"Old and new monastery." Mesopotam by JLBG
Mesopotam Travel Guide: 2 reviews and 4 photos
Mesopotam (in Albanian) or Mesopotamia (in Greek) is a small village, 10 km east to Saranda, along the road to Gjirokaster, in the Delvinë District, Vlorë County. As its name suggests, (“in the middle of rivers”) it stands on the banks of river Kalasë that flows southwards into Butrint Lake.
We had read that the Monastery of Mesopotam had a church built in the XIIth and that was worth a look. When we reached Mesopotam, north to the road from Saranda to Gjirokaster, there was a monastery in the village. We drove to the monastery that looked rather new. It was well enclosed and we did not see anything that seemed to date from the XIIth. (this photo). The next day, when driving back from Gjirokaster, my attention was drawn on a group of buildings, 500-800 m south to the road, on the other side of the river. That might very well be the actual monastery. We did not drove back to find the road that allowed to reach it as the guide book we had said that it was usually closed and that visitors could only peep through the gate. Once back home, I checked and found that this was indeed the old monastery, standing on a butte between two arms of the river (Mesopotam !) while a new one was inside the village. The road leading to the monastery seems to leave the main road 1 or 2 km after the village when driving to Gjirokaster from Saranda. It is well after the bridge.
The old monastery was first mentioned in 1081 on the occasion of a battle between Byzantine troops and invading Normans. Saint Nicholas Church (Shën Kollit) was most likely built in the XIIth century with two naves stuck together and four vaults. As far as I know, it has also a valuable iconostasis, but is not opened for visits. May be some day visits will be possible !
I have added a short summary about the presence of Normans in Albania.
The Vikings from Normandy played a main part in the central Mediterranean for several centuries. In1038, Byzantine Emperor Michel IV the Paphlagonian battled against the Saracens of Sicily. He hired a contingent of 300 Normans mercenaries from Lombardy with Wilhelm Iron Arm. Under the leadership of Harald Hardrada, that became king of Norway in 1047, the Imperial Guard included Varegues, ie Vikings that arrived in Constantinople from Sweden as pirates on the Russian rivers. The campaign was successful but after a while, the Viking mercenaries, both Normans and Varegues left the Greek army to battle on their own.
Viking Normandy was wealthy but the youngest in every noble family knew they will not inherit from their fathers and went away in order to establish themselves. A great many of them came to Sicily where they established themselves as 12 counts. In 1057, Pope Nicholas II grants to one of them, Robert Guiscard the title of duke of the Puglie, Calabria and Sicily. In 1091, they controlled the whole area and had expelled the Sarracens. Robert Guiscard dreamed to be crowned of the Byzantine Empire and battled in the whole Balkans. He took a great many places such as Dürres in Albania, Salonique in Greece but failed in front of Constantinople and died in Greece, in Cephalonia, in a village named Fiskardo (see my page). The dynasty became kings of Sicily and next century, they invaded what is now Tunisia and Lybia. In 1146, they controlled the whole coast between Tunis and Tripoli.
In another of my South Albania pages, namely my Konispol page, I outlined that flocks of sheep were not unusual on the... more travel advice
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