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A Passion for Theth

Robert Elsie, Gerda Mulder, Herman Zonderland SB0002

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This book presents the beauties of Theth and the northern Albanian Alps in the photos of Dutch photographer Herman Zonderland. Robert Elsie and Gerda Mulder introduce the region with the writings of the early explorers and travellers to the valley to the accompaniment of old photographs of the period

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Theth is a small settlement of the Shala Valley in the northern Albanian Alps. As the crow flies, it is not far from the coastal town of Shkodra, but in reality it is a world away. Getting there involves crossing a high mountain pass on a twisty road that does not seem to have been repaired since it was built in 1936, and public transport is limited to one beat-up van that leaves from a back street in Shkodra every morning at the break of dawn. Heavy snow blocks the pass from October to May and leaves Theth in splendid isolation, sometimes for weeks on end.Though it is one of the remotest corners of Europe, Theth has never failed to attract visitors. Edith Durham was in her element when she visited the valley in 1908, as were the Austro-Hungarian scholars Karl Steinmetz and Baron Franz Nopcsa, and the American writer Rose Wilder Lane. During the long years of the Stalinist regime that isolated Albania from the rest of the world (1944-1991), few foreigners were allowed into the valley due to its proximity to the Montenegrin border, and when the dictatorship was over, large numbers of the native people of the Shala tribe left the valley to settle on the coast where life was easier, or to go abroad. The region was severely depopulated in the 1990s and only a couple of families remained in Theth over the winter.Things have changed in the last few years. Theth has become a unique, yet still little-known holiday destination for a hardy breed on travellers – hikers, mountain-climbers and visitors with a spirit of adventure. The native inhabitants have come back, too, and many of them have refurbished their homes to serve as modest guesthouses for the ever-increasing number of visitors. A Passion for Theth: Albania’s Rugged Shangri-La presents the beauties of Theth and the northern Albanian Alps in the photos of Dutch photographer Herman Zonderland. Robert Elsie and Gerda Mulder introduce the region with the writings of the early explorers and travellers to the valley to the accompaniment of old photographs of the period. This material is supplemented by contemporary writings on the valley today, on the families living there and on the impact of tourism in the region. These contemporary texts, based upon interviews and travel accounts by Gerda Mulder from 1997-2013, add a personal touch.