When I hiked through the Accursed Mountains in Kosovo, Montenegro and Albania last June, I met older Albanians who still referred to Edith Durham as their “mountain queen” for her staunch advocacy of Albanian independence and her love of its people.
I’d stumbled across a copy of her 1909 book High Albania while preparing for my trip, and I was immediately hooked by her vivid descriptions of a tribal society where families lived in defensive stone towers, and the intricacies of blood feuds were governed by a centuries-old kanun of customary laws.
Durham crisscrossed the Balkans on foot, horseback and sometimes in disguise at a time when this was one of the most isolated parts of the continent.
She didn’t start traveling until the age of 37, and yet she soon became the confidante of the King of Montenegro, ran aid operations in Macedonia, and reported on the 1912 Balkan wars — making her quite possibly the first female war correspondent.
Her books provide a rare first-hand look at a turbulent and seldom traveled corner of Europe during the last years of the Ottoman Empire.
I’m joined by her biographer, Marcus Tanner, a London-based writer and editor at Balkan Insight. He’s the author of several books including Albania’s Mountain Queen: Edith Durham and the Balkans, and Croatia: A Nation Forged in War.
We spoke about Durham’s remarkable travels, her relief work in the Balkans, and her role in helping to create an independent Albania.