As ministry completes new guide to Kosovo’s archaeological sites, experts point out that most of the sites are totally inaccessible and lack funds for exploration.
The lost Illyrian and Roman city of Ulpiana is Kosovo’s richest ancient site, an archeological wonderland full of buried treasure and myserious graves.
For all that, the site on the outskirts of Prishtina is almost impossible for casual visitors to find.
No sign marks the way, and it is virtually invisible from the main road, which passes only a few hundred metres from the fields that farmers still use.
The situation is often worse in dozens of other sites of interest in Kosovo, which remain largely unexplored by experts and off-limits to tourists.
This has not dampened the enthusiasm of the Ministry of Culture, however, which is working on a visitors’ guide to archaeological sites in Kosovo.
“The guide would be good if the locations in it could be visited,” Shefqet Balla, author of several tourist guides to Kosovo, said.
“Otherwise, creating a guide without being able to visit these places is meaningless,” he added.
The ministry has not said how much it is spending on the new guides. Shasivar Haxhiaj, advisor to the minister, said only that it was nearly finished, and all the main archaeological locations will be in it.
Archaelogist Arben Hajdari says if the sites were made accessible to visitors, they could provide much-needed revenue.
“Encouraging tourism through archeology is of great importance and Kosovo has sufficient archeological sites to attract visitors,” he said.
“But while all developed countries invest in attracting tourism, in Kosovo unfortunately they don’t,” he added.
More than six years ago, the Kosovo Archaeological Institute began work on producing three archaeological maps of Kosovo, covering different areas of the country.
One has been published. Printed in 2006, it looked at the Drini i Bardhe river basin.
The Ministry of Culture, which is funding the project, last year set aside 10,000 euros for the others to be completed.
“Initially, the second volume was delayed by lack of funds,” Enver Rexhaj, director of the Archaeological Institute of Kosovo, said.
“But we have almost completed volume two though I can not give you an exact date when it will be published.”
Developers threaten ancient history:
While government investment in archaeology remains minimal, some archaeological experts say that operating on limited resources they have made some progress.
“With the support of the Ministry of Culture we have implemented 20 excavation projects during 2011 at various locations, attended by archaeologists from the country and abroad,” Rexhaj, director of the Archaeological Institute of Kosovo, said.
But archeologist Hajdari says that many promising sites remain virtually unexplored and some are at risk from development.
Little work, he says, has been carried out at Cifllaku in the Rahovec municipality of southwest Kosovo, for example, an important Roman site.
“Cifllaku is one of the most important sites from the Antique period in Kosovo,” he said.
“Excavations carried out here in 2011 and 2004 provided exceptional results, but unfortunately they haven’t continued in the absence of financial support,” he added.
Lost city wrecked by Slavs:
As a major Illyrian settlement, Ulpiana is of great cultural importance for Albanians, as many historians believe Albanians descend from this ancient tribe.
But it was not until the Romans arrived in the 1st century that the town developed into a city. In the 4th Century, Ulpiana was given the title of municipium, the second-highest class of Roman cities.
One of the key findings of researchers so far has been some 1st-Century Illyrian graves. Two skeletons found at the site have been sent to Germany for analysis.
Ulpiana decayed as a result of barbarian attacks during the fall of the Roman Empire. In 500 AD, for example, Goths destroyed much of the city. In 518 it was hit by an earthquake.
Ulpiana was rebuilt in the 6th century under Emperor Justinian. But the 7th century spelt the end of Ulpiana as a great city when it was destroyed by the conquering Slavs.
Digs at Cifllak during 2002 to 2004 unearthed various constructions from the 1st 2nd, 3rd and 4thCenturies AD, indictating that this once was a Roman settlement.
Another key site is Bardhoshi, home to Neolithic remains, which, according to Hajdari, “is among the most important [sites] of this period, not only in Kosovo but further afield”.
Excavations here could throw light on key aspects of life in the Balkans in that period, he says.
But Hajdari fears that potentially important discoveries could be lost forever if construction continues nearby.
“I have information that construction of buildings has been allowed and that we are consequently in danger of losing a very important location,” he added.
Other import areas that require further excavation are the castle at Harilaq, located about 3km from Pristina airport, and another fort in the municipality of Sukareka.
Ulpiana’s secrets remain hidden:
The long-buried lllyrian and Roman city of Ulpiana has been slowly revealing its secrets in recent years, but most of the area remains unexplored.
Although the location, nine kilometres south of the capital, Pristina, near Gracanica, has long been known as a promising archaeological site, it is only being properly investigated now.
Most of the site remains covered with grassland or fields, sown with wheat and corn.
Between 1950 and 1999, when the Kosovo conflict ended, almost no work was carried out on the site.
Since 2000 digs have revealed gold, graves, human skeletons, pots and many other Roman objects.
In 2010, the Ministry of Culture began funding major excavation work at the site.
The Museum of Kosovo in collaboration with the Archaeological Institute of Frankfurt continues to work on the site but most of the area remains unexplored.
One problem is that much of the local land remains in the hands of private owners, though Enver Rexha said he was confident a deal would soon be made to solve this.
This article is funded under the BICCED project, supported by the Swiss Cultural Programme.