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Moschopolis

Moschopolis, known in Albanian as Voskopoja and in Aromanian as Moscopole, is now a remote village of some seven hundred inhabitants high in the mountains twenty kilometers west of Korytsa in southeastern Albania ("Northern Epirus"). In the eighteenth century, however, Moschopolis was a large and flourishing centre of trade and urban culture. At its zenith, before the city was pillaged for the first time in 1769, it is said to have had a population of ca. 20,000-50,000, greater than Athens, Sofia or Belgrade at the time, with an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 buildings, including 24 churches, a hospital, an orphanage, a library, a centre of learning known as the 'New Academy' or Hellenikon Frontisterion founded in 1744, and the only Greek printing press in the Balkans, which, published at least twenty one books.

Between 1769 and 1789 Moschopolis was pillaged several times and came to lose its vitality and significance as a commercial centre on the trading route between Constantinople and Venice. It was finally destroyed in 1916 in fighting during the First World War and, with the exception of four or five beautiful Orthodox churches, the historical buildings which did survive were tragically razed in partisan warfare during the Second World War.

On 11 August 1996, Moscopolis made national headlines in what is perhaps the last episode of its downfall, when three Albanian adolescents, aged 16-18, all of them educated by (non-Albanian) Islamic extremists, broke into the Church of St. Michael's (1722-1725). The boys, on holiday there at a summer camp, took knives to the eighteenth-century frescos and, in true centuries-old Balkan tradition, scarred the faces and scratched out the eyes of twenty-three serene Orthodox saints. This act of cultural barbarism shocked and dismayed the Albanian public, which had up to then believed that such religious intolerance was a thing of the past.