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Shipcka is a poor village in a mountainous area in South-East Albania, about 25 km west of the town of Korça. The village is inhabited by vllahs, a special autochthonous Latin population very much spread on the area between Albania, Greece and FYROM. The settlement dates back to the early Byzantine period of the Emperor Justinian. The origin of the name itself is an old Slavic plant named Schipak = red rose. This is a wild rose bush, which is a prevalent local plant, and its flower was dried and used to produce a local drink.
Being a close neighbor of Voskopoja, or Moschopoli (a center which was very famous in the Balkans for its development during 17th-18th c.), Shipcka was an important center of cattle breeders as well as merchants. During the 17th c. the population grew up to 8000 inhabitants. The very rapid growth of Voskopoja influenced later the migration of the population from Shipcka to the nearby town, as the records tell for a reduction of the population in Shipcka and abandonment of the old part of the village. With the passing years, the village became nearly empty, especially recent decades when most of them migrated to Greece for a better condition of life. Very few families continued to live there trying to survive and taking great care for the most valuable memory they had inherited from the past – the church of St. George.
The church of St. George is a basilica covered with vaults and cupolas built by the end of 17th century, or the beginning of 18th century. This church belongs to the Moschopolitan basilica group, which are considered as outstanding buildings in the Post-byzantine architecture of the Balkans as well as important monuments in the history of the population living in this area. Even though the church of St. George was listed as a first category monument, it stayed for decades neglected by the state. During the winter of 2002, the main vault of the narthex fell down, seriously risking the demolition of the whole church and the disappearance of this monument. At this moment Mr. Ioannis Averoff, a Greek from Metsovo, came for the first time in Shipska and he decided to save this monument. The church of St. George was restored in a few years and this work was prized with the European Union/Europa Nostra “Award” 2011, in the category “Conservation”, with the “Member Choice Award” of EU/EN 2011 and also as a Member of Excellence Club at “The Best in Heritage” 2012.
This conservation project, fully taken up and supported by the local population and the local government, was the catalyst for the revitalization of the settlement of Shipcka and the development of new tourism-related activities. The church of St. George and thus the village of Shipcka were included into the cultural programs of a number of travel agencies even before the completion of the work. The church and the village are currently visited by foreigners and Albanians, including scholars and students. The cultural and architectural value of this exceptional monument is strengthened by the beautiful mountainous surroundings and the picturesque village of Shipcka, which is becoming the most attractive place of the whole area. A restored barn in front of the church, which was turned into a cafeteria and craft shop, has become a central meeting point.
A number of reconstruction works are conducted on the traditional houses of the village by the population, while some families decided to come back to the village and develop tourism-related activities. These tourism related activities have started generating new income for the inhabitants and further tourism-related projects (guest houses, restaurants, etc) are in progress.
This development is pressing the need for a legal preservation status of the village and a higher professional care of its architecture and landscape.