Three villages of Përmet: Bënjë, Kosinë and Leusë
Antonio Laurìa, University of Florence
Valbona Flora, University of Florence
Kamela Guza, University of Florence
Përmet is a municipality in Gjirokastër Region, Southern Albania. Its territory has a historic tradition that is deeply rooted in the distant past, as evidenced by its many architectural assets. Since the 17th century, it has caught the attention of foreign travellers who crossed the Balkans on their journey from Western Europe to Turkey. Edith Durham, the English anthropologist to whose attentive observation Albania is so greatly indebted, when looking at Përmet from one of the hills that surround it, called the small town “one of the most beautiful places in the world” (as cited by Adhami, 2001a ). The inhabitants themselves are aware of the beauty of their land, as exemplified by the saying: “O Përmet, o xhenet, bukë pak dhe ujë det.” (“Përmet, you are a paradise, there is little bread, but as much water as in the sea.”) (Adhami, 2001b ).
This phrase shows with deep clarity the role of water in the nature of the place, best represented by the Vjosa River and its tributaries, as well as by the many streams that flow down from the mountains At the same time, it refers to the lack of arable land (there is a scarce amount of land for producing “bread”), due to a landscape consisting mostly of hilly and mountainous terrains. The Vjosa River and its tributaries are a sort of common guiding thread that traverses and ‘supports’ the territory. Like a backbone, they connect a number of cultural assets (natural or architectural) which are significant for the history of the three villages: prehistoric caves, thermal baths, mills, churches, ancient bridges and a canyon, all elements of outstanding monumental value that make the landscape of the area unique. In addition, the area of Përmet also features several traditional culinary products of very high quality, among which dairy products, raki (a distilled spirit comparable to the Italian grappa) obtained from various fruits and berries (grape, apple, plum, juniper, etc.), and gliko, a compote made from fruit and vegetables.
The current settlements of the villages of Bënjë, Kosinë and Leusë are the result of developments that took place mostly during the 19th century. There are, however, traces that are much older. The area of Bënjë, which lies entirely within the “Bredhi i Hotovës — Dangëlli” National Park, has undergone anthropization processes since prehistoric times. Despite its appearance being permanently altered by the events that took place during World War II, the village, with its fortified stone houses overlooking the valley of the Lengarica River, is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful in the municipality of Përmet. Due to its landscape and architectural value, it was recognised in 2016 as a “historical centre” and as such has come under the protection of the National Institute for the Cultural Heritage (former Institute of the Cultural Monuments).
The village of Leusë existed before 1812, the year in which the Church of the Dormition of Mary was built. Leusë also suffered great damage during World War II (Saliu, 2011). Today, the image offered to the visitor is that of a compact body of stone extending uninterruptedly from the houses to the narrow streets, the enclosure walls and the courtyards. There is little information concerning the history of Kosinë. The inhabitants show a strong connection with the Byzantine Church of the Dormition of Mary, but regrettably, it was impossible to go back to the origins of the current settlement, or even to know if there already was a village in the 12th century when the church was built. During the past few decades the village has uninterruptedly undergone intense construction activities which have altered its original rural identity, recognisable today only in the few surviving traditional buildings. The churches devoted to the Virgin Mary are evidence of the dominant religious culture in the villages. Nearly all the inhabitants of Leusë e Bënjë are Orthodox Christians, while in Kosinë there is an important percentage of Bektashi (members of an Islamic mystic cult), together with a small number of Muslims. The main representative of the civil institutions is the kryeplaku (literally “the head of the elders”) who is chosen by the inhabitants every 4 years. He incarnates the inheritance of ancient traditions related to the governance of the elders and often has the role of mediator between the public administration and the village community.