ALBANIA’S VERY OWN MOUNT OLYMPUS
The wondrous Mount Tomorr has stood proudly at the heart of Albanian folklore and mythology throughout the ages, and become an important place for outdoor adventurers and spiritual pilgrims alike.
As with Mount Olympus, Mount Tomorr’s presence in Albanian geography and folklore overshadows that of all other natural wonders of the land. With its imposing height of 2416 metres above sea level, the beauty and grandeur of this mountain has had an immense influence upon the collective imagination of Albanians throughout the ages. Even mentioned in Homer’s Iliad, there is no shortage of mythology and legend surrounding this mighty peak. You’ll see that the journey to Mount Tomorr is packed with adventures, both physical and symbolic.
Words cannot begin to describe this mountain’s dominance over the surrounding landscape. Positioned in the centre of a plain without neighbours, the mountain looks over all directions, unobstructed. The city of Berat looks over Tomorr in its east, while Mount Shpirag dominates the scenery in its west. Its craggy peaks, dense forests, abysses, and frequent storms, make this mountain simultaneously attractive and challenging for mountain climbers. In fact, Mount Tomorr has been a focal point for Albanian alpinism for a long time.
A Mountain with a Vast History
Throughout history, pagan, Christian, and Islamic rituals have all contributed to Mount Tomorr’s status as a holy sanctuary. The deity associated with Mount Tomorr since Illyrian times is called Baba Tomorr (Father Tomorr), the most prominent mythological figure in Albanian folklore. When the English ethnologist Margaret Hasluck climbed the mountain in 1930, she was astonished to find that the prevalent faith among the people centred on Baba Tomorr, much more than on the Holy Bible or the Qur’an. According to history experts, this cult can be traced back to pagan natural cults, wherein supernatural powers were attributed to natural phenomena in order to explain their mysterious wonders.
This is how famous Albanian poet, Andon Z. Çajupi, sang the glory of Mount Tomorr:
“Father Tomor, church of Albania,
lofty mountain, throne of the gods
for centuries, people come to you
to know of God’s commands…”
Though mostly associated with pagan rites, this mountain retains traces of the religions that have historically moved through Albania. To this day, the mountain hosts the Kulmak Tekke and the shrine of Abaz Aliu, which attracts thousands of Bektashi Order pilgrims from all over the world, especially between August 20th-25th.
Stories from the Mountain
Last but not least, a famous legend of a tragic love triangle is told of Mount Tomorr and his brother, Mount Shpirag. As you stand in front of Mount Tomorr, you’ll notice the gaping holes on its surface. Legend says, these were caused by Shpirag’s flail during battle, while Mount Shpirag reveals crevasses, carved out by Tomorr’s sword. The two brothers ceaselessly battled over the love of the same beautiful girl until their death, when they were finally petrified into the majestic mountains you see today. Now, they look over the spectacular Osum River below, which was created by the tears of the doomed heroine. A dramatic story to go with the dramatic scenery!
As you may have gathered, climbing Tomorr is not a challenge to be taken lightly! Perhaps the most unique experience that Albanian alpinism has to offer, for many this climb is a rite of passage, akin to reaching the peaks of Kilimanjaro or Everest. Thousands of believers or adventurers climb this mountain annually! The options offered by organised tours include hiking, camping, and even climbing the mountain riding mules. As Lord Byron, who was a huge admirer of these naturally spectacular parts of the world, said, “Go forth and conquer”!
Tomorr National Park and its villages
Tomorr massif, spanning an area of 261.06 km2 (100.80 sq mi) since 2012, and expanded to include its quarry areas since 2019. The park covers a territory of 26,106 ha (64,510 acres). The area falls within the Berat County and only 1,278 ha (3,160 acres) inside the Elbasan County. The park was established in 1956 and is considered one of the most important protected areas for the maintenance of mountainous biodiversity and ecosystem integrity at the national level. The park has been recognised as an Important Plant Area of international importance by Plantlife.
Tomorr is an anticline composed of limestones and karst. The mountain is one of the highest natural points of southern Albania, rising between the valleys of the rivers Osum and Tomorrica in the east close to Berat.
The park falls within the Pindus Mountains mixed forests terrestrial ecoregion of the Palearctic Mediterranean forests, woodlands, and scrub biome. Its varied geology and topography have resulted in a unique diversity of flora and fauna. Forests of the Tomorri National Park are composed of diverse species of deciduous and coniferous trees and a great variety of flowers. The park’s forests are abundant in species such as European beech, Bosnian pine, Turkish hazel, linaria, great yellow gentian, autumn crocus, Greek whitebeam, European mistletoe, centaury and many others Numerous species of large mammals such as wolves, foxes, wild boars, roe deers, wild goats, rabbits, golden eagles, owles, and sparrowhawks can be found inside the national park. Small mammals include forest dormouse, and wood mouse.