More background info:
for general historical background see under Kosovo
Like the whole territory, Pristina’s history goes back to beyond antiquity. It was already an important trading post in Roman times and remained so through the eras. During the five centuries of Ottoman rule, many mosques, town houses and a hamam and a bazaar were erected.
However, very little of the historic old town survived. In Pristina’s case it wasn’t so much wars that the old heritage fell victim to, but rather an overzealous modernization programme in Yugoslav
times under Tito. Most of the old town was demolished to make way for modern structures. Only a couple of mosques and Ottoman town houses survived, most was replaced by buildings that today account for the dodgy reputation Pristina has these days as one of the ugliest capital cities in Europe.
That is only partly justified, though. And some of the modern buildings do have their own appeal, in a modern architecture sense – see below
Anyway, with lots of investment in infrastructure and industry in Pristina in the Yugoslav era, especially from the late 1960s onwards, the city grew, both physically and in the number of inhabitants, which reached over 100,000 in the early 1980s. It now stands at over 200,000.
In the wake of increasing Serbian nationalism under Slobodan Milošević, which led to a removal of much of the autonomy Kosovo had before within Yugoslavia
, accompanied by large-scale dismissals of ethnic Albanians from jobs in state institutions, tensions grew and protests were held in Pristina, peaking in 1989.
During much of the 1990s, Pristina was spared the troubles and violence experienced in other parts of Kosovo, though with the outbreak of the Kosovo War in March 1998 that changed, and Serbian campaigns sought to dispel ethnic Albanians from the city and shelled districts of Pristina. Many more fled from the violence to other countries (especially Germany
). During the NATO
intervention some sites in Pristina were also targeted, such as police and military barracks.
In June 1999, KFOR peacekeeping troops arrived in Pristina. And these were needed as now Albanians took to violence against the remaining Serbs. Thus the once fairly large Serbian part of the population has dwindled to just a few dozen.
As the capital city of Kosovo, Pristina has benefited enormously from international money from various organizations that took up a seat in Pristina. There’s also been a lot of investment in infrastructure such as new highways, and in 2013 Pristina’s new international airport opened.
This also opened up the country, and especially Pristina, to tourism. And these days there are several Western-standard hotels and countless restaurants and cafes catering for visitors (and locals alike).
What there is to see:
Pristina is said to be ugly. But that in itself can almost be an attraction from a dark-tourism perspective. The heart of the city centre, with the pedestrianized Skanderbeg Square
, with its obligatory statue of Albanian national hero Skanderbeg on horseback (cf. Tirana
), and Mother Teresa Boulevard
lined by countless street cafes, is actually quite pleasant (but beware of the stray dogs).
The best-known landmark that the inhabitants of Pristina embrace is the “NEWBORN” monument, which consists of just those letters that are regularly repainted in a different style.
This monument sits at the bottom of the Youth and Sports Palace
complex, a soaring modernist edifice that is one of the modern architecture icons of Pristina. But it has seen better days. The main sports arena part is now used as a car park and there’s plenty of graffiti, some of it of a dodgy sort (I even saw an SS
Nazi symbol). By the entrance is a scale model of the entire complex (which also includes another hall and an open-air stadium) in front of a wall adorned with flags and a large portrait of modern Kosovo’s national hero Adem Jashari (see Prekaz
), whose image is also on the outside of the Sports Palace and you can also find him in graffiti form.
Opposite the NEWBORN monument is a striking memorial monument entitled “Heroinat
” (‘heroines’). Steel nails of different lengths form a kind of bas-relief image of a woman’s head. This monument is dedicated to the ca. 20,000 women who became victims of Serbian rapists in the Kosovo
War of 1998/99 (Serbia
has used rape as a systematic weapon of war, committing such war crimes throughout the Yugoslav
wars of the 1990s). Behind this monument is the Grand Hotel, which is largely abandoned and anything but grand these days.
A bit further south lies the fairly new Catholic Mother Teresa Cathedral, located on the corner of Xhorxh Bush and Bill Klinton Boulevards (they clearly love their US presidents here, though not the original spelling!). This is worth a visit not just for the inside and the stained-glass windows (featuring some intriguing scenes as well as several Popes) but in particular for the bell tower. For a small fee you can take the lift to a viewing platform at the top. This is worth it because it affords the best view of what has to be Pristina’s most iconic but also most detested building: the National Library.
This unique modernist structure (some call it brutalist, though I’m not sure that’s the correct classification) is often called the “ugliest building” of either Pristina, the country, Europe or even the world. I beg to differ vehemently! I find it really striking. The structure with its bizarre metal mesh cladding and countless skylight domes that look like a flotilla of alien spaceships have just landed on the roof is certainly remarkable. The inside is less spectacular but worth a quick look too. Not all of the building is in use, some parts at the rear are even bricked up.
Completely abandoned is the unfinished Orthodox cathedral
right next to the Library. Construction was begun in 1992 at a time of aggressive Serbian nationalism directed against the Kosovar Albanians. The Kosovo War, which drove out most Serbs from Pristina (see above
), put an end to the Cathedral’s construction. And so it just stands there empty, and the concrete and brick exterior raw and unpainted, though the central dome is topped with a golden cross. Seen as a symbol of the Milošević regime, the abandoned structure has been the target of vandalism, but is now said to be protected. Still, there have been calls for its demolition. A much better suggestion, especially from a dark-tourism perspective, is to turn the building into a museum about the Yugoslav Wars and the war crimes committed during that period.
A bit out of the centre on a low hill to the east is an old Yugoslav-era “spomenik” (monument) in the Velanija district. It’s officially called the “Partisan Martyrs Cemetery
”. The structure, originally unveiled in 1961, is dedicated to the partisans who fell in the fight for Yugoslavia
. In the Yugoslav era the monument even featured on postcards of Pristina. But since it was seen by the Kosovars as a symbol of Tito’s broken promise to let Kosovo decide for itself if it wanted to stay with Albania (instead Tito integrated it into Serbia again), the monument hasn’t seen much TLC since the 1990s. On the contrary there has been much vandalism, all of the plaques that once were on the walls have been stolen and there’s plenty of graffiti (one, fittingly, proclaiming “bad vibes”).
Right next to the unloved spomenik, however, is a new martyrs’ cemetery, where dozens of fallen fighters of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA – or UÇK in Albanian) are buried – and their graves look well tended. Nearby is also the marble tomb of Kosovo’s first president Ibrahim Rugova.
On the street that leads to the memorial hill, Rrustem Statovci, you can find yet another memorial monument dedicated to the UÇK, and back at the top of Mother Teresa Boulevard stands a statue of Ibrahim Rugova. There are numerous further monuments in Pristina, including one, also on Mother Teresa Boulevard, that expresses Kosovo’s gratitude to those who served in the KFOR peacekeeping troops.
A curious survivor of a Yugoslav-era spomenik is the Brotherhood and Unity Monument
on the square just north of the parliament complex. Brotherhood and Unity was the rallying cry under Tito to emphasize solidarity amongst the various ethnic groups that made up the Yugoslav federation. This monument used to be in a bad state and covered with graffiti too, but a 2018 restoration project rehabilitated the main triple-pillar-like monument. Just behind it to the east stands a group of cubist-style statues pained in the colours of various nations’ flags, including those of the USA
. This was apparently done in the wake of Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008, and the flags are of countries that supported the move. Interestingly, the restoration of the main Brotherhood and Unity Monument did not extend to the removal of these flag graffiti.
To the south of the parliament complex at the northern end of Skanderbeg Square is a large monument featuring 25 portraits. The accompanying text explains (in Albanian) that these are images of the victims of Serbian army and police violence who brutally crushed a Kosovo demonstration in March 1989, in which over 600 more were injured and well over a thousand arrested.
Possibly the most bizarre monument is the large statue of
former US president Bill Clinton
. He’s holding a tablet that has the date of the beginning of the NATO intervention in the Kosovo War on it (see under Kosovo
). Unfortunately the proportions of the statue aren’t quite right; Bill’s raised left hand and his head seem a bit to large in relation to the rest of him. It also doesn’t help that pigeons land on his head and relieve themselves there, so he’s got white stains on his head and white streams running down his jacket. A large panel hanging from the building behind his statue features a big photo of him together with the US and Kosovo flags.
All in all, it may be true that Pristina is not a particularly attractive city, but for dark tourists there are a few sights worth taking in. I actually quite liked the place, I must say.
just a bit off the centre of Kosovo
to the east, 22 miles (35 km) south of Mitrovica
in the north, and about 50 miles (80 km) north-west of Skopje
, the capital of neighbouring North Macedonia
Google Maps locators:
Access and costs: fairly easy by plane; not necessarily expensive.
Within Pristina you can walk it all, no public transport is required. With one exception: transfer to/from the airport, which can be arranged through your accommodation or by grabbing a taxi at the airport.
For accommodation there’s a perhaps surprisingly wide range of options, including at the budget end of the scale, and even at the top end Pristina’s top hotel (Swiss Diamond) doesn’t cost anywhere near as much as it would in other cities.
For eating out there’s a similarly wide range, from simple fast-food outlets (plenty of those!) to proper restaurants. If you want to be able to try things from a wide range of traditional Kosovo Albanian dishes, head to “Liburnia” on Meto Bajraktari just north of the heart of the city (reservations recommended).
Time required: For the city itself a full day is plenty enough, but if you also want to go on an excursion outside the city, you need at least another day.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
Pristina is a good base for excursions to other places in Kosovo
, in particular Prekaz
, which can be combined in an organized private day tour with a driver-guide.
The monument of Gazimestan
could also be reached simply by taxi from Pristina.
Combinations with non-dark destinations: Pristina doesn’t offer as much to tourists as other, larger capital cities do, but the central pedestrianized zone along Mother Teresa Boulevard (“Bulevardi Nënë Tereza” in Albanian) and the square to the south of it are pleasant enough and basically where most of the action is. There’s an Ethnographic Museum in one of the few surviving historical buildings, and a couple of medieval mosques north of the city centre. The inside of the new Mother Teresa Cathedral is also worth a look. But the general cityscape really is quite drab.
- Prishtina 01 - city centre pedestrianized quarter
- Prishtina 02 - with stray dogs and Skanderbeg monument
- Prishtina 03 - Newborn monument
- Prishtina 04 - Youth and Sports Palace
- Prishtina 05 - inside the Youth and Sports Palace, now a car park
- Prishtina 06 - some dodgy graffiti
- Prishtina 07 - more benign graffiti
- Prishtina 08 - model of the whole complex
- Prishtina 09 - with an Adem Jashari shrine
- Prishtina 10 - Adem Jashari graffito outside
- Prishtina 11 - Heroinat monument
- Prishtina 12 - made from steel nails
- Prishtina 13 - mostly abandoned former Grand Hotel
- Prishtina 14 - new Mother Teresa Cathedral
- Prishtina 15 - Mother Teresa inside the eponymous cathedral with John-Paul II
- Prishtina 16 - two successors of John-Paul II
- Prishtina 17 - view from the Cathedal bell tower
- Prishtina 18 - view of the National Library and the unfinished Orthodox cathedral
- Prishtina 19 - National Library in metal mesh cladding
- Prishtina 20 - inside the National Library
- Prishtina 21 - inside one of the domes of the National Library
- Prishtina 22 - bricked-up part
- Prishtina 23 - unfinished and abandoned Orthodox cathedral
- Prishtina 24 - Martyrs Cemetery spomenik
- Prishtina 25 - indeed, that and vandalism and graffiti
- Prishtina 26 - KLA cemetery adjacent to the Martyrs Cemetery monument
- Prishtina 27 - grave of a freedom fighter
- Prishtina 28 - grave of the first president of Kosovo
- Prishtina 29 - refurbished Brotherhood and Unity spomenik in the city centre
- Prishtina 30 - international
- Prishtina 31 - another KLA monument
- Prishtina 32 - KFOR monument
- Prishtina 33 - Rugova statue
- Prishtina 34 - monument commemorating Serbian atrocities
- Prishtina 35 - yet another monument
- Prishtina 36 - Bill Clinton monument
- Prishtina 37 - mosque
- Prishtina 38 - derelict mosque
- Prishtina 39 - half-reflected mosque
- Prishtina 40 - city centre by night
- Prishtina 41 - you could think Kosovo was in the EU already
- Prishtina 42 - sign of solidarity
- Prishtina 43 - Skanderbeg appearing headless at night