Saturday 16 February 2019


Šar Mountain mountain is a mountain range which lies on the border between Serbia (Kosovo), Makedonija and Albanija.

Sometimes the range is called Carska planina ("Tsar's mountain"), as a reference to the old capitals (Prizren and Skopje), courts (Nerodimlje, Pauni, Svrčin, etc.) and monasteries (Monastery of the Holy Archangels) of the Old Medieval Serbian Empire which are located in the region surrounding the mountain.

The mountain range is 85 kilometers long and has a total area of 1600 square km. It has 21 peaks which are over 2000 meter high, the highest reaching 2707 meters. This is Ljuboten peak, which is 2,498 m high.

Vegetation on the mountain includes crops up to around 1,000 m (3,281 ft), forests up to 1,700 m (5,577 ft), and above that lie high pastures which encompass around 550 km2 (212 sq mi). The Šar Mountain is the largest compact area covered with pastures on the European continent.


Because of this the Šar Mountain highland is an ideal grazing ground for sheep. Huge flocks of sheep are brought up the mountain every spring to the highland grazing grounds, where they stay until the late autumn. Up on the mountains the sheep are minded by shepherds and their dogs, famous Šarplaninac (Šar mountain) shepherd dog.

The Šarplaninac is a robust, well proportioned dog with plenty of bone, of a size that is well above the average. The coat is long and dense, with an abundant dense undercoat, making it weatherproof and suited for an outside life.

The temperament of the breed is described as independent, reliable, protective but not snappy, incorruptible and devoted to its master. The breed is aloof with outsiders, and calm until a threat to the flock presents itself. The breed has an extremely protective nature. In the absence of a flock of sheep, the Šarplaninac will often treat its humans as sheep - herding them away from danger or undesirable areas. They are serene and majestic, gentle with children and smaller dogs. They are also highly intelligent and bred to work without human supervision while guarding the flocks in the high pastures. The Šarplaninac has been known to fight or chase off wolves, lynxes and even bears.

While during the summer the upper highlands of the Šar Mountain are covered in lush green grass, during the winter they turn into a white desert covered in meters of snow.

The official etymology of the name "Šar Mountain" says that it comes from the Old Slavic word "šar" meaning pattern. The explanation is that the mountain looks patterned due to its layers of different vegetation. On this picture of the Šar Mountain you can clearly see the white layer of snow covered highlands over the black layer of forests.

This is indeed a good etymology. But there is another possible etymology.

In Antiquity, the Šar Mountain was known as Scardus, Scodrus, or Scordus (το Σκάρδον ὂρος in Polybius and Ptolemy) mountain; This name means the mountain of Scordisci. The same Celtic Scordisci who ruled what is today Serbian part of the Balkans for centuries, and whose capital was Singidun, today's Serbian capital Belgrade. The same Scordisci who, I believe, still live in Serbian genes, culture and language.

It is said that their tribal name may be connected to the Scordus, the Šar mountain. Are Scordisci the people from Scordus, or is Scordus the mountain of Scordisci? This is not really that important. But what is important is that if Celtic Scordisci lived on Scordus Mountain, then they would have given the mountain a Celtic name.

The mountain was known to the Greeks as Scordus Mountain, the mountain of Scordisci, but what did Scordisci call their mountain? Is it possible that they they called it Šar mountain?

And this is why I believe that this could be so:

If you look at the above panoramic picture of the Šar Mountain, you will see that it dwarfs the surrounding lowlands. It is a great, big, high mountain. It is also as I already said, the biggest and one of the best highland pastures in Europe. So if the Celts called this mountain anything, they must have called it something like high, big, great...

I already said in many of my posts that Scordisci must have spoken some variant of Gaelic, because there are so many common words in Gaelic and Serbian. So is there a Gaelic word which sounds like "Šar" and which means something like high, big, great? Yes there is.

In Gaelic there is a word "sáir", "sár", which is used as augmentative prefix meaning very, exceeding, excessive, great, most, excellent, the one above all... This word is found in both Old Irish and Early Irish.

For instance the Irish word "mhaith" means good, goodness. With prefix "sár" it becomes "sármhaith"  (pronounced "sarwai", "sorwa" depending on the dialect) which means Excellent (most, very good).

Here is a list of Irish constructs which use sáir- (sár-). I will here just list few most interesting ones:

sáire, excess, excellence.
sáir-bheannach, having lofty peaks or mountains.
sáir-bhinneálta, a., exquisitely handsome.
sáir-bhrígh, great strength.
sáir-bhríoghach, very powerful, very substantial.
sár-aibéil, very quick, extremely fast.
sár-chaoin, very gentle.
sár-mhaith, excellent, surpassing good.
sár-oilte, well-educated skilful.


Here you can hear how the word sáir- (sár-) is pronounced in three different Irish dialects. It is currently pronounces as "sar", "ser", "saor" and "sor". It is quite possible that the word was once also pronounced as "Shar" or "Šar".

Sár Mountain would then mean Great, High Mountain. Or Great Highlands, Excellent, Superior, The best highland pasture...Which is exact description of the Šar Mountain, the bigest and the best highland pasture in Europe.

Well this is just a possibility...

The south western slopes of the Šar Mountain are known as Gora. I believe that this name could have once been applied to the whole mountain, as Gora in Serbian simply means mountain or forest or forested mountain, or highland. This fits perfectly with the meaning of the potential Gaelic name for the mountain Sár (Great, High, Excelent) mountain. People who live in this region call themselves Gorani, Goranci which literally means mountain people, highlanders or Našinci, which literally means "our people, our ones".

Goranci are Muslim Slavic people who today consider themselves to be a separate ethnic group. 
However, the Ottoman census from 1591 (TKGM, TD № 55 (412), Defter sandžaka Prizren iz 1591. godine) says that Šar Mountain was inhabited exclusively by Serbs, so it is possible that they were originally Serbs who later converted to Islam and eventually developed their own new identity. 

It is important to know that the Islamisation of the Gorani people only happened in the 18th and 19th century. The Ottoman abolition of the Bulgarian Archbishopric of Ohrid and Serbian Patriarchate of Peć in 1766/1767 is thought to have prompted the Islamization of Gora as was the trend of many Balkan communities. The last Christian Gorani, Božana (God given in Serbian), died in the 19th century...

That Gorani are Islamised Serbs or at least closely related to Serbs can be seen from their language, which they call Našinski, which literally means "our language". This is a dialect of Serbian which is part of the Torlakian dialect group which is officially called "the transitional dialect between Eastern and Western South Slavic languages" but I believe is the root dialect from which both  Eastern and Western South Slavic languages evolved. The Gorani speech is also classified as an Old-Shtokavian dialect of Serbian (Old Medieval Serbian). You can see from this map showing the distribution of the Torlakian dialects, that they are mostly spoken by Serbs in Serbia. The areas in Northern Makedonija, Western Bulgaria and Kosovo (including the Šar Mountain), are all regions where either there still is, or until recently was a large Serbian population:

As you can see from the below map, based on the census from the 2011, today the Šar Mountain is, except for the urbanised low lying valley around Prizren which is mostly populated by Albanians, still an island of Slavic culture and language in Albanian dominated Kosovo. Three Slavic ethnic groups now live on the mountain. Orthodox Christian Slavic population which declares themselves a Serbs and two groups of Muslim Slavic population which declare themselves as either Bosniaks or Goran, where these "Bosniaks" are Goran people who have recently been converted to "Bosniaks"...

Regardless of what the people from Šar Mountain call themselves, Serbs, Gorani, Bosniaks, Slavic population of Šar Mountain is at the moment under huge economic, political and cultural pressure. More and more people are leaving as they see no future for themselves in Albanian dominated Kosovo where they are treated as undesirable. They feel abandoned by everyone, left to themselves and their destiny. The mountain of Scordisci might soon be empty...

This is a poem written by Sadik Idrizi Aljabak (1954), a Goran poet. The poem is written in Goran dialect and it describes perfectly the struggle of any ethnic group anywhere which is trying to survive religious, political and economic oppression and preserve its culture and languge....I tried to translate it into English as best as I could, but my Gorani is not the best :)


If you all leave
(and I can see you are getting ready)
who is going to speak our language
the golden coin given to us by our forefathers to take care of
but which was thinned during many difficult years

If you all run away
who is going to carry the dead to the cemeteries
cemeteries which are already overgrown and unkempt
who is going to give names to the flowers
which grow in the meadows along the rivers

If you all leave
(and I can see you are getting ready)
the streets of our villages will become quiet
our houses will stay empty
and there will be no one left to sing our songs...


Ako idete svi
(a viđim ste trnalje)
koj će zborne jezik naš
dukat istenčen
ot babovci začuvan
vo godine mlogo poteške

Ako izbegate svi
dženazina koj će isprati
du grobišta parosane
koj će dava ime cvećinam
vo ljivade pokraj reka

Svi ako idete
(ka što ste rnalje)
sokaci će se zagajljujet
kuće prazne će ostanet
pesne naše za nikogo

I know some people are going to say: there is no way that the present Serbian (and Gorani) people who live on the Mountain of Scordisci have anything to do with the Celtic Scordisci. Scordisci lived in Serbia in the 4th and 3rd century BC and Serbs only arrived to Serbia (and Gora) in the 7th century AD. These two people are in no way connected. 

The people who say things like this still believe in now completely destroyed population replacement theory, which states that as new people moved into the Balkans, they exterminated and replaced the old population that they found there. Hence Romans replaced Celts, Goths replaced Romans, Slavs replaced Goths...

Genetic analysis of the current Balkan population shows that actually newcomers just merged into the existing population. Today Balkan population is one of the most genetically diverse populations in the world. Basically anyone who ever lived in the Balkans have left its genetic mark on the current population, which in Serbia (and Gora) today calls themselves Serbs (and Gorani). 

Genetic data just confirms what archaeological, ethnographic and linguistic data have been hinting to already: that today's Serbs (and Gorani) are the genetic, cultural and linguistic amalgam of all the previous people who lived in the Balkans, probably since Mesolithic...

Now have a look at this:

In Kosovo, there are 21 Gorani-inhabited villages: Baćka, Brod, Vranište, Globočica, Gornja Rapča, Gornji Krstac, Dikance, Donja Rapča, Donje Ljubinje, Gornje Ljubinje, Donji Krstac, Dragaš, Zli Potok, Kruševo, Kukuljane, Lještane, Ljubošte, Mlike, Orčuša, Radeša and Restelica.

In Albania, there are 10 Gorani-inhabited villages: Zapod, Pakisht, Orçikël, Kosharisht, Cernalevë, Orgjost, Orshekë, Borje, Novosej and Shishtavec.

In the Republic of Macedonia, there are 2 Goranci-inhabited villages: Jelovjane and Urvič.

In several of the Gorani villages in Kosovo, Donje Ljubinje, Gornje Ljubinje, brides paint their faces in stunning patterns and embellish them with sequins for their wedding day. 

The face decorations always contain three circles, one on each cheek and one on the chin. 

It is said that the three golden circles drawn on the bride's face represent the three phases of life, which are bound to each other with golden paths, while the red ones represents fertility and the remaining blue spots represent a happy and healthy family.

The makeup is also said to ward off bad luck and has been a part of the wedding celebration since the time immemorial. This unusual custom has attracted the attention of local and foreign ethnologists. 

The same wedding custom is only found in the remote village of Draginovo, Bulgaria, inhabited by Slavic Muslim minority called Pomaks. The face painting ritual is in Bulgaria called gelina, and is performed to mark girls transition into married life. 

During the gelina, Pomak brides are painted over with a thick cosmetic creme mask called "belilo" (whitening). 

The face decorations always contain three circles, one on each cheek and one on the chin. 

The face is then painted with elaborate floral patterns and further decorated with sequins. 

After receiving the wedding blessing, the bride is escorted by her family members out of her childhood home and to her groom’s house, where her husband will take off her makeup.

This elaborate tradition is on the verge of extinction.

Now this is 13th century BC Mycenaean plaster head, currently in National Archaeological Museum Athens. 

Mycenaean civilisation was the last phase of the Bronze Age in Ancient Greece, spanning the period from approximately 1600–1100 BC. It is the period into which the Trojan war is now placed by the Archaeologists. 

This is the recreation of Helen of Troy's maquillage based on the above plaster head.

Looks familiar?

How is it possible that two tiny enclaves of the Islamised Slavs in the Balkans have preserved this at least 3000 years old wedding custom? This is extremely rare custom and I believe that the only explanation for its survival is that has been passed from generation to generation within related families, clans, tribes. The tribes which today call themselves Gorani and Pomak... 

But maybe this was a cultural acquisition, something that Slavs borrowed from Greeks or Romans or someone else. In that case we should have a record of this custom within Balkan population of the last 2000 years. Does anyone knows of any such records?