Exploring cultures and communities – the slow way

Guest contributor Emma Levine, a first-time contributor to hidden europe magazine, invites us to join her in Prizren, Kosovo, where she discovers that the delicate art of filigree crafting still thrives.

article summary —

In an unassuming former cigarette factory in the Kosovo town of Prizren, Xhafer takes a deep breath and blows through a rubber tube, casting a steady flame through a small metal pipe. He moves the pipe slowly, directing the bright orange flame up and down a sheet of steel mesh, on which are rows of small silver pieces, sprinkled with soldering powder.

This is just one of the many labour-intensive steps in the production of intricate handmade silver filigree pieces. It takes quite a team of skilled craftspeople to create them. Next to Xhafer are three more workers, wearing dark green, longsleeved overalls, sitting at the large wooden workbench covered with a blue-checked plastic cloth. Overhead neon strips illuminate the work area. Zyriya measures and cuts hair-like threads of silver, and Ayteh weaves the silver strands into intricate shapes with a minuscule pair of tweezers.

At the adjacent desk is the bespectacled Bashkim, the senior member of the team, who leafs through an enormous folio of his designs and discusses them with the manager, Faik Bamja. A heap of semi-precious stones, a pile of ring settings, and a scattering of tiny tools sit in front of him.

This simple workshop, owned by the cooperative Filigran ShPK, is certainly the busiest floor of the three-storey building. It lies in Zona Industriale, an unlovely scatter of factories and warehouses well to the west of central Prizren. Most of the building is empty, its rooms and corridors strewn with rubbish from another era.

While most of the space just gathers dust, the filigree workshop is a hub of creative energy. Bright silver threads are interwoven to create lacelike decorative designs. It’s a delicate art, thought to have originated in Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt, dating back to 3,000 BC. It became popular in the Balkan region during Ottoman times, especially in the 15th century. It is an art deeply embedded in the identity and heritage of Kosovo, and nowhere more so than in Prizren. Early travellers to this part of Kosovo often commented on the use of silver and gold in decorative ornaments. Today the specialists at Filigran ShPK work mainly with silver.

Faik takes me down a darkened corridor to the team’s equipment rooms. The walls are painted dark green and white, and a snake-like tangle of wires hangs down from the ceiling. He shows me the large Italian-made machines, geared to physically squeeze these strips of silver through holes of different diameters to make them into the thinnest threads possible.

This is just an excerpt. The full text of this article is not yet available to members with online access to hidden europe. Of course you can also read the full article in the print edition of hidden europe 51.


Hailing from Bradford, in northern England, sports-lover Emma Levine has always had a thirst for adventure. After graduating in 1991, she headed off for solo travels in Asia for 'a few months' and it ended up being eight years. She developed a fascination with Asian sporting culture, and wrote and photographed her first two travelogues, on grassroots cricket culture in the Indian subcontinent.

Shortly after was a one-year trip on a meagre author’s advance around Asia’s far-flung regions, including Pakistan, Iran and Kyrgyzstan, to document Asia’s traditional sports that are still played. This resulted in her travelogue, A Game of Polo with a Headless Goat, which was later developed into a six-part documentary for National Geographic Channel, A Different Ball Game, which she wrote and presented.

Now based in London, Emma works mainly as an independent travel writer and editor, including writing guidebooks, and makes frequent journeys to Turkey, India and the Middle East. Her most recent trip, visiting Kosovo, Albania and Macedonia for the first time, made her realize that her thirst for solo adventures on a budget is alive and well. And she still tries to follow local sports wherever she travels. Find out more about Emma’s work at www.emma-levine.com.

This article was published in hidden europe 51.