We are all familiar with the beautiful continent of Europe, mesmerizing us with everything it has to offer: from its rich history and interesting geography, economy and politics. However, digging in deeper in the Southeastern part, we find the Balkan Peninsula, a group of countries mostly brought together by fate, but beholding different nations and cultures as no other region of Europe.
The countries that make up the Balkans today are Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Kosovo, Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia and the European part of Turkey.
A brief history of the Balkans
The word “Balkan” derives from the Turkish language meaning “mountain”. The region definitely takes the names after its geographical highlights; the Balkan Mountains.
As brief as it can get, its history is mainly made of stormy seas and complex stories for many of the countries. Balkans’ history of tribes dates back nearly 3000 years ago, with Latin, Greeks, Slavs, Hungarians taking place and ending it with the Ottoman Empire by being the ultimate controller of the region for a long period of time.
There’s roughly two major historical factors that made the Balkans what they are today: The first was the split of the Roman Empire, dividing the Balkans into Roman Catholic and Byzantine Orthodox. The second factor was the invasion of the Ottoman Empire, which marked five centuries of Islamic influence further dividing the Balkans in Christian and Muslim.
With the hope and reason of finding a way to rescue from the ongoing opressions, the Republic of Yugoslavia was created, constisting of 6 countries and 2 provinces , lastly to be torn apart after 49 years of existing.
A culture that amazes
When we talk about the Balkans, the first thing that comes to our mind is their culture and everything about its characteristics. The unique thing about the Balkan is that its diverse yet equal at the same time: in essence, they are very much the same. The Balkan culture is all about the rich, vivid and passionate feelings it gives you once you are involved in it, showing that even from a tough past of their history, they collected every little bit to make the Balkan culture what it is today.
Starting from the foods and amazing traditional cuisine Balkan beholds, the production has always remained and sticked to the native recipes that have been cooked for centuries only by the Balkan women. These foods may as well be served in ceramic containers; pots, plates and ceramic glasses – all handmade!
The Balkan people have an artistic spirit, and they’ve been expressing their talents for centuries. Both men and women of the Balkans are known for their numerous handwork and crafts, making creations and amazing pieces out of wood, stones and metal. Not only the artisans, but the Balkan women as well, have known how to canalize their energy and knowledge of the handmade work into fibers of woven carpets and rugs with charming decorations.
Balkan is a home to everyone
The term “Balkan” is not only used to define the geographical region, but also to define the certain mentality of the people living across these countries. Often misunderstood, this part of the Europe has an undeniable truth: the Balkan people are warm, affectionate and truly welcoming people.
You can trust them. There is a concept named “besa” in the Albanian culture, meaning that once an Albanian guarantees you with besa, the promise shall be kept no matter what. It is usually translated as a word of honour, and it is the highest ethical code of the country. Not only that, it also has the meaning of taking care of the ones in need and giving the right hospitality, which links to the Muslim Albanians who saved over 2000 Jews from Nazi persecution.
The Balkans love new visitors, and will do their best to give visitors a wonderful time. They love new friendships! You might make a new friend only by sharing the same seat on the bus. The Balkan people might as well simply smile or give a random comment in the streets.
This is only a starter of what the Balkan Peninsula has to offer, you might want to get your pen and papers ready, because I have a list of places you want to see and foods you want to try in this small, yet amazing region of Europe. So, until the next time!
This article was written by Lorita Xhaferi