Prizren, Kosovo’s second city, might be our favourite small city in the Balkans.
Photo by Tobias Klenze
Prizren is a truly remarkable place, far from anyone’s preconceptions about Kosovo. It is a picturesque gem, packed with history and culture. At times it seems like a miniature Sarajevo, complete with gorgeous old town and tragic history. Prizren is the home of a vibrant cafe culture, and a well regarded film festival. Here’s why we love Kosovo’s second city.
Prizren is Beautiful
Prizren’s skyline of red-topped houses, minarets and distant hills, makes for a terrific picture. And closer up, Kosovo’s second city is just as beautiful. Historic buildings line the Bistrica river, which runs right through the center of town and is crossed by the famous Ottoman stone bridge. Whether shrouded in winter mists or sparkling in the summer sun, Prizren is one of the most attractive cities in the Balkans.
The Ottoman influences on Prizren are obvious, with its Turkish-style old town, old imperial buildings, and of course many impressive mosques. The most famous sight is Sinan Pasha Mosque, and visitors can also admire the wood carvings of Bajrakli Mosque. There are Orthodox treasures too, like the frescoes of Our Lady of Ljeviš church, and the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour. Better yet, Prizren is compact, so it’s very easy to explore the sights.
The History of Kosovo’s Second City
The other contender for most famous architectural presence in Prizren is the Kaljaja Fortress, which overlooks the old town. Nowhere better explains strategic importance of Kosovo’s second city, and its complex troubles. Originally built by the Byzantine Empire, the fortress was expanded by Serbian King Dušan in the 14th Century. It then, along with the city, fell under Ottoman control from 1455 until Serbian forces recaptured it in 1912. After a century of much turmoil in the city, the fortress — damaged by the passage of time — has recently been partially reconstructed thanks to US aid funds.
Sure, all of the Balkans are welcoming to guests, but Kosovo may be a step above. The locals of Prizren, predominantly Albanian and Turkish, will stop at nothing to make your stay an enjoyable one. Join in with the cafe culture, sipping coffee along the banks of the Bistrica, popular with many of the city’s young population. Prices are cheap and the local cuisine is delicious: in Kosovo’s second city you can have classic Balkan favourites like burek, but also Turkish treats like baklava and pide. The local rakija is also well worth a try.
Dokufest is an internationally renowned documentary and short film festival, held in Prizren each August. Founded by a group of friends in 2002, the festival has grown to become a prestigious event, attracting visitors from the region and beyond. Films are shown both in atmospheric indoor cinemas but also in specially erected venues over the river and within the old fortress. The vibe of the town at this time of year is electrifying, with evening’s rounded off with “Dokunights” events, which attract famous singers and DJs, and spark parties that continue all night long.