door. The owners, an old Albanian couple, have a heart of gold though and the price per night is ridiculously cheap and good value. Too good in fact, especially if you consider that the price included a very generous breakfast of assorted slices of ham, jams, bread, feta cheese slabs and cut pieces of cucumber and tomato. Yet the cold temperature of my room means I sadly have to move on to another place the following day. The second guesthouse I stay at is more expensive, but is closer to town, run by a lovely family and has warmer rooms.

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The old Ottoman Gorica Quarter of Berat

Most of my stay in Berat is handicapped by ferocious torrents of rain. In fact the rain was so severe across most of the country that whenever I watched the national news it was all total mayhem; monumental floods, overflowing rivers, main highway roads blocked by mud and sludge etc. I was even wondering whether I’d make it on to Tirana on time? The entire second day of my stay in Berat was spent inside my room. When on the third day the rain still hadn’t softened, I was so determined not to spend another day bunkered in my room, I decided to brave the deluge. All I had was my small black umbrella I purchased from a vendor in the Omonia district of Athens for a couple of euros.

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Castle walls of the old hilltop Kalaja neighbourhood in Berat

I wanted to visit the old Kalaja neighbourhood located on top of a hill within the walls of the old city castle. It is a quite a shlep to get there and with the lashing rain and low hanging clouds even more challenging. About two thirds of the uphill stone path have turned into rapid streams of water. I invariably step into the steams and my busted Vans are already soaked to the bone. Yet I persevere and make the entrance of the castle walls at the top of the hill. From where I am, all of the town below is smothered in substantial puffs of nimbus clouds.

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A cloud smothered view of Berat from the historic hilltop Kalaja neighbourhood

Yet I am glad I made it. The old neighbourhood within the castle walls is a gem of stunning old Ottoman architecture and narrow stone alleys and passages. Walking through this maze evokes mental images of passing though a slice of medieval England with a Turkish twist. It feels very authentic here and this is no museum. It is a living and breathing neighbourhood where locals go about their daily lives.

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Photographs from the old Kalaja neighbourhood

What is interesting is that for a long time Kalaja was a Christian neighbourhood and at one point had around 20 churches. Today there are fewer churches, yet the largest church in the district, the Church of the Dormition of St Mary (Kisha Fjetja e Shën Mërisë), is an old church still in existence dating back to 1797 and was constructed on the base of a church from the 10th century. This church is the site of the Onufri Museum. Onufri was a 16th century Orthodox icon painter and Archpriest priest of the Albanian town of Elbasan. He is considered the most significant icon painter of a group of Albanian icon painters from the 16th century who were instrumental in reviving the style of old sacred religious icon painting which flourished during the pre Ottoman Byzantine period. Some of his panel paintings are featured in the museum along with works by other Albanian Iconographical painters made between the 16th and 20th centuries. The enormous and ornate iconostasis situated inside the church is magnificent and one of the finest creations of the 19th century by the very best Albanian wood-carving masters. The iconostasis features two rows of icon paintings created by the ‘Grabovar’ icon painters from the Çetiri (or Katro) family under the leadership of the master icon painter Johan Çetiri. The carving of the iconostasis is documented to have been constructed by two master craftsmen, Masters Andoni and Stefani. It’s prohibited to take photographs but I am so blown away by the works that I sneak a cheeky pic on my Motorola smartphone.

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The elaborate gilded 19th century iconostasis inside the Church of The Dormition of St Mary

 

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16th century icon painting on wood by Onufri

Outside the church there is a display of black and white photographs of Berat from the early 20th century. They show scenes of life in the town including a photograph from 1918 of the old Gorica quarter of Berat with its many old Ottoman era houses all grouped together on the side of a hill.

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Photograph of the Gorica Quarter from 1918

 

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Photograph of the old bazaar from 1908

The rain is still fierce and by the time I return to my guesthouse my shoes, socks and rucksack are soaked. In the evening I have dinner at a local taverna restaurant called Weldor. I’ve already eaten there a few times and I am always served by a cordial young waiter who speaks faultless English. He’s never been to England but for many years he worked in a hostel run by a guy from Newcastle. The restaurant serves delicious and authentic Italian pizza, pasta and risotto dishes made by an Albanian cook who spent many years in Italy working as a chef. The local staples are also excellent and tonight I order a homemade casserole dish made with aubergines and served with some of the finest bread I have ever tasted.

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Traditional Albanian cuisine at Wildor restaurant

By the next morning the rain has stopped and there are even some patches of blue in the sky. I seize this morning before I depart to Tirana to walk and explore the town in a way that was long denied to me. The main pedestrian promenade in the centre of town is covered in sludge. Already there are men at work with shovels and hose pipes trying to remove and wash away all the mud. Watching the people at work is like witnessing the aftermath of some natural disaster. I return to my previous guesthouse where I’d left my pyjamas. The owners greet me with a smile and hand me a plastic bag containing them. I tell them I am staying with a friend.

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The aftermath of days of heavy rains, which flooded many parts of Albania

I walk over the river to the old Gorica quarter. Most of the cobbled paths are smothered in sludge with huge puddles making walking a challenge. From Gorica, I have a super view of the old town on the other side. Both this district and the old town are full of old classic Ottoman style houses each side mirroring the other and both responsible for this being known as the Town of 1000 windows.

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The old town of Berat from the other side of the river

The family at my guesthouse arrange for me to go to Tirana via an acquaintance who will be driving there. I spend the remaining couple of hours of my time in the foyer with the family and their two adorable dogs, Spiky and Lucky, before a silver hatchback Golf pulls up to take me to my next destination.

 

By Nicholas Peart

©All Rights Reserved

Sarajevo History and Wonderings

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Visiting Sarajevo was an enriching and memorable experience. Even though I am a seasoned traveller who has already traversed across a sizeable chunk of this crust, Sarajevo impressed and inspired me. This city gave my accumulated travel experiences another exotic dose of red hot spice. Sarajevo is sometimes referred to as the “Jerusalem of Europe” owing to its rich multi religious and cultural history.

I stayed at a modest but homely and warm family guesthouse located up on a hill in the Bistrik district south of the Miljacka river and only a few minutes walk from the Ottoman era Baščarsija old bazaar district. This historic district was constructed in 1462 by the Ottoman Empire general Isa-beg Ishaković just after the Ottomans arrived. Before they arrived, the biggest settlement then in Sarajevo was a village square called Tornik located today at the junction between Marsala Tita and Relisa Dzemaludina Čauševica streets where the Ali Pasha mosque is situated several blocks west of the Baščarsija district. Ishaković built a mosque named “Careva Džamija” (the Emperor’s Mosque) in 1457, which is the oldest mosque in Sarajevo. The original structure was destroyed by the end of the 15th century before being rebuilt in 1565.

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Sarajevo City Hall

Crossing over the Miljacka river and walking past the large Moorish style City Hall building, I commenced my adventure through the old Baščarsija streets. Most of the places along the first street I walked across are small eateries selling bureks; spiral pastry pies filled with potato, meat, cheese, or spinach and even pumpkin. On my first evening in Sarajevo, I took a chance on an authentic looking burek place with a magnificent open coal oven where the bureks and other specialities are cooked in large closed circular pans covered in crushed coals. The bureks here at Buregdžinica Asdž are very good and cheap.

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Buregdžinica Asdž: Great burek eatery in the Baščarsija district 

I venture down another smaller street and the oldest street in Baščarsija named Kazandžiluk street, better known as “Coppersmith Street” where small shops sell copper cups, plates, bowls and tankard-like jugs. Walking through this street feels like walking through one of London’s medieval streets around Fleet Street or St Bartholomew’s church with an Arabian tinge. At the end of this street there is an antique wooden coffeehouse where you can drink authentic Bosnian coffee.

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Coppersmith Street: the oldest street in Baščarsija 

 

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On Coppersmith street

 

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Wooden coffeehouse on Coppersmith street 

Anyone who visits Baščarsija will unavoidably cross paths with the main square or Pigeon Square as it’s sometimes better known as, because of the large concentration of pigeons at any given moment just like in London’s Trafalgar Square. In the middle of this square is an old Ottoman style wooden fountain called the Sebilj. It was originally built by Mehmed Pasha Kukavica in 1753 and then in 1891, during the Austrian-Hungarian era, it was repositioned by the Austrian architect Alexander Wittek.

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“Pigeon Square”: The main square in Baščarsija 

 

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By the Sebilj

Close to the Sebilj on Mula Mustafe Baseskije street is the old Orthodox Church of the Holy Archangelo Michael and Gabriel. It is a Serbian Orthodox Church and the oldest church in the city dating back to 1539 (although it’s original structure may date back even earlier).

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Old Serbian Orthodox church: The oldest in the city dating back to 1539

An integral part of my experience in Baščarsija was delving into the area’s history associated with Gazi Husrev-beg. Gazi was born in 1480 in Serres, Greece where his father, Ferhad-beg, was a governor. From 1521 until his death twenty years later in 1541, he was the Ottoman governor of Bosnia and had contributed immensely in the establishment of the city of Sarajevo. By the time of his death, Sarajevo had already developed into a thriving and successful trading center at the crossroads between east and west. He had invested most of his fortune (his endowment or ‘waqf’) towards the development of the city and was a great philanthropist and humanist who cared deeply about the welfare of his people.

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Gazi Husrev Beg mosque: built in 1531 and the largest in the country 

The most notable landmark associated with Husrev beg is the Gazi Husrev beg mosque built in 1531 and located in the heart of Baščarsija. It is the largest mosque in Bosnia and Herzegovina and an outstanding example of Ottoman architecture from that time. Within the mosque compound in the courtyard is an old fountain (‘shadirwan’) similar to the fountain in the main square yet this fountain is over 200 years older dating back to 1530. Situated on the west side of the mosque is the tall stone Sahat Kula clock tower built in the 17th century. It was restored after being damaged in a fire in 1697. The clock shows the lunar time meaning that the day ends at sunset after which a new day begins. Close to the clock tower, there is a water system created by Husrev beg for the city (he also built a public toilet in 1529 which back then was very rare) where the water was transported via ceramic pipes from a wooden aqueduct under the ground. Even today the water system is still in operation and locals (and tourists) continue to come to the fountain to drink the water. I drank from the fountain and I have to say that the water is some of the purest and freshest I’ve ever tasted. Also within the mosque complex is Husrev beg’s mausoleum.

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The Sahat Kula clock tower

 

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The old ‘Shadirwan’ fountain by the Gazi Husrev Beg mosque dating back to 1530

 

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The mausoleum of Gazi Husrev Beg

 

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Drinking from the Gazi Husrev Beg fountain. The water is excellent and comes from the oldest water system in the city dating back to 1529 and engineered by Gazi Husrev Beg

Opposite the mosque is the Ghazi Husrev beg Madrassa (or learning institute) built and established in 1537 for the education of the local population. Husrev beg stated that any money remaining after the madrassa had been built should go towards buying good quality books for the madrassa. Today the collection of those original books is housed in the new modern Gazi Husrev beg library which opened in 2014 and was financed via a $8m grant from Qatar. Within the old madrassa complex is the small Ghazi Husrev beg Museum, which is an excellent place to learn and understand more about him and his unique and generous contribution to the city of Sarajevo.

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By the entrance of the old Gazi Husrev Beg Madrassa which today houses the Gazi Husrev Beg museum 

 

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Gazi Husrev Beg museum 

 

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Gazi Husrev Beg library 

Yet the Gazi Husrev Beg journey isn’t over yet. Halfway between the mosque and the Sebilj is the Morića Han which was a ‘caravanserai’ or roadside inn. In its day it was able to accommodate as many as 300 travellers and 70 horses. It was built in 1551, 11 years after Gazi’s death, and funded using his endowment or ‘vakuf’. Since during this time Sarajevo was an important international trading centre, it was important to establish lodging facilities to accommodate travelling traders who travelled long distances via their horses often from other parts of the Ottoman Empire (which around the time the inn had been built had covered all of modern day Turkey and other parts of the Middle East, North Africa and almost all of south Eastern Europe). Today the Morića Han is transformed into a lovely historic courtyard with cafes and a small market bazaar selling textiles and various crafts.

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By the outside of the old Morića Han

 

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Inside the courtyard of the Morića Han 

Heading towards the western edge of Baščarsija is Gazi Husrev Beg’s Bezistan which is an indoor bazaar. The original structure of the bazaar was likely built around 1540 financed via Gazi’s endowment. During the period of the Ottoman Empire, the shops inside the bazaar traded textiles. Running parallel to the Bezistan is the old goldsmith street (Zlatarska) today known as Gazi Husrev Begova street where goldsmiths and jewellery shops owned by metal workers sold gold and silver jewellery.

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The entrance of Gazi Husrev Beg’s Bezistan 

 

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Inside Gazi Husrev Beg’s Bezistan

 

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The old goldsmith street of Baščarsija

The ruins of the original Tašlihan stone inn, constructed around the same time as the Bezistan to accommodate travelling merchant traders like the Morića Han, can be found in the summer garden of the historic Hotel Europe.

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The ruins of the original Tašlihan stone inn

Leaving the Baščarsija and the eastern Ottoman part of the city we literally cross over to the western part of the city over the “East-West: Sarajevo Meeting of Cultures” line.

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The “East-West: Sarajevo Meeting of Cultures” line marking the border between the Ottoman eastern part of the city and the western part of the city  

Our first port of call is the old stone Jewish synagogue built sometime towards the end of the 16th century. Since it’s establishment it was damaged several times before being reconstructed again. The current physical structure of the synagogue dates back to 1813. In 1941 it was raided and occupied by the Nazis and subsequently demolished. The Nazis detained Sarajevo’s remaining Jewish community here before they were taken to concentration camps. After enormous reconstruction, in 1966 the synagogue was turned into the Jewish Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

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The old stone Jewish synagogue. In 1966 it was turned into the Jewish Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Inside the museum, there are various artefacts and fragments of traditional Jewish life in Sarajevo. There are moving and poignant displays and photographs from the time of the Nazi occupation in Sarajevo. Some of the written displays include stories of gifted Jewish teachers and intellectuals in Sarajevo whose lives were cut short by the Nazis. There is one black and white photograph from 1941, when it was a very dangerous time to be a Jew in Sarajevo (as in many other parts of Europe), showing a Jewish mother and her two children walking alongside two Muslim women. The Muslim woman in the right of the photograph is covering the Jewish woman’s Star of David symbol which she is wearing on her left arm.

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Paraphenalia in Sarajevo’s Jewish museum dating back to WW2 when the Nazis occupied Sarajevo and the city’s Jewish population was rounded up and sent to concentration camps. The postcards in the photograph are postcards from the concentration camps 

 

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Black and white photographs of captured Sarajevo Jews 

 

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Photograph dating back to 1941 showing a Jewish mother and her two children walking alongside two Muslim women. The Muslim woman on the right of the photograph is covering the Jewish woman’s Star of David symbol which she is wearing on her left arm

The history of the Jewish community in Sarajevo (and the rest of Bosnia and Herzegovina) dates back to 1492, the year when Christopher Columbus discovered the New World, and also the year when the first wave of Jews arrived in Bosnia escaping the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions. They were welcomed by the Ottoman Empire ruler of the time, Sultan Bayezid II. In the time when Bosnia and Herzegovina was part of the Ottoman Empire, the Jewish community prospered and were well-treated living peacefully with the Bosnian muslims. They had a large amount of freedom and rights including the right to buy property and land and establish trade in any part of the Ottoman Empire. By 1856, a law was passed within the Empire granting Jews (and other non muslims) full equality. The Jewish community continued to flourish during the subsequent Austrian-Hungarian Empire rule until the beginning of World War One. The rise of Nazism and the Second World War caused many Jews to flee Sarajevo and Europe. By 1940 there were around 14,000 Jews in Bosnia of which 10,000 were in Sarajevo. When former Yugoslavia was invaded by the Nazis in April 1941 most of the remaining Jewish population were deported to Auschwitz or concentration camps in Croatia. After the war, most of the Jewish survivors emigrated to Israel. Today only about 1000 Jews are living in all of Bosnia and Herzegovina. If you have some time, I recommend a visit to the city’s Jewish cemetery located outside of the city. The local tour agency Funky Tours combine a visit to the Sarajevo Tunnel Museum with a visit to the cemetery.

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Photographs from Sarajevo’s Jewish cemetery. You can see the effects of the 1992-5 Bosnian War from the shelling marks on the gravestones 

The western part of the city is full of elegant and ornate buildings dating back to the era of the Austrian-Hungarian empire hand in hand with austere, brutalist architecture from the post WW2 communist Tito years. If you look closely, you may notice many buildings still scarred by intense shelling when Sarajevo was under siege during the Bosnian War from 1992-5. You may also see shelling scars on the streets you walk on. Some of these scars are painted red and known as ‘Sarajevo Roses’ marking the location where civilians died from mortar explosions during the war.

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Architecture dating back to the time of the Austrian-Hungarian empire 

 

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Brutalist architecture in the city 

 

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Scars from the 1992-5 Bosnian War

 

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‘Sarajevo Roses’: red painted street scars from the war marking the locations where civilians died from mortar explosions during the war

On the corner of Obala Kulina Bana street by the main river and Zelenik Beretki street is the Museum of Sarajevo 1878-1918 and the location from where the young Bosnian revolutionary Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand who led the Austrian-Hungarian empire. His assassination was the catalyst for the First World War and the collapse of the empire. The museum documents the period of Austrian-Hungarian rule in Sarajevo as well as the assassination featuring photographs of the Archduke with his wife in their car after they were both shot, and original artefacts like the trousers Gavrilo Princip was wearing and the gun he used to assassinate the archduke.

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At the location from where Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand

 

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Inside the Museum of Sarajevo 1878-1918 which houses the trousers Gavrilo Princip was wearing and the gun he used to assassinate the Archduke

 

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Original photograph of the Archduke with his wife in their car just after they were both shot

Walking back towards Ferhadija street and west, you will eventually come face to face with the Sacred Heart Cathedral of Sarajevo, which is the largest cathedral in Bosnia and Herzegovina dating back to 1884, only a few years after the city came under Austrian-Hungarian rule. Viennese contractor Baron Karl Schwarz along with supervising architect Josip Vancaš designed the cathedral in a neo-Gothic style.

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The Sacred Heart Cathedral of Sarajevo: the largest cathedral in Bosnia and Herzegovina dating back to 1884

Close to the cathedral is the Orthodox Church of the Most Holy Mother of God, which faces Liberation Square. Here you will see locals playing chess like they have all the time in the world; un-restless and un-hurried.

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Orthodox Church of the Most Holy Mother of God

 

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Chess on Liberation Square

Not far from the square is the Museum of Crimes Against Humanity and Genocide which the documents the 1990s war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Amongst the many photos documenting this horrific period there is a display of a dug up mass grave where one can see a human skull, bones and miscellaneous scattered personal items. During the war 34,946 civilians went missing in Bosnia and Herzegovina and more than 5,000 locations containing body parts and mass graves have been discovered across the country. Through conventional methods of clothes/items recognition and more advanced DNA analysis, about 23,000 victims have been identified. Yet around 7,000 people as of today are still missing. Elsewhere there is a display of torture methods and devices used on victims during the war. On one wall there are graphic photographs of victims exposing shocking injuries inflicted on various parts of their bodies and photographs of war refugees cramped and lying on the floor of a building in sleeping bags to keep warm. On another wall there is a framed letter from Arnold Schwarzenegger to a Bosnian heavy weights star who lost members of his family in the war. In the letter Arnold tells him, in spite of all the trauma and destruction from the war, to move forward and take care of his mother. He also mentioned enclosing gifts in the letter. As I near the end of the Museum there is a sculpture of a man made from slices of bread by Mensud Kečo dedicated to the victims of the May 27th 1992 bread queue massacre. 26 civilians were killed and over 100 were wounded as they queued for bread on Ferhadija street.

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Mass grave display at the Museum of Crimes Against Humanity and Genocide

 

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A sculpture of a man made from slices of bread by Mensud Kečo dedicated to the victims of the May 27th 1992 bread queue massacre on Ferhadija street

To gain a good understanding of the Siege of Sarajevo, I embarked on a half day tour with Funky Tours. My guide was a middle aged man named Adnan who experienced and lived through the siege and was injured in his hip by flying shrapnel. With his unique experience he is also a charismatic and engaging guide, and it was riveting to listen to his stories. On this tour we visited the Sarajevo Tunnel located on the outskirts of the city. It was built discreetly by the Bosnian Army to link the neighbourhoods of Butmir and Dobrinja. At the time the entire city was surrounded by the Bosnian Serb army and it was very difficult to escape. Civilians were trapped and the tunnel enabled them to flee and get access to essential humanitarian aid. Today the house whose cellar acted as the entrance to the tunnel has now been transformed into the Sarajevo Tunnel Museum. When we entered the house we walked down the narrow 20 metre length portion of the original tunnel from its entrance. Inside the house there are photographic displays and War artefacts like military uniforms and equipment and also some examples of the humanitarian aid and food staples smuggled via the tunnel.

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By the Sarajevo Tunnel Museum

 

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Inside the Sarajevo Tunnel

Afterwards, Adnan drove us to the bobsleigh track built for the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics. Eight years later from the start of the Bosnian War, the track was destroyed by the Bosnian Serb Army and also utilised as an artillery position. Today the track is a heavily graffitied relic. One area of the track has been graffitied with the image of a young girl crying wearing a yellow shirt with a flower. She’s holding two signs in each hand. The right sign features the John Lennon and Yoko Ono slogan ‘Give Peace A Chance’ whilst the left sign continues the sentence with ‘For All Kids’.

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Bobsleigh track photographs

 

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View over Sarajevo 

Close by the track we stopped at the side of a mountain road from where we had an incredible vista of the city of Sarajevo and its surroundings. All of the city is located in a valley surrounded by mountains. As magnificent as the scenery is, the heartbreaking truth is that such as setting made it relatively easy for Bosnian Serb Army troops to almost completely surround and lock the city.

 

 

Text and photographs by Nicholas Peart

©All Rights Reserved

 

Photographs From Novi Sad

Arriving in the city of Novi Sad was my first taste of Serbia; a country I’ve always wanted to visit. After four days in this city, it certainly has not disappointed. In fact I had a real blast. Serbia’s second biggest city, after the capital Belgrade, has been a joy to explore and get to know. The attractive city centre around the main square is full of handsome buildings dating back to the time of the Austrian-Hungarian empire. There are lots of cafes to have a cheap cappuccino or bottle of Jelen beer along with a slice of Sachertorte or a couple of scoops of delicious ice cream. And all for just a few coins. Paris also has nice cafes and are great way to pass the day…..if you have deep pockets.

There are a plethora of sites to see in Novi Sad, but I recommend simply walking around this city. One great walk you can do is to walk towards the main bridge over the Danube river and on to the old Petrovaradin fortress. On sunny Summer days you will see locals bathing on the banks of the river. Once over on the other side, you are in the old part of town full of old buildings; many of them in splendid dilapidation. I seldom go to the gym but the walk up to the fortress more than compensated for that! When you’ve reached the top, you are rewarded with an amazing vista of the city and the Danube. There are also a couple of bars at the summit.

There is a small but interesting space which holds temporary art exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Novi Sad, which is part of the larger Museum of Vojvodina on Dunavska street. When I visited, there was an interesting exhibition by a Bosnian artist called Igor Bosnjak entitled Projekat EUtopija. Next to the space there is a small display about the history of the Vojvodina region (of which Novi Sad is the capital) from before the start of the First World War until the end of the Second World War. It providing a very interesting understanding regarding what sowed the seeds for the First World War and the conflicts between the Austrian-Hungarian empire and Serbia. Directly opposite the museum is Dunavski park, which is a lovely spot to relax and have a walk. Look out for the statue of the Serbian poet and painter Djura Jaksic. He is sitting down and wearing a hat, looking uncannily like Don Quixote.

In the evening head to Cafe Veliki (one of the best and most authentic restaurants in the city) and order the Goulash. You won’t regret it! In the evening there are lots of bars to choose from. I had the good fortune to meet an interesting Anglo-Serbian guy from Manchester and a friend of his who took me on a tour of the city. We wound up the day in some bar, which I can’t recall the name of, where we had a few Jelens and some rakija. Rakija is a fruit brandy popular throughout south eastern Europe and comes in different flavours. At the end of night we went to a snack place for a pljeskavica; one of the national dishes of Serbia. You gotta have a pljeskavica if you ever come to Serbia! And it is perfect post-drinking food. There are also a smattering of bakeries open 24/7 where you can pick up a cherry strudel whenever you are feeling peckish.

There are many places to stay in Novi Sad. I stayed at the Hostel Podbara located outside of the city centre, but only a 10-15 minute walk away. It is a very tranquil and quiet place and almost feels like you are in the middle of the countryside. What’s more, the rooms are very comfortable and it’s incredibly good value for money; especially if you are on a budget. And the family who run the hostel are very kind and welcoming.

So, walk around and get stuck in! Don’t feel like you have to “do” Novi Sad. Grab a cafe and some cake. Have a Jelen and a pjeskavica. And just have fun!

Živeli!!!

 

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Novi Sad’s main square Trg Slobode

 

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By the main city centre church 

 

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Statue of the Serbian poet and physicist Jovan Jovanović Zmaj (1833-1904)

 

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Old town of Novi Sad

 

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Old town of Novi Sad

 

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Petrovaradin Fortress

 

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View of the old town from the fortress 

 

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The river Danube

 

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Novi Sad train and bus station

 

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Outside Novi Sad train and bus station 

 

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Street art in Novi Sad

 

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Street art in Novi Sad

 

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Goulash at Cafe Veliki

 

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Projekat EUtopija exhibition by Bosnian artist Igor Bosnjak at the Museum Of Contemporary Art 

 

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Outside the Museum Of Contemporary Art

 

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In Dunavski park posing by a statue of the Serbian poet and painter Djura Jakšić

 

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Jelen beer and rakija on a night out

 

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A pljeskavica

 

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Novi Sad Synagogue

 

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Novi Sad in the early evening

 

 

Photographs and text by Nicholas Peart

©All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

 

Original Relics Of Medieval London

The history of London goes back to 43 AD when this city was first founded by Roman settlers and orginally christened Londinium. Yet when one visits London today, one could argue that the year zero of this city begins with the renowned architect Sir Christopher Wren who was responsible for rebuilding the city after most of it was devastated by the Great Fire Of 1666.

Today very little of old medieval London exists. Yet it is there! Mostly in the form of the few churches which survived the Great Fire and of course the mighty Tower Of London and Tower Bridge. One of the principle reasons why most of London was destroyed by the Fire was due to the fact that the majority of the city’s houses and buildings were made out of wood. The fact that the Tower of London was made of good old hard stone speaks volumes about how its bacon was saved.

To experience a decent slice of medieval London, I personally like to head to EC1 and the Cloth Court/Cloth Fair area of narrow medieval alleyways and of course the magnificent St Bartholomew’s church. Nearby you have the legendary Smithfields Market and a little further up is the Barbican. By the jungle of Brutalist architecture one can find St Giles church and surviving relics of the original London Wall. For a definitive and comprehensive history of this city, the Museum of London is right round the corner. Currently there is an excellent exhibition on there commemorating the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of 1666. It is a very thorough exhibition with lots of information and even some original artifacts from that time. The exhibition is on display until April 2017.

Below I am featuring some photographs from my wonderings exploring another side to this city and unearthing some of these original relics of London, which were unaffected by the Great Fire…

 

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A portion of the original London Wall in the Barbican area

 

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St Giles-without-Cripplegate church

 

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The Staple Inn: This enourmous medieval building was built in 1585 and narrowally escaped the Great Fire by only a few metres

 

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St Etheldredas Church: this church was built in the latter half of the 13th century. It is one of the oldest Roman Catholic churches in England.

 

 

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For me, this area close to Smithfields market is a fabulous slice of medieval London around the junction of Cloth Court alley and Cloth Fair. Notice the entrance to the iconic St Bartholomew’s church in the background

 

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41 Cloth Fair: This is the oldest house in the City Of London orginally constructed between 1597-1614

 

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St Bartholomew Gatehouse: this was constructed in 1595

 

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Priory Church of St Bartholomew-the-great: close up

 

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St Bartholomew-the-great church: this magnificent church was first founded in 1123 by Rahere (a prebendary of St Paul’s Cathedral). It is adjacent to St Bartholomew’s hospital which was also founded by Rahere in that same year and is one of the oldest hospitals in the U.K.

 

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St Bartholomew-the-less church

 

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This shop built in 1567 was featured in Charles Dickens’ ‘The Old Curiosity Shop’

 

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The Seven Stars pub: This unique and charming pub first opened its doors in 1602. It is one of London’s few remaining independent pub and remains little change since it’s early days

 

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The Olde Wine Shades: first opened its doors in 1663

 

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This handsome medieval building on Fleet Street called Prince Henry’s Room survived the Fire. It was a former tavern where the London diarist Samuel Pepys liked to hang out

 

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St Katherine Cree Church

 

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St Andrew Undershaft Church: this church was originally constructed in 1532. It survived the Great Fire of 1666 an drew World War Two, but was unfortunately damaged in an IRA attack in 1992

 

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St Helen’s Bishopsgate Church: this gem of a church was built in the 12th century. It has the distinction of being the largest surviving church in the City of London. This was also William Shakespeare’s church during his time in the city.

 

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St Olave Hart Street Church: this church was constructed built in 1450. This church was saved by the Great Fire by Sir William Penn (who’s son also named William, founded the state of Pennsylvania) who instructed that the houses surrounding the church be destroyed to make a firebreak and thus save the church

 

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The Tower of London and Tower Bridge in the background. The Tower of London castle was built in 1078.

 

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All Hallows-by-the-Tower Church: Although the current facade of the church goes back to 1658, it is on the site of a church’s going back to 675. Samuel Pepys watched the city burn during the Great Fire from the church’s tower.

 

Text and photographs by Nicholas Peart

4th December 2016

(All rights reserved)

Touring The Oldest Pubs Of London

Following on from my tour of the pubs of Glasgow back in October, I thought I’d share with you all my experiences of touring some of the oldest pubs of London. Some of these pubs go back to the times of medieval London before the Great Fire Of London of 1666. The history of London is fascinating in itself and some of these old pubs or taverns project a strong energy and spirit of what London must have been like all those years ago.

 

Ye Olde Mitre

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This notorious pub, hidden down Ely Court in the Farringdon area, was first established in 1546. The bottom floor of the pub by the bar is full of hanging old beer mugs from the ceiling and historic photographs and pictures. The pub or tavern was originally built for the servants of the Palace of the Bishops of Ely from Cambridgeshire. The pub and palace were later destroyed in 1772. The pub in its current structure dates back to that year.

 

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Inside Ye Olde Mitre

I prefer to come here for a pint during the afternoon when it is quieter and there are less punters. My favourite part of the pub is upstairs where there are many old pictures of historical figures like Mary Queen of Scots. When I was there with my sister back in August, we were the only people there. During the evening, especially on a Friday night, the pub becomes uncomfortably overcrowded and loud. The pub is currently owned by Fullers brewery and does a decent selection of beers and ales. When I was there I had an Oakham Green Devil IPA ale. A sterling choice but at 6% this stuff can make you weak in the knees quicker than you think.

 

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St Etheldreda’s Church

If you have some free time, try to visit the atmospheric St Etheldreda’s Church which is the oldest Catholic Church in England built in 1291.

 

 


Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese

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Number two of the Ye Oldes, this legendary pub, located on Fleet Street, was first established one year after the Great Fire Of London in 1667. What immediately strikes me about this pub is its heavy, wooden Old London austerity, rawness and darkness. You could have a thousand suns beaming down on this pub and inside it would still be darker than the blackest of hearses. This is not a place to go to for natural vitamin D therapy but if you want to experience the ghosts and grime of a time long gone, this is a great find.

 

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Many literary figures including Mark Twain, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, P.G Woodhouse and Dr. Samuel Johnson are all said to have been locals of this pub. Charles Dickens was also a regular of this pub and the atmospheric and ‘gloomy old London’ energy of the pub must have provided him with an abundance of inspiration for his writing.

 

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Downstairs at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese

Here this pub is at times a curious mix of one timer global smartphone-glued tourists and hardcore spit and polish long timer locals who’ve been drinking at this pub longer than I’ve been on this planet. My favourite part of the pub to sit is either in the small room where the bar is by the main back entrance or downstairs below the ground floor. It’s in these areas where I feel the spirit of the pub the most.

 

 

The Seven Stars

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The Seven Stars is a special pub in London. Not only is it one of London’s oldest boozers first established in 1602, it also has the rare distinction of having survived the Great Fire of 1666. Fortunately none of the owners throughout the pub’s history have been shortsighted enough to redesign the pub in any shape or form and so it remains exactly as it was when it first opened its doors in the early 17th Century. Furthermore, it is one of the very few remaining independent old pubs in London.

 

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Inside the Seven Stars

Since the pub survived the Great Fire and owing to the fact that it has hardly changed since its original beginnings, it offers a veritable taste of a typical medieval London tavern. A part of me would probably die if this place was ever turned into, god help me, a ‘gastropub’. What’s more, this pub has a decent selection of ales. When I was there with my sister, I had a pint of the dark Roadside Adnam ale which was very good.

 

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Yours Truly at the Seven Stars with a pint of Adnam ale

It is located by the Royal Courts of Justice and London School of Economics meaning that it is often frequented by LSE students and barristers who take their clients here for a celebratory drink.

 

 


The Cittie Of Yorke

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The Cittie Of Yorke is an outstanding old pub located in Holborn. It is a Samual Smith owned pub but is probably one of the most atmospheric pubs I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. The on site history of the pub goes back all the way to an impressive 1430 even if much of the current building is a rebuilding from the 1920s.

 

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Inside the Cittie Of Yorke

The main bar area is situated in an awesomely atmospheric hall with high wooden beam ceilings, low suspending globe like lights and a series of big wooden beer barrels above the bar. More than many other pubs I’ve frequented, it is here where I could really imagine myself in a crowded, noisy and messy old London tavern. People would be dressed in rags or in immaculate suits, coats and top hats. I could imagine the former like being straight out of a painting by the 17th century Dutch painter Adriaan van Ostade who was a great painter of the Dutch underclass who spent there time in tavern like places getting drunk and merry and disorderly; tankards clinking, loud voices singing and a multiple of instruments ringing.

 

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The legendary Welsh poet Dylan Thomas who was a great lover of pubs, wrote an impromptu ode to this pub when it was called the Henneky’s Long Bar. Aside from the main bar, there are some equally atmospheric rooms with dark wood furnishings, leather coaches, tall old windows and paintings.

 

 

The Hoop and Grapes

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The Hoop and Grapes located on Aldgate High Street was originally built in 1593 and is one of the few existing relics of medieval London to have escaped the 1666 Great Fire. This current pub dates back to 1721 and is currently owned by the Nicholson Brewery. In spite of its unique history and all the old furnishings and photographs on the wall, this is quite an ordinary commercial pedestrian pub playing standard mainstream chart music. Unlike Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, the original spirit of this place is hard to find.

 

 

The Anchor

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This pub located on the South Bank has a very impressive history. This was William Shakespeare’s local and the pub from where the great London diarist, Samual Pepys, watched the Great Fire Of London. The genesis of this pub was a tavern reported to be 800 years old and this would make this place one of the oldest pub establishments in the city even if the pub had been destroyed during the Fire and subsequently remodelled a few times since then. The Anchor was recently refurbished in 2008.

Despite the epic and awesome history of the place and even the fact that the old decor remains, albeit with a slick facelift, it is quite an ordinary commercial pub serving the usual fare of alcoholic drinks and pub grub. Still it’s location on the South Bank can’t be beat and on a pure blue summer day, this is a good place to go.

 

 


The George Inn

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Located close to Borough Market and short distance walk from the Anchor, the George Inn is a gem of a pub and unlike the Anchor has retained much of its original character and charm. The George is a former coaching Inn dating back to 1542 and the current building dates back to 1676 after the original Inn was destroyed in a fire. The pub has also had a distinguished set of people who came here to drink. Most notably William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens. The latter mentioned The George in his novel Little Dorrit.

When I came here I had a pint of the locally brewed George Inn ale which I highly recommend. This is an outstanding pub and would be my personal choice over the Anchor if you happen to be in SE1.

 

 


The Prospect Of Whitby

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The Prospect, located in Wapping, is one of the oldest pubs of London and the oldest riverside tavern of London dating back to 1520. It is also one of the best pubs I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. It was originally called The Pelican, which was later renamed The Devils Tavern and then later The Prospect of Whitby in the 18th Century. Back in those early days most of Wapping’s residents worked by the river as fishermen, sailors, and boat and sail makers. In addition to this, Wapping also had its fair share of pirates, thieves and smugglers.

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Many famous people frequented the Prospect. ‘Hanging Judge Jeffries’ was a regular here. Throughout history it has been claimed that he would tuck into his lunch on the balcony of the pub whilst watching the hangings at a place then known as the Execution Dock. It was here where the notorious pirate Captain Kidd was executed in 1701. Then there was the 17th century London diarist Samuel Pepys who was a regular here during his stint as a clerk for the Navy and later Secretary to the Admiralty.

After the end of World War Two during the 1950s and 1960s, Wapping like many other parts of East London was in decline. However the pub was still doing brisk business and one of the pub’s rooms upstairs was a restaurant which was popular with many celebrities of that time including Richard Burton, Kirk Douglas, Frank Sinatra, Mohammed Ali and Princess Margaret.

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One of the rooms in the pub upstairs was at one point in history used for boxing matches. Some of the earliest international matches happened between sea workers from around the world. As well as boxing matches, cock fighting matches also too place in this particular room.

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I came here with a couple of friends one summers day back in September. We spent most of our time here on the outside riverside patio of the pub enjoying our pints and the beautiful weather. When we were not outside we were exploring the interior of the pub, it’s multiple rooms with old shipping memorabilia and paintings, portraits, photographs and records of all the distinguished people who crossed paths with this mighty place.

 

 

The Mayflower

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From Wapping my friends and I take the Overground line one stop south of the river to nearby Rotherhithe. It is here that we visit the historic Mayflower pub. This pub was originally established in 1550 and then rebuilt in 1780 as the Spread Eagle and Crown before being renamed The Mayflower in 1957 after the Mayflower ship which took the Pilgrim Father’s from Rotherhithe to America in 1620.

 

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Inside the Mayflower

The pub is atheistically a very tasteful pub with lots of old shipping related pictures and artefacts on the walls and around the pub. In a way it is the perfect vintage pub and it’s cosiness and warm vibe increase its attractiveness. It is best to come here when it isn’t crowded. When we came here there was a massive entourage of people celebrating something and we couldn’t move anywhere. But when it isn’t busy this pub is a delight. The riverside terrace is also one of the best in London.

 

 

The Angel

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Also in Rotherhithe is the Angel pub. For me it is not as attractive or interesting as the Mayflower. The interior reminds me more of a tough East London boozer where the Kray brothers or one of the older EastEnders actors or Lennie McLean would call their local. Nevertheless, this Samuel Smiths pub is a good no nonsense boozer and has a long history. It was originally a 15th century tavern established by the monks of Bermondsey Priory. It is mentioned in Samuel Pepys diary as a place where he drank.

 

 

The Grapes

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This unique riverside Limehouse pub has a history going back to 1583. The current building of the pub has a history dating back to the 1720s and was originally a raw working class riverside tavern serving predominantly the dockers of the Limehouse Basin. Regarding notable figures, our faithful friend Samuel Pepys makes an appearance here. His diary mentions trips to lime kilns at the jetty right by the Grapes.

 

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Inside The Grapes

The pub also appears in the Charles Dickens book Our Mutual Friend. The back of the pub is full of Dickens related paraphanelia including a large portrait painting of him.

 

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Portrait of Charles Dickens inside The Grapes

I like this pub. The interior and decor hasn’t been messed with and as a result it retains its original character and spirit.

 

 

Spaniards Inn

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One day earlier this year I met a friend of mine in Hampstead. After a long walk in the beautiful Hampstead Health park, we visited this gem of a pub nearby. This attractive pub is one of London’s oldest pubs dating back to 1585 and is a great pub to visit full of original character and charm. There is also a large outdoor sitting area which is perfect for warm Spring and Summer days. This pub has a distinguished literary heritage. Dickens mentioned the pub in his book The Pickwick Papers and the poet Keats wrote Ode To A Nightingale here.

 

 

The Olde Wine Shades

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Although more of an ancient wine bar than a pub, this place in the City of London nevertheless merits a mention more for its history and the fact that it is, like the Seven Stars pub in Holborn, a rare example of pre 1666 medieval London. It was one of the few buildings of that year to escape the Great Fire. Historical importance aside, I was quite disappointed to discover that it is nothing more than a mediocre overpriced wine bar. I would come here for a curious peep but I would rather pick the Seven Stars or the Prospect over this place any day of the week.

 

 

Text and photographs by Nicholas Peart

2nd December 2016

(All Rights Reserved)

Photographs from Liverpool’s Chinatown

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The Chinatown quarter of Liverpool has a very interesting history. It has the unique distinction of being the oldest Chinatown in Europe. During the 19th century when Liverpool was a thriving and increasingly prosperous port city through the booming shipping industry, and when Britain was an enormous colonial power, it was trading with most of the world.

The seeds of Liverpool’s link with China go back to 1834 when the first ship from China arrived in Liverpool to trade products such as cotton wool and silk. Yet it wasn’t until the creation of the Blue Funnel Shipping line in the 1860s by Alfred Holt and Company, which employed many Chinese seamen, when the first real migration of Chinese to Liverpool began. This shipping line established robust trade ties between the cities of Liverpool, Shanghai and Hong Kong.

The Chinese seamen who stayed on in Liverpool settled by the docks on and around Cleveland Square, where the Holt Shipping Company built boarding houses for them. This was the beginning of the original Chinatown in Liverpool. Around the 1890s, some of the Chinese settlers set up their own businesses mainly for the sailors who worked on the Holt shipping lines.

When the First World War broke out in 1914, there were around 6000 Chinese seamen in the British Merchant Navy with a quarter of them in Liverpool. Much of the original Chinatown around Cleveland Square was destroyed during the Second World War. Liverpool was already by then a city in economic decline.

The Chinatown one sees today in Liverpool was only established in the 1970s on Nelson Street as its official street, although it extends along Berry Street up to where the bombed out church, St Luke’s, is located. On these two streets and some surrounding streets are a plethora of Chinese restaurants and some supermarkets such as Chung Wah and Hondo. The imposing and ornate Chinatown Arch at the beginning of Nelson Street was officially opened in the year 2000 on Chinese New Year. The arch was constructed from an estimated 2000 block components manufactured by the Shanghai Linyi Garden Company Ltd and shipped over to Liverpool from Shanghai along with twenty specially selected Shanghai craftsmen to build the arch.

 

Text and Images by Nicholas Peart 

19th October 2016

(All rights reserved)

 

 

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