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The Accursed Mountains of Theth, Albania

For seven months Theth is isolated, cut off by the winter snows. The rocky track to get there is arduous, with slippery hairpin bends, even when the snows have melted in May. As we climbed the narrow pass and entered the clouds, the weather closed in, and the temperature slumped. Tea was taken on top, wrapped in fleeces, snatching fleeting glimpses, through the cloud, of the fields far below. We are in a remote corner of northern Albania, with Kosovo to the north-east, six hours drive from Skhodra. The highest peak reaches 2,700 metres and snow is clinging to the summits.
As we descended the other side, to the Shala Valley floor, and approached the snow melt in the river we saw a young boy, wearing a stripey sweatshirt, sprinting haphazardly over the bleached boulders on the far bank. It turned out to be Francesco. He leaped onto the running board of the car and proceeded to drive us along the trails to show us the layout of the irregularly spaced settlement. We spent the next few days in his company, naming him the Miniature Mayor of Theth, for the respect he commanded from the elders we encountered. Inevitably he coaxed us back to his family, the Harushas, where we stayed for a couple of nights, ate their local fare and consumed home made rakija. The meat and cheese seemed to get more pungent and rancid by the hour, but the honey was deliciously creamy, the butter was soft, nutty and freshly made and unsweetened black cherry jam was a delight.
The customary code of the Kanun still rules in Theth and in these mountains. The Kanun has over a thousand articles, which regulate all aspects of the mountainous life: economic organization of the household, hospitality, brotherhood, clan, boundaries, work, marriage, land, and so on. The Besa (honour) is of prime importance throughout the code as the cornerstone of personal and social conduct. The Kanun applies to both Catholic and Muslim Albanians.
Some of the most controversial rules of the Kanun (in particular book 10 section 3) specify how murder is supposed to be handled, which often in the past and sometimes still now lead to blood feuds that last until all the men of the two involved families are killed. Apparently there was a killing in Boga, over the mountain, ten days ago…
Luckily foreigners are exempt.


Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

Mike & Anitareply
June 23, 2011 at 05:06 PM

That’s more like it – excellent!

Barry MacCollreply
June 27, 2011 at 08:06 AM

Hey Jo, looks like you are having a good time. When you get back we will have to come and stay for w few days to get the full story. Keep safe and enjoy!
Barry and Carey

Jerrard Mark Latimerreply
April 30, 2014 at 07:04 PM


October 29, 2014 at 03:10 PM
– In reply to: Jerrard Mark Latimer

Jerrard, just watched your your travels and it brought back many memories of a wonderful trip in Theth in particular. Thanks

Mark Latimerreply
November 05, 2014 at 09:11 PM
– In reply to: Jo

Thanks, Jo: a magical place!

October 28, 2014 at 04:10 PM

i was in theth this yeah, Francesco is still there, and as jubilant and mesmerism as ever. i was meant to stay a night i stayed 4, spending the days playing cards and football with him and his friends, herding sheep and cows. i cannot explain how amazing that boy is. if you’re not interested in the stunning scenery Theth is worth a visit for this kid.

October 29, 2014 at 03:10 PM
– In reply to: jonnie

That is very good to know Jonnie. He must be 15 by now?

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