Finding the Church of Ristoz, what the local population claimed was the “oldest church in the balkans,” was not easy. The people of Korce all seemed to offer generalized directions (“by the beer factory” or “up that way”) so it took a bit of time and a bit of walking to find it. The mountainside village, resting safely above Korce valley, was in the middle of road and pipe repairs so that the entire village roads were dug up and impassable by anything not resembling an army tank.
We were directed around a corner and managed to find the front gate but were disappointed to see the church door closed and no windows at all to peek in. We walked around back to find four teenage boys smoking and lazing around in the shade of a tree. They told us the guy who maintained the church wasn’t there at the moment. After a few minutes walking around the church clearly disappointed, one of boys asked if we “really needed to see it” and we said we had come from far just for this. He said okay and set off down the road to find the man who held the key. Ten minutes later, he returned key in hand, and unlocked the door and let us be.
The doors opened to a dark and mysterious three roomed church, intact with ancient christian murals painted on almost every wall. Sadly, we had no flashlight (if you are going to explore the castles and churches of Albania, a flashlight is a good idea) but still managed a few stunning photographs out of the dim light available only through the front door and cracks between the rocks that made up the walls. The church was not so easy to navigate, as there was scaffolding setup by whomever was working on the restoration.
Our exploration was cut a bit short by some locals who had marched up the hill to find the out of towners who had managed to block his car from leaving town.