Haxhi Zeka Kulla, Peja. Photo: Gail Warrander
Isniq has always been one of the largest villages in Kosovo, with some 6,000 inhabitants. Today it is most famous for its kullas, traditional Albanian stone houses dating back to the turbulent last decades of the Ottoman Empire. Isniq is situated at the foot of the Accursed Mountains, at a distance of 12km from Peja (Pec).
Before the 1999 war, Isniq's skyline was dominated by dozens of two and three-storey high kullas. As symbols of Albanian cultural heritage, all but a handful were razed to the ground by Serb forces in 1999. In the municipality of Decan, where Isniq is located, 70 out of 263 kullas were destroyed and 161 were damaged.
The Albanian word kulla derives from the Turkish word for 'tower'. Traditional kullas resemble fortified towers, with walls as thick as 1 meter. To protect against intruders, the ground floor usually has no windows. The family's living quarters are on the second floor, and the elaborately decorated guestroom known as oda e burrave – reserved for men only – is traditionally located on the third. The oda e burrave is where the men of the household would meet and welcome guests. The head of the household, the eldest male, accompanied by the honored guest, would traditionally sit closest to the warm fire. It was here, over a coup of Turkish coffee, that decisions on marriages, blood feuds and politics were taken. The Kukleci and Osdautaj kullas are two beautiful examples of kullas complete with oda e burrave. Thanks to international restoration works, both can be visited today.
In the past, the entire village would spend the summer months on the rich mountain pastures at 2,000 meters. During the winter months, women were busy producing carpets, blankets and clothes from sheep wool.