(A View from Hotel Molika)
Two weekends ago, I found myself in a mountaintop hotel, with a snowstorm raging outside. A Turkish woman was shoving candied pistachios at me while two Dutch women and a Greek danced to a traditional Balkan folk tune. The air was full of cigarette smoke - cheap Galoises for the Macedonians, and crooked, tiny hand-rolled tobacco for the Dutch. Everyone was engaged in English conversation, though at that point I was the only native speaker among thirty or so Dutch, Albanians, Turks, Macedonians, and Greeks. These nationalities were further split between various disciplines. There were historians, ethnomusicologists, ethnologists, anthropologists, cultural heritage experts, archaeologists, marketing and business professionals, and a good number of other vague academic fields. Why? The Via Egnatia Project, of course.
(Ancient Heraclea - Theatre)
The Via Egnatia is an ancient Roman road that ran from Istanbul to the port of Durres on the Albanian coast (wikipedia article here) by way of Thessaloniki, and the ancient towns of Heraclea, near Bitola, and Lychnidos, near Ohrid, in the Republic of Macedonia. It was a major highway, and really the best link between Rome and Constantinople. It fell into disuse sometime during the Ottoman period, and in many places has disappeared.
The Via Egnatia project is directed toward restoring this road, both in abstract and concrete terms, as a general link between the cultures of Albania, Greece, Macedonia, and Turkey. The Dutch Embassy sponsored all of the aformentioned academics and professionals to spend a weekend brainstorming at the Hotel Molika on Pelister Mountain near Bitola, and I was lucky enough to attend. I sat in on the 'Archaeology and Monuments' conference section, though I doubt I was of much help.
The next big project of the foundation is a caravan along the presumed route of the Via Egnatia, beginning in the spring. I'll keep my eye on it.