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If we know anything about the history of the world’s many religions it is that a higher experience and spiritual wisdom are often acquired in the highest heights. Whether you are a believer in Buddhism, Christianity, Muslimism, in any of the other countless religions or none at all, you know that high peak has revelatory power. This is where most miraculous events take place which, through generations, are passed on as legends. One of Albania’s many peaks with its respective legend is the Sarisalltik (Sah-ree-sahl-tick), at the height of 1176 meters. This place marks the epicenter of dissemination of the Bektashi Order in Albania. For the Bektashi believers, climbing the mountain has a sacred meaning but, surely, you would have to test this on your own visit!
On top of the mountain, you will find a cavern with a depth of 15m and height of 4m, with a beautiful fountain of holy water in the middle. Next to the cavern, you have the very first masjid (i.e. very small mosque) ever built in Albania and inside it, the grave of Sarisalltik, the man-legend. Legend has it that Sarisalltik was a dervish on a mission to distribute the bones of his teacher in the seven kingdoms of Russia, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Edirne, Bogdan and Dalmatia. As a result, there are seven mazars (tombs or religious shrines) in the world which honor Sarisalltik’s teacher. By the year 1300, when Sarisatllik finally reached Kruja, he heard that, in the cavern at the top of the mountain, a dragon wanted a virgin in exchange for not burning the place. When the time came for the princess to be sacrificed, Sarisalltik climbed up the cavern with the young lady and, using a stick, killed the seven-headed monster with a single move. Part of the mountain suffered, turning to ash after the fire. Shortly thereafter, Sarisalltik built the masjid inside the cavern.
Sarisalltik was a renowned figure in the Balkan region as a symbol of religious tolerance. As such, he has historically been the main figure among the Bektashi believers and one they have relied upon when spreading their beliefs. Sarisalltik has been written about by the famous French scholar Baron Alexandre Degrand in his “Souvenirs de la Haute Albanie” (1901), a diary of his visit to Albania from 1893 to 1899. The author mentions that no other Bektashi figures could live up to the miraculous powers of Sarisatllik. The most regretful part of Degrand’s trip to Kruja is the fact that he never made it all the way up the mountain due to the heavy clouds and winds the day he started on his voyage. A regret we will all be careful to avoid! For those of you who know French, you can read the passage here. For the curious ones, you may like to look at Degrand’s entire photograph collection of his trip to Albania here or his notes on his visit to Tirana here. Sarisalltik has also been mentioned by the Moroccan geographer Ibn Battuta (1304-1377), who is the first to have recorded the legends associated with Sarisalltik.
As with other religious activities, during Communism, the pilgrimage to the masjid was banned, but the religious shrine was swiftly rebuilt from the people of Kruja with the beginning of the democratic era in the country. Now, thousands of pilgrims visit the Sarisalltik Masjid during holidays but many of them visit daily, as well. During the summer of 2017, twenty-five couples marked the record of receiving blessings for their marriages in the span of one single day. There are many of those who make the hike up to the cave only to enjoy the wild and beautiful nature of the mountain. The meadows are ideal for picnics! The view below reveals many small lakes with the Adriatic Sea shimmering in the background.
Ultimately, even climbing up the mountain represents a spiritual experience in itself. As the famed Russian mountaineer Anatoli Boukreev has said, “Mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve, they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion.” Reaching these heights pays off in the exhilarating feeling one experiences at the peak. This is why, when locals run into those brave tourists who are beginning their journey, they greet them with the phrase “May God help you on your way!”.
Sarisalltik is only 20 minutes away from Kruja by car. For an organized hiking to Sarisalltik and a full day trip to Kruja click here.