The region of Himara seen from the Ceraunian Mountains
|• Mayor||Jorgo Goro (PS)|
|• Municipality||571.94 km2 (220.83 sq mi)|
|• Municipality density||10/km2 (26/sq mi)|
|• Administrative Unit||2,822|
|Time zone||CET (UTC+1)|
|• Summer (DST)||CEST (UTC+2)|
Himara or Himarë (from Greek: Χειμάρρα, Himarra) is a bilingual region and municipality in southern Albania, part of Vlorë County. It lies between the Ceraunian Mountains and the Ionian Sea and is part of the Albanian Riviera. The region consists of the town of Himarë and the villages of Dhërmi, Pilur, Kudhës, Qeparo, Vuno, Ilias, and Palasë.
The Himara region is a strip approximately 20 km long by 5 km wide, bounded by the 2000 metre high Llogara mountains to the northeast (known in antiquity and in the local Greek dialect as the Ceraunian mountains (Greek: Κεραύνια Όρη, Keravnia ori, "Thunder Mountains") and the Ionian Sea to the southwest. There are long white sandy beaches and the few hills close to the sea are terraced and planted with olive and citrus trees. The villages of Himarë are perched up high on the spurs of the Ceraunian range in positions which offered natural defences against the nearby Lab Albanians during the Ottoman era.
The area has a great potential for tourism, with the major characteristics of the municipal town being its seaside promenade, the Greek tavernas and the traditionally preserved old town built on a hill. The town of Himarë consists of the old town, Kastro, situated on and around the old castle and the coastal region of Spilea, which is the touristic and economic center of the region. Other parts of the town are Potami, Livadhi, Zhamari, Michaili and Stefaneli. North of the town of Himarë lie the villages of Vuno, Ilias, Dhërmi, with its coastal region Jaliskari, and Palasë. Dhermi contains a number of recently built beach resorts. On the mountains lie Pilur and Kudhës, while Qeparo lies to the south of the town of Himarë.
The region has several Orthodox churches and monasteries, built in the traditional Byzantine architecture, like the Monastery of the Cross, Athaliotissa, Saint Theodore, Virgin Mary in Dhërmi and Saint Demetrius. Moreover, a number of churches are located inside the castle of Himarë, which was initially built in classical antiquity, like the Church of Virgin Mary Kasopitra, Episkopi, which is built on the site of an ancient temple dedicated to Apollo, as well as the Aghioi Pantes church, in the entrance of the castle. Additional monuments in the castle include the mansion of the Spyromilios family and the Greek school.
In antiquity the region was inhabited by the Greek tribe of the Chaonians. The Chaonians were one of the three principal Greek-speaking tribes of Epirus, along with the Thesprotians and the Molossians. The town of Himarë is believed to have been founded as Chimaira (Χίμαιρα) by the Chaonians as a trading outpost on the Chaonian shore. However, another theory suggest that it comes from Greek χείμαρρος (cheimarros), meaning "torrent".
In classical antiquity, Himarë was part of the Kingdom Epirus under the rule of the Molossian Aeacid dynasty, which included King Pyrrhus of Epirus. When the region was conquered by the Roman Republic in the 2nd century BC, its settlements were badly damaged and some were destroyed by the Roman General Aemilius Paulus.
Himara and the rest of the southern Balkans passed into the hands of the Byzantine Empire following the fall of Rome, but like the rest of the region it became the frequent target of various attackers including the Goths, Avars, Slavs, Bulgars, Saracens and Normans. Himara is mentioned in Procopius of Caesarea's Buildings (544) as Chimaeriae, being part of Old Epirus and that a new fortress was built in its location. In 614, the Slavic tribe of the Baiounetai invaded the area and controlled a region from Himarë to Margariti called "Vagenetia".
The use of the name "Chaonia" in reference to the region apparently died out during the 12th century, the last time it is recorded (in a Byzantine tax collection document). In 1278, Nicephorus of Epirus surrendered to the Angevins the ports of Himarë, Sopot and Butrint. As a result, Charles of Anjou controlled the Ionian coast from Himarë to Butrint. It was later ruled by Serbian Empire between 1342 and 1372. In 1372 Himarë, together with Vlora, Kanina and Berat region was given as a dowry to Balša II due to his marriage with the daughter of John Komnenos Asen. After the death of Balša II, his widow and his daughter (who married Mrkša Žarković) managed to keep the possession of the region up to 1417 when the Ottomans captured Vlora.
The Ottoman Empire overran northern Epirus from the late 14th century, but being a natural fortress, Himara was the only region that did not submit to Ottoman rule. It became a symbol of resistance to the Ottoman but suffered from an almost continuous state of warfare. In the summer of 1473 the chieftain John Vlasis, with a small unit from nearby Corfu as well as with native Himariot support, took control of the entire coastal region from Sagiada to Himara, but when the ongoing Ottoman-Venetian war ended (1479) the region was again under Ottoman control. In 1481, one year after the Ottomans had landed in Otranto in southern Italy, the Himariotes joined the forces of Gjon Kastrioti II (son of Skanderbeg) in his uprising against the Ottomans. The uprising failed, but the Himariotes rose up again in 1488, and between 1494–1509, destabilizing Ottoman control but failing to liberate their territory.
The Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent personally mounted an expedition in 1537 that destroyed or captured many surrounding villages but did not manage to subdue the area. The Ottomans found it necessary to compromise with the inhabitants by giving them a series of privileges: local self-government, the right to bear arms, exemption from taxes, the right to sail under their own flag into any Ottoman port and to provide military service in time of war. However, despite the privileges, the Himariotes revolted during the following conflicts: Ottoman–Venetian War (1537–40), Ottoman–Venetian War (1570–73), Morean War (1684–99), Ottoman–Venetian War (1714–18) and the Russo-Turkish wars of the 18th century. On the other hand, Ottoman reprisals depopulated the area and led to forced Islamizations which finally limited the area's Christian population by the 18th century to the town of Himarë and six villages. Additionally the Himariotes were often attacked by the Labs, a nearby Albanian tribe, on the grounds of race and religion. In one occasion, in 1577, the chieftains of Himarë appealed to the Pope for arms and supplies promising to fight the Ottomans. They also promised to transfer their religious allegiance to Rome, provided that they will retain their Eastern Orthodox liturgical customs since the majority of the population was Greek and didn't understand the Frankish language.
During these years, the people of Himarë established close links to the Italian city states, especially Naples and the powerful Republic of Venice, which controlled Corfu and the other Ionian Islands, and later with Austro-Hungary. It was at this time (18th century), that many Himariotes emigrated to Italy, while they still maintain their Greek identity.
The first school in the region opened in 1627, where lessons were held in the Greek language. The following years (until 1633) Greek-language schools opened also in the villages of Dhërmi and Palasa. During the Ottoman period, judicial authority in Himarë and the surrounding villages was exercised by community courts also known as "councils of elders", that consisted exclusively of laymen. Their decisions was subject to the sanction of the local Orthodox bishop who belonged to the metropolis of Ioannina.
In 1720, the villages of Himara, Palasa, Ilias, Vuno, Pilur and Qeparo refused to submit to the Pasha of Delvina. In 1759-1760 local agents of the Russian Empire reported that the population of Himarë was willing to join an anti-Ottoman uprising, provided the Russians would support a liberation movement of the Greek-inhabited regions of the Ottoman Empire.
In 1797, Ali Pasha, the Muslim Albanian ruler of the Ottoman Pashalik of Yanina, led a raid on the town of Himarë because they supported his enemy, the Souliotes, and more than 6,000 civilians were slaughtered. Two years later, Ali Pasha tried to create good relations with the Himariotes after declaring their enclave part of his emerging semi-independent state, by financing various public works and churches. A church he built near Himarë, opposite of the Porto Palermo (Panormos) Castle is the largest and most magnificent in the region and still stands today as a major tourist attraction. Ali Pasha's rule over Himarë lasted about 20 years until it was abruptly terminated by his murder at the hands of the Ottoman agents. Himarë subsequently reverted to its status quo ante of an enclave surrounded by Ottoman territory. To emphasize the region's special status, the terms that the Himariotes had reached with Suleiman the Magnificent were inscribed on bronze tablets at the request of their leaders, who wanted to record the agreement on a durable medium. These tablets are preserved to this day in the Topkapi palace museum in Istanbul.
When the Greek War of Independence (1821–1830) broke out, the people of Himarë rose in revolt. The local uprising failed, but many Himariotes, veterans of the Russian and French Army, joined the revolutionary forces in today southern Greece, where they played a significant role in the struggle. In 1854, during the Crimean War, a major local rebellion broke out, with Himarë being one of the first towns that joined it. Although the newly founded Greek state tried tacitly to support it, the rebellion was suppressed by Ottoman forces after a few months. The Himariotes were continuously held suspicious of supporting the expansionist plans of Greece in the region, especially during the era of the Albanian national awakening.
During the First Balkan War, on November 18, 1912, the town revolted under Spyros Spyromilios and expelled the Ottoman forces in order to join Greece. In March 1914, the "Protocol of Corfu" was signed, which established the Autonomous Republic of Northern Epirus, of which Himarë formed a part, though the Autonomous Republic itself formally remained part of the newly formed Albanian state. However, in the Panepirotic assembly in Delvinë, that aimed at the ratifications of the terms of the Protocol by the Northern Epirote representatives, the delegates of Himarë abstained, insisting that only union with Greece would be a viable solution.
During the First World War, Himarë was under Greek administration (October 1914-September 1916) and then occupied by Italy. The Italians used Austro-Hungarian prisoners of war to build a road running through Himarë, which greatly reduced the region's isolation. Spiro Jorgo Koleka, a native of Vuno and a local leader of the Albanian national movement, opposed the annexation by foreign powers of Himara area and the wider region around Vlora . To that effect Koleka was an organiser of the Vlora War, where other local Himariots participated. In 1921 the region came under the control of the Albanian state. The Himara question in 1921, regarding the rights of "Himariotes" and their villages Dhërmi, Vuno, Himara, Piluri, Kudhës and Qeparo, was supervised by Albanian government representative Spiro Jorgo Koleka. The government concluded that Albanian was obligatory in school, as the official language, while Greek was free to be taught as a second language, as desired by the people. The locals rose in revolt, in 1924, protesting against a series of measures aiming at Albanisation, and demanding the same privileges they enjoyed prior to incorporation to Albania. Other uprisings followed in 1927 and 1932, both suppressed by the government of king Zog of Albania.
Later, Himarë was again occupied by the Italians as part of the Italian invasion in Albania. During the Greco-Italian War, the 3rd Infantry Division of the Greek Army entered Himarë, on December 22, 1940, after victorious fighting against the Fascist Italian forces deployed in the region. The town briefly re-joined Greece until the German invasion in 1941.
The population of the Himarë region is 11,257 inhabitants, with the ethnic composition of both the town and region predominantly Greek. The town of Himarë and the settlements of Dhërmi and Palasë, which account for the bulk of the region's population, are inhabited by Greeks, while Pilur, Kudhës, Vuno and Ilias are populated by an Orthodox Albanian population. The village of Qeparo is inhabited by both Greeks (upper neighbourhood) and an Orthodox Albanian population (lower neighbourhood). On the other hand, the latest official census in Albania (2011), which has been widely disputed due to irregularities in the procedure, and its results affected by boycott by part of the Greek minority, shows that 60.38% were registered as Albanians, 24.56% as Greeks and 14.00% preferred not to declare any ethnicity at all. Comparatively, the 2015 Albanian Civil Registry offices suggested a municipal population of 27,049 people, mostly as a result of the Greek community's boycotting of the 2011 census where it recorded only 5,738 people.
Historically, there have been several conflicting theories about the ethnicity of the Himariotes. In the early 19th century according to Greek scholar and secretary to Ali Pasha Athanasios Psalidas, three villages of the area were considered Greek, while he also stated that there were also some Orthodox Albanian villages in the region. In general, the allegiances of the locals were in a narrow sense to their respective clans (the "phatriae") and areas, and in a broader sense to their Orthodox religion and cultural heritage. The later factors indicate closer links with their Greek co-religionists than to the Muslim Albanian communities.
The inhabitants of Himara are predominantly Orthodox Christians. In 1577, 38 chieftains of the Himara region appealed to Pope Gregory XIII for arms and supplies against the Ottomans. They promised to switch allegiance from the Orthodox to the Roman Catholic Church, and recognize Philip II of Spain as their sovereign. They asked to retain their Orthodox liturgical customs 'since the majority of the population is Greek and does not understand the Frankish language'. From 1577 to 1765 the population accepted the Pope as the religious head of the community and identified with the Roman Catholic Church. The success of the Roman Catholic missionaries among the Eastern-rite Albanians in Himarë led to the region becoming a refuge for Orthodox prelates that had converted. Himariotes thus largely adhered to Christian faith, although individual conversions to Islam were recorded from the early 16th century. One of them, Ajaz Pasha, became Grand Vizier and was sent by the Ottoman Sultan to put down the 1537 revolt of Himariotes. Even so, crypto-Christianity appeared, particularly in the villages of Fterre, Corraj, and Vuno. Moreover, Basilian missions were sent by Rome since 1682, founding a number of Greek schools.
In August 2015 Albanian police demolished the renovated Orthodox church of Saint Athanasius in Dhermi, as local authorities weeks earlier declared it an “illegal construction”. The Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania declared it a vandalistic act of desecration and a violation of church property and it also triggered diplomatic protests from Greece. This is the second demolition of the church, the first having taken place during the era of the People's Republic of Albania, but at the time the church was rebuilt by the local Orthodox Church after the restoration of Democracy in the country (1991). The Albanian government has promised to rebuild the church after archaeological excavations have taken place. The demolition of the religious monument also triggered strong reactions from the European Commission.
The vast majority of people in Himarë, who call themselves "Horiani" (Greek: Χωριανοί), meaning locals in the local Greek dialect, are bilingual in both Albanian and Greek, while 85% of the municipality's population use Greek as their mother tongue according to the municipal authorities. In the town of Himarë as well as in nearby villages of Dhërmi and Palasa mainly speak a unique local Greek dialect that preserves many archaic features no longer found in standard Modern Greek. This dialect has small variations in the way it is spoken in every town, especially in the accent. In the spring of 2006, a private Greek-language school opened in the town of Himarë, at the precise location where the Orthodox missionary Cosmas the Aetolian founded the Acroceraunian School in 1770. Elements of Slavic influence are limited compared to the neighboring Albanian idioms, as well as the other variants of the Greek language spoken in southeast Albania and Nartë region.
On the other hand, the surrounding towns of Ilias, Vuno, Qeparo, Kudhës and Pilur mainly speak the Lab Albanian dialect, a subdialect of Tosk Albanian. Lab Albanian as a whole, and especially the local dialect of Himare, are known for being conservative and preserving features of Old Albanian that are lost elsewhere in the Tosk south of Albania but typically preserved in the Gheg north, such as the vowel length distinction. Another conservative phonological trait of Lab is the lack of palatalization, making residents speak "shkjip", not "shqip" (as in Arbëresh). The purported discovery of nasal vowels in the Himara region and the neighboring Kurvelesh region, a characteristic of Old Albanian that was lost in most Tosk but preserved in Gheg challenged the traditional view that the split between Gheg and Tosk was in part caused by the loss of nasalization in Tosk; these finds were supported by a discovery of nasal vowels in the neighboring Lab dialect spoken in Borsh. Elements of Slavic influence in the lexicon are also evident in the local Albanian idiom.
The possibility of victory by the Greek minority Unity for Human Rights Party in the municipal elections in the past triggered nationalist rhetoric, both at the local and even national level, and heightened tension in the town. The Unity for Human Rights Party secured the greatest number of seats in the current municipal council, during the last municipal elections, however the mayorship was won by the Socialist party, and mayor is Gjergi Goro in the town of Himara (2011). In the last governmental elections (2013), the region of Himara voted 48.3% for the Socialist Party and 25.5% for the Unity of Human Rights party.
While the situation of the Greek minority in Albania has improved since the fall of communism, ethnic tensions in Himara remain high. During the 1994 trial of the Omonoia members, an organization that represents the Greek minority in Albania, three local Greeks were arrested and beaten by the Albanian police after they were found in possession of leaflets calling for the release of the arrested Omonoia leaders. In 2008, a number of protests took place with the locals demanding land ownership and autonomy for the region. The house of former mayor of Himara's, Vasil Bollano, has been the target of a bomb attack twice, in 2004 and again in May 2010.
On August 12, 2010, ethnic tensions soared after ethnic Greek shopkeeper Aristotelis Goumas was killed when his motorcycle was hit by a car driven by three Albanian youths with whom Goumas allegedly had an altercation when they demanded that he must not speak Greek to them in his store. Outraged locals blocked the main highway between Vlore and Saranda and demanded reform and increased local Himariote representation in the local police force. The incident was condemned by both the Greek and Albanian governments and three suspects are currently in custody awaiting trial.
The census of 2011 included ethnicity for the first time, a long-standing demand of the Greek minority in Albania and of international organizations., however, Greek minority representatives found unacceptable article 20 of the Census law, according to which there is a $1,000 fine for declaring an ethnicity other than what was written down on someone's birth certificate. As a result, the census was boycotted by parts of the Greek community.
In 2005, after years of unanswered demands, President Berisha authorized the opening of a Greek-language school in Himara partially funded by the Greek government. The school now has five teachers and 115 pupils.
As of 31 October 2017, some 3,000 Albanian police officers, including riot police squads, arrived in the southern region of Himara on Tuesday in order to oversee and shield the demolition of several properties belonging to members of the Greek minority. The demolition of houses and businesses of ethnic Greeks is, according to Albanian authorities, part of a wider project aiming to boost tourism in the area, which is considered Albania’s top holiday resort. Members of the Greek minority as well as critics both in Greece and Albania have denounced the urban regeneration plan as unconstitutional. At the same time, Athens has repeatedly warned Tirana that demolishing residencies and businesses belonging to ethnic Greeks could cause severe damage to Albania’s European Union candidacy process. Namely, Greek government spokesperson Dimitris Tzanakopoulos declared that Athens is closely monitoring the developments in Himara and is working to safeguard the rights of the Greek minority in the Albanian seaside resort.
On his behalf, the chairman of the Unity for Human Rights Party, which represents the Greek communities in the Albanian parliament- Vangjel Dule, said "Prime Minister Edi Rama wants the people of Himara to be displaced. His behavior towards the Himarite Greeks could only be compared with that of a conqueror… Hereditary property rights of our grandfathers are being violated. Basic principles of the rule of law are being infringed. Functional democracy and respect for the rights of the members of the minority are being violated in broad daylight. Himara, which has endured throughout the centuries with its identity and ideals, many storms like the ones that we have seen today, cannot be defeated by Mr. Rama’s legal perversities and institutional adventures." Furthermore, he described Himara as a police state due to the presence of thousands of Albanian policemen and charges Rama’s government for creating tension "without any document of legal power".
The much debated project has also caused the fierce reactions from members of the Greek minority who claim that the Albanian government’s aim is to force them out of their land and thus it employs measures of financial suffocation. On Tuesday morning they gathered near the buildings that were demolished and demonstrated trying to stop bulldozers that earlier tore down a gas station owned by a Greek family. According to Greek government sources, both the Embassy in Tirana and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are in permanent communication with the property owners who are affected by the demolitions. In total, there are some 23 properties which have been planned to be demolished as part of the new urban plan of Himara.
"We call on the Albanian Government to immediately stop any action against the rights of members of the ethnic Greek minority residing in Himara. At the same time, we urge the government to proceed immediately this time, reactions at both bilateral and European level to protect the Greeks of Himara", an official statement issued by the main opposition party of New Democracy reads. Source: Greek City Times.
The Ceraunian mountains (Llogara) up close
a Greek-speaking district
The coastal Himara region of Southern Albania has always had a predominantly ethnic Greek population.
Οι Χειμαριώτες θεωρούνταν διαρκώς ύποπτοι ευρύτερων ανατρεπτικών σχεδίων στην περιοχή, τα οποία θα εκπορεύονταν από την Ελλάδα.
THE PROTOCOL OF HIMARRA, 1921 We, Spiros Kolekas, Deputy of Valone, General Representative of the Albanian Government for the settlement of the question of the Himarra district, i.e. the villages of Drymades, Vouno, Himarra, Piliouri, Koundessi and Kyparou, which have sent their representatives, Mr G. Bolanos, M. Karas, D. Lekkas and Mr A. Simonides as their Secretary, have agreed upon the following: a) Privileges: The Albanian ...
...the controversial CENSUS data
Ethnic Greek minority groups had encouraged their members to boycott the census, affecting measurements of the Greek ethnic minority and membership in the Greek Orthodox Church.External link in
The European Commission has issued a strong reaction in relation to the demolition of the orthodox church in the south of Albania and calls on Albanian authorities to respect religious freedoms for the citizens of the country, while it includes the incident in the upcoming Progress Report.
The set is pretty different if we consider the lexical material (appellatives and place names) of the inland of Chimara (Kurvelesh region) and the nearby coastal Albanian - speaking villages (Bregdet) & The Greek-speaking area that seems to be less affected by Slavic is that of Chimara although elements of Slavic influence are present in the neighboring villages,...
Ethnic Greek minority groups had encouraged their members to boycott the census, affecting measurements of the Greek ethnic minority and membership in the Greek Orthodox Church.External link in
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