On the second day of our tour we set off from lovely little Kruja on our way to the port city of Vlorë with a couple of stops planned along the way. Today was also the day that I started a little thing I called “notes from the coach” whereby I wrote down lots of the interesting tidbits our guide told us along the way, as well as recommended books, authors, and interesting quotes and passages. I loved our guide’s stories, especially the personal ones of what life was like growing up in Albania. Some of these little fun facts will be sprinkled throughout the rest of my posts about Albania, and some might end up in a post all their own at the end of this series. We’ll have to see how it all works out. But for now let me tell you a little more about the monastery at Ardenica, which was our first stop of the day.
The Ardenica monastery was started all the way back in the 10th century but wasn’t finished until the 17th century. It is located just off the main road between Fier and Lushnja at the top of a hill above the village of Ardenica and is formally known as the ‘Orthodox Monastery and Church of St. Mary’. It’s a nice little gem found among the trees overlooking the surrounding area.
Even though religion was banned during the Communist Hoxha years, this monastery was spared destruction because of its link to the national hero, Skanderbeg, as he was married here in 1451. Thankfully it was, because the inside is a spectacular masterpiece featuring an ornately carved pulpit and some quite well preserved frescoes by the Zografi brothers. Unfortunately many of the other frescoes were destroyed due to dampness since it had been closed up for such a long time.
One of the custodians of the monastery joined our guide to give us our tour and he told the stories and history in Albanian while our guide translated for us. He told us all about the long history of the monastery and some really interesting facts about the construction and pieces in the church- like the pulpit (along with some other wood carvings) that took over 15 years to complete! Can you imagine that kind of patience and commitment to seeing a project through to the end? And then look how that hard work paid off…
At the front of the church are some paintings (that used plant based paints) that depict biblical stories in each of the panels. The 2nd icon (or panel) to the left of center is traditionally the icon from which the church gets its name- in this case it is St. Mary.
After the end of the Communist era the buildings were given back to the Orthodox Church and the first monks to live there since 1967, moved in.
On a visit, after viewing the paintings and carvings so painstakingly created, it is definitely worth taking a little stroll around the pretty gardens, especially to view the roses if they are in bloom. If you are really lucky on your stroll (like I was), then the custodian of the monastery will select one of the roses and offer it to you…just like he did for me. It was at that moment that I was most happy that I had taken the time to learn how to say ‘thank you’ in Albanian so I could thank the gentleman properly. I think his smile when he heard me say falemendirit was as big as mine when he passed me the pretty flower. :-)
Next up on our trip to Albania I’ll show you around the ruins of the ancient city of Apollonia as we continue our journey to Vlorë.
To read more about our adventures on our tour around Albania, please feel free to check out these posts:
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