Kosovo is a tiny country. It’s roughly 100 kilometres north to south, and 100 kilometres east to west, making it more or less the same size as my hometown of Sydney, Australia. At 10,000km2 in size, Kosovo is the 10th smallest nation in Europe. It’s capital, Pristina (pronounced Prishtina), has a population of just 200,000.
The origins of Pristina
The first people to really make their mark in the region were the Dardani, a confederation of Illyrian tribes that united under King Bardyllis.
Bardyllis was ambitious and successful in battle. Under his rule Dardania grew to become one of Illyria’s most powerful kingdoms. He died at age 90, in the year 358 BCE, whilst engaged in battle with Philip II of Macedon.
The Romans were the next players on the scene. After conquering Illyria in 168 BCE, they went and built a new city in the lands of Dardania. They called that city Ulpiana – you can still see the ruins of Ulpiana today; they lie 9 km outside of Pristina.
Ulpiana was badly damaged during an earthquake in 518 CE, but the city was restored to its former glory by Byzantine Emperor Justinian I – who went on to rename the city Justiniana Secunda in honour of himself.
Pristina, as the city came to be known by the 14th and 15th Centuries, was situated on one of the major trading routes through the Balkans, which cemented its future as a wealthy, flourishing hub. Its citizens were predominately ethnic Albanians (the descendants of the Illyrians), although there was also an ever-increasing population of ethnic Serbs amongst their numbers.
Then the Ottomans arrived, and they brought with them the religion that would ultimately become the dominant religion of Kosovo: Islam.
Kosovo remained under Ottoman rule until 1912. After that it flip-flopped between the Kingdom of Serbia and the Kingdom of Bulgaria for a few years, before settling into the collection of socialist republics better known as Yugoslavia.
Being in Yugoslavia was okay for a while, but fast forward to the late 1980s, a time when President Slobodan Milošević was actively eroding Kosovo’s autonomy – his actions included sacking ethnic Albanians from government positions, and promoting ethnic Serbs in their place – and suddenly being part of Yugoslavia didn’t seem like such a good deal after all. Kosovo began making noises about becoming independent, which led to the Kosovo War of 1998 – 1999.
In 1999 Kosovo was placed under UN administration. In 2008 it was able to peaceably declare its independence, with support from the international community – excluding Serbia.
Newborn Monument, Pristina
The Newborn Monument was erected on the 17th of February 2008, the day Kosovo became a new country.
The monument is repainted each year on the anniversary of the nation’s independence.
National Library of Kosovo, Pristina
The unique, arrestingly-designed National Library of Kosovo is supposed to bring together architectural elements from both the Ottoman and Byzantine Empires.
As far as that goes, the roof is adorned with 99 domes that resemble the domes found on traditional Turkish baths. And the rest? Well, the critics describe the building as a stack of cubes covered in a metal fishing net.
But it is definitely a unique and arresting design.
Bill Clinton Boulevard, Pristina
The people of Kosovo felt they had to let Bill Clinton know just how appreciative they were for his continued assistance during their struggle for independence. They did so by naming a street after him, and erecting a statue of his likeness.
There is also a street in Pristina named after President George W. Bush. It’s called Bush Boulevard.
Is Pristina worth a visit?
Pristina is a nice enough town. There is a pedestrianised mall in the centre of the city that is pleasant to stroll through. And then… well… by now you’ve pretty much seen all there is to see.
To get a thrill out of a trip to Pristina you’d probably need to be invested in the political significance of this newborn nation.
Practical information and how to reach Pristina:
Serbia does not recognise Kosovo as an independent nation, and there is no border control in place between the two countries. Which means if you transit into Serbia directly from Kosovo you will not get a stamp in your passport, and you will be accused of having illegally entered Serbia when you try to exit the country (unless you exit through Kosovo).
I entered Kosovo via Tirana, Albania (4 – 5 hours by bus); I exited via Skopje, Macedonia (2 hours by bus), and then flew to Belgrade, Serbia in order to untangle myself of this knot.