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Kosovo’s lost city rises from earthy tomb

Two-and-a-half metres underground, covering the equivalent of 120 football pitches, the ancient city of Ulpiana is slowly being unearthed by Kosovar and international archaeologists.

UlpianaAlthough the location has long been known as the country’s most promising archaeological site, only now is it being properly explored.

A mere fraction of the area has been explored and most of the land remains covered with grassland or fields, sown with wheat and corn.

But in 2010, the Ministry of Culture began funding major excavation work at the site, nine kilometres south of the capital, Pristina, near the town of Gracanica. 

From 1950 to 1999, when the Kosovo conflict ended, almost no work was carried out on the site.

Following the end of the hostilities, however, archaeologists began digging, uncovering sections of the city walls, defensive towers, glass containers, ceramic pots, coins, a gold pendant, human remains and Illyrian graves. The finds date back to the 1st Century AD, when it is thought that an older Illyrian settlement was re-founded by the Romans as Ulpiana.

In 2010, the excavation stepped up a gear when the Ministry of Culture entered into cooperation with the German Archaeological Institute, the National Archaeological Institute of Kosovo and the National Museum of Kosovo.

Kosovo’s government has allocated 300,000 euro for the project, which includes the building of a visitors’ centre.

But of the estimated 120 hectares of the site, the government owns less than one hectare. Local Serbian farmers own most of the rest.

Although most of the Ulpiana site is private property, because the site is of historical importance it has been a designated protected area since 1954, Kemajl Luci, an archaeologist at the Museum of Kosovo, told Balkan Insight.

This means that no house or industrial facility can be built on it, Luci explained.

"Research began in 1954 in this locality but 2010 was different from all other years because this was when research began on a large scale,” he added.

UlpianaIn the summer of 2010, a team of archaeologists from the National Museum of Kosovo, the archaeological institute and the Institute for Protection and Monuments of Pristina, along with archaeologists from Germany, scanned 45 hectares of the site.

"This involved scanning the whole area down to a depth of two-and-a half-metres,” he said. “According to our calculations, the ancient city covered a total of 120 hectares of which we have recorded 45 hectares so far. In 2011 and 2012 we expect to record the entire area.”

Enver Rexha, director of the Archaeological Institute of Kosovo, said that once the study was completed in 2012, and once several excavations were made, a museum for visitors would be created.

"We will open paths for visitors, fix the infrastructure, asphalt the roads and get ready for visitors,” Rexha said.

2323770456_671bd0ed21But for Ulpiana to meet its full potential, Kosovo’s government must be ready to buy up more private land, he added.”When this happens, then the whole Ulpiana can surface.”

Some local Serbian owners in the area told Balkan Insight they would be willing to sell land to the government if the price was right.

"It all depends on how much they offer, so that we can buy land somewhere else," said Vladimir Milic, from the village of Lapljle Selo where the site is located. He owns 50 acres, some of which covers the site of Ulpiana.

Ibisa Petrovic, owner of another plot, said he would sell land for its market value.

Kosovo’s Deputy of Minster of Culture, Lirije Kajtazi, told Balkan Insight: "We will devise a plan on how to fix Ulpiana’s ownership.”

From Illyrian to Roman City

Archaeologists have uncovered evidence suggesting the site may have been inhabited as far back as the 7th century BC.

UlpianaAs a major Illyrian settlement, Ulpiana is of huge cultural importance for Albanians, as many historians believe Albanians descend from this ancient tribe.

“Ulpiana was one of the most populous settlements in ancient Illyria, so its exploration is very important,” Rexha said.

According to Milot Berisha, from the Institute of Archaeology, Ulpiana is one of the most interesting sites in Kosovo and the wider region.

But it was not until the Romans arrived in the 1st century that the town developed into a city. In the 4th Century, Ulpiana was given the title of municipium, the second-highest class of Roman cities.

One of the key findings of the research so far has been the 1st-Century Illyrian graves. Two skeletons found at the site have been sent to Germany for analysis.

Ulpiana decayed as a result of barbarian attacks during the fall of the Roman Empire. In 500 AD, for example, Goths destroyed much of the city. In 518, Ulpiana was badly hit by an earthquake.

Ulpiana was rebuilt in the 6th century during the reign of the Emperor Justinian. But the 7th century spelt the end of Ulpiana as a great city when it was destroyed by the conquering Slavs.

Author: Besiana Xharra | Source: Balkan Insight [January 12, 2011]


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